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The sound of many hands clapping

Friends and relatives have noted in me a certain tension of late, which undoubtedly is the 59-year-old asthmatic in me speaking. And yes, I’ve been aware of a certain irascibility creeping in.

Exemplified, in fact, by me spotting a beautiful magnolia exploding into life as I drove to work the other day – something which normally fills my heart with joy but which on this occasion made me irrationally furious. Doesn’t it know what’s going on?

And associated with this there has been, what can I call it, an emotional tautness? A throat tightness which at times could be mistaken for a lump. Like when a patient, for the first time – and I can confirm not the last – donated a massive bag of food to the health centre doctors and staff.

Like when I spoke to a self-employed patient who, distraught, tells me he has no idea how he is going to feed his four kids but still remembers to thank me for ‘all we are doing’. Like the kid who chalked ‘Thank you doctors’ on the pavement outside our health centre.

Like the kid who chalked ‘Thank you doctors’ on the pavement outside our health centre

Look, I’ve spent years managing this job by, most of the time, viewing patients as the enemy. This world upside-down-ness is hard to take. Thankfully, there have been the odd one or two who have reverted to type by giving me a polysymptomatic and demanding heartsinky telephone consultation, apparently oblivious to what is going on.

One of whom pissed me off so much that I shouted at him, another first, but who at least reminded me of how the job – remember that? – used to wind me up, and I was almost grateful for that.

But overall I’ve been turned to a putty that has just about continued to function. Until tonight. I swear to God that I’d completely forgotten about the Clap for our Carers initiative, and that such mawkish displays of support would normally make me feel properly pukey.

But my wife called me out as she was sorting the recycling. And… oh my God. The whole street was cheering and clapping. It was surreal and it was truly moving.

Small acts of kindness, it seems, do go a long way, and hopefully they’ll last until the magnolias burst into leaf again next year. In the meantime, though, I’d settle for some PPE.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. Read more of Copperfield’s blogs at or follow him on Twitter @doccopperfield