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Dealing with Personal Illness in Med School

Written by Nicole Mooney · Wednesday 29th January 2014

Hey guys! I’m Nicole and I’m a second year medical student at Glasgow University. I’ve decided to start this blog to write about my experiences as a med student and the difficulties I encounter along the way, hopefully giving you something you can relate to.

Since June of last year I have been suffering with a personal illness, with symptoms of persistent nausea, gastric pain and lethargy. At first I thought it was just a bug that would pass on fairly quickly, but as the summer months went on it was clear that this illness wasn’t going to disappear overnight.

I spent my summer going through a copious amount of medications in hope that I’d feel better for term starting. I visited my GP several times and had bloods taken regularly. After 2 months, I finally got given a diagnosis; I had a helicobacter pylori infection. I started eradication therapy for a week and although it made my symptoms worse, I was positive would make me better and I’d be well again within the week.

The week passed with no improvements in my condition. Frustrated, I went back to my GP who referred me for an endoscopy. Term started back the next week and despite feeling miserable I managed to drag myself out to every lecture, tutorial and lab. Within a few weeks I began to fall behind in my work, doing the bare minimum required to get through. Getting up each morning was a struggle and forcing myself to sit in lectures despite the severe nausea I was experiencing was becoming a bigger challenge each day.

In October I went for my endoscopy which, for those of you that don't know, is a horribly uncomfortable procedure. My family and friends assured me that this would be the final stage and I’d be better very very soon. The results came back and my GP gave me a different PPI in hope that it would fix everything.

I waited a few weeks and struggled through uni constantly hoping that everything would magically get better. I gave up almost all my extra-circular activities which for me, the extrovert I am, was possibly the hardest part of it all. I wanted to stay in bed all the time and I become more miserable every day. I was stressing about falling behind in uni and tensions began to build up in my personal life. It got to the point where I couldn’t eat a meal without it coming back up causing me to lose a substantial amount of weight. I got so stressed that I had to leave an exam to throw up. I was truly miserable.

I seen a consultant just before Christmas who scheduled me in for some scans, but it wasn’t until January. I was frustrated at how long this was going on for and I thought it was about time I told the medical school about my situation. They were very understanding and I was slightly surprised at just how supportive they were. I contacted my head of year who arranged a visit with me for January.

During the Christmas break I had a chance to relax and forget about everything that was stressing me. I got put on a stronger anti-sickness medication which, surprisingly, seemed to work. The tensions in my life that had built up in the last few months seemed to resolve themselves and I began to feel a lot more positive!

I met with my head of year just last week who was encouraged by my newly found positive behaviour. We’ve agreed to see how things progress over the next few months, but things are looking a lot brighter than before. I’ve taken on a new attitude and I’m determined to work my hardest to get through this year. I’m currently undertaking an SSC so I have lots of free time to catch up on work I missed during the last term.

My head of year has assured me that situations like the one I’m in happen all the time and I’m definitely not alone. I feel better knowing that the medical school are behind me and are willing to help and support me through this time.

The most important thing I have taken from this experience is the fact that you’ll never know the full extent of what a patient is going through. Illness effects different people in different ways and it may not just be a persons health thats affected, it can affect all aspects of their life. This experience has definitely opened my eyes up and hopefully I’ll be able to understand patients’ situations a little better.