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A couple of weeks ago the BMA in Scotland staged a conference looking at the challenges and support available for doctors with disabilities.
It proved to be an ideal opportunity to network with other disabled medics and get involved in helping this niche market.
Indeed, I was given a 15 minute slot to speak, focusing on interaction with Occupational Health.
In truth I could talk for hours about my story, but I am always clear that I don’t want to dwell on the negatives, but be as positive as I can.
Here is my whistle stop tour of what happened to me, and what I learnt and how I got back to work as an Emergency Physician after losing both my legs to complications from diabetes.
On reflection my story starts as a teenager. I never wanted my Diabetes to define me.
Over the years it didn’t, it was my illness, no-one else’s business. I dealt with issues on a crisis management basis.
Then I started breaking metatarsals, not by running or jumping but by walking.
At the specialist foot clinic, I remember being asked how I managed to function with those feet… I function just fine I thought!
I pulled out of the first planned corrective surgery more due to fear than anything else. Over the next 6 to 7 years I was seen at work dressed with a range of different moonboots.
On to January 2017 and I returned from a trip to London with a blister on the sole of my right foot. I stuck a dressing on it and waited for it to heal. It didn’t.
The large ulcer to the sole of my foot developed. Days turned into weeks and there was no sign of healing… How long should I give it? 1 month, 2 months, 6 months? If it healed how long before it broke down again? Would it benefit from corrective surgery?
Maybe I should just “cut “to the chase. I spoke to my local rehab centre. I could be back to work in a few months. I signed the consent for a left trans-tibial amputation, but then sepsis set in, and surgery was brought forward.
There followed AKI (Acute Kidney Injury), a few days unconscious in HDU, an episode of nearly drowning from pulmonary oedema, but eventually coming out the other side.
I was now officially disabled, not just a sufferer of chronic physical ill- health, but disabled for all to see.
One of my main thoughts was, let’s see if we can hold onto your other leg. There followed foot care, orthotic shoes, back to work and a relaxing holiday in the heat.
But I soon feared another blister ..arrgghh! Not again. Nine months followed of moon boot, multiples courses of antibiotics, a heamoglobin level never climbing. Throughout that time I continued to work as I wasn’t not that unwell.
However, eventually admission was inevitable, due to debridement and a huge hole in my right foot. Enough is enough. Time for the chop again. Then it was onto family care, great rehab, supportive Occupational Health and colleagues – which all got me back to work just over 7 weeks post op.
Now I’m REALLY disabled. But now I can choose to either show it off, in shorts, or hide it with trousers. My walking is better than it has been in years….maybe ever?
Talking at the conference was an opportunity to tell my story, and also another important part ‘step’ of my rehab. It was great to catch up with old colleagues and meet new people, each with a story to tell. Everyone was great, each with unique difficulties and challenges and we can use our differences to be positive assets for the NHS.
It is the type of event which can benefit not just those who attended, but the NHS as a whole – and I look forward to more of them in future.
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