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phil peverley

Back in harness

Two full weeks of sun and sand, but Phil just thought of Sunderland

I am beginning to wonder whether holidays are worth the effort.

I look forward to my holidays. I spend months ticking off the days. I fantasise about a fortnight free of responsibility and worry.

I'm going to catch up on my reading, and my reading list is subject to endless revisions. Will it be the new Terry Pratchett, or will I wallow in Depression; The Social And Economic Timebomb?

I decide to take both; I've been to Tuscany before, and those rustic wooden dining tables often need a book about the size of the Depression one to keep them level.

I don't really care where I'm going, because the main thing is, I won't be in Sunderland.

I look lovingly at my mobile phone. While I'm in Italy, it may or may not be able to receive calls from the UK. I will never know, because I have no intention of switching it on at any point.

As the moment approaches, I get sanguine with my patients. 'Try these tablets,' I might say, expansively. 'If they don't help, get back to me next week.'

But I know I'm not going to be there. My partners, bless them, can sort it out.

It's not going to be my problem.

It never works out the way I planned it. In previous years, I didn't start to worry about work until the last couple of days. The second half of the second week was usually overshadowed by dark foreboding.

What was going to be waiting for me when I got back? What about Mrs Richardson's ultrasound scan? Would there be evidence of secondaries? And what about Mrs Bedford? I had been visiting her about once every two days before I left. How would she get on in my absence?

This year, I might as well have not gone away at all. I had about 48 hours free from practice-related worries, and then they were back with me with a vengeance.

Mrs Richardson's liver function test results haunted my waking hours and made my pizza taste stale. Mrs Bedford's pulmonary oedema disturbed my pool-side reveries, and took the fizz off my Nastro Azzuro.

I eyed my mobile phone nervously. What was the point of phoning up to find out? What difference would it make?

The conclusion is clear, if rather depressing. Twelve years in this job has changed me.

Being a GP is no longer what I do, being a GP is now what I am. I can't get away from it. I don't have a job, I have a vocation. I don't work at my practice, I live it.

Monday morning. I'm home again, and I'm getting ready for work. It's 8.30am, I'm adjusting my tie in front of the mirror, and I find myself leaning slightly to the left. I know what that is; the paperwork that has accumulated over the past fortnight is so vast that it is exerting its own gravitational pull.

The telephone rings. It's Mr Bedford. 'Can you come and see her, doctor?'

'What's the problem?' I ask.

'Well she's had a marvellous fortnight, doctor. The best she's felt for ages. She hasn't bothered anyone at the practice. But an hour ago she started feeling really breathless.'

'I'll call in and see her on my way to work,' I tell him.

I finish straightening my tie, pick up my bag, take a deep breath, and walk out into the rest of my life.

peverley@supanet.com

Dr Phil Peverley is a GP in Sunderland

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