On Saturday I spoke at a dermatology training conference at my hospital. I gave an updated version of my Appearance Matters speech. (I added bits about going surfing, my thesis result, meeting Jack Oldacres, and time with Rick Guidotti.)
At the start of my speech I joked that this is the first time I have attended a dermatology training conference wearing so many clothes, and I thanked them for that.
When I was younger I attended a few conferences where up to 200 doctors would look at me, many did not speak to me, or did not speak English, and I was only able to wear undies, one sock and a blanket. At first it was a novelty, I would charge the doctors a few cents a look. But then it got a little distressing. I was a teenager, not yet comfortable with my changing body, and I was frustrated by the cold environment – physically and emotionally. Not being able to wear clothes, and impersonal consults made for a difficult time. The last conference I took part in was when I was 15. As well as the doctors who examined me, I met a few people with various skin conditions, and that was a real eye opener for me – they were in search of a cure, but also missrable with life. I did not want to be like that. It was an unpleasant experience, and I told Mum that I wanted to leave early. So we did. I felt the doctors only wanted to get to know my condition, and not me as a person. I felt like a zoo exhibit. Dare I say it – I felt a little exploited.
When my dermatology geneticist invited me to a training day in October, she gave me the option of being a patient or a speaker. I immediately said I wanted to be a speaker. Good, she said, that will change the power balance of me as a patient.
It was strange being in a different role to a patient. While my dermatology team are fantastic and most realise I know as much about my condition as they do, and respect my medical choices, there is always that superior/subordinate relationship between us. The head dermatologist, a doctor I have been seeing for 24 years, walked me to the lecture theatre, and he was so thankful, so proud of me for doing this speech.
Before the conference, I chatted with dermatologists that had seen me over the years. We talked about my trip. There was little talk about skin.
And then I did my speech. I spoke in front of around 40 doctors. They were so receptive, and they got some laughs out of my speech too. It was not clinical, it was personal. It was a great feeling.
I am always going to be a patient. That is inevitable. But when I did my speech, the roles had shifted, and I was a teacher.
If you would like me to do a speech for you, shoot me an email.