Doctor saved by own hospital marks 1st anniversary

Tuesday 19 December 2023

Photo of Nigel Beckett in the gardens at St Thomas'

Photo of Dr Nigel Beckett in the gardens at St Thomas'

A doctor who was treated by his colleagues for a life-threatening condition is preparing to eat festive treats for the first time since he fell ill a year ago.

Nigel Beckett, consultant physician in ageing and health at Guy’s and St Thomas’, spent over seven weeks in St Thomas’ Hospital last autumn after having emergency surgery for small bowel obstruction, and subsequently developing intestinal failure.  

After spending last Christmas unable to eat any of the food he prepared for his family, Nigel is looking forward to his “new-normal” Christmas this year.

Last September after having severe stomach pain at work, Nigel was seen by a colleague in the Acute Medical Unit at St Thomas’ and then admitted to Howard ward, where he spent 10 days before having emergency surgery.

The two-and-a-half-hour operation removed scar tissue that had built up around two metres of his small bowel, after being treated for appendicitis nearly 30 years ago.

Former clinical director of acute, general medicine and emergency care at Guy’s and St Thomas, Nigel, 58, said: “It took me longer to recover from my operation than I was actually expecting, as I developed intestinal failure after my operation.”

Intestinal failure is a serious condition where your bowel fails to absorb nutrients essential to staying alive.

Nigel continued: “I remained an inpatient at St Thomas’ for seven weeks on Northumberland ward, for patients recovering from gastrointestinal surgery. After being in hospital for a few weeks, my morale started to dip, and the site nurse team allowed my rescue dog to visit me off the ward. I experienced the true importance of holistic care for patients in hospital for long periods of time.

“When I was finally discharged, I was allowed home with a feeding tube, known as Total Parental Nutrition (TPN). The equipment was on for 13 hours throughout the night, and required a huge amount of kit to be installed in my house. It was eye-opening to experience the impact it has on patients and their families.

“I remained on TPN for almost four months, and then slowly reduced my overnight feeds and increased the amount of water I was drinking – as this was strictly controlled when I was first discharged. I then increased this to clear broth. My recovery spanned the festive period which sadly meant I was unable to eat my Christmas dinner – which was really hard for a foodie like myself! I slowly managed to increase the clear broth to solid food, but now remain on a low fibre diet.”

After six months recovering at home, Nigel returned to work at St Thomas’ Hospital.

Nigel continued: “Thanks to the skill of the whole of the surgical gastro-intestinal team (surgeons, specialist nurses, physicians and allied health professionals), I managed to slowly return to work full time. I do credit their skill in helping me return to work. However, there wasn’t just one team involved in my recovery, it was everyone I came across and I was touched by their little moments of kindness. From the radiologists and technicians, to the nursing teams and porters, everyone was so kind.

To thank the colleagues who cared for him, Nigel has raised over £3,100 for Guy’s & St Thomas’ Charity, cycling from London to Brighton.

Nigel credits his experience as making him a “better doctor”. He said: “I don’t want my illness to define me, but it has changed how I am with my patients. I’m even more acutely aware of the impact that chronic illness and long hospital stays have on the wider family of a patient. It’s also highlighted those invisible conditions, and how you never know what someone is going through until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.

“This Christmas I’m looking forward to my ‘new normal’ Christmas dinner, but sadly this means no Brussel sprouts!”

Last updated: December 2023

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