Sunday, 5 March 2017

Running through the questions DrT needed to ask, and not just of himself

Last week Sir Mike Richards, the Care Quality Commission’s chief inspector of hospitals described the NHS as ‘standing on a burning platform’. It’s not the first time this description has been used. Sir Ian McKellen used it at the 2015 ‘Bring Back the NHS’ event and before him, Sir David Nicholson as the NHS CEO, used the phrase to describe the NHS in 2012. Given this time frame perhaps the NHS ‘burning platform’  is smouldering rather than a blazing inferno. The ‘burning platform’ metaphor comes from the story of Andy Mochan. Over 20 years ago he survived the Piper Alpha disaster, which killed 167 people, by jumping off the burning oil rig platform into the freezing water 150 feet below.

And the state of the NHS was very much to the fore at last week’s hustings event for Greater Manchester’s first elections for an elected mayor. I represented the University who were joint hosts alongside the RCN and AbbVie (the main sponsor). All 3 main political parties were represented, and they faced an invited audience of health care service providers, policy makers, local authorities and patient groups from across the North West. I was pleased to be able to ask 3 questions around research and innovation, both how research might be better funded and what it might be aimed at changing. I am passionate about research and have been ever since I got my PhD some 17 years ago.

Being awarded a PhD was something I never imagined I would experience. Whilst I was immensely proud of this achievement, these days my pride comes from having the opportunity to help others achieve their PhD dreams. To date I have supervised 23 doctoral students through to completion and have 3 more who, all being well, will complete this year. In those early days after gaining my PhD I went through all the usual ‘bursting with pride’ things (or showing off as my Mum would say) – a sign saying Dr for my office, new business cards, changing my email signature, and of course I insisted that everyone called me Dr, which eventually became Dr T.  Which I liked.

I liked it so much I went out and bought a cherished number plate for my car, DR T. I still it have today. Yesterday I collected my new car, and once again the Dr T number plate was transferred. Just for a moment I experienced a twinge of that old excitement of becoming a Doctor of Philosophy. But it was just a twinge and today I don’t know if it was my excitement or my creaking muscles and bones that I was feeling. Which may have been down to other causes. I have taken up running although I can’t say I have been enjoying it.

So when my fellow blogger Lynn, in her last blog, told of a book that made her reflect on the benefits that can come from running, I got it. Run for your Life by William Pullen is an easy read. It take as its main strand, the notion of Dynamic Running Therapy, or as it’s described in the book, DRT. Essentially, DRT brings together aspects of physical exercise, reflection and mindfulness. The movement of the body during exercise can provide a way of helping the individual to understand and make sense of what is going on at an emotional level. Although the book is primarily focused on running, walking, when it gets the heart to beat a little faster, can work just as well. And that was the first insight I gained from this book. The second insight was one I think already knew – running and walking can be: a great way to help with your thinking; become inspired when stuck; find answers to seemingly intractable problems; and to understand the true nature of self-acceptance.

I liked being reminded of this notion. I hadn’t got on with the running experiment, and increasingly the reason I had taken up running began to challenge me. Let me explain. We have an annual 10k run in Salford. This year the University celebrates 50 years of being a University and we had secured running numbers from 1967 - 2017 so that we could field 50 runners. The senior leadership team are expected to participate (although this has never been spoken out aloud) and that meant I felt I had to get into training and be ready for the September run.

New shoes and running gear was purchased and W was cajoled into being my running partner and every weekend since Christmas we have gone out and run – each run getting a little longer. Although it was good too exercise – particularly when it was cold, dark and wet outside, I never felt the same satisfaction with running as I do when walking. And I never got to a point of experiencing the DRT as described in Pullen’s book, whereas that is a familiar experience whilst walking. So yesterday I decided that I would stop running, and use the freed up time to continue walking (Fitbit tells me on average I walk 13k a day). 

I also now think my original reason for taking up running was somewhat flawed – I am a good corporate citizen and fully understand the need for role modelling and conformity, but I know I should have said NO to participating in the 10k run earlier. I am not sure why I didn’t. I have nothing to prove and I am more content with my Self and my Self in relation to others than I have ever been. And after all, I am not standing on a burning platform of career advancement, quite the opposite. So I am saying goodbye to DRT the running - but I will hang on to my number plate for a little while longer.