Dr Tom: "if you are yet to take blood on a real life patient, your first experience will not go as badly as mine"
Ward round with Tom
Doctor Stories
February 9, 2022

Dr Tom is a 4th year medical student who has taken to Instagram to share anecdotes from his journey to becoming a doctor. In his refreshingly candid blogs, he shares the trials and heartaches experienced by a trainee doctors but also the positive life-changing experiences. His Instagram now has over 12k followers both medical and non-medical alike appreciate the honest, sometimes shocking, and sometimes hilarious snapshot he offers into his experiences on the ward.

We wanted to share his story and have picked out some of our favourite recent posts.

**To protect the identity of those included all stories have been adapted, names and characteristics have been changed, and dialogue has been recreated for confidentiality.

Taking the first blood

"Taking blood is one of those skills that needs lots of practise and requires numerous failed attempts to become good. I’m sure many students will agree that it’s one of the first clinical skills we get to do on patients and therefore we tend to be quite nervous before our first attempt.

Well, if you are yet to take blood on a real life patient, what I can tell you is that your first experience will not go as badly as mine....

A long time ago now I was asked to take my first ever blood on a gentleman. I offered the lovely patient a bed incase he wasn’t a big fan of needles but he politely declined and chose the seat.

As I’m getting the equipment ready I can feel the excitement/anxiety of potentially getting my first blood. I clean his arm and palpate for a good vein whilst engaging in small talk to cover up my nerves.

After a good feel of his arm I get the needle ready, warn him about a sharp scratch and in I go!

I see blood fill the bottle and a wave of accomplishment rushes through my body. I’ve done my first blood!!!

But suddenly I hear, “I’m not feeling too good Doc”.....

At this point the bottle is only half full and I’m determined to get my blood. I’m just about to reassure him that I only need a few more seconds when the patient completely passes out, slides down the chair and falls onto me!

I am honestly in disbelief at this point. What are the chances of this happening on my first blood when I’m so close to the end!!

I shout for a nurse who moves the man off me and gives him some oxygen. Feeling embarrassed I skulk out of the room and let the nurses try again.

Of course the patient didn’t blame me, in fact, we had a good laugh about it. Having said that, the nurses enjoyed making fun of me all day, “don’t let Tom near any patients if you want them to live”

Fast forward to this point in time and I have done more bloods than I can count. Everyone has to learn at some point so my advice would be to just go for it with full confidence because I doubt you will fail as badly as me!

Big shout out to all you fantastic patients that let us students practice our skills on you.

A reminder of 'why'

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt at med school it’s that medical students are huge hypochondriacs.....

It seems that with every new disease we are taught, someone manages to convince themselves that they have it.

My friends have diagnosed themselves with Lymphoma, oesophageal cancer, male breast cancer “from too much booze”, Multiple sclerosis, and my personal favourite, a rare parasitic infection only found in tropical lakes.....

I’m no better myself. A paediatric doctor once told my parents, “don’t you dare let this boy become a doctor..... he’ll convince himself he has every disease on this earth”

With the knowledge that is crammed into our brains on a daily basis about these strange and deadly diseases, it’s no wonder we worry!!

Hopefully, we can get this under control because we have many more diseases to learn about!

The pressure and stress that come with being a med student make it easy to lose track of why we chose this profession. However, this patient (we’ll call her Betty) reminded me exactly why I want to be a doctor.

I offered to take bloods on Betty who was a very sick old lady suffering from dementia as well as a range of comorbidities. I was getting the equipment ready, and as I like to do I asked Betty about her life to try and put her at ease. It became clear that her two pet budgies meant the absolute world to her and she missed them deeply.

The doctors had warned me about her tiny shrivelled veins and as expected I couldn’t get any blood and had to call a junior doctor to have a go himself.

Betty wasn’t a huge fan of needles and as her veins were so small it was taking a while. She was agitated and confused so I quickly ran to the staff room and got my iPad. With a quick YouTube search, I managed to get a video up on my screen of a pair of budgies flying around their enclosure.

They were the same colour as hers (red) and as the video was playing I could see a warm smile arise and a few tears of love running down Betty’s cheeks.

For the remainder of that day, I kept going back to Betty’s bed to replay the Budgie video. Every time I walked past that bay I could see her smiling at the screen.

I can honestly say this was my favourite moment of being a med student. I felt that I had put a scared Betty at ease by reminding her of what she loved most and I will never forget that smile when she saw the budgies.

Moments like this make me incredibly excited to look after patients my whole career.

The magic of Sharukh Khan

My next story involves one of those moments when I realised that this is the profession for me.

I had just finished a cardiovascular examination on an old gentleman that was clearly very unwell. He was extremely pale, he was struggling to breath and a Yeast infection in his mouth made talking and eating extremely difficult for him.

After the examination I could see that he was crying and he was trying to tell me something but he just couldn’t get his words out. He was visibly upset so I sat with him and held his hand for 20 minutes which seemed to calm him.

I was thinking of ways to cheer him up. I tried talking about sport, his family and any hobbies I could think of but his inability to speak made this almost impossible.

However, I noticed that when I mentioned music he managed to force a smile. So I went and got my phone. I put YouTube on and asked him to type his favourite music artist in. He eagerly typed “Sharukh Khan” in and we played his music out loud.

I have never seen such a transformation in a patient before. He raised his hands above his head and started dancing to the music and I could see a tear of happiness falling done his cheek to his beaming smile.

I had to get on with some jobs but I left my phone with him. For the remainder of that day, Sharukh Khan was booming down the ward (Don't worry I checked that the other patients didn’t mind first).

This is probably the happiest I’ve ever been on placement. Being able to see a little bit of care make such a big difference to someone’s life is an absolute privilege and makes me so excited to be a doctor.

A prescription of fish n' chips

Not every patient in hospital needs a bombardment of needles, medications and IV drips to make them feel better. Sometimes they just need a good old fashioned British dinner!

One doctor was struggling to encourage an old gentleman to eat and drink. This polite man was unfortunately suffering from dementia amongst a few other conditions.

As this condition progresses, some patients loose that urge to eat and drink as they loose the cognitive drive to do so.

This chap was very old fashioned in his ways. He liked his comforting and classy British meals such as steak and kidney pies, full English breakfasts, tea, and fish n’ chips. His dementia had progressed so much that unless the food given to him was his favourite English meals he wouldn’t even touch it.

The hospital food wasn’t doing the trick so he was quite frankly uninterested in eating and he was becoming very malnourished.

In the ward round that morning we discussed ideas to improve his food intake and suddenly the consultant came up with a fantastic plan.

The doctor sat back in his chair proudly and stated “I prescribe this man fish and chips!”. He decided he would take him out to the fish n’ chip shop by himself to get him his hearty English meal that lunchtime.

Believe it or not when I came back the following day to see the patient he seemed like a completely different gentleman with his fish n’ chips in his belly!

No regrets

Here is a story of the most difficult consultation I’ve ever been involved in.

A lovely old man had had some investigations done as he had been complaining of weight loss, night sweats, and some visual changes.

Unfortunately the doctor had received these results and they were not good at all. This poor old man had a really nasty form of metastatic lymphoma which had spread through the bone marrow, liver, lungs, and now the brain.

This form of lymphoma gave the patient a maximum of 3/4 months left to live in the doctor’s estimation.

Next came one of the most uncomfortable 30 minutes of my life as the doctor explained the situation to the couple and let the reality set in that this would most likely be his last Christmas.

His wife was visibly upset but the cheerful chap simply stated:

“What’s there to be sad about? Everything comes to an end eventually, and I have had a wonderful life, with the most beautiful wife and the most amazing children I could ask for. I will forever be grateful for it”.

I could not believe what I had just heard, how can you maintain such positivity after such horrific news?

The consultation went on for a long time as you can imagine. I felt like I really bonded with the patient throughout as we spoke about his love of cricket and travelling.

As he got up to leave at the end, he shook my hand, looked me in the eye and said:

“Enjoy your life, do what you love, smile, be happy and you will have no regrets”

I will never forget that quote and I can honestly say that this incredible patient will forever be an inspiration to me.

I hope he inspired you all too.


These anecdotes are just some of the many on Tom's instagram, which is filled with stories from his time as a medical student. Follow @ward_round_with_tom for more.




Article by
Dr Tom Petrie

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