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Survival advice for working mums — and F1s

Having become a mum for the first time five months ago, I have been reflecting on the experience and wondering (usually in the middle of the night) just how steep a learning curve can get.

The only thing that comes anywhere close was my first few weeks as a brand new house officer in Sheffield some years ago. My nocturnal musings have made me realise that a few key suggestions could help new mums and F1s (foundation doctor 1s) alike.

Here are my top 10 tips for survival:

1) When not on duty, sleep and eat. When on duty, attempt to eat and keep a supply of Mini Eggs on your person at all times. Occasionally share said eggs with nurses or the husband, but on no account reveal the location of your stash

2) Turn to the person who has most recently experienced your personal hell for support; this usually means F2s or mums a couple of months ahead of you. Consultants and mothers of teenagers have wise words and should not be discounted, but they tend to view things through rose-tinted spectacles

3) All the reading in the world will not prepare you for the task ahead. Practical experience is crucial; shadow an F1 or borrow a baby

4) Always anticipate the worst, and be prepared. Take all necessary equipment everywhere plus more, and have your F2, partner or health visitor on speed dial. It will then be a pleasant surprise when your first patient is not a crashing GI bleeder. Equally, a trip to John Lewis can end in a cappuccino while your charge sleeps peacefully instead of the pair of you spending your time in the baby-changing facilities covered in milk, vomit and poo.

5) But you will inevitably get covered in some bodily fluid. Accept it and move on. Likewise, the mantra ‘if it smells like poo, it probably is poo’ applies

6) Friends who are unfamiliar with the experience will not get it. Do not hold that against them

7) Accept help from anyone who offers it. You may be terrified, but stay calm and try at least to appear in control: patients or babies usually don’t know any better

8) Grandparents are like patients’ relatives; they occasionally visit and pass an opinion, and are often ignored. They probably know best, but get to hand the patient back at the end of the day

9) Keep your sense of humour. Games such as ‘what’s the most ridiculous thing we can transport via the hospital pod system?’ can be as therapeutic in the twilight hours as listening to your baby farting over the baby monitor

10) If in doubt: patients ABC; babies CBBs.

Katie Poulton, Newcastle specialty trainee 6 in acute medicine