Working through the last week before Christmas, I became increasingly frustrated at the stream of patients with self limiting illnesses who ‘didn’t want to be sick for Christmas’ (who would?), ‘wanted a check as we would be closed for four days’ or thought they should have some antibiotics ‘just in case it goes to my chest’. And whilst I try and educate patients and signpost to appropriate services, namely Boots, it does sometimes destroy the soul.
Moments like this make all the other soul-destroying moments fade into oblivion
And destroy my soul it would have were it not for two very different and yet ultimately similar patient encounters dotted into the endless list of common colds.
The first, a woman I first met six weeks ago, with the worst contact dermatitis I have ever seen, primarily to her face and on just about every treatment possible at top doses. I have done little more than listen, advise, tweak meds and listen more. At one point I got advice from a dermatologist friend and called her to discuss. Otherwise, I have listened. She came to see me last week for nothing else than to tell me that she had been close to killing herself when we first met and now she feels that she has someone who understands the stigma of a face that others stare at, someone she can talk to and be honest about how she feels without meeting scorn. For this she had bought me a Christmas present.
The other was a 42-year-old undergoing private IVF seeing me for medication. I noticed that she had had six miscarriages over the last four years. She had never been referred to the recurrent miscarriage team and in North London we have an excellent unit at St Mary’s. I offered a referral which she accepted. I then saw her twice more to sort medication. We chatted (it’s a practice where I get 15-minute appointments making this easier), we laughed and just once she cried. I told her of my friend who miscarried constantly until she went to St Mary’s and carried a pregnancy to term aged 49 (naturally). There is always hope however slim, and she knows it is slim, but it isn’t nothing. At our appointment this week she stopped at the door to say that she had been at the practice for years and the doctors were excellent but had often made her feel wrong for pursuing pregnancy as a single woman and at her age. She thanked me for giving her hope and making her feel normal.
It may only have been two patients in hundreds but it crystallised for me why I am a GP, a doctor. It’s for moments like this, and they make all the other soul-destroying moments fade into oblivion and become unimportant. They remind one of the importance of the job, the effect we can have on people’s emotions and wellbeing even when we are not doing much to ‘cure’. There can’t be another job that has the same impact, can there?
So my reflection after bringing 2016 to a close and starting 2017 is simple. Being a GP is a tough, tiring, stressful job but it also unique, rewarding and a privilege that surely cannot be found in any other job. In those dark moments across the days/weeks/months when you feel overwhelmed, close the door, sit back and recall those patients like my two (we all have them) and take pride in the important work you do. I do.
Dr Renee Hoenderkamp is a first-year qualified GP in north London. You can follow her on Twitter @DrHoenderkamp