You may not have seen us at the top of Bealach-Na-Ba last week, just another middle-aged couple on bikes, but the eagles soaring overhead can confirm we were there. This beautiful road across the Applecross peninsula in Scotland is considered by many to be the toughest road climb on a bike in the UK. For more than nine kilometres it twists its way up from sea level to 626 metres altitude, affording beautiful views along the way. Our journey there was long and did not just consist of the 700-mile car journey from the south coast.
Eight months ago I received an emergency phone call while at work, and a short time later I was standing at the roadside for an hour and a half in a shocked state watching the paramedics work on my wife. She had been hit from behind by a car while cycling and sent flying in to the middle of a busy roundabout. I arrived to a melée of police, ambulances and cars, not knowing quite what to expect. The NHS of course, rolled in to action, and just over three months later, she returned to her work as a GP, but not without some battle scars, both mental and physical.
Our climb up the road was a triumph for her – she had overcome her demons, got back on a (new) bike, and ground her way to the top. If you had seen her there, the image would not have told the whole story – her arrival at the summit was the end of a struggle and hopefully the beginning of the future.
Why am I telling you this?
Well, we see these patients every day. We get a snapshot, an image of where they are at that particular moment in time. If we are careful, we get to hear their story and try to understand the journey they may have travelled. As I look back over the past year I think of the patients I have seen, and the courage it must have taken even to get an appointment, and then to start to try and explain their problems.
From marital disharmony to gender identity concerns, from sore throats to rectal bleeding, from historic sexual abuse to dementia, patients have overcome their demons and arrived at the end of a struggle, hopefully with a view to securing a future. We see so many people every day that it can be easy to forget what a big step it can be for some just to get to the threshold of making an appointment. I don’t think it ever harms us to stop in our tracks and review the everyday stuff looking at it from a patient’s perspective.
We all have demons – but how they present and how we overcome them will be different for each of us. It’s never ‘just another patient’.
Dr Richard Cook is a GP partner in Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex. You can follow him on Twitter @drmoderate