My thoughts as a newly minted ‘wounded healer’

The thing I’ve learnt the most from my experience as a patient is that the world doesn’t actually “do” binaries.

My law training gave me training in being able to argue both sides of a case, and to present the case convincingly, so that I almost believed myself. A client pays a lawyer to win the case, and not to sit on the fence – or even worse, argue the opposite side.

As a doctor, I am taught to believe that people have diseases or not, and that each disease will have a relatively predictable outcome assuming that all the diseases act independently. As a doctor, I am not encouraged to think about what a condition makes a person feel like. I can think about it if I wish, but I don’t have to.

As for the difficulty with binaries, I am both a doctor and a patient. When the MPTS panel asked me in 2014 what I’d learnt the most from my time off the GMC Medical Register, on the assumption made by both me and the GMC perhaps that I would never be making a comeback, I replied, “I finally know it’s like to be a patient.”

Maybe it was the adrenaline talking. But I meant it.

I was a patient on the neurorehab ward in 2007 at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery at Queen Square where indeed I’d been a junior SHO in 2002. I had just suffered a six week coma on the ITU of the Royal Free. My best friends were a young man who’d just got married but fallen down a pothole, meaning that his life had been totally changed by the fitting of a titanium plate as a skull. Another friend had been admitted as he had problems with his intermittent self catheterising at home, living with multiple sclerosis, and was now newly in a wheelchair.

People were describing to me conditions which I had read about in textbooks. But rather than hearing the history compressed in a short clerking, I got the full impact as an equal, as a fellow patient, but me with substantial problems of my very own.

When I later nearly went blind in the late 2017 due to a vitreal haemorrhage (but which was later then successfully operated on), I would listen to people who were blind on local radio describing what it was like to lose their disability living benefit. They like me felt as if they had nobody to turn to.

When I had been decisively erased from the GMC register in 2006, later to be restored in 2014, I spent a few weeks in rehab at various places around the country. I used to chat at length with various other people with histories of substance abuse. Some are now dead. They all had individual tragedies, but all had in common a long period of time when they thought they could tame the beast that is substance abuse.

I realised late on that there’s no magic bullet for substance misuse. And I can see how others are making the same mistakes as I did.

It’s taken me years to get to the stage of applying to return to medicine. In fact, nobody really knew at all that there is a scheme run here in London for doctors like me to return. It’s not as simple as finding a job off a website. It’s a scheme where you’re actually supported, given your health and wellbeing concerns, and where your training needs can be met.

The person doing the interview today on behalf of Health Education England admitted today I was starting from a much higher baseline than most people wanting to start medicine at my age. And, if it had not been for the arse-covering of my seniors, lack of support by colleagues, and my own illness over which I was powerless, I could have also done something too with my medical degree, my MRCP and my Ph.D. And I wouldn’t have become physically disabled either, maybe.

I think the concept and background of the ‘wounded healer‘ is interesting, and I’d like you to read some of the background from elsewhere. There are texts and subtexts, for example Jung and Picasso – but, like my own alcoholism, it’s not worth trying to make sense out of overintellectualisation.

But my tendency is to feel that my period of being very ill, with my life imploding, as an alcoholic who then became physically disabled, should ideally not go to waste, and I feel that looking after patients is now my genuine calling. I have to be careful though, as my own psychiatrist warned me against turning into one of those of people who likes to rewind the ending of his favourite movie, hoping the ending will be different one day. He coincidentally loves the idea of me joining the workforce – he’s one of those psychiatrists who believes that people with a history of mental illness have a lot to offer.

I have come to have a strong passion to want to help patients, which totally overrides the fear of the ‘hostile environment’ from my regulator who would take great delight in any future misfortune of mine. I am sure my comeback would not even deserve a smidgeon of embarrassment from the clinical consultants who failed to support my health years ago.

But I feel that as a ‘wounded healer’, the time is right. I am not doing this for the fame, title, or salary. Admittedly, I am doing this partly for my late father who died with the public shame of my downfall. I am doing this partly for my mum now.

I feel I have quite a lot to offer still, and I’m not finished yet.