Tag Archives: Well-Being

It Really is Ok Not to Be Ok

I’ve been wanting to write this blog for a while but the timing has never been quite right, until now. …….

Twelve months ago I was down visiting my brother and sister-in-law near Newmarket for the boys’ October holiday and I had just had a breakdown. Some of you might know what I mean when I say that I slid down my bedroom wall sobbing uncontrollably and feeling like I just couldn’t keep going. Today I am down visiting Ed and Sam again with my boys and it feels really good to be here, in a very different place to 12 months ago. 

So now feels like a good time to speak up about my big wobble or breakdown, or whatever else you want to label it. Too many people are afraid to voice how they are feeling, everyone else seems so happy and seems to have their life together, and yet you feel that you are the only person in the world experiencing feelings of sadness, anxiety, panic and helplessness.

It had started three years earlier with a few episodes of feeling more and more anxious and panicky as life threw various challenges our way. My way of dealing with challenges has always been to keep my head down and keep going, keep working hard, keep smiling and it will all be ok. I always believed that I thrived under pressure and my response to people asking if we were ok was always “still standing”. 

Well now I wasn’t still standing, I was a sobbing, snotty mess on my bedroom floor and to make it all so much worse it was my 8 year old son that found me.  I knew I needed to get help but the thought was so daunting. I had a busy vet practice to run and a young family to look after, and yet just doing the basics for the first few days felt like I had a mountain to climb. The practice which had given us so much and yet seemed to have taken so much, felt like a weight around my neck. The thought of walking into the building and facing the normal daily challenges was overwhelming and I wanted to hide away from everything and everyone. I cried every single day for several weeks, little things would set me off and for a while it felt like I would never feel happy again. 

I had headed down to Newmarket with the boys to see Ed and Sam and this gave me some much needed headspace and time away from the pressure of the practice. I spent my days crying, and walking or running, all the time trying to gather the courage to make a doctors appointment. One morning I drove up to the gallops on Newmarket Heath and sat for 3 hours in my car before I finally plucked up the courage to call the Vetlife helpline. The lady on the end of the phone listened as I cried down the phone. She told me that I needed to speak to my doctor, something I knew but didn’t really want to hear. Another half an hour later and I finally plucked up the courage to make an appointment. It felt like a weight had been lifted, I had made that first important and very small step forwards. 

I had a while to wait before I could see the doctor I wanted to see but when I did finally get there I was still crying daily and having to force myself to walk into the practice each day. I explained to the doctor that I was just feeling very sad and anxious and wasn’t sleeping very well, and that we had been under a huge amount of pressure personally and professionally. I didn’t think I was depressed I just didn’t know how to start feeling happy and excited about life again. It was quite hard to hear her list everything I had described as symptoms of depression. We discussed several different options including counselling and medication and although I was convinced I didn’t want to use medication it was again a big wake up call to be told that this was a real possibility if the counselling that I had chosen didn’t help. 

I won’t bore you all with everything that happened over the next few months but gradually after several counselling sessions and enough time with the pressure off I stopped feeling so sad. I wouldn’t say I started feeling happy and excited about life again, it was more of a gradual feeling that I just felt ok, not sad, not happy but ok. A while later I started recognising the signs of excitement again, something good was happening and I was actually looking forward to it. I was starting to look for challenges and I finally started to feel happy again. 

So twelve months on I am back in Newmarket with my boys visiting Ed and Sam, running the same routes I ran 12 months ago but in such a different place mentally. Some of our personal challenges are still here but business is really good. After a turbulent couple of years things are not only back to where we were two years ago but actually so much better. We have a fabulous team who have worked their backsides off and their trust and support over the last little while means so much. 

Apart from my husband, family and friends my biggest thank you must go to Vetlife. Without that nudge to call my doctor I don’t know if I would have gone through with it, or if I would have tried to tough it out and convince myself that I could sort it on my own. It’s really important that everyone working in practice knows that Vetlife is there for everyone and not just vets and nurses. Practice life brings such unique challenges and pressures and these affect the whole team.

So if you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed or sad I want to let you know that you aren’t alone. We may all look like we have our s**t together but the reality is often very different and as I’ve discovered it really is ok not to be ok………..

 

Could_Couldn't

 

 

Heart Transplant  – A Shining Example of How We Should be Doing things in Practice

 Three years ago today I was sitting in a family room at the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Glasgow surrounded by my family waiting to hear if my dad’s heart transplant had been successful. The initial call had come from my Mum at 1.30am to say the team had found my Dad a potential heart and we had been on a rollercoaster of emotions over the last 12 hours. 

In reality this rollercoaster had started for us 6 weeks earlier when after accepting that my Dad wasn’t going to get better we were referred through to Glasgow for what we were told was a complete re-assessment of his case. Little did we know walking into what is affectionately called ‘the pod’ that we were on Scotland’s only specialist heart transplant unit. 

So how is this relevant to the veterinary industry and my blog? The medical profession has invested significant sums into human factors and their impact on errors and patient safety, on culture within the NHS, teamwork and leadership. This type of research is seriously lacking within the veterinary industry but I believe we can learn a lot from the NHS.  

There is a multi-disciplined approach to transplant assessment at the Golden Jubilee and each patient undergoes a full medical assessment from cardiologists, surgeons, renal consultants, psychologists, dieticians and physiotherapists. You name it my Dad had it, every test you can think of and more. The whole process takes about two weeks and then the team sit down together and make a decision based on every member of the team’s assessment. Everyone’s opinion is valued and considered. For the family it can feel like an eternity as you put your faith in their decision making process. 

It became obvious after the first 24 hours of being on the pod that there was a very clear system for the team to follow.  It started with a mere mention of transplant as the very last option, before they started gradually introducing the concept to the whole family. Looking back it is clear that they were drip-feeding us the information in small bite size pieces so that we could absorb what they were saying. What was impressive was that the whole team were involved in the process, they clearly understood each stage and were communicating as a team throughout.  Even the ward assistants knew what was happening and what to say when the word transplant was mentioned. Each nurse that started a new shift knew exactly where we were in the process and we were never once told that they would have to double check for us. How often do we fail to communicate and hand over cases in veterinary practice? 

I think it would be fair to say that during this process my Dad was in complete denial as to how ill he was! Feeling out of control he would try and argue his case but the team always had an answer and kept gently shoving him towards accepting that this was our only option. Their empathy was remarkable, and they knew when to sit and listen to my Dad’s seemingly well-reasoned argument that he should be allowed to go home, and when a more blunt approach was required. 

Acceptance of his situation finally came when 5 weeks after admission and now with a balloon pump trying to keep his heart going, my Dad had a cardiac arrest. Save for the fast and swift response from the nurses on duty he wouldn’t be here now. 

Incredibly one week on from this we got the call, one heart had already been assessed and ruled out as not suitable, and my Dad was now at the top of the urgent list. Teams were working in the background all over the UK to find a suitable donor. Given the extremely sensitive nature of organ donation there are strict protocols to adhere to.  Transplant co-ordinators are assigned to the donor family and to the recipient and they work tirelessly in the background at all times of day and night. 

Out of theatre and on ICU we spent two days watching as the team slowly woke my Dad up and got him off the ventilator. The team on ICU were outstanding but I remember it as a time of fear and panic, every time a machine beeped my heart skipped a beat. 

I can still remember walking back down the corridor to the pod after my Dad had been moved out of ICU and feeling relief that we were once again in an environment where I felt safe and secure. We were in the same hospital run by the same Trust but somehow the team in the pod had created this incredible, safe and secure place for the patients and their families. 

Culture within an organisation can be difficult to define.  The leadership from the head consultant was clear, and his team spoke incredibly highly of him. The whole team were involved in decision-making and had clear, defined and valued roles to play in each patient’s care. 

Compassion fatigue is a well-recognised factor in burnout and stress in both the medical and veterinary profession.  Every day the team on the pod are dealing with life and death, there is no in between grey area. Their patients either go on the list or go home to die. They either get their heart in time or they don’t and they either recover from their transplant or they don’t. That’s the reality of their job, day in day out, and yet the empathy and compassion that they showed us over many months was remarkable. 

There are so many veterinary practices who are doing an equally amazing job, building a culture around mutual trust, with systems and processes, and where their team feel valued and that their well-being is a priority.  I am also sure there are many examples of less positive experiences in the NHS. However I think we can still learn a huge amount from the medical profession and our experience of the team at the Golden Jubilee was a shining example of how we should all be doing things.

0b191b98-6bd7-427e-aac8-7cfd144c10d6

My amazing Dad enjoying life three years on from his transplant all thanks to the wonderful team at the Golden Jubilee and an incredible act of bravery and kindness from a grieving family #organdonation