New city.. cold morning & first day of a New Year.Dublin,Temperature 4*C.I’m dressed for winter and waiting at the railway station to go to my new job in Dún Laoghaire,Dublin.
It’s been 30 minutes of waiting and I’m beginning to not feel my toes because of the freezing cold.
I’m already hating the commute and it hasn’t even begun.
(Painting above recreated by Dr Chandru Kaliaperumal)
This was few years ago when I started working in a hospital in Dún Laoghaire which specialises in Rehabilitation Medicine (not to be mistaken for drug rehab).
I was trained & worked in Obstetrics & Gynaecology but was feeling a disconnect from what I was doing for work.
I enjoyed it.. but something was missing.
I was newly married and moved into a new city.. I thought I must try working in a few other specialities to see if I get my spark back.
I got into a post for a year to work with patients who presented to this National Centre for rehabilitation after stroke,traumatic brain injury,after limb amputation and anyone requiring complex specialist rehabilitation services which included children as well.
On my first day,I met all the different members of the hospital - occupational therapists,social workers,physiotherapists,psychologists,Rehabilitation Medicine Consultants,Paediatrians,speech therapists through an orientation & induction.
Over the weeks that followed I learnt about goal setting for each individual patient and how every little win was celebrated (which could be them being able to move from their bed to a chair with support)
It was busy ; my skills and knowledge in General Medicine (which had died during my training in Obs & Gynae) revived again.
There were children with brain injury and complex psychiatric conditions and I was counselling their parents - something that I had never done before.I didn’t have children of my own then and yet I noticed how they always wanted to hug me after our conversations.It felt like I was making a difference,it was such a beautiful feeling.
One morning, between doing my morning rounds,collecting all the blood results and coordinating meetings with other colleagues - I saw her.
New admission...in her 50s, red haired ,obese woman with loads of crystals/gem stones worn wherever my eyes looked.She was wheeled in and was carefully placed on her bed.
This was Helen and she wasn’t my patient.
Four weeks had passed and Helen was still there.I had not interacted with her,I didn’t know her story but we smiled at each other as I was going about doing my bits & bobs everyday.
I realised and heard from other colleagues (OT & physio) that Helen hadn’t made any progress inspite of her really wanting to get better.She had so many experts by her side willing to help her but she made no progress.
One evening, after my work for the day ended.. I decided to check her blood results and her management care plan.Everything was perfect.
On my way out,I saw her sitting in her wheelchair in the little garden at the front of the hospital smoking her cigarette.I sat next to her and we chatted.
She told me how she longed to paint.
She was un-interruptible after I asked her about her crystal/gemstone obsession!
She was so knowledgeable and was intuitive.
Then I asked her about what happened to her legs and why she couldn’t walk.
(I didn’t see any clear indications of cause of her paralysis in her notes,so I was curious)
She proceeded to tell me about her 7 year relationship with her boyfriend.She said that she was really happy;used to paint,had played a very active part in many charity events that she had led.
Then their relationship ended,just like that.
It was heartbreaking but Helen noticed that she couldn’t move in bed from the following morning.
Suddenly,she could not walk.
This was another loss that she had resigned herself to.
Before leaving for the evening,I went and put in a request to provide Helen with all the art supplies she needed to resume her hobby.
Throughout that train journey back home,I kept thinking about this woman and how her life had suddenly taken a turn for the worse.
Then,I got it!
Next morning as I walked in,I saw Helen smiling (for the first time) and she was painting something.
I spoke with the Consultant treating her and suggested that why Helen was not making progress was probably because she is affected by Conversion Disorder.
And everything began to start making sense to everyone.
I made a note of my conversation with her, in her clinical notes.
I went away on annual leave the next day and when I returned, she was gone.
She was discharged from the centre and sent for evaluation into a psychiatric unit close by.
Few months later,I got this picture of an angel painting she did for me as her thank you gift.
She made full recovery and was back to her beautiful normal self, doing all the things she used to do.
Few months had passed and I was sitting in front of a panel of doctors for an interview, for a job in Psychiatry.
My friends and colleagues had convinced me that I must train in psychiatry as they had spotted a natural flare I had,in that speciality (or maybe I probably sucked at rehabilitation medicine.. this,i'm still not sure about)
In my interview they asked me to convince them, that I’d survive in this training having had zero experience in this speciality before.
I mentioned about Helen.That was the highlight of my interview.. every other question,I had gotten wrong.I didn’t know the dosage of fluoxetine (such an unfair question!)
I got that job.. I had applied for a 6 months post and they offered me a 3 year run-through training program in Psychiatry.
If it wasn’t for Helen,I wouldn’t have had such an easy path forward.
And if it wasn’t for psychiatry,I wouldn’t have trained further in RTT (Rapid Transformational Therapy).
I realise why she had to come into my life.
She thinks I changed her life but has absolutely no idea of the real gift she has given me.
I believe in giving credit where credit is due.. otherwise someone else will not give you credit where you deserve it!
So Helen, this is my sincere ‘Thank you’ to you .. you changed my life.
I am so grateful to you for sharing your story with me.
Everything happens for a reason.
With love & gratitude,