If you follow me on any of my social media handles or view my status updates on WhatsApp, then you might have come across a photo I shared of myself in the clinic, attending to patients with an inflamed right lower eyelid – a condition I termed blepharitis, which seemed to have erupted out of nowhere.
I didn’t think I would seek specialist medical advice and care until a friend mentioned it. I saw more reasons to do so when he pointed out, ‘The eye clinic is just opposite your department. You can take a break from work to see them.’
What started as a barely perceptible swelling and discomfort around my right lower eyelid, transformed overnight into a more obvious swelling, and throbbing pain around the affected eye and the adjoining temple.
What was sad was: Of all days in the week to be placed on-call, this was happening on a day I could have used a break. I thought about swapping my call duty with a colleague but the notice was too short and I thought to myself, ‘I can get through the night and seek care the following day.’
Even though the pain was there to constantly remind me of my swollen right lower eyelid, I was thankful that the call duty was not a busy one in the end.
I considered taking permission to be off duty the following day and rest, but instead of following through, I proceeded to continue with work against my best interest.
Thank God I teased my registrar, mentioning how he did not ask about my swollen right lower eyelid all through the previous day we were in the gynaecology outpatients’ clinic together. He muttered an excuse and apologized. Then, he took me to the Ophthalmology department, introduced me as his house officer, and found a doctor to attend to me – a gesture that remains memorable for me. He also asked that I stay behind to be seen while they continue the rounds.
In the course of all these, life thrust some lessons on me, reinforcing some of what I hitherto knew alongside some fresh lessons.
Lesson 1: The saying, ‘He who wears the shoe, knows where it hurts most,’ is true.
When I came down with the ailment on my eye, I got a feeling that people were inclined toward overlooking it because it was located on my eye, a small part of my body. Add also, an unconventional ailment.
I felt that if it were a more conventional ailment, like malaria, for example, people would give me the empathy I desired.
What I didn’t realize was that I did not need people to validate my pain. If I said I was hurt, best believe I was. If I thought I needed a break because work was negatively impacting my health, then I needed one. I also learned to extend the grace to others.
Lesson 2: Patience is indeed a virtue.
I did not realize how frustrating obtaining care from a Nigerian tertiary hospital was until the tables were turned and I went from doctor to patient.
I mean, if I who was a doctor and worked in the same hospital was having delays obtaining good medical attention, how much more patients and relatives, more so those who are visiting the hospital for the first time and do not know their way around? Must pose a great deal of stress to them.
I would not love to go into details of all that transpired but one thing I learned from the experience was to tuck my discomfort away, suck my anger in (where there may be one), and be focused and dogged in getting what I want, which was the medical attention I needed in this case.
There were occasions when I was found wanting with this virtue, but I am thankful it was within reach when I needed it the most. If you are a Christian, listening to the Holy Spirit helps – not social media or your friends.
Lesson 3: Speak out or rot in silence.
This was the second biggest lesson for me. Earlier on, I talked about the tendency for people to overlook or trivialize your problems but the truth is, sometimes you are only an open mouth away from getting a solution to your problem(s).
Merely expecting people to notice or take action following observation is not always enough. It is, however, important to know that speaking up does not always guarantee that solution or even littlest care would be brought your way, but it is, in some cases, a good place to start.
There are more often than not people with ideas and the necessary energy to move you a step or two in the direction of the solution to your problem(s) when you speak up.
Lesson 4: Rest is not for the weak.
This was the biggest lesson I learned.
I am not a workaholic or maybe I am, but craftily dodging work is not something I am known for or will like to be known for. This often translates into not being able to find the ‘perfect’ time to take a break when my body begins to demand one until, sadly, it crumbles under and I am forced to take that break.
This behaviour is common among doctors; we would readily give of ourselves and render our service to others – what the job is about, but often fail to give to ourselves (and our loved ones) – the ones that need it the most – when the need arises
When I was finally given a break or forced to take one, I found it hard to enjoy the break because I was constantly thinking about my absence at work. I prematurely resumed work, and broke down again with another ailment (this time, malaria) two days following resuming work. It was a heartbreaking and embarrassing experience for me.
I was forced to accept this truth: Rest is not for the weak. It is for the living.
When your body gives you a sign that you need to slow down perhaps, take the cue and do so or you may suffer escalated consequences that you hitherto would have averted.
And there you have it: Four life lessons I learned from the last time I fell ill.
Which of these lessons can you relate to? Can you share any life lessons you learned the hard way? I would love to hear. Please share in the comments.
Ps: When I went to see the Ophthalmologist, I was diagnosed with pre-septal cellulitis with stye, as against blepharitis. I shared how my brother and I burst out laughing when I said I was going to see a doctor, and he asked ‘Are you not a doctor?’ What I meant was a specialist. Read the Instagram post here in case you missed it.