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Facing reality

If you’ve been following my journey, you’d know that I am a medical intern in South Africa. Working in a health system that’s so overloaded is incredibly strenuous, but more so when you come in with impairments you have no control over.

I was diagnosed with seronegative rheumatoid arthritis a little over a year ago in addition to issues with mental health.

Initially, the diagnosis was such a relief because for years I had been made to believe that it was essentially all in my head.

I saw well-decorated specialist doctors who didn’t bother to try and piece together my not-so-commonplace basket of symptoms and flagged results.

So – I finally received a diagnosis and immediately started on potent disease-modifying drugs. These were awful and the side effects intolerable. I really don’t like pills in general and they seem to really dislike me back, because I was incredibly ill on them.

I decided to put myself and my health first and put my internship on hold. This I did, even though I was already older than my peers and just wanted to finally catch up. I was ‘behind’ not because I failed, but because of the journey I’ve been on since I was a young girl.

I never planned to be out of the game for a year, but that’s how it happened.

True to Murphy’s Law, everything seemed to be getting better until about a month before I was due to return to work. I found myself in hospital and repeat imaging showed what I already knew – the arthritis was progressing. I was admitted for some intravenous medication and then more tests. I received a second diagnosis of early spondyloarthritis. My doctor said this meant we had to be aggressive with the treatment and proposed I enter the world of biologics.

Somewhat ironically, biologics were always the drugs our lecturers told us to skim over because we would never be confronted with them, but here I was: absolutely clueless, so I had to do some reading of my own. One of the effects of biologics is that they essentially lower your immune system to stop your body from fighting/ attacking itself (in my case, my joints).

Of course, I had to be screened for potential infections which could be unmasked on said treatment – and boom! I tested positive for latent TB. This was something I had tried hard to protect myself from (or so I thought) in all my years of training. I was beside myself. 

My entire team of doctors received a frantic SMS from me that night, but all of them were so gracious and kind and did their best to put me at ease. Although this delayed us somewhat in terms of the new medication, I was grateful for the support. I was informed I’d have to take tuberculosis prophylaxis for at least a month (out of a total of six) before I could start on my new treatment.

Anyone who knows me will know that I somehow thought I could go back to work essentially cold turkey and that everything would be okay.

I was sorely mistaken.

It was tough.

With every overtime call my reserves became more and more depleted until I couldn’t even get out of bed and run my own bath.That’s when I reached out for help and received the best support from our interim intern curator. She was a Godsend at a time when I was about to quit my job because I just couldn’t believe the ignorance of fellow doctors. I’m still on sick leave but I’m slowly recovering.

At the back of my mind I know I need to prepare myself for what I’ll come back to at work – but that’s later’s problem.

Again, I reiterate that I’ve been blessed with such an understanding partner and loving friends and family who I can lean on for support.

Look for your people and your life will be so much better for it.I have no idea what the future holds, but my God is steering this ship.

We are never as alone as we feel.

Shirley

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