It’s 4am, Friday 8th February. I’m wide awake so I’ve just picked up my laptop to blog. It’s been just over 8 months since I resigned. I didn’t want to name the hospital I was over-worked at so I’d referred to it as Hospital X, but since it’s come out in the media I’ll use it by name: Bankstown.
[This is a follow up article to my story here.]
After I had put in my resignation, I knew I still had to see out the minimum 4 weeks. After I got home I flopped onto my bed. THANK GOODNESS. I lay there for a while looking at the ceiling. I felt an instant sense of relief, and my very first thought was, I can’t wait to get back into running and go to the gym again. I can go to bed tonight with my phone turned off… oh the bliss of that… On Saturday, I couldn’t, and didn’t, get out of bed at all. My body could not move and I had this massive headache, similar to what people experience after a hangover. This headache would continue for weeks afterwards.
On Sunday morning, I knew that I couldn’t see out the final four weeks. I was tired down to my bones. I was still so exhausted from my 24-day stint but I knew that I couldn’t possibly go back to Bankstown anymore.. so I went there with a suitcase. I unpacked my locker, took my books from the office bookshelf but left a few textbooks behind as a gift for the other junior registrars, and completed my final timesheet.
Awkwardly, the other registrar walked in whilst I was doing this. “Is it true that you’ve resigned?” he asked. I replied, “yes”. He asked what I was doing there, and I told him I was doing my time sheet, conscious of the fact that my suitcase was standing there between us. “But what about the training program?” he asked. “You’re going to look really bad to the bosses,” he continued. “I don’t care anymore,” I said, as I stared blankly at the computer screen in front of me. We had this whole conversation without looking at each other.
After he had left the office, I quickly gathered all of my things and left Bankstown Hospital for the very last time. Bye, Bankstown. I thought about Mr B as I left the building. I’m so sorry Mr B… It won’t be me doing your dressings on Monday… but I know that your finger has improved to the point where you don’t need me anymore. You will be fine by whomever will look after you from now on…
I felt so bad that it wouldn’t be me greeting him on Monday morning. I messaged my intern to keep me updated on Mr B. Please just let me know that his finger is continuing to get better. That’s all I wanted to know. I let the team know on Monday morning that I couldn’t come in because I was still so exhausted. I went to my GP and collapsed onto her desk. I was in tears and told her that I put in my resignation with the minimum 4 weeks’ notice… but I don’t think I can do the 4 weeks.
I got a message from my Head of Department (HoD) that day; “Hi Yumi, I was surprised you didn’t come in to work today as you said you would. Please contact me after 4.30pm”. After my GP appointment I had gone back to my bed and didn’t get up for the rest of the day. I was still extremely tired. That was the last week I’d heard from my HoD.
I didn’t hear from any of my consultants after news of my resignation had been spread. Even now, I have not heard from any of them. The only communication I got was from the accredited registrar, who asked me to email me the last presentation I did for the unit audit because I had done the whole thing, as usual.
The first I’ve heard from anyone from Bankstown’s Plastic Surgery unit or Administration was an email from the acting Director of Medical Services (DMS) on Monday – the day after I posted my blog on Facebook. Oh, what funny timing! The email read, “Would you be able to come over to see me and talk about the challenging time you had at Bankstown? … I would really like you to talk to me about how we can improve the training experience for our surgical registrars”
First of all, I’m not going to travel an hour to go to Bankstown, and especially not to go to the hospital that tormented me. Secondly, this email is 10 months too late. Where were you when I needed you? Where were you when I had already presented my solutions to my department? I’d already suggested several ways in which we can make things safer for registrars – what more could you possibly want from me?
Apparently there was no DMS when I started my term. How is that even possible? That is such an important role for a hospital to have. The author of the email had apparently started her role as acting DMS in mid-March but, “As you never came to meet up with me, and I did ask Axxxxx to ask you to, you probably don’t know the action Medical Admin were taking in the background.”
Firstly, Axxxxx did not ask me to, and I’m sorry but I didn’t even know you existed. If all of these “actions” were taking place, why did I never hear about them? They were more like proposed plans rather than actual actions because I never saw any changes whilst I was there. Apparently two registrars started doing my job in August. Oh, that’s fantastic!
Apparently the acting DMS thought that I had gone “home to Japan” otherwise she would have contacted me sooner. Does anyone else think that this is borderline racist? I am Japanese by blood, but I am as Australian as anyone else in this country. Why would anyone presume that I’d go home to Japan? Sydney is my home, and has been for most of my life. I did not even reply to this audacious email. Everything about it read DAMAGE CONTROL.
Wind back to June. I thought that maybe after resting for a week, I’d be back to my usual energy. Wrong. There were days where I couldn’t get out of bed – I have those days even now. What is this? Adrenal fatigue? And how long until I recover? I still ask myself that last question…
After just one week, I started to feel guilty that I was at home doing nothing. Why am I not working? Why am I lazy? I started applying for vacant jobs. I reached out to the Head of Burns at the Children’s Hospital, where I’d previous loved working at. He was absolutely wonderful. He listened to my story with empathy and helped me secure a job in Paediatric Surgery, however they needed someone straight away and I was still too fatigued to work. He later offered me the position of Burns Fellow (which would have started this week) but unfortunately I had to decline it as my health continued to deteriorate.
I turned to yoga. It’s what has helped me through the toughest times last year. I’ve been a yogini for as long as I’ve been a doctor (8 years), and I decided that I would use this time off to finish my qualification so that I could teach yoga as an option. I finished my 200-hour yoga teacher training, and re-connecting with yoga was the best thing I could have done for myself. Until then I hadn’t been able to make it to any yoga studio for nearly a year because of work.
I officially received my certificate to become a RYT-200 yoga teacher. This felt like my biggest achievement for 2018. I was made to feel like a failure at Bankstown, and I certainly felt like that when I resigned. I know it’s just a piece of paper, but holding my certificate meant everything. It felt like at least I managed to accomplish something.
Yoga philosophy has its roots in Hinduism. I am not of any particular religion, but I loved learning philosophy. The concepts that helped me the most are aparigraha and isvara pranidhana. Aparigraha means non-attachment. This helped me detach from my identity as an aspiring Plastic surgeon. I spent so much of my life dedicating myself to this dream, that I lost my own identity. Without surgery, what am I? I’ve had to learn that it’s okay to change roles. I am me, and I don’t need to be anything more.
In his book, The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle says, “The compulsion to do, and the tendency to derive your sense of self-worth and identity from external factors such as achievements is an inevitable illusion as long as you are identified with the mind”. Reading this was so powerful and helped me to manifest aparigraha.
Isvara pranidhana means to surrender to the universe. I’ve always believed that things happen for a reason. Maybe I was supposed to go through this suffering. Again, Tolle’s words inspired me. He says that you “create an illness in order to force you to stop, so that the necessary regeneration can take place”. By removing myself from my “illness” (my attachment to becoming a surgeon), I forced myself to stop. I feel that right now, I am regenerating. I do not know how my regeneration will shape me, but it is already turning into something more beautiful.
It was now September. I had taken more than a year off Instagram, but I reactivated my account… but that’s when I started to get trolled by my stalker. Read about that here. It certainly didn’t help things but it didn’t stop me from living my life in a positive way. In mid-September I completed my training to become a mentor for Camp Magic, which is a grief camp that helps children who have lost one or both parents, a sibling, or other significant loved one.
The training for this camp was intense but awe-inspiring. It is run by Feel the Magic, which is an incredible organisation. I had been approached by the training co-ordinator to teach yoga to the kids. I was thrilled to be able to do that. The upcoming camp was in October. I missed it because I ended up in hospital.
I thought I was getting better, but I was just in denial that I was sick.. and eventually I faced the reality of it when I wasn’t looking after myself and found myself sitting in an apartment full of mess. I lost my energy again. I wasn’t getting out of bed until the afternoon each day – a huge contrast to the “old me” who jumps out of bed at 5am ready to go for a run. I wasn’t sleeping properly (and still don’t).
What still affects me every night is that I wake up every 2 hours. My brain still thinks it’s on call. The hypervigilance makes me wide awake. I’m not even stressed about anything. I’m not the type to ruminate over things. I just wake up, with an empty space in my head, with nothing in particular on my mind. No, Miko, you’re not on call, there are no emergencies to be on standby for. Just go back to sleep. But I can’t.
I strictly follow all of the sleep hygiene rules. I try everything I can non-pharmacologically. I also have a specialist who oversees my sleep issues medically… but I can’t sleep. On top of that, I still suffer from traumatic symptoms. I’ve had to change my phone number – partly because of my stalker, partly because it reminded me of being on call. I hate seeing “No Caller ID” come up on my phone because that’s how the hospital switchboard contacts you when you’re on call; from a private number.
In early October I finally surrendered to my condition. I was admitted to a private hospital for treatment of my insomnia and post-traumatic symptoms. I was told I’d probably be there for three weeks. I ended up in hospital for six.
During that time I was supposed to have competed in the Noosa Triathlon. I had everything booked and it was something I’d been looking forward to all year… except I was in a hospital bed and I couldn’t even walk properly let alone swim, bike, run. I also missed Camp Magic. The only person from Bankstown who had been checking up on me was a lovely general surgery registrar who had given me a lot of support whilst I was suffering at Bankstown. She came to visit me in hospital, as did consultant surgeons and anaesthetists I worked with from previous years. It was nice to know that they still valued me as a colleague and cared about me.
Over Christmas I went to Japan to visit my family, and that’s what made the biggest difference to my recovery. I felt anxious about going back. They’ve never seen me like this. I’m the happy, cheerful one who cracks dad jokes and bad jokes. Instead I was cynical and exhausted… but my family was tremendously supportive. They were all just really worried about me. I feel teary writing this, but my mum has been through so much, and even attended two funerals whilst I was there, but she didn’t show any signs of stress. I’m sure she had carer distress, and I didn’t want to add to that role.
I love you, mum. You are such a strong woman and thank you for looking after me. I was nourished by her amazing home cooking every day. There were some days I just wanted to stay in my futon and she let me be… but on other days when I had a bit more energy she would encourage me to go outside because she always knows what’s good for me. She went for a walk with me and my gorgeous grandma. The three of us went to our local park. I held my grandma’s hand. She said, “I can tell by how you hold my hand that you have kindness in your heart”.
We sat down on a park bench and I gave her a big squeeze. There are no better hugs in this world than my grandma’s. My love for flowers blossomed from when I was a little girl. She has an incredible knowledge of botany, which she always shares with me. She pointed to a bush with white flowers; “Look, Yumiko-chan, the camellias are blooming”. White camellias represent the pure love between mother and child. How apt for that very moment.
I got home and I had a chat with my dad. He had always supported my dreams of becoming a surgeon and I knew he was proud of me, but when I resigned I felt like I was disappointing him. “Fluffy,” he started (the nickname my family gives me). “Why don’t you go into academia? You used to teach anatomy and you’d come home so excited. You loved teaching at the university.” Wow. I did not expect that from my dad at all, but that moment made me realise that family really does know me best.
He was right. I hadn’t thought of it as a long term option, but I did love teaching anatomy. I wrote to the university Professor I used to work with, and I got a response straight away. I met with him yesterday, in fact. I’m still recovering, but maybe a path in medical education could be for me. I think education and yoga would give me a well-balanced life that still has meaning and purpose. Watch this space.
I wrote my original blog post whilst I was in Japan. It was still painful to write it, but I didn’t want to wait longer. When you go through a traumatic experience, your brain starts to block some of it out, and you lose some of your memory of it. Thus I wanted to write it down before I forgot the details. At the time, my blog post was only read by family and friends.
When I got back to Sydney, I missed my family terribly but I talk to them every day. We even FaceTimed each other during the Australian Open so that we could cheer on Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori together and share commentary. What would we be without our families? It’s been hard to experience everything alone in Sydney, but I’m thankful for my friends, and for FaceTime.
I agonised over whether to put my blog post into the public space. I knew exactly when I would do it – Sunday 3rd of February, the day before the new year starts for the junior doctors. I wanted any doctors out there to know that they are not alone if they feel like they are suffering. I had concerns that there might be backlash, hateful responses from my consultants at Bankstown, or that it would be career suicide. My sense of integrity won in the end. I don’t care what the response is going to be. I’m just going to put it out there because it’s my truth to share, with anyone who will read it. And so I did. On Sunday, I posted my blog article on Facebook.
As I did in June, I’ve had people telling me what I should do with my life. I say this with respect, but please don’t. I am still in recovery, and I’m not in a headspace where I even want to think about hospital work. My mind and body are not ready to make that big decision yet. I need to look after myself first. I won’t return to work half-baked. I want to be a fully-baked cookie before I throw myself into something again, because I’m not a half-arsed kind of person. If I do anything, I do it properly and I do it well.
Everyone wants to give me their 2 cents. I appreciate that it’s all with good intentions, but I don’t need to be “saved”. I am an independent 31 year old woman <cue Destiny’s Child>, and I’ve been making decisions by myself for a long time. No one knows me, my strengths, weaknesses, my likes or dislikes, except for me and my nearest and dearest. I’ve even had someone suggest I consider acupuncture. Really? Just because I’m Asian, it doesn’t mean I have any interest in traditional Chinese Medicine (I don’t).
I wanted to be a surgeon, and there’s still a place in my heart for it, of course. Whatever I go back to, it will be surgical (if clinical), or anatomy (if academic). Those are my thoughts right now but I can’t make that decision yet. I need to heal first. In the meantime, I am enjoying some time off clinical work. I’m reading books to nourish my mind, eating a plant-based diet to nourish my body, and doing yoga to nourish my soul. I’m finding myself again. I’m not a plastic surgery registrar right now. I am just Miko, and I hope that that’s okay.
Take care and thank YOU to everyone who has gotten behind my story and sent me their love.