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As a patient, I needed a brave doctor

There's nothing quite like a bit of paralysis to get attention. A week ago I had a sore throat and a headache. I then developed man-flu. My partner, with rolling eyes, suggested I take paracetamol and talk about something else.

But the weakness in my arms grew worse.

I fumbled keys, dropped coins and sank to the floor after climbing the stairs until I was admitted to hospital with suspected Guillain-Barré syndrome.

For the first time in my life I was a patient. I became NHS bedding, sponge and custard and a name on a drug Kardex. I went from being a fit 30-year-old to a flat fish wafting along the sea bed, carried by the tide and swell of ward 40.

The shouty registrar told me I had lost upper limb reflexes and my paresis could go on to affect my breathing. I asked her when I would be able to wipe my arse again and if she insisted on doing a lumbar puncture, could she please be gentle.

And then I was alone, with blue-top water jug and tumbler, compressed onto the terrifyingly tiny pin-head of illness. The world with its headlines no longer applied. Before, I had been preoccupied with the Eurozone crisis. Now all I wanted to do was to slide the toilet door shut. I gripped onto my life like a child grips a crayon.

Looking around me, I noticed how many warning signs there were. A box of hand towels with, 'If one will do, don¹t take two'. Over the sink a guide to washing your hands. Next to my head was, 'Make sure bed is unplugged before moving'. I had been unplugged from this mainframe of warnings and rules.

None of them applied.

I was a diagnostic uncertainty with an uncertain future and I was willing, unlike those around me, to take risks.

My MRI scan was like being inserted into a futuristic anus with Take That piped into the headphones. I'd never really wanted to be buried alive with Gary Barlow. After a lumbar puncture and nerve conduction studies I was diagnosed with a 'probable' cervical myelitis, an acute inflammation of the spinal cord caused by an unknown virus, which is likely to clear on its own after an unknown length of time. Unlike the warning signs in my room, disease comes with no clear instruction.

I now know that illness lives deep underground in all of us. It doesn't compromise and it doesn't care. It stares at you with round black eyes while the world spins on and we refuse to fall off.

As I lay in hospital, I realised all I had left was the bravery of my consultant. I wanted him to chance his arm, to roll the dice.

I wanted him to outwit the uncertainty of my illness with his own daring.

As doctors we should be brave. We should be prepared to rip up guidelines and take risks with our patients. And from time to time, push the boat out and ask for their forgiveness, rather than permission.

Dr Kevin Hinkley is a GP in Aberdeen, and writes Pulse¹s Through the K Hole blog at