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Striking the work/life balance

Apologies for my online absence of late - I’ve been really busy on my 3rd Uni placement at Harrogate Hospital for the past 6 weeks.

Between work in the hospital, Uni work, helping on the farm, walking the dogs and trying to rest my knee during a flare-up, I think I may have overdone it!

It’s all a learning curve, hey?

I have absolutely loved my Uni placement! I was working on a rehab ward with such a lovely team and lovely patients; it was a great place to learn. Obviously, with COVID-19 still around, it wasn’t a ‘normal’ placement as such, but I can’t even imagine how it was at the start of the pandemic – manic and sweaty!

As great as it was, I have to admit, I struggled. I tried to crack on with it as best I could but chose to be sensible about it too. The simple things make a difference – I let my team know when I couldn’t kneel down or needed to sit down, and when I got home, I took some time to put my legs up and rest.

The worry is constant – thoughts whirling around my head of how I’ll cope in ten years’ time if this is how I feel now? Thankfully, reassurance from family and friends put me at ease. They reminded me that I’m currently experiencing a flare-up and it’s not always like this.

The placement changed the structure of my days, so I tried to adapt my routine accordingly. I always planned to be up early so I didn’t have to rush, but getting out of bed is torture for me (as it is for many!) For me, my feet hurt the second they touch the floor, my knees crack and immediately get bigger, and, when I try to squeeze the toothpaste out, my hands and fingers remind me they aren’t up for co-operating! The stiffness, the pain, the fatigue – it’s so much to deal with in the first five minutes of the day!

Luckily, a hot shower feels like a treatment – instant relief, bliss.

Walking into work is a nice stretch for the legs but, some days, I could feel my knees getting bigger and my feet already starting to hurt, so, on the days I could, I tried to find closer parking!

After a cup of tea and morning handover, my body has had a little time to recover. A brew solves everything, right?

The struggle is finding the balance between pushing yourself to make the most of placement and ensuring you don’t push too hard and bring on a flare-up. I really wanted to make the most of the experience with the complex patients, challenge myself to impress both my educator and myself, but, of course, if it wasn’t my knees, it was my hands or feet.

The physical implications are a lot to deal with, but personally, the mental implications are tougher for me. Being unable to fully commit to the ‘hands-on’ practice is a blow to the self-esteem, to say the least. I was lucky to have an understanding and supportive team around me, who were full of kind words and advice for dealing with my condition.

The inner battle continued when I got home, too – after being on my feet all day, my body would be begging for me to put my feet up and rest awhile, but my head was gunning for a relaxing walk in the fresh air; a nice change of scenery from the muggy hospital air.

I only had a few Massage clients throughout my time on placement, I didn’t push to get extra bookings. Keeping my appointments to a minimum helped to ensure my massage business didn’t impact on to me too much throughout this time. If I did have a massage appointment booked, I wouldn’t have time to be out on the farm anyway, so I guess I swapped one thing for another. My left hand hasn’t quite recovered from one of the massages yet, but that only teaches me to learn different techniques. On that note - if anyone knows of a good course on using elbows and forearms in massages, please let me know!!

During my last week of placement, I was constantly on the phone with the Rheumy nurses – finally reaching the decision to change my medication, from Sulfasalazine to Methotrexate.

On a lunch break at work, conversation is always casual, so it threw me off when one day I got a phone call to say I’ll be going in for my chest x-ray the following week and starting the Methotrexate. The nurse continued to run through all the advice and cautions surrounding Methotrexate, questions about the future and if I’m planning for a family, etc. It’s not what you expect just on a lunch break, so it really hit me – this is serious, and I can’t hide from that, especially now.

There’s a lot of worry and build-up surrounding going onto Methotrexate. Why is it haunting me so much? I’ve spoken to many people recently on forums and Facebook pages, all of whom have been so helpful, caring and reassuring. It’s definitely put me at ease. Making the switch to this medication is something I’ve been putting off for too long, I’ve said I have been fine on Sulfasalazine for ages when I know I haven’t, it’s time to start looking after myself and admitting that the amount of flare-ups I get is not okay.

I took my first weekly dose the other night and I’m actually looking forward to how it’s going to turn out. Due to the risk of liver damage whilst on Methotrexate, I have thought about doing Sober October, too. Not sponsored, just for myself. I’ve got Milly (my best friend’s) wedding coming up and missing out on a toast is not even worth contemplating! We had her Hen Party mid-way through placement, and it was the best weekend ever. I did not stop laughing the whole time; six-pack building type laughter! It really did knock me for six though, and not just hangover wise!

As I get closer and closer to graduating my Master's course, the reality of applying for jobs once qualified becomes increasingly real, and scary! I’d love to hear your stories about job applications and how you keep a work/life balance – with or without a long-term, chronic condition. I look forward to hearing from you all!

I’ll be sure to do a follow-up post once I’ve been on the Methotrexate a while.

Thank you all for reading,

Ali x

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