Thoughts From the Ward of Dread

It’s been a couple of weeks since I blogged m1caalb. Mainly because I’ve been absolutely wrung-out from working in my new job, which is a much longer commute and longer hours.

I had applied for GP training (just the interview now) and that wouldn’t start until August, so I needed to find some work to do to pay the bills until then. Out of desperation I took the first opportunity that came my way….

Back in October, I met a friend of a friend who is a nurse on the oncology ward at my local hospital, and I distinctly remember saying to her “I would never work on that ward, much too tough”. Well, I should really watch what I say, since that was where I found myself on Monday morning a few weeks ago.

In other medical jobs, I’d sometimes avoided patients with cancer. Perhaps it seems obvious, but why? I’m a doctor after all- used to difficult situations and horrible illnesses.

I guess it’s true that the fear of a situation is often worse than the thing itself. I wanted to write down a few reflections from these last few weeks; before they perhaps fade with the normality of passing time.

  1. The oncology ward is no different to any other ward I’ve worked on

Perhaps I thought that there would be some sort of different air, that the fear of death would be permeating everyone that stepped over the threshold. Of course, that’s not the case…

2. People are living with cancer and not just dying of it

Life does go on when you’re diagnosed with cancer. Even with a ‘terminal’ diagnosis, your life does not end there and then. It goes on. We are all dying click this link here now. Some perhaps sooner than others, yes, but there are many people I’ve met over recent weeks who carry on without potentially counting down the days until their death.

3. There is a phenomenal amount of support 

Some of this saddens me, mainly because I’ve come from mental health, which is so chronically under resourced – so it makes the lack of parity more obvious. There is not a single medical speciality that can have exclusive ownership for managing cancer. Surgeons, oncologists, GPs, nurse specialists, pharmacists all feature as different stops on the journey for patients. It has impressed me how quickly each player gets involved and plays their part with true compassion.

4. Chemotherapy isn’t always that awful

The majority of chemotherapy is given as an outpatient, but we have a number of patients on the ward (particularly those with leukaemia) receiving chemotherapy. A lot of modern chemotherapies are surprisingly well tolerated, and when people do experience side effects, they’re usually managed with other medications.

5. It’s not about ‘fighting’

Now this has actually been a bug-bear of mine for a while now. The late Dr Kate Granger (who died of cancer last year) often wrote about how she disliked the battleground rhetoric that is the mainstay of advertising from cancer charities these days. The problem is that it implies that people ‘give up’ if cancer ‘defeats’ them. Not so. Clearly, I don’t disagree that positivity and determination can go a long way, especially when the alternative is despair. But cancer is a complex biological process, and so many factors are involved in whether someone can be treated to remission.

6. People cope with cancer, and with the prospect of death

It’s the ultimate fear. Death. We use so many euphemisms to try and disguise the fact that we’re all damned scared. Maybe not even for ourselves, but perhaps for others. Perhaps this comes back to what I wrote above the fear of a situation often being worse than the situation itself. Of course there are many natural and difficult emotions that I have recently been a witness to, particularly with an initial unexpected diagnosis. Maybe it’s survival instinct, I don’t know. But people cope.

The human spirit is so beautiful and resiliant. Life is hard. The thought of death hurts. Hospitals are not fun places to be. I suppose, ultimately, I feel proud for fighting through some fear myself these last few weeks. But I also feel privileged to be given the opportunity to accompany fellow human beings on this more difficult part of their journey.

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What do you actually need for a newborn?

This post was originally going to be an email for my best friend Emily, who is currently pregnant with her first baby. Whilst Em is totally on my page in terms of sensible spending at the best of times; her current work situation means she is a little more short of cash than she had expected to be at this time.

When I was pregnant I did a lot of research into what I actually needed for a newborn, and i’ve been thinking about this again recently whilst having my current minimalism/decluttering phase!

So, here is my list of what you need for the first few months of having a newborn (I will do a follow-up post of what you don’t need and also what is helpful later on):

So what do you actually need?

Not much is the simple answer! Take a look at this; the Finnish baby box that they’re soon to introduce in Scotland. Proves the point that you need so few things.

  • Somewhere to sleep

For the first few months your baby is going to be in your room, so you do not need to purchase a large cot yet. There are many fancy cribs that you can buy, but they’re totally unnecessary and some have even come out as being dangerous.

We used a Moses basket that we borrowed from a friend. You can pick these (or other simple cribs) up for very little/free secondhand. In the daytime I used to bring this downstairs in the daytime. It is a good idea to buy a new mattress for it, but these aren’t expenses.

  • Something to sleep in

A swaddle (can easily use a large muslin or thin blanket), a couple of sheets (although you don’t have to buy special Moses basket ones – use a pillowcase!), and a couple of blankets.

  • A few things to wear

By this, I DO NOT MEAN CLOTHES! Newborns do not need clothes! All you need is a hat (for leaving hospital), some sleep suits and some vests. If you buy neutral colours you can keep them for any further babies.

  • Ideally, something to put its clothes in

But it doesn’t have fancy ‘nursery’ furniture. These sets look lovely in all the catalogues, but they are totally unnecessary and not something that you’ll use long term. Once they’re 18 months or so, you’ll be looking at getting them a bed etc anyway! You wouldn’t buy a furniture suite for your own room, new, to only use for 18 months would you?! We got a plain and simple chest of drawers that we’re still using now. Baby clothes do not need a wardrobe..!

  • A carseat

If you have a car. This is the one and only thing to buy new and carefully, for obvious reasons (e.g. you will never know if a secondhand one has been in a crash)

  • A ‘baby trolley’ (term courtesy of my dad!)

Ok, this is the big one. By that I mean that this is the big one that people get ridiculous about! The current trend it to treat your buggy like it is a small sports car for your child. Ironically, the more fancy the pram, the more of a pain it is to manoeuvre, put in your car etc! I am amazed the number of posh prams that I see on selling sites that people want to get rid of after a couple of months. Once they’re nearly walking, most people tend to switch to a cheap fold-up stroller anyway! A secondhand one is perfectly adequate if you do want something more substantial to start with strattera generic. The ‘carrycot’ attachments that come with a lot of them are a total waste – they grow out of them in a matter of weeks!

  • A changing mat

I mean a bog standard padded changing mat (something like this), not a fancy changing table. These can be dangerous and do not last. You can, and will, change a nappy anywhere!

  • Nappies

Lots!/own brand (Aldi’s are particularly good)

  • A bag of cotton wool/some baby wipes for later

For cleaning little newborn bottoms! A tub of Sudocrem is useful too.

  • Lots of cheap flannels/muslins – for everything!

I’ll follow this post up with some ideas of things that are nice/helpful but not what I believe to be essential.

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Instrumental Changes – A Book Review

Apologies for having gone quiet recently. I’ve made a few big changes; most importantly leaving psychiatry training and deciding to train as a GP instead. The decision itself was not the only hard part, as I’m now snowed under with revision for the dreaded entrance exam that you need to pass just to get an interview (to get on to the training program!). Mental healthcare remains a real passion of mine, but I look forward to being able to provide ongoing holistic care for patients in the community, without some of the frustrations of ‘the system’ that I was getting bogged down within psychiatry.

Anyway, on to other things. One of my 2016 goals was to read more books. I’ve been going back through the list of finished books I managed this year and thought I might blog about one or two that stood out…

James Rhodes ‘Instrumental’

I have to warn you that it is pretty hard-hitting stuff, and likely to be triggering for some with mental health problems or have been victims of (particularly sexual) abuse. His story is sadly not that dissimilar to many I hear on a daily basis, but it was interesting to read about mental illness and being a sectioned inpatient in a mental health unit.

I love piano music, and James is a fantastically talented pianist. What is different about him though is the route that he took; he went into the city and then later decided to follow his dream of being a concert pianist blog link. Which is, of course, a wonderful tale in itself but James seems to have written his autobiography partly as catharsis for the trauma that he has been through. There is a powerful message in ‘follow your dreams’, but there is something important to gain from the raw honesty of things still not being all rosy, even once you have followed a certain path in life.

Sadly, not many weeks go by without the media uncovering another horrific abuse scandal, and the number of victims out there is just staggering to think about. James highlights how these atrocities cross all class, race and religious divides. It was a tough read, but inspirational. I’d like to go to one of his concerts- he deliberately does things ‘differently’ to a traditional piano recital (think indie venues, casual clothes, beer in the interval!).


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Sunday Morning Selflessness

Having just finished reading Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive, I was idly scrolling through the appendices at the back and found a recommendation for this website:

The idea is that it’s a database to connect time-poor media-savvy millennial with volunteering opportunities. Too many people (myself included) can be too quick to think ‘I’m too busy’ to give up some time for others today, and this site challenges that.

I’ve had a quick scroll through of things I can do in this hour or so of my son’s nap time, and have gone for crocheting some squares for

I donated some of my spare yarn to them when I was at the Knitting & Stitching show last weekend strattera medication. Their charity was originally developed in Rwanda and India, to help and empower women. It has now grown into a large organisation to promote the positivity of both knitting and giving. You can send them various bits of knitted (and crocheted) goodness, and they will either turn them into something bigger (like with blanket squares) and distribute them to where they’re needed – including prisons, hospices and refuges. To me this is perfect – I’m currently working on a large crochet blanket (will share in about 2047 when it’s finally finished, ha!) and have been thinking how I wish I could use this skill of mine to help others, without it taking the best part of 6 months before I have one useable item.

Help from home isn’t just about knitting etc – I have digressed as this is the first opportunity that popped out to me; but my challenge is to try more intentional giving of my time, no matter how small it is.

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I Made a Dress!

So I’ve been pondering what I wanted to write my second blog post about and have been a bit conflicted – what I really want to share is about a dress I finished sewing last week.

I wasn’t sure though because I’d thought I just wanted to stick to ‘serious’ topics on this blog. Being creative is one of the greatest joys in my life and really ties into the mindful lifestyle that I’m trying to live. So for now, I’m going to post what I feel like posting and see how things evolve!

I bought a sewing machine in Autumn 2012 as a ‘first pay-day’ present to myself, partly inspired by lovely blogs I got into reading and also BBC’s ‘Great British Sewing Bee’.

Since then I’ve made various things, such as curtains and small presents, along with a few attempts at dressmaking. I lost my confidence with this recently after getting 3/4 of the way through a dress and finding it was much too small….

However, I am no quitter!

I decided to have a fresh start. I went for Tilly & the Buttons Bettine Dress, back at the beginning of the summer.

I’ve met Tilly a couple of times at the Handmade Fair, and she is a lovely, humble lady who is genuinely passionate about sharing her love of sewing and skills. The patterns she has designed very much have the beginner in mind!

I persisted with the making of this dress over a number of weeks, not putting pressure on myself and enjoying the process. It was an utter bonus when I finished and found it fitted and looked good!

<img class="size-medium wp-image-46 aligncenter" src="http://www Continue×300.jpg” alt=”bettine-dress” width=”225″ height=”300″ srcset=”×300.jpg 225w,×1024.jpg 768w,×270.jpg 203w” sizes=”(max-width: 225px) 100vw, 225px” />

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Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask Before Helping Others

“Be kind to yourself”; it’s one of those well-meaning comments isn’t it? Perhaps the opposite of that other frequently used phrase ‘don’t beat yourself up’. What does it actually mean, though?

  • I’ve noticed in all the workplaces I’ve been a part of (M&S through to a busy hospital) that it’s usually a badge of honour to out-do colleagues on who’s having the worst time, got the toughest kids, hating the weather etc
  • People can think that looking after yourself is selfish, and discussing ways of being kind to yourself makes you sound lazy or arrogant.
  • Since socialising more with other parents, it seems that mums and dads can really wring themselves out putting others’ needs before themselves. There is a lot of talk now about a ‘sandwich generation’ in middle age; with people juggling care needs of both young children and elderly parents. Not easy.
  • I come from a family where my parents rarely stopped ‘doing’. For a long time, I made the mistake of thinking that downtime had to involve doing something else productive.
  • Particularly in caring professions, it is part of the culture to keep caring at all costs, even at the expense of your own health and wellbeing. So many people push themselves into work when ill, out of ‘dedication’/guilt/fear etc and usually, it ends up having more of a long term detrimental effect than if they’d taken a day or so to properly get back on their feet.

Becoming a working mother has meant that there is even less time in the day, and it had felt like an impossible luxury to allow myself even a spare ten minutes. However, here’s some starting points that I have found helpful:

You have to make time for yourself. 

Timetable it in if it helps. There are always things you could be doing, and sometimes it’s important to realise this and just stop.

Start considering being kind to yourself and making time for you as an investment.

I have found that having half an hour on my own, or to exercise means that I have more emotional energy for my family, patients etc.

When you make a mistake treat yourself the same as you would a small child you love

Rather than scolding yourself (“I’m so stupid for…. strattera 40 mg.) imagine what you would say to a four-year-old who had done the same thing. We can make allowances for children who make mistakes. Why don’t we with ourselves?

Learn to identify when you need to meet your own basic needs

And realise how much better you can feel when you do this.

It sounds simple, but putting off getting a drink when you’re thirsty can be totally counterproductive for your concentration

No matter how people seem, no one has endless energy. 

If you’re tired, get an early night!

When you have a bad day, accept it as that and nothing more

It’s ok to not be ‘fine’. 

Someone once said to me that ‘Fine’ stands for ‘Fed-Up, Insecure, Neurotic and Exhausted’!


This is by no means something I’ve perfected, in fact, it’s a constantly fluctuating challenge. New difficulties in life can throw the balance out and I have to go back to reminding myself that I can’t be looking after others if I’m not at least trying to practice what I preach.

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The Mindful Medic is a personal blog, where I provide general information and not medical advice. Opinions on this blog are my own, and not my employer. Whilst I work as an NHS Doctor, this is completely separate from this blog.

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Who and Why?



Lizzie blog circle

The MindfulMedic is a health and lifestyle blog written by Lizzie.

It was established through a passion to write and share thoughts about diverse topics that are often mis-represented in the mainstream media.

Lizzie is an NHS junior doctor, having qualified in Medicine and Surgery (MBChB, honours) from the University of Liverpool in 2012

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