When I was young, I wanted to be an actress (that is, once I’d given up on my dream of becoming a tree. Seriously.). I was pretty crap at school; too clever for my own good (Oscar Wilde as a reading book was a poor choice at a Comp), and socially inept as a result. I had a fat fringe and dodgy specs, and was royally crap at sports. I spent a lot of time hiding in the Music Department in lunch breaks.
I wanted to be an actor because when I was acting, I wasn’t myself. Myself was awkward and embarrassing and seriously uncool. The second I started being someone else though, I could be all of those things. I could be kickass, and funny, and take no prisoners.
I never became an actress. I auditioned for RADA once, but had decided I’d rather be a medic by the time I got there. I didn’t learn my Shakespeare speech (and it transpires that a degree in English does not mean one can ad lib Shakespeare. I learnt that the hard way).
I never stopped acting though. I just blended it into my actual life.
When acting, it helps to have a prop, or better, a costume. Something that separates you from your character, and you from the rest of the world. In my personal life, makeup became my costume. Professionally, my nurses uniform, and now my scrubs have become my costume.
When I need to be SuperPops, or even just a more capable version of Hannah, the makeup comes out. When little brothers have misbehaved on Intensive Care in the early hours of the morning, I have curled up in a corner for 10 minutes with my makeup bag, and come out calm and ready to take on whatever life throws at me (regardless of the confused looks this glamourpuss receives from the medical staff at 3am). That 10 minutes and that makeup let me become someone capable. People who know me well know that when something bad is happening, or I’m not 100% comfortable, I will look IMMACULATE. The rest of the time, you’re lucky if I wash my face.
I’m working on Intensive Care this week. I should have known I’d struggle, should have warned people, but frankly wonkiness was more of an issue, and I wanted to just get on with it. I have amazing scrubs though. They’re the same colour as the doctors wear, a different colour from the nurses, and as such, I feel like I may even know what I’m doing (though when a visiting specialist starts asking me to run tests, that feeling disappears and fast). Those scrubs stop me being Hannah-who-freaks-out-when-asked-about-science. Those scrubs let me become Hannah who is confident enough to suggest Botox injections as a solution for excess oral secretions in a ward round (MaxFax to the rescue!). Those scrubs protect me from the emotional side of what happens there. I can hold hands, hug, and offer tissues, but I will not cry in those scrubs.
Taking them off is another story though.
I have completed my ‘Breaking Bad News’ training. I got through it ok considering how often I’ve been on the other side, and only got a bit weepy when trying to explain that actually, being told you’ll limp forever REALLY IS BAD NEWS.
Nothing prepares you for watching it unfold multiple times in one day though. Nothing prepares you for the responses you get, from “I know it’s bad news, Doc” to “That’s it, if he’s going, so am I”. My consultant is now my hero, and I really hope she’s having a glass of wine this evening too.
I got through it all. I made phone calls to relatives to come in, I hugged and held and sat quietly. Then I went to leave, and took off my scrubs. I was crying by the time I got to the door. Because I couldn’t act anymore. My costume, my armour, was gone, and I was back to being Hannah. Hannah who feels and cries and doesn’t always cope. Hannah who sorts herself out, gets to the booze aisle of Sainsburys, finds her boyfriend (no comment), and bursts into tears again. Hannah who sorts herself out again, finds one of her dearest friends near the chocolate aisle (again, no comment), and cries again. Hannah who is at home, writing a blog rather than applying for jobs, drinking wine and martini and praying she never has another day like that.
My scrubs are more than a way of lessening my laundry bills. They keep me going (as do the WonderWoman converse I pair them with). They are my armour, my breastplate, my shield. But underneath, there will always be a scared little girl, praying she’s doing ok.