I joined Ellern Mede to do some temporary internship office work this summer. As a member of the office staff I don’t go to patient wards. The behind the scenes work is busy and exciting, but it is easy to forget that the business I am working for is actually a hospital with 25 inpatients living in the same building I work in. But there is a time when patients, staff and parents mingle and I really want to share what that is like.
In the middle of my first week, I was invited to the leaving party of one of the soon-to-be-ex patients. (I now know this is something that happens for every patient who is going home as long as they want it.)
I had no idea what to expect, but hearing the word ‘party’ and immediately thinking ‘cake’ got me out of my office in a flash, and before I knew it I was shaking hands with a young man named Dylan*. (Names have been changed for confidentiality)
I assumed he was a guest, visiting a sibling or friend in the hospital. The Managing Director introduced him as a fantastic golfer who had recently won a competition, so I congratulated him and hurried in to the party room.
The room was packed with staff members, visitors, and patients, surrounding a table laden with streamers, balloons, and—I was right—an enormous cake. Suddenly, party poppers were pulled and everyone cheered. I turned to the door and was surprised to see Dylan* walk in, a huge smile on his face, and his cheeks flushed pink. “Congratulations, Dylan!” cried Dr Hind (Ellern Mede Clinical Director), pulling him into a hug. The atmosphere in the room was full of joy. At first, I was surprised that the young man I had just met was the patient. He was full of energy and life and I could not imagine him being ill. But then the experts were able to tell me that this same young man, admitted just a few months before, had been so weak he had been unable to walk and his heart rate was so low that he needed urgent, life-saving intensive care.
I think what struck me is that this is an illness one cannot ‘see’ or judge on appearances or even always on body weight. Whatever we imagine someone looks like during or after struggling with an acute eating disorder, it really might not be that obvious.
The doctors, nurses and healthcare workers who had looked after him took it in turns to toast him, describing the incredible transformation he had made from his admission to Ellern Mede to today, each one bringing me to tears. I had met Dylan for less than 30 seconds before the party, yet the speeches and emotions present in the room were so moving I couldn’t help but cry. I felt so happy for him, for his family, and absolutely in awe of the medical team who had quite literally saved his life.
Dylan’s mother spoke of the fear she felt at that moment of handing over his care to the medical team; how she had struggled to envision this day. If she knew that it would go so well, her fears would have been so much easier to deal with. She wants other parents to know that when they make that step through the door, it really is a step of hope.
The party felt like an important final step in Dylan’s recovery: an official ceremony to signify the end of his struggle with his disorder, and to mark the birth of his new life. Beating an eating disorder is no mean feat, and Ellern Mede makes a special effort to treat it accordingly. It was exactly what it should have been: a day of celebration, of congratulations, and acknowledging Dylan’s strength and new-found zest for life. I will never forget it for the rest of my life, and my desk job hasn’t felt the same since, now that I’ve had a glimpse of what we are all working for beyond my office door.
*Note that we do not use patient real names for reasons of confidentiality.