I was off sick for 2 weeks, with migraines brought on by stress. I slept. A lot. I work in a specialty that continued seeing patients, face to face, through every lockdown, but I haven’t been caring for the sickest or the dying. I felt like I didn’t deserve to be unwell. 1/
But I was unwell. I was exhausted. I was unable to give my best to my patients as my headaches made it hard to think. I was scared all the time that I would make a mistake and harm someone and be punished for it later. So I screwed up my courage and asked for help. 2/
It took me 2 weeks, a migraine that left me unable to even start a clinic, and a phone call with a receptionist that left me in tears of humiliation and frustration, but I got a GP appointment by phone. 3/
A truly wonderful locum GP managed to convince me that I deserved care too, that I wasn’t a failure and to take the time off to start medication and get well enough to give my patients the compassion and quality they deserve. But it was frightening. 4/
What if people thought I was weak? Not good enough? Would they be angry with me for “walking out” on my colleagues? And what would happen to my workload when I got back? 5/
I have amazing subspecialty colleagues who covered my referrals and emergencies, who really protected my most at-risk patients and haven’t uttered a word of judgement. But... 6/
6 weeks later, all the patients from clinics that were cancelled have been rebooked into this months clinics. There’s no space for urgent new referrals or follow-ups. So I either cancel someone again, with all the attendent stress and disappointment, or overbook my clinics. 7/
This has made my return to work so exhausting I almost wish I hadn’t “gone off sick” in the first place. (I know I did the right thing, don’t worry!). It’s no-one’s fault, my managers are great, but I am the only person doing my sort of thing in my small area, so there it is. 8/
It’s not heroic. It’s just human. I’m just human. Calling doctors, nurses, NHS staff “heroes” dehumanises us, damages our ability to admit illness ourselves and sets our patients up for disappointment when we prove to be fallible or vulnerable or ill. 9/
Until we see healthcare workers as humans, we won’t solve anything. We won’t improve morale, retention, recruitment or burnout. We won’t improve care for our patients, we won’t improve their experiences or outcomes. 10/
We owe it to our patients, our colleagues, our successors and juniors, to change this narrative, to fight for better staffing, more training places for doctors and nurses, better care for staff. We’re humans, not heroes, and we can all do better when we acknowledge that. 11/11

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