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Yes, doctors sometimes need help too

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A few months ago, I sat with Mum in the same room in which we had nursed Dad, who had died from the rare and terrible inherited Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease almost a year before. It was there that a nervous policeman told us my brother had ‘passed away’ at the roadside after a car crash.

Time stopped. It’s quite extraordinary that he died in winter and it’s now spring. I can hardly remember one thing I have done since then, other than have fearfully intrusive visions of my brother’s violent end. Imagining the invasive horrors a traumatic cardiac arrest mandates, while trying to console and sustain my widowed, one-child-less Mum who was similarly adrift in the strange water after the traumatic storm. If this is not a cry for help, I don’t know what is. 

Being a doctor puts you in a strange position for tragedy. I now understand how hard it can be for doctors to ask for help. I felt hugely awkward about being in the patient’s chair at the GP’s, and closed many a half-filled application for local psychological support services, who know my name as a referrer first.

I now understand how hard it can be for doctors to ask for help

Similarly, people tend to assume you have a higher threshold for handling illness, bad news and gore, and family reliance upon you is much greater. Family and friends defer to your judgment. I have never shaken the feeling that people, including my employers, think as a doctor I am better equipped to be ‘okay’ with all this loss, and that somehow the help does not need to be so clearly signposted.


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And we feel the need to just keep going. Medicine is a wonderful job I feel privileged to do, but it is often a full-on, relentless job that requires a sizeable tank of energy and empathy. We all have life events that deplete that tank, but most of us feel that deep-rooted obligation to just keep going and put everyone else first. Until something happens where you just can’t anymore.

And of course we also fear judgment; so I feel a failure for not having returned to work yet, even though I would never judge a colleague in the same way.

Other writing competition entries

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However, some light pierced the grief cave recently. A friend’s relative asked me about some worrying symptoms. I remembered how much I love the detective work of medicine, the interaction with people, trying to help them find answers and deal with those answers. It felt like the flame of a boiler relighting, and I’d like to rejoin the ranks again. I hope I’ll be okay, and above all, safe.

Dr Celine Inglis is a GP ST3 in East Sussex