Knowing too much

I’ve just had a holiday. It was supposed to be a much needed break. A chance to catch up on some sleep and exchange my strip-light hospital tan with some actual vitamin d. But I got a bit more than I bargained for.

Walking along a rubbish-strewn Egyptian street, chatting to my friend I suddenly feel a searing pain through the bottom of my foot. My first thought is I’ve been bitten by a snake. I peer down at the bottom of my flip flop through the darkness. Glinting in the moonlight is a needle. It’s sticking all the way through my flip flop and into my foot. Oh shit.

I pull my flip flop off and reveal an inch of blood stained needle. Shit.

A million thoughts run through my head. If I was at home I’d encourage it to bleed and wash it copiously under running water and then head to a&e. I’m in the middle of nowhere in a dust filled back street. We flag down a passing car.

‘Are any hospitals open?’ I ask the driver. He nods. I squeeze my friend’s hand and give into a flood of tears.

As we roar along a desert-lined street, my mind is running overtime. All I can think of is the chances of HIV, and hepatitis c. For HIV I can take anti-retrovirals and, although they’ll make me feel horrendous, they’ll minimise the chances of developing HIV. For hep c there’s bugger all I can do.

We pitch up at a hospital. It’s a dive hospital. They offer to take my blood pressure and give me some analgesia, but there’s no chance of anything else. If I’m interested in taking any other action I need to go to the government hospital, some way away.

My brain is freaking out and I realise I need some help. I call a friend in London, an a&e reg. Once he’s stopped giggling he tells me to go to bed and stop worrying. The chance of HIV surviving outside the body for any length of time is minimal. And I can’t do anything about hep c. That’s just the luck of the gods.

And now I turn into every doctor’s worst nightmare. A patient with access to the Internet. According to google, hep c can survive for 14 days outside the body, and Egypt has the highest rate of hep c in the world. It’s endemic at 20% of the population. Great news.

But there’s nothing I can do except wait. And torture myself with statistics.

Three days later, I’m sitting in my own hospital a&e waiting along with the rest of the population suffering broken ankles and minor head injuries. I’m here to have my bloods taken to ascertain that I don’t have hep c or HIV already. Occupational health aren’t interested as it didn’t happen at work, so I’m on my own from here on out. Thanks for the support guys.

In 6 weeks I’ll need another blood test to check I haven’t developed hep c, in 12 weeks I’ll need another one. In 18 weeks I’ll need another one. I realise how shit it is to be a patient. You feel like you’re just a pain the arse. Nobody cares that I’m totally shitting myself that if I get hep c, I’ll have to change my career and may potentially kick the bucket. I’m just another bum filling a seat in the minor injuries unit.

So if any good comes out of this, I’m going to try to remember my humanity as a doctor. To squeeze the hand of people who are scared. To treat people as the humans they are. Not another job to be done, a bleep to be answered.
But mostly I’m going to take the advice I give to all my patients. I’m going to stay away from the Internet. That stuff will drive you crazy.


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