When I decided to try to write about our time here in Aberystwyth and about what this pilot for CARER was like I didn’t realise what I’d let myself in for – “I didn’t realise what I let myself in for when I decided to try to write about our time here in Aberystwyth,” I said to myself.
But why did I say that? What’s making this difficult?
My first problem is time. I am six weeks late for an introduction to the year; I’m a week late to be discussing my first month of term. Then there’s the amount of material I’m trying to cover. If I was dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s I might end up describing not just my day to day for six of the busiest months of my life, but also the university, the town, the people, the countryside, the sea, sports, my work, my GP mentor, the patients… actually sitting down and thinking about all this and then capturing that quickly, trying to pass it on, is tricky.
It’s not just the amount of what we’re doing: it’s also the intensity of it as well. It’s hard to describe the sunset over the ocean here or the wind whistling at night – and it’s harder still to get across what’s it been like seeing patients so far. In particular, it’s hard to express the emotions they display, unguarded: the times they’ve suddenly cracked a grin, or when tears have started welling in their eyes.
The working week is as follows. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I drive thirty minutes north of Aberystwyth to Machynlleth, where my GP mentor is one of three partners running two practices and also a 14 bed community hospital. At a conservative estimate, I see about 100,000 patients in this time each week. Wednesday afternoon is protected time for sport; then Thursday is devoted to academic catch up via recorded lectures or tutorials taught by Dr Sue Fish, the academic lead here. Friday is the same, though it will soon become the time for our Student Selected Component or ‘SSC’, which is work we undertake beyond the common scope of third year studying. The first half of the week is a dense blur of cases, conditions, medications, procedures, ward rounds, minor operations and so on – and the second half is reserved for understanding the first half. This averages out nicely to one of the busiest – but also most interesting – weekly timetables I could ask for.
Besides the work we all do, the seven of us now do quite a lot of sport. I wonder how much choice we’ve really had in the matter – I personally blame Aberystwyth and everyone in it for the amount of sport we do. My reasons for this are simple, and you can check them if you’re ever in Aberystwyth yourself. Ask anyone here – just go straight up to them, since everyone is quite friendly – and ask what they do for fun. They inevitably answer with something like this:
“Hmm.. um, I do a bit of exercise, if you’re interested in that. (“yeah?”, you mutter, scared but polite.) Well, I’m part of the triathlon club, if that’s your thing – and then there’s the sea swimming group, and if you’re interested, the running club meets on Tuesdays, Fridays and Wednesdays. Cycling happens on the weekend, there’s yoga classes up at the uni or there are classes in town, I do circuits on Thursdays…” and so on.
This unique perspective on ‘a bit of exercise’ means that I used to do a bit of running and now do a lot of running. My housemates and I go to circuits at the university, some of them swim… our hands were tied.
It would be fair to say we are settled in now. I sometimes leave the one-way system in town where I wanted to. I remember the names of the surgery receptionists, and whether each GP asks for tea or for coffee. Rather than looking it up each time, I now guess my postcode (with varying success). The patients keep coming in, and they keep coming in with new conditions, new problems, or because they’re getting better than last time, or they’re worse, but my name is up in the reception now and none of them seem surprised in the least when a nervous third year calls them in from the waiting room.