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What can you say to a patient on the verge of tears?



Apologies if this is too downbeat, but there was something in the water last week. And it must have been bromocriptine, because the milk of human kindness was in vanishingly short supply.

Every other patient seemed to be on the verge of tears, and there was a sad inventiveness in the ways their misery had been brought about.

A single mother had had her windows broken after she’d asked a neighbor to stop smoking cannabis around her asthmatic children. Another mother’s partner had described to their mutual friends how ‘disgusting’ her episiotomy scar was – a wound incurred whilst bringing his child into existence, as if that had any bearing on his treatment of her. Then there was the usual stream of child protection conferences, and an alleged assault or two, plus cyberbullying, and old-fashioned bullying, in fairly equal measure.

It’s an interesting debate how much of this is the GP’s job, and how much we can really do to help, but clearly a lot of unhappy people have exhausted their other options.

It’s difficult to know what to suggest when presented with this kind of thing, when you have ten minutes to say something sensible before the next patient is due. One of the lessons of a medical career is that the human condition doesn’t lack opportunities for suffering. The problems those patients brought to me are, on a global scale, fairly trivial. But these are people whose health and happiness are being destroyed, for no better reason than that somebody else felt like hurting them.

Driving home on Friday evening, it struck me how wonderful it would be if they all took a day off. If all the bullies and abusers stopped trashing people’s homes and mocking their partners, and just did something else instead.

Perhaps they could stop texting hatred to each other, and just have a lie-in. Maybe one day they could read some Larkin, and realise that we are all vulnerable. That the people around them matter. That we should be careful of each other, we should be kind, while there is still time.

Dr Nick Ramscar is a GP in Bracknell, Berkshire