A while back, I was on placement at a psychiatric site specialising in providing care for those with learning disabilities (LDs). It was a quiet day where I shadowed a few doctors and nurses and waited patiently until I could go home. I’m sure a lot of medical students can relate to being on placement in a specialty they have little to no interest in and just biding your time until it finishes. Eventually, I ended up meeting a doctor in an office where I expected to spend another afternoon constantly checking the time until I could go home. We started chatting and he told me he was a 40-year veteran of the NHS. He had retired but decided to come back to the job he loved because he missed it so much.
Eventually, we began talking about our ethnic origins and discovered we both had roots in South Asia. We discussed how poorly those with LDs are treated in South Asia. They are outcasted as ‘curses’ and a lot of families abandon them at a young age and are left to fend for themselves. I then told him ‘At least this stuff doesn’t happen in England’ and he told me ‘You couldn’t be further from the truth’. Even in England, similar things happen everyday where those with LDs can be treated as 2nd class citizens by both society and the NHS itself. Therefore, the patients end up in secure facilities where in some cases, they end up staying for decades of their lives. He described caring for these patients as an ‘honour even after all these years’. After a while, it was time for me to go and me and him shook hands and he wished me all the best for the future.
It was raining heavily, as I rushed to the car park. I got in my car and dried my glasses with my mind being preoccupied with the evening I had ahead of me which would consist of me playing some fifa. Whilst driving home, I got stuck in some traffic and whilst patiently waiting for the cars to creep forward my mind snapped back to the discussion that had occurred just an hour prior. I began thinking about some of my own prejudices I had held in the past where I’d considered the millions spent on services for those with LDs as a bit of a waste. ‘Perhaps the money would be better spent elsewhere’.
My mind wandered to the times in school where I hesitated to intervene when others made derogatory comments and jokes about those with LDs. Maybe I had even laughed at some of the jokes. I felt a deep sense of shame as the cars trickled forward and the rain hammered against the windows. My mind casted back to the times I had visited Pakistan and witnessed first hand how those with LDs are treated. I realised that some part of my brain chose to ignore what was happening. Small children begging for a few rupees so they could buy their first meal of the day just because they were born different. I guess it’s like the same most walk past and ignore a homeless person passed out on a cold winter morning. A part of our brain causes us to act indifferent in these situations. Our moral compass becomes faulty when we are confronted with these issues.
Eventually, the traffic cleared, and I reached home. Rather than turn on the PlayStation and procrastinate, I put my trainers on and went out for a run (running being my favourite time for thinking). Whilst on my 3rd kilometre, I remembered a quote from Gandhi which summarises the entire message of this article for me – ‘The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members’. Although, I’m still not too keen on psychiatry, I really appreciate what the 1 week in that placement taught me and hopefully anyone who’s this can learn something too.