Being a Doctor
You don’t get up to be average, you get up to be the best you can be, learn as much as you can.
I learnt lots of very hard lessons along the way but I feel it’s a privilege to be able to help people when their life is going awry, and to be able to do something about that I’ve always felt, and still feel, is a great privilege. But some days it doesn't have a good ending: not all our patients survive, less die than used to, but I remember very early facing not someone who didn't make it through the other end, if you like, but someone who ended up with severe complications and all of us had worked very hard and it was when I was first the director of the burns service and I stood back and I thought, I can't do this because it’s just too heartbreaking. We've done all this work, all this energy, and we haven’t got the gecko’s tail, what we’ve got is locked in scar, how can we do better?
So I went away for a few days, it took me four days to realise that the only thing I can do is my best; the only thing I can ask anyone around me to do is their best. And so if we need to stay in this for the long haul, when we see suffering every day, we have to believe that we are using every bit of learning to make tomorrow better.
And so that’s the long way of trying to put into context my personal coping strategy is ridiculous optimism, that one day we will be able to regenerate, and that every day you don’t get up to be average, you get up to be the best you can be, learn as much as you can so tomorrow you're starting from an advanced platform. So it’s learning from today to make tomorrow better.
So when someone hasn't survived, it’s really key to look back and think: if only, what if, could I, is there some way we could've learnt to do better, and that’s really how I cope and I always think, when things aren't good and how we all feel as a team, just spare a thought for the people who loved that person for all their years. So it puts our grief into perspective but we owe it to people, I think, to always learn, don’t waste information. In 2003 a young boy got burnt, 80%, eight year old, and he died of an unusual cancer three years later. I have not been able to let that rest. We have been able to link big data sets to ask the question, does surviving burn influence your life? And the answer is yes in these big data sets, why, how, we don’t know yet, but we’re driving that, trying to understand why surviving a burn…if you're 65, your average age expectancy will be twelve years. If you're 65 and have recovered from a burn, your average life expectancy will be six years. Why? What is changing? It goes right back to what is changing in the rest of your body when your skin gets damaged.
And so when I think of that boy I know that one day we will treat people differently because of the learnings that drive back to that point, but we must never forget what sets us on, what learnings we can glean to make sure that we don’t waste that life, really.