Living and working with chronic illness, Why I WRaP EM

Why I Wrap EM – Charley McNabb

Charley McNabb
Dr Charley McNabb – Emergency Physician Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane

Why I Wrap EM – A deeply personal perspective

Eudaemonia – human flourishing, prosperity, happiness with satisfaction, wellbeing

Over 10 years ago, I was a ‘new consultant’ negotiating that awkwardness of reconciling clinical identity and nonclinical identity within my personal style, within the workplace. I loved it as I worked in a great place with great people, enjoying the fruits of a long hard training path.

Then I was diagnosed with cancer.

An elective operation resulted in an unexpected finding and within three days, I was off work indefinitely, having major surgery and planning a chemotherapy regimen with my oncologist. During the next two years I grew the ‘patient EQ (Emotional Quotient)’ part of myself. This experience included being a patient in ED a number of times.

A little while later I was better, less likely to die, and everyone was encouraging me to return to work. This was perhaps the hardest part of my professional experience to date. I had complications from treatment, which had affected my dexterity and cognition. I had lost confidence in my clinical self, lost my currency of knowledge, and I deliberated over whether to return to work at all or spend all my time with my family as the denominator of how much time I had left was a very fluid number.

I did return to work and eventually found gratitude to those who had compelled me to do so. I returned with an awareness and insight that treating illness and injury is different to making someone well. I looked at and listened to my colleagues and realized that a lot of us longed for wellness for ourselves – for eudemonia – but did not have strategies or prioritisation for this in our day to day.

And we suffered.

And we did not flourish.

I had the freedom to talk openly about the issues with others. Starting the conversation about what wellness looks like in emergency medicine, in healthcare, and in life generally gave courage for us to stop viewing work life with a deficit based mindset. We are building wellness individually, in teams, in networks. It is amazing to see progress especially around WRaP EM and in my own workplace. Wellness is about taking positive steps to address real issues that affect the majority of us. For me, it is attending to my physical health with priority, acknowledging the maintenance needed for good mental health, providing for my family and my patients, and encouraging my mates at work.

Now, it is also the deliberate transfer of knowledge and skills of wellness to our ED trainees. Wellness is not the absence of problems or illness. It is the flourishing of people – visualizing our goals and building our humanity into the practice of emergency medicine.

That is why I WRaP EM

About Charley McNabb

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