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I needed to hear it from the GP

I cry like a hysterical teenage girl. I’ve not consulted my GP before; I’d hoped to retain some composure, but the tears won’t stop. Emergency appointment for suicidal ideation. Topics we cover in ‘why life just isn’t worth living any more’ include my boyfriend leaving me over the telephone, the difficulties of living with my parents, and my best friend moving away. So far, so teenage melodrama. I look up and my GP passes me a tissue.

‘What does make life worth living?’

That’s an easy one.

‘My job. I love my job.’ A pause. I feel I’m meant to say something else but nothing comes to mind. ‘I can get out of bed on a work day,’ I offer, looking at my hands fiddling with the damp tissue, ‘but I didn’t go to orchestra rehearsal at the weekend.’

‘What do you do for work?’ I stop fiddling with the surprise of this question, but of course he doesn’t know. I’ve never met him before, how would he? While I may feel it as the most defining thing about me, the summation of a life’s work, it’s not as though there is any outward sign. Suddenly I don’t want to say. I consider wiping my eyes, apologising and walking out. It feels that I’m about to cross a bridge that will fall behind me leaving no way back.

I look up and we make eye contact for the first time. ‘I’m a doctor. A GP trainee. At the surgery down the road.’

Silence. My GP keeps his poker face, but I sense alarm in his eyes. I’ve just rocketed up the risk assessment to the highest level. Am I safe, and are my patients? Should I be working? I’m no longer just a doctor. I’m a mentally ill doctor. I look back down at the floor and feel ashamed. And guilty. It’s been over 10 minutes, I can see the red light flashing on the phone and the notifications stacking up the computer screen.

‘I don’t know what to do,’ I sob, putting my head to my hands. It’s the cue my GP needs; he calmly suggests the plan, and I’m glad to be told what to do. It’s the same plan I’ve gone through with patients before, but somehow it’s more confident and reassuring coming from him. I needed to hear it from a doctor.

‘Here,’ he says as he holds out the prescription, but he doesn’t let go. I look up and make eye contact once more. ‘You are going to get better.’ I think I manage a smile as I mumble my thanks and apologies before heading to the door.

Outside it’s warmer, brighter; I notice the flowers growing outside the surgery. As I walk I think about my GP and how much I have yet to learn in the art of consultation, and realise I’ve started thinking of a future again.

Dr Emily Law is a GP trainee in North Hertfordshire. She wins a case of vintage cava for her entry.

This is the under-35s winner of Pulse’s writing competition 2018 entitled ‘Turning Tables’. Click here to read the other entries