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Doctors aren’t invincible – I’ve got the scar to prove it

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Lenny Henry was entertaining the nation on Comic Relief and I had just tucked into a Tesco Finest crab and chilli linguine (it’s weird what you remember). I got indigestion and sat with a hot water bottle having swigged some Gaviscon. Then I threw up in the kitchen sink.

I spent the next day, a Saturday, with horrible backache. I covered myself with Deep Heat and various hot water bottles, none of which made any difference. I didn’t want to eat – which never happens – and decided a cocktail of painkillers was the best solution.

The next night also didn’t go well, nor the following day. The back pain had been joined by lower abdominal pain and I stood in our lounge (sitting hurt too much), having a circular conversation with my non-medical husband.

‘You really don’t look well. Why don’t you ring the out-of-hours GP?’

 I’d never had a general anaesthetic and was utterly terrified

‘No I’m fine. It’s just a tummy upset.’

‘But nothing is helping, and you’re a funny colour.’

‘No it’s nothing. Pass the Deep Heat…’

At which point, I developed a pain more severe than labour in my right iliac fossa, which I think was when my appendix perforated. A rapid journey to the floor followed. The paramedics gave me a choice between waiting for someone to come with morphine, or heading off straight away with gas and air. I opted for the latter, but after the first speed bump realised gas and air is useless unless you’re pushing a baby out, and even then it’s a bit ropey.

A&E beckoned, and after a large dose of opiates I was totally fine. As long as I didn’t attempt to move my right leg. Theatre loomed the following morning; I’d never had a general anaesthetic and was utterly terrified. But by this stage sepsis had well and truly kicked in, and I was drifting in and out on the trolley on the way to theatre.

One very deep sleep later, I awoke to a very loud recovery nurse shouting ‘Zoe!’ in my ear and promptly threw up. I’d been in surgery for almost four hours, and the scar was a bit bigger than I’d hoped. Turns out a perforated, necrotic appendix with abscess is quite tricky to remove. In my morphine haze, I snoozed my 32nd birthday away on the surgical ward. When I realised I was off my face, I asked to stop the strong stuff and suddenly wanted to go home, get some sleep and see my kids.

I thought it best not to mention the C. diff I had clearly developed from the hideous antibiotic combination, lest it prolong my admission. I managed a whole 12 hours at home before my husband rang the GP for a home visit.

Readmission was threatened, which I stubbornly refused. The GP gave me 24 hours’ grace, during which I commanded my body to retain at least some fluids. I spent a whole week in bed, before slowly starting to improve.

I can laugh about it now, but at the time I was genuinely frightened. It shattered the illusion that I – and many colleagues – have that somehow a medical degree means we are invincible. We’re not and sometimes it pays to listen to others and let go of having control. And if you doubt that, remind me to show you my horrible scar sometime.

Dr Zoe Norris is a GP in Hull

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