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Kate McQueen

Home > Humans of Medicine 2017 > Kate McQueen

Medical students typically learn about complex conditions and medical care by practicing on real patients, not usually by being on the receiving end of medical care. However, this is what happened to me.
I’d just commenced post graduate medical degree as a mother of one with a supportive partner. I was on top of the world. I was enthusiastic and motivated. Nothing could get in my way. Or so I thought.
I began struggling with simple things like walking up stairs or sitting in a lecture theatre for an hour. I was troubled with horrendous pain, headaches, strange neurological symptoms, neck ache and photophobia. At times, symptoms were so disabling, I simply couldn’t function – either as a medical student or as a mum.
Doctors were stumped. It took over a year of multiple ED visits, tests, specialists and I was finally diagnosed with a rare condition – a cerebral spinal fluid (csf) leak.
CSF leaks cause symptoms which are worse the longer you are upright, so I’d need to lie down most of the time.
This condition stole much from my life. I lost my partner but I made my priority being a mother to my young child and I continued my medical studies despite the challenges. I was determined not to let this illness take everything I’d worked so hard for.
In fact, after 3 years and several treatments, I was now a solo mum, thankful for great supports and new opportunities. During this dark time my best friend died. It was tough to keep my head above water but I never gave up or gave in. I held on to my son, buoyed by small acts of kindness from family and friends.
We relocated and I completed Remote Health studies online to be eligible again for medicine in my new city. I reapplied to post graduate medicine and I was accepted, for a second time. I found hope.
Losing your health is losing almost everything. It stripped my life to bare essentials and taught me just what is important in life; love and people and, in essence- relationships. Being in chronic pain and suffering draws on an inner strength you don’t even know you possess, until there’s no other option. Naturally, chronic pain often causes depression as you spend days in bed, grieving the loss of your former self. Not being able to live life fully can be overwhelming at times. My love for my beautiful son got me through, along with receiving love and kindness from my family and close friends. I was fortunate.
Being a solo parent studying medicine, whilst recovering from a serious and debilitating medical condition is no easy feat.
The one thing I’d say to anyone experiencing hardship is to reach out. Be honest. Be open to receiving help and helping when you can. Don’t be afraid to let people into your struggles and accept help. It’s humbling. In return, I’ve been able to help others through their own difficulties, as I found greater awareness and empathy – a gift borne out of truly understanding grief , loss and struggle. I have learned that often an empathetic ear, a hug or a genuine laugh is all it takes to turn around someone’s dark day.
Be kind. Always.
No one is immune to struggling, for various reasons, at varying times. The only way to get through is by working together and helping each other whenever we can.
Connecting with a fellow human brings ‘hope’. I believe ‘hope’ is the most important antidote to grief, loss, loneliness, depression or helplessness. If you have hope you have life – you can heal and then be present to truly give others the gift of hope when they need it most.
Kate McQueen, University of Melbourne MD (2017)

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