I once visited the hospital Anne-Marie works in for a check up. When I called her, she prompted me to pass by and say hello to her in the Intensive Care Unit, where she is stationed. As I got into the unit, I heard groans of someone in pain, and the beeping of what I assumed would be the heart monitor machine. Then the strong spirit like scent. I glanced to the left and happened to see a man seemingly approaching the light at the end of the tunnel of life, and someone holding his hand, with both hope and despair. Anne-Marie at that point approached me looking like she was walking on a doctors runway. Her blue outfit was well-fitted and nicely pressed, her stethoscope and mask hang neatly round her neck and she offered a brilliant smile – the glow of her eyes aided by a lustrous eye shadow. I did not understand how she kept so cool and steady in such an environment. We chatted for no more than 5 minutes when a nurse alerted her and she apologetically left, “I have to go now but we will talk more soon,” she said, still smiling.
It was then that I knew for sure, I wanted her story. I live for stories and through stories. As a child and as an adult, they give me form. And here, my desire to share stories is nourished.
I went to school with Anne- Marie. She came across as reserved and quiet. The other children did not always understand her. I am not sure if it was her stillness that I was drawn to or a part of me which related to her being; whichever it was, we became friends. We often spent our time together rather silently. That is how I learnt that silence in friendship was as essential as speaking could be. I, in fact, do not remember much of what we may have spoken about, but I vividly recall that she dreamed of being a doctor. She became her dream; something I profoundly admire in her. What makes it profound is how she carries that dream with grace.
In an interview, Anne-Marie revealed that she is a woman not afraid to acknowledge her smartness, to celebrate her femininity and to embrace her calling.
- How did you decide to do Medicine?
I get asked this question a lot. But funny enough I don’t remember the exact moment I decided to be a doctor or what led to this decision. I wish I had a more inspiring reason. To be truly honest, I was a smart kid and a book worm . I loved to read, or rather, I was such an introvert that reading was my solace. So, I thought, since I’m smart, Medicine is the career for me. Once I started practicing, I quickly learnt that being a good doctor has very little to do with intelligence. What makes a good doctor isn’t that they know everything. On top of studying medicine for a good number of years, we have to be punctual, confident, compassionate, team players, kind etc.
“I quickly learnt that being a good doctor has very little to do with intelligence”
- What are the challenges of being a doctor?
For me, it’s the hours that we have to put in to our work. Which automatically “steals” time from family, friends , self care- real life! Medicine is an apprenticeship. You are as good as your years of experience.
- Did you face any gender-based challenges?
Definitely. I think women in all professions face challenges. As a doctor, I have had patients ask to see male doctor because it makes them more comfortable.
“I have had patients ask to see a male doctor because it makes them more comfortable.”
It shakes your confidence.
“Also, I’m a woman who likes to wear make-up and have my hair done. It is looked-down upon. As though being well- kept and being a good doctor, as a woman, are mutually exclusive.”
I used to try “tone” down to fit the expectations of others. But now I am me. Proudly and unapologetically. I truly believe that I can do anything a male doctor can do.
When it comes to family life, one needs an understanding partner. Especially if you plan on getting married and becoming a mother.
- How did you end up at ICU?
IT WAS GOD
That is the only explanation I can give.
The event that led to me working in ICU was quite strange. I used to work in a public hospital prior to this appointment. It was in a very insecure area. One night my colleague got shot by robbers while she was attending to a patient. This terrified me.
I wish I could tell you I was brave enough to stay and stick it out, but I impulsively quit. Perhaps it was not the best decision but it led me to my calling. I went on a job hunt, did the interview, got hired and underwent training. I didn’t go looking for ICU; we found each other.
This was one of the best and also one of the hardest things I have grown through. I’ve learnt so much in this place. It has made me a better doctor and a better person over all.
- You always look so graceful and glamorous, no matter the situation, how do you manage that?
This question surprises ME! I am inwardly panicking most of the time. That’s the raw truth. ICU is intense.
“True life and death decisions are made daily.”
But I believe that it is important to self-care. Exercise, meditate, rest. So that you can keep it all together.
6. How is it being a young female doctor at ICU among others who feel they have more experience than you?
This was a hard one. Particularly for me. As I said, when I joined I had no experience. I had to be trained and I had to learn. A lot of people initially made me feel that I didn’t deserve to be there. That I wasn’t smart enough; they did not think I deserved it.
At some point, I began to believe them.
“I had to remind myself that everyone starts from somewhere.”
The difference between a master and an amateur is that a master has tried and failed more times than the amateur. That’s how he gets good at what he does.
Everything in life is a process. Be patient. Put in the work and you’ll see results. That is what I began to tell myself.
7. Who is your support system?
My support system is my family. Some of my workmates too.
But mainly my support system is ME. I say this because, as humans,
“if we rely on others to remind us on how good we are we trap ourselves in a prison of external validation.”
When no one is telling us we are good at our job, we start doubting ourselves.
“I treat praise the way I treat criticism – as a way to improve myself; not a way to validate or doubt myself.”
8. What do you feel you want to contribute as Anne-Marie?
In ICU, I would like to save lives, and if I can’t, as with some cases of terminal illnesses, I’d like to be able help the relatives go through the process of losing a loved one and comes to terms with it.
9. What’s a typical day at ICU like?
It’s a 12 hour shift. You come in , do your rounds, review the patients, fix what needs fixing – you know, routine doctor stuff. The difficulty is talking to overly anxious relatives. Walking them through what is happening to their loved ones and what to expect.
As the ICU doctor, you are also expected to attend and lead all active resuscitations in the hospital. In all departments.
10. How would you describe health care in Kenya; in general, where do we stand?
Well, I once read somewhere that the mark of a successful country is not that everyone drives a car, but that, the rich use public transport and public hospitals.
Health care in Kenya is a mess. Only the very rich have the opportunity of accessing better medical care.
“The middle class are one call away from poverty when it comes to health care. A call that your loved one is in ICU can drain all your finances earned over several years.”
The poor go to public hospitals run by over-worked, disillusioned and underpaid doctors. These hospitals lack medicine, investigations and other facilities. improvisation is the order of their day.
The CBA 2013* would have made a significant change in it pure form. But Kenyans fought it. Yet it was for them too.
“However, Kenyan doctors are highly respected abroad. Our local experience has thought us how to be creative and how to improvise in dire situations.”
When we practice in first world country, it is easier for us, opposed to those who trained with all the facilities at their disposal.
10. Anything else you would like to share?
Life is short. Love wholly, live authentically.
By the end of my interview with Anne-Marie, I felt nourished and optimistic, and as always, a new respect for our doctors, but particularly those in make-up! I was drawn to tears, as her words on the middle class hit the nail on the head. Having lost both my parents to a terminal illness that took every single penny from us, once the insurance withdrew, was a painful experience.
And now, I leave this story with you, to find your own token in it.
*CBA 2013 was a Collective Bargaining Agreement on universal healthcare. As Anne-Maire puts it, “about bringing dignity back to the medical profession in Kenya. Where doctors are paid their worth so that they can stay in public hospitals, where working condition are conducive to performing the tasks expected of them.”