Shimal Pope is a GP partner in North Wales and is married with two young daughters.

Life was simple last summer. I was a happily busy wife and mother, enjoying work and keeping fit. I was in good shape, having lost a little weight, and felt great. Until one day when I developed a fever and myalgia. Having seen countless cases of self-limiting viral illness, I assumed I too was succumbing to one.

My self-diagnosis was off the mark though, as days of otherwise asymptomatic swinging pyrexia turned into weeks. I was exhausted and feeling increasingly unwell. I had convinced myself that I was just tired, nothing a good night’s sleep wouldn’t fix, and I wanted to carry on as normal.

So I smiled and persevered through work, the children’s various end of year shows, and even a long planned family holiday, because isn’t that just what working mothers do? We spend so much time thinking about others, be it patients, family, friends or colleagues that we often overlook that one person closest to home. Life is so busy with so many commitments that we are too distracted to look after ourselves. We rationalise our ailments and just keep going until something gives. Which of course it did.

Tail between my legs, I begrudgingly went off to consult a doctor that was neither me nor a member of my immediate family.

Day 19 of symptoms and my husband gave me a good talking to. Or should I say a good telling off. A fellow physician, who had initially shared my unrealistic optimism, he now admitted that he was worried about me. I needed to address that something was very wrong.

Tail between my legs, I begrudgingly went off to consult a doctor that was neither me nor a member of my immediate family. And I was promptly admitted to hospital with sepsis secondary to pyrexia of unknown origin. My first thought? Who will cover my on call tomorrow? My second thought? I haven’t unpacked our holiday suitcases.

Much further down my list of concerns was the rather more important question of what was actually wrong with me. Instead I trivialised the glaring fact that I was seriously ill, and wondered when I could go home and just get on with things. As it happened I was really very unwell indeed. A complicated diagnosis with a difficult treatment plan meant that I was suddenly a patient, and I was terrified.

An unforeseen six months off work ensued, many weeks of which were spent feeling fatigued and simply unable to do normal tasks, including looking after my children. This was an alien concept for someone so accustomed to a busy, bustling lifestyle. It was devastating.

Things are not the same, I am not the same. I now recognise the importance of my own wellbeing.

Looking back, the warning signs were there: fever, weight loss, fatigue. Symptoms I would have investigated immediately in any patient. So why not in myself? I have no doubt that my complicated, prolonged recovery period was a direct consequence of a late diagnosis.

But at the time I was so concerned with being an everyman and not letting people down that I carried on regardless. The result? Complete disaster. I was no longer able to function as a doctor, wife or mother, all the things so important to me and my identity.

Almost one year on and I am now back to work, back to being present for my family. I look and sound like my old self, I am trying to act like it too. But my reality is quite different. Things are not the same, I am not the same. I now recognise the importance of my own wellbeing, which I had previously taken for granted.

I also appreciate its significance to those around me, and the impact of my health upon them. As doctors it is in our nature to take care of people, and looking after others is the cornerstone of being a working mother. But this is impossible if you neglect to look after yourself in the first place. I wish I hadn’t needed to learn that the hard way. 

 

Featured photo:Mario Klassen