I remember my first day as a doctor in a large tertiary teaching hospital not too far from the prime minister’s home constituency. I was nervous – after two days of induction,
I was starting on-call Fri-Sat-Sun for general medicine and had just been told that the other FY1 in my firm had resigned and so I would have to cover until they found another one (that took three months). Those shifts were hellish. The very first patient I assessed was in ICU: a hospital benefactor with two consultants as children watching me hawkishly. I felt so out of my depth. During the course of that weekend I remember my clipboard running to six pages of jobs and my bladder becoming a rudimentary organ.
I returned to my room that first day at 11pm absolutely shattered. I was staying at the highest-tier single room hospital accommodation, and at £472 per month wasn’t exactly cheap. But it was deemed “BMA-compliant”.
I saw a cockroach in the toilet. It was a small one. I should have been shocked but I was so exhausted and demoralized that I just ignored it and went to sleep. I saw 2-3 cockroaches every day for the next three weeks and a number outside on the pavement and road of the development itself. Now of course I should have complained, but anyone who has started as an FY1 in a busy acute job knows you have to stratify your worries. But after three weeks I woke up at 3am as one was crawling up my right nostril and decided that was enough.
I emailed the trust accommodation manager and the response was as follows:
“Our pest control contractor is convinced that what you have seen are beetles”. I disagreed and there were a few days of back-and-forth emails. I sent them photos, and the response was
“As with all pest problems, there is no quick fix. However, we are dealing with the problem as best we can and I hope that you will see an improvement shortly. Unfortunately, these type of pests do get brought into our accommodation from residents arriving from abroad. However we do deal with them when it is reported by our residents”
I was given 48 hours to leave my room for it to be fumigated and was given a temporary room. This reeked of cigarettes and had stains on the bed but at least there were no cockroaches. I got this email from the housing officer:
“Our pest control contractor is confident that after treatment there will no longer be any cockroaches. Please can you advise whether you wish to move back into Flat 38 once it has been fumigated or whether you wish to remain in Flat 53 at the increased price.”
For some reason, this was the most upsetting part. After all that, they were going to increase my room rent by £50 a month. I was a BMA member but was advised not to make a fuss so early in my career. I had a consultant who (despite winning teaching awards) didn’t care one jot when I mentioned this – this has made me appreciate all the seniors and juniors who genuinely care about their team. I felt so alone.
This was over six years ago and things are much better but it’s amazing how much I accepted it then, and now with the passage of time (and experience of working in NZ for a few years, appreciating how much better junior doctors are treated overseas compared to the UK) I realise how unacceptable this was.
So if you’re early on as a doctor or a medical student, don’t let people shit on you and don’t let the cockroaches (both real and metaphorical – I’m talking about you Jeremy) win.