Yesterday, I went for lunch with my friend and colleague, Prof Facundo Manes. Facundo kindly wrote a Foreword to my book ‘Living well with dementia”, an essay on the importance of personhood and interaction with the environment for persons living with dementia. We were just a stone’s throw from all those bars and pubs in Covent Garden I knew well in a former life.
I spent nine years at medical school, and very few as a junior doctor.
I’ve now been in recovery for just over seven years.
But in that time I do remember doing shifts starting at Friday morning and ending on Monday night. I remember the cardiac arrest bleep in Hammersmith at 4 am, and doing emergency catheters at 3 am in Norfolk.
I had an unusual background. I loved medical research at Cambridge. In fact, my discovery how to diagnose the behavioural variant of frontotemporal dementia is cited by the major international labs. It is in the current Oxford Textbook of Medicine.
Being ensnared by the General Medical Council in their investigation process devastated my father. He later died in 2010. I remember kissing him goodbye in the Intensive Care Ward of the Royal Free, the same ward which had kept me alive for six weeks in 2007.
I of course am completely overwhelmed by those events widely reported, especially in the one in 2004. The newspapers never report I was blind drunk. The media when they do not mention my alcohol dependence syndrome are missing out a key component of the jigsaw.
Until I die, I will never be safe with one alcoholic drink. I will go on a spiral of drinking, and that one event I am certain would either see me in a police cell or in A&E.
One event did change my life. I was blue lighted in, after a year of heavy drinking after I was erased by the GMC in 2006, having had a life-threatening epileptic fit. The crash team attempted emergency intubation, but I ended up having a cardiac arrest which was successfully resuscitated.
I do not wish to enter any blame games about what happened a decade ago. It turns out that the Trust which reported me as dishevelled and alcoholic, and having poor performance simultaneously, is in the Daily Mail this morning for a running a ‘chaotic’ A&E department.
It also turns out that another Trust in London which reported me as dishevelled and alcoholic, and having poor performance simultaneously, had its A&E department shut down this week.
I have written previously here about my experience as a sick doctor.
I was in denial and had no insight. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I needed sick leave and a period of absence and support. But I do not wish to blame anyway for those events I wish had never happened some time ago.
But the GMC referrals were absolutely correct. I had a proper medical plan put in place for me when I awoke from my coma. I followed religiously my own GP’s advice too.
I am now physically disabled, and have had no regular salaried job since 2005. But I am content. I live in a small flat with my mother in Primrose Hill. I regularly go out to cultural events. I maintain my interest in dementia, going to a fourth conference this year for Alzheimer’s Europe in October, where I have been chosen to give one of the research talks. It’s actually on an idea which David Nicholson inspired me over.
I’ve done four books on medicine, including one on living well with dementia. The Fitness to Practice panel in their judgment note my contribution there, which I am pleased about.
The Panel also crucially made the link in their judgment that my poor performance in conduct and competence coincided with my period of illness, the alcohol dependence syndrome, for which I am now under a psychiatrist.
I go to AA sometimes, and the weekly recovery support group at my local hospital. Being in contact with other people who are starting the same process of getting their life back continues to inspire me. I also attend the suspended doctors group for the Practitioner Health Programme, which helps me understand myself too.
I believe that there is no higher law than somebody’s health. I understand the pressures of why trainees preventing them from seeking help in the regulatory process.
But I do have an unusual perspective. First and foremost, I am a patient myself, and proud of it.
Secondly, I am regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. I can become a trainee solicitor, if I want to be. I had a careful due diligence process in 2010, and I thank the legal profession for rehabilitating me.
Thirdly, I will now be regulated once again by the General Medical Council pending a successful identity check on October 7 2014. Having my application to be restored to the UK medical register is a massive honour for me. I caused a lot of hurt to others during my time with the medical profession last time, and this time I would like things to be different, and be of worth.
This, I hope, will mean a lot to my late father.
I am grateful to all the people at the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service, and to the GMC prosecutor for presenting a fair case on behalf of the GMC who need to promote patient safety.
I am encouraged that the GMC’s new Chair, Prof Terence Stephenson, “gets” change for the better for the profession, and has an excellent track record as a clinical leader.
I genuinely feel it’s only a matter of time before the giant supertanker which is the medical profession changes its bearings to acknowledge that sick people in their profession exist. Dr Phil Hammond has done a superb article on this.
I love my law school, BPP Law School. They got me through this. I have become a non executive director of their Students Association now. There’s a lot of work to be done there, but I am lucky that there are two colleagues there of mine who are simply the best: Shahban Aziz and Shaun Dias.
I am now about to be regulated by two professions. I could not be happier.
Thanks for your support. I couldn’t have done it without you.