So at deadline minus 10 minutes, I received a phone-call from the Pulse editor asking me to ‘write a tribute or something’ for Phil Peverley, who remains too ill to pen his column for the next issue. Awkward.
For a start, as a tribute act, I need a name. ‘Phil in’? ‘For Pever and ever’? Or, if we used a writing team, ‘The Peverley Brothers’? ‘Pevvy and the Pacemakers’? Rubbish. All of them.
Next, eulogising Pev inevitably made it sound like an obituary. It isn’t. We’re not breaking it you gently. Rumours, demise, exaggerated etc.
Then there was the worry it would turn into an incestuous blogumnist love-in. Tedious for readers, plus I was worried that if I slapped his back too hard, I might have sent him back into atrial Philbrillation.
And finally, there was the danger that petty jealousy might creep in. Pev’s latest, brilliant, cri-de-coeur column clocked up a record 144 comments, leaving me thinking, I can’t cope with this, I’ll stick to writing stuff about patients who smell (10 comments, ish). But I’m not bitter.
So, to recap: there was Pev in CCU, hooked up to a monitor, dosed up with ß-blockers and fed up with general practice, saying, ‘I hate this bloody job’. As a summary of the state of the GP nation, it couldn’t have been bettered. And that swear word is interesting. Pev hardly ever swears in his column. Whereas I do. A lot. And it occurs to me that gratuitous profanity isn’t stylish or funny, as I had imagined, it’s the refuge of the writer who can’t adequately express himself. F**k.
I don’t want to canonise Pev, but he’s certainly done us some favours. It’s hard to prove that ‘B’(loody job) causes ‘A’(trial fibrillation) – after all, people who aren’t burnt-out GPs come over all arrhythmic, too. But if the Daily Mail (which, by the way, once offered Pev a column that, being a man of morals as well as letters, he turned down) or any other headline generator decides to run with ‘Work stress killing nation’s GPs’, then who are we to stop them?
And reading Pev’s traumas might also help you recognise parallels in your own life. That first ‘can’t be arsed’ feeling, that first flicker of burnout, that sudden spark of pathological atrial activity… If you’re coming over all Peverley, it might be time to take serious stock.
But the most vital service Pev has provided has been repeatedly to voice our collective angst. One of our biggest frustrations is that no one outside the profession really understands what general practice is like, and why it drives us batshit bonkers. And while I have to resort to a scream (hence the Munchoid picture), Phil somehow manages to articulate – with wisdom and wit – that, even if the job isn’t really killing us, it sure feels like it is. This is cathartic for us and provides valuable insight for others.
So get well soon Pev. I’m not sure your patients need you. But we certainly do. In the meantime, get your tickets for the Peverley Brothers’ tribute show: We Will Blog You.
Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield.