Being shy and self-effacing, I feel uncomfortable referring to ‘regular readers’. But the thing is, regular readers – there you go – are saying they’ve noticed a change in me. Specifically, that the amusement and positivity (their words) that sprinkled these columns in the past has been replaced by a depressive doom, a gloom, a sourness, with humour giving way to an excess of anti-hospital and anti-patient sentiment.
Which is rubbish. After all, only yesterday, I saw a patient who I wanted to punch in the face. And normally it’s just consultants I want to punch in the face. This patient had been so truculent, obnoxious, complaining, unreasonable, rude, provocative and impossible to help that, as I ran through the various ways I might move forward with him, ‘Punch him in the face, really hard, now,’ popped into my head as a serious and, frankly, very attractive option. But I’m built for cogitation rather than combat. So I thought him in the face instead.
There – an Amusing Coalface Anecdote That We Can All Relate To. See, I’m actually happy as Larry. Anyway, this column is not about me. It’s about you. Or, rather, it’s about us. What’s going on here, if you’ll excuse the psychobabble, is ‘transference’. You, the readers, are the ones feeling downtrodden, depressed and desperate, and you’re projecting these sensations onto my column, thereby concluding that I’m a miserable bastard. Which, therefore, is unjustified, even if it may be true.
And I know exactly why you’re feeling downtrodden, depressed, etc. Signing up to be a doctor wasn’t just about scrawling on the dotted line, it was about making a pact. We, as medical professionals, relentlessly put in hours and effort way over and above our contractual requirements, without real complaint, for years. So long as they, the politicians, treat us fairly, they, the media, treat us reasonably and they, the patients, treat us with a modicum of respect – which doesn’t mean putting us on pedestals but does acknowledge that, most of the time, we are trying our best in difficult circumstances.
In other words, the NHS is run on goodwill. And that goodwill has been all but used up, thanks to the shafting, the slating and the suing – to name but three forms of abuse – from politicians, papers and public.
Of course, it may be that we have sunk so low as to become something of a parody of ourselves. There’s a fine line between barely bearable work stress, clinical depression and wallowing in self-pity. And, who knows, those crumbs of comfort provided by the new contract may well mean that there’s a lifesaving loaf being baked even as I type.
In the meantime – a meantime in which I’m reading yet another solicitor’s letter regarding potential litigation, viewed nowadays by patients as just another type of lottery ticket – the pact is broken.
So that’s why you think I’m depressed. Because you are.
Anyway, about that patient I wanted to punch in the face. What I did was send him for a colonoscopy, even though he only came in with a sore throat. Funny, that.
Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield