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At the heart of general practice since 1960

My patient needed a hug, so I gave her a hug

When a patient came in to talk about the death of her mother, also one of the Jobbing Doctor's patients, from cancer an emotional consultation ensues.

When a patient came in to talk about the death of her mother, also one of the Jobbing Doctor's patients, from cancer an emotional consultation ensues.

One of the sadder aspects of my life is when I see people who tell me their poignant stories. Because I am an NHS GP with a registered list, I often know people before they get ill, and part of my job is a chronicler for the common man - their journeys through illness and sometimes up to death.

This I find really very upsetting, and for some of the patients I will miss them, their endearing personalities, their little eccentricities, the things that they say. There are, of course, those who are left bereaved and who need help. If you are a family doctor then you look after the whole family - three or four generations, sometimes.

41225463The public usually have a fairly fixed idea of cancer. They seem to regard it as a uniform disease. That it presents with pain and can be diagnosed early. Would that this were the case. It would make our jobs as diagnosticians a little easier. But many of the main cancers are painless and can be present for a long time before they are diagnosed. I have lost 2 good friends who were late presenters (kidney and pancreas respectively) because of lack of symptoms.

One of our patients recently presented with feeling tired all the time. Now, for many GP readers of this blog, you will know that this a very common presenting symptom and is rarely caused by anything physical. Usually it is pressure of money, job or family that causes this symptom.

So when a woman in her mid-60s presented with this symptom, we were shocked to have to diagnose advanced colonic cancer, which responded poorly to chemotherapy. Presentation to death: 3 months. She was expertly dealt with by one of my partners who stepped in and managed her quick decline once it became apparent that the chemotherapy was not working and all it was doing was poison her during her last few weeks of life.

It is interesting that Jobbing Doctors remain the last holistic doctors and that (unfortunately) some oncologists have a very scientific approach to managing cancer; one thing that makes me really unpopular with the local oncologists is when I advise my patients to discontinue therapy when we can all see that it isn't working. I know it mucks up their studies, but I don't care much for their studies, I only care about my patient.

I have fond memories of this patient and I remember her when I last saw her (when she was well) and that is a good memory. As a family doctor, I also look after the rest of the family (daughter, son-in-law, grandchildren etc), so I can see the effect on them.

I saw the daughter a few days ago for the first time since her mum's illness and she wanted to tell me about her mother's illness and death. It was raw. It was emotional. We both needed Kleenex to help through the consultation. At the end of the consultation I stood up and hugged her for thirty seconds. It felt the right thing to do. I was pleased I did it because I am generally a fairly tactile doctor.

Should I have hugged her? I'm sure my defence organisation would have told me not to, or maybe to hug her with a chaperone in the room, or some such nonsense.

I don't actually care. It was an impulsive, human gesture that came from the heart. I genuinely felt moved, and it is what family doctors do.

The day I am told not to do this will be the day that I retire.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • That is such a human response and just what is required especially in this day and age of PC weariness.
    Good for you

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