WINNER - SANDS COX CHARITY ESSAY PRIZE 2018 - MEDICAL STUDENT
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital: the newest hospital in Birmingham, costing £545 million to build and employing 6,900 workers. I'm not easily scared, but I can't pretend that I wasn't intimidated when I walked into this vast institution on my very first day of clinical placement. A trembling third year, I still struggled with 'adult' tasks like unplugging the sink or paying my council tax - how on earth was I going to survive in this sterile, latex jungle?
By day three I had located where the toilets were, learned how to work the lift and was starting to realise that hand sanitizer is a health care worker's best friend. I was none the wiser about this infamous 'cannulating' task or what on earth 'CDU' stood for but somehow hospital life already felt less daunting.
On my first 'on call' shift, bleary eyed I stumbled towards the surgical theatres to see if anything interesting would be happening on a Friday night. And it was. I was told that theatre five was currently conducting a heart transplant so, donning that fashionable hair net and those oh-so-comfortable scrubs, I raced down to see what I could find. What I saw was nothing short of miraculous. Anaesthetists, surgeons, nurses all working together in order to maintain the perfusion of the patient while his old, enlarged and failing heart was dutifully removed and the new organ was fished out of an ice box and carefully sewn into its new host.
'Wanna hold it?' the surgeon said gruffly, plopping what had been the patient's heart in my trembling hands. Still warm, the muscular heart flickered with half coordinated contractions as it diligently tried to keep pumping even after it had been removed from the warm case that had been its host. For that minute as I held a beating heart in my hand, the world stopped. It didn't matter that it was 1 a.m. on a Friday night and that I should probably be curled up in bed, it didn't matter that I was 'just a third year' or that I didn't know very much about anything at all, all that mattered was this one beating muscle. To me it represented everything that I signed up to medicine for: it was cutting edge surgery that was breaking the boundaries of what humanity believed it could achieve, it was changing a patient's life from one of limitations and illness to a new life of possibilities, it was a talented multidisciplinary team working together to achieve incredible things. And I was there, watching it all unfold. In awe of those around me who, not so long ago, had once been quivering third year medical students as well; and being incredibly proud to be going into a profession where things like this happened.
Not every day is that exciting, of course. The next Monday I went into hospital and took a history from a man with gallstones, conducted a respiratory examination of a woman with COPD, took a patient's blood, and followed a consultant on a ward round. These things are the bread and butter of placement. But even the simple, mundane parts of placement remind you why you signed up for this degree, why you chose to go into a profession which is currently overworked and underpaid, over scrutinised and underappreciated. You chose this because, once in a while, the world stops when you've seen something so amazing, and every day you can go to placement and be surrounded by patients whose lives have been saved or made better through the intervention of the medical profession. Placement teaches us clinical skills and builds our knowledge but it also reminds us that someday we will be released into the world and that we too can make a difference, even if it's just to one person at a time.