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The patient Doctor - Dr. Harry Eeman

18 Dec 2014

In a twist of fate, I ended up being a patient half-way through my training as a University of Sydney medical student. Rapid onset ascending paralysis should ring a few bells to those of you who know anything about Guillain Barre Syndrome. I knew this as a second year medical student but no idea that it would change my life's trajectory forever-more. 

Five months in ICU, ventilated, and then a subsequent 16 months of inpatient rehabilitation and another year of hard outpatient physiotherapy, I was ready to return to my medical studies at the Canberra Clinical School.  I started in Canberra as a skinny young man in his early twenties but I left it as a more confident, albeit wheelchair dependent doctor. This transition wasn't easy for me or for the 'medical establishment'.  There were lots of questions, challenges and meetings to face and steer through.  

The Clinical School and The Canberra Hospital were stellar in their support.  I really did get by with a little help from my friends. A whole new renovation to suit my increased requirements for space was undertaken by the Clinical School so that I could lodge on campus in the 'Ressies".  I was invited to contribute to the design of the floor-plan of the soon to be refurbished emergency department.  This is why there are ramps onto the viewing platform. My year as an intern was facilitated by being supernumerary so that I'd always work with a fellow junior colleague.  As far as I'm aware this had never been done before, I was the first intern in Canberra with tetraplegia. 

My residency year saw me flying solo.  By this stage I had confidence in my skills and so did my colleagues.  You may wonder about this - I actually spent 12 months working in the ED and loved it.  I had a clear sense of what my physical limitations were and knew I could always count on my colleagues to lend a hand (or sometimes an index finger for a PR).  I reciprocated with gratitude and food bribes from Cafe Hoz for my unlucky co-workers. 

I tried my hand in Radiology but found myself missing patient contact. I decided to train as a Rehabilitation Physician because I had a unique perspective that would benefit my patients. I left TCH and moved to Melbourne to further my training in specialised areas such a Brain Injury, Spinal Cord injury and Amputee rehabilitation. 

Once I completed this training I decided to tackle the least glamorous and most challenging type of patients, people with chronic pain. I completed my Pain Fellowship and I'm now working at one of Melbourne's premier public pain clinics.  I balance this interesting but exhausting work with a couple of days in Rehabilitation Medicine. You've got to stay sane somehow!

The ACT AMA and I fought together in 2008 to get a better deal for junior doctors and I believe this was achieved. The status-quo approach to EBA negotiations by senior doctors (for conditions affecting junior doctors) was challenged.  The outcome was a better EBA for junior doctors.  It's amazing how competition can motivate change ;)


Published: 18 Dec 2014