I’ve been a doctor for 10 years. I have seen thousands of patients. I’ve seen patients die and I’ve broken bad news. I’ve spoken to countless relatives of sick people. I have dealt with crash calls and emergencies and traumas. However nothing prepares you for when it is your own family. I went with my aunty to her consultant appointment to get the results of her tests for a mass in her stomach. Sitting in the waiting room, hoping for the best, preparing for the worst. I’ve been that doctor that people come to see for their results. It’s just part of my job. But when the shoe is on the other foot, you hang on to every word, and all your hopes and fears depend on what that doctor has to say. He controls the outcome of your destiny.
Thankfully he didn’t think the mass is cancer. We all breathed a sigh of relief and instead of anticipating months of chemotherapy, nasty side effects and emotional trauma, there will be a quick operation, a period of recovery and the chance to get on with normal life. And as someone who has been in that situation, sat on the other side of the desk, I was surprised at how emotional I felt. How life could change in an instant. How it feels to be on the other side.
A paediatric consultant once said in a lecture at medical school that he felt having children made him a better paediatrician. At the time I disagreed, but on reflection I think he was right. Empathy plus skill can be a doctor’s greatest tool if he/she has it. Having compassion and seeing the patient in front of you with emotions, a family, fear and hope is essential to do a job well. Unfortunately, this is often the first thing to go when one is under pressure and a time-led, target-driven service is the priority.
Not only has this experience reminded me to take control of my own health, it has inspired me once again to see the real person sat in front of me, and to try and not be distracted by the targets and the fact there’s a queue of another 10 people waiting to see me. That person is someone’s aunty, mother, sister, friend – and someone loves them as much as I love mine. So the aim is to walk beside them, and keep remembering how it feels to be on the other side of the desk.