I was born into a family of labourers in Rostov-on-Don in Russia. My mother wanted to be a doctor, but my grandma became a widow at 35 and was bringing up three children on her own and could not afford to send my mother to medical school. When I was born my mum and dad were determined to work hard to ensure that I had a good education and I could be whoever I wanted to be.
I very rarely saw my parents, they worked 16 hours a day in order to give my brother and I the life they could never have. My grandma, Marta, whose job was to manually prepare food and feed the piglets in the Soviet collective farm, retired early to look after us. I strongly believe it is my grandma's influence which made me the Geriatrician I am today. Having survived the starvation of 1932/33 and then the Nazi occupation in 1942, my grandma made me appreciate and be happy for not being hungry, for having a roof above my head and having my family. She instilled me with a work ethic and made me appreciate all the things in life which we often take for granted.
Grandma lived with us and was the matriarch of the family. I observed her getting older and frailer, but we never stopped loving and respecting her and we were guided by her wisdom until the last days of her life.
I finally became an NHS doctor on the 11th September 2004. This is still one of the proudest days of my life. I was honoured to work in one of the best Health organisations in the world. I was even more fortunate to be given a training position and eventually qualified as a Geriatrician which has given me the opportunity to look after people like my grandma for the rest of my career.
However, very early on in my career as a Geriatrician I realised that I was seeing things somewhat differently to my colleagues. I felt that our medical practices were too 'paternalistic', too driven by guidelines, rules, regulations and procedures. In our drive to provide the best treatments for our patients, we stopped seeing the person.
I have been challenging this 'one fit for all' approach ever since I qualified, I strongly believe that the care we give to our patients must be bespoke and personalised. To provide such care we need to first get to know the person, understand their story, what matters to them, what have they achieved in their life and what more they aspire to achieve.
Once we know the person only then, and together with them, can we make treatment plans. I am passionate that we should always do this together. I also spend a good deal of time educating my patients about their medical problems and how to deal with them.... helping them 'to be their own doctor', confidently in control of their health inbetween the visits to healthcare professionals.
During my presentations to the public on 'Avoiding Frailty in Older Age' I discuss the most commonly seen medical concerns among older people. We look at how to recognise and deal with problems and most importantly how to prevent them occurring in the first place. I try to use a 'common sense approach', an amalgamation of understanding the medical signs alongside the needs and wishes of the individual. I talk about preventing falls and dealing with continence problems, understanding medicines and preventing avoidable hospital admissions, memory concerns and avoiding frailty; ageing is inevitable but frailty is not. I talk about avoiding frailty as well as minimising the effect that frailty can have on the quality of life.
My grandma became extremely frail at the end of her life. Knowing her story, knowing who she was, knowing what mattered most to her in life helped me to see beyond her frailty. To help her to have the life she wanted to have, rather than what the doctors wanted her to have.
I do hope that you are able to come to one of my presentations when hopefully I can give you some useful tips on how to stay in control of your health and to enjoy your life to the full as you grow older.
If you are not able to come to a presentation in the future, (we hope to resume in mid 2021), all being well - here is a simple tip from a 'Common Sense Adviser': next time you see a Healthcare professional, please tell them first who you are and what matters most for you in life, before you tell them about your medical concerns!
Geriatric Assessment Service, Hastings. East Sussex : Tel: 07786 545738 : Fax : 01424 758132 : Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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