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I love my job but it’s making me sick

Dear Prime Minister 

dominic hennessy3x2

dominic hennessy 3×2 SUO

It shouldn’t be this way. I’m late, it’s Friday, and I’m out of compassion. Usually I care, I really do. This year has been tough, though – we’ve been short 12 out of 28 GP sessions for most of it. I’ve been the only full-time GP. I’ve had to worry if we’d get enough locum cover for me to go on holiday. Then I worry while I am away. I’m owed a quarter of my annual leave as a consequence. My husband and I got away for the first time in well over a year in January. We had an amazing time, but I lied to him. I didn’t want to tell him about the surges of anxiety I had, thinking of returning to work, leaving a contented smile frozen in place, masking a maelstrom of worry.

I’m so tired when I get in from work, I can’t exercise and I eat ‘quick’ foods, rather than cook properly. I’ve put on weight. My blood pressure is up a bit. I can’t relax as easily. I sit pretending to watch television, or read while I am secretly worrying if I can afford to resign my contract, to surrender our crippling lease, or how much it might cost to pay redundancy to my staff. I imagine their looks of shock and reproach, assuming I summon the courage to tell them.

I’ve invested my whole adult life in making people better, but it seems I’m really bad at looking after myself

I know about their family problems, their mortgages taken out for their offspring, their husbands who are unable to work but are ‘fit enough’ to according to the Department for Work and Pensions, their dogs, their daughters’ wedding plans, their kitchens being remodelled.

I’ve apologised to my last patient, who I like very much, for running late, and try really hard to give her the best of me. I deal with her concerns, listen to her wistful memories, her bereavement. Three years on, and she still misses his smell on their pillows.

Her hand on the door handle, she looks over her shoulder. ‘You remember when Ron was ill, and you told me to look after myself first, doctor?’ She pauses, deliberating if she should go on. ‘Well, it’s just that you look… tired. If you’re not well, who will look after us?’

It breaks my heart. She’s right, I’m putting them first, and it isn’t sustainable.

Prime Minister, I love my job but it’s making me sick. I’ve invested my whole adult life in making people better, but it seems I’m really bad at looking after myself. I’ve got a minimum of 25 years until retirement: a life sentence. And at the moment, it feels like it is. It shouldn’t be this way. My patients deserve better; I deserve better.

Dr Dominic Hennessy is a GP in West Moors, Dorset.