BA 12: What We Did In The Shadows

My brief step into the world of medicine.

When I was accepted to be a part of a “Doctors at Work” programme back in October of 2012, I was under no illusion as to what an important opportunity it was. If my goal really was to study medicine (which at the time it definitely was), this would be an incredible boost to my application when the time came.

The first day of the programme consisted mostly of a tour around the hospital, meeting with the other participants and at the very end, a candid warning about how intense the week was likely to become.

Then, one (not too peaceful) sleep later, the shadowing began.

The Deep End

I walked into the ward they had assigned me for my first day and stuck my head into the office, asking if anyone knew the whereabouts of the doctor I was due to be shadowing. A nurse led me quickly to a room near the far end of the ward.

The doctor looked like a deer in the headlights as I walked in and the nurse reminded her what I was there for. It took her a moment to remember, at which point she hurried me into a chair and asked me to wait for a few minutes.

Given the amount of time I had spent in hospitals up to this point, I knew what “a few minutes” meant and settled myself down for a lengthy wait.

When she returned, the doctor sat down opposite me and apologised for brushing me off so quickly. As it turned out, a patient on the ward had passed away just moments before I arrived and so they were in the midst of dealing with that when I walked through the door.

After filling in some paperwork, she asked me to accompany her while she delivered the news to a young married couple that the husbands cancer had become more aggressive and the current treatment was ineffective.

Later that same day, I was in another room as a woman was told that her elderly father was unlikely to wake from the coma into which he had fallen and that they needed to begin talking about the next steps.

That night I sat with some of the other people in my dorm and we chatted about our first day over dinner. Some of them had been lucky enough to have had a fairly slow and relaxing introduction to the week, others were in a similar boat to me.

It’s Hip To Be There

The following morning, it was clear from the bags under everybody’s eyes that none of us had managed to sleep particularly well. We quietly ate our breakfast, a far more sombre scene when compared to the excitement of the previous morning.

My assignment for the day was to observe surgery and I was told to report to the orthopaedics department.

In case you don’t know what orthopaedics means, according to the “Royal College of Surgeons of England” website;

“Orthopaedic surgery is a specialty dealing with acute injuries, congenital and acquired disorders and chronic arthritic or overuse conditions of the bones, joints and their associated soft tissues, including ligaments, nerves and muscles.”

Having personally undergone not one but two open heart procedures, it was a little disappointing that they hadn’t sent me to cardiology for my surgery day but I was still confident that it would be an interesting experience.

The most obvious difference to the previous day was that, when I arrived at the department everyone was relaxed. The theatre nurses, anaesthetist and surgeon were all able to take some time to have a chat with me before things kicked off.

The first surgery was a hip replacement and while I won’t put you off your dinner with all the gory details of the actual procedure, what I will say is that the atmosphere in the room was something I will never forget.

Despite what was going on, everyone was totally calm and interacting with each other in a very easy, conversational way. There was music playing quietly in the background, jokes were cracked and I was fortunate enough to have one nurse explaining to me what was happening during every step of the operation.

Once the new joint was in place, the surgeon invited me over to look more closely at what he had done and described how it would all work once the patient was stitched up.

With that done, the patient was taken out to the recovery room and after a short break for a drink and some biscuits, it was “next please”.
Now, there is a chance that I haven’t quite remembered the name correctly but I believe this one was something called an MUA, manipulation under anaesthetic.

A man’s knee had seized up so they put him to sleep and whilst he was under, forced his knee to bend, releasing whatever had been keeping it from working properly. This was performed quickly and efficiently, involving some brute force and a stomach turning crack.

I returned to the accommodation that night feeling far less stressed than the previous day.
It wasn’t the same story for one of the other guys in my dorm. He had been sat in during open heart surgery and apparently it was not quite as chilled out as my own experience that day.

Still, we had a good evening sharing stories and at the end of it I even managed to get a somewhat peaceful sleep. Although the sound of that knee being forced to bend will haunt my dreams forever.


The last few days of the programme were a mix of attending ward rounds, observing lab work and sitting in on consultations.

It turned out that one of the doctors with whom I was paired just happened to be somebody who would begin dealing with me in the near future as I moved from paediatric to adult services.

I had seen their name on a letter from the hospital a few weeks earlier and after speaking to them for a while, quickly realised who it was.

We hadn’t met each other at this point so they didn’t recognise me and being such a polite young man, I decided not to inform them that I was soon to become a patient of theirs and instead started asking very specific questions that, unbeknownst to them, actually related to my own health.

I was interested to see if the answers were the same when you are not a patient.

However, my questions were apparently too specific as the doctor quickly caught on to the fact that I wasn’t just showing a general interest in the field. When asked, I came clean and told them who I was.

Fortunately, they found it amusing and seemed to respect the fact that I had tried to do a little anonymous digging. To be fair, the answers that I did manage to squeeze out of them were more or less exactly the same as those given by my own doctors.

That evening, a few of us decided to head into the city centre for some food. One of our group ran into a clothes shop to grab something (some form of clothing I assume).

On her way out she nodded her head back towards the doorway and made a comment about a rude woman who had ignored her when she had smiled whilst holding open a door.

Naturally, we all looked.

Now, I have told this story before and people always seem to think I’m making it up but I swear it is the truth. The woman she was talking about was the one that had been in the hospital earlier that week being told that her husbands cancer treatment wasn’t working.

Obviously I couldn’t tell anybody that so I just tried to brush it away with a “well you never know what is going on in somebody’s life”.

In this case, I did know. I knew exactly what was going on. It was a moment that completely changed the way I think about people and one that I hope I never forget.

The Wisdom

  • You never know what battles a person is fighting.

Thank you for reading folks. Stay safe and be excellent to each other.

Follow me,

Privacy Policy

More from
My Story: Before Amputation

Explore posts from other categories.

Stay up to date.

Subscribe to get updates delivered straight to you inbox.

Privacy Policy

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: