Sunday, 5 August 2007


I'm aware that recent postings have been more about me than my patients. I suppose it's odd to apologise for talking about oneself in a blog, but those of you who look forward to reading exciting tales of life in the surgery will have to wait a little longer. But one of the purposes of this blog is to examine whether I am fortunate in what I do, and to record my feelings about the job. My memory is poor, and if my grandchildren ever ask me “what was it like to be a GP, Grandpa?” I want to be able to tell them.

I have talked before about vocation, but not specifically about religion. I am a middle-of-the-road Anglican who attends church regularly, but I do not constantly look at things from a religious point of view. Perhaps I am a bit like the famous scientist who forgot his religion when he went into his laboratory and forgot his science when went to church? I admire people who have a sacramental view of life, shoot off “arrow prayers” when the going gets tough, and always ask “what would Jesus do?” when hard decisions have to be made. (I wonder whether Jesus would prescribe a cheap statin to save the NHS money?) All I do is muddle along as best I can. But sometimes when sitting in church and listening to the sermon (yes, really!) it occurs to me that I must be doing God's work to some extent during the week.

We had a lovely sermon tonight, in which the priest assured us that we are unconditionally loved and forgiven by God even though we have acted badly. Indeed he feels that the liturgy has things in the wrong order – first we ought to receive God's forgiveness (the Absolution) and then we should confess our sins in wonderment and gratitude. This is a particularly Anglican way of looking at it! And I found it encouraging that he confessed to being imperfect in many ways himself. If the priest acknowledges his failings but can keep on working then so can the doctor.

Looking at the way I work I am conscious of many failings. I do not report these in my blog. I am reluctant even to admit them to myself. I have left undone those things which I ought to have done and have done those things which I ought not to have done, and there is no health in me. One small example will suffice: the other day my first patient was a woman I have seen very many times with chronic depression. I was in a rush, there were several physical problems to sort out, and I must have appeared brusque because tears appeared in her eyes. I did not stop and give her the extra five to ten minutes that would have been needed to get to the bottom of things, I just calmed her down as best I could and got on with the next appointment. She will be back no doubt, but a better doctor would have handled things differently.

On balance I suspect that keeping God in mind during every consultation would simply add to the pressure and to my sense of inadequacy. But I keep trying to do my best, and go to church on Sunday to confess that I have been far from perfect and hear those wonderful words of forgiveness. This evening I received a personal blessing from the priest which I would like to pass on to all of my readers who will not be offended by it.
May Christ bring you wholeness of body, mind and spirit, deliver you from every evil, and give you his peace. Amen.


The Shrink said...

She will be back no doubt, but a better doctor would have handled things differently.

A different doctor would have handled things differently. Not necessarily better.

With the time constraints imposed, it's just not possible to invest the extra time you could without massively over running.

Cash funding is an issue, CaB impacts on Secondary Care access, but the one resource that's so scarce and hard to improve upon (so is necessarily rationed) is clinical contact time.

Doing more simply isn't an option unless you have a surfeit of new GP colleagues!

Doing the best you can with the time you have, touching precious lives with the beneficence you can, will have to be good enough for one fortunate man ;-)

Anonymous said...

I don't admire people who constantly ask themselves what Jesus would do. The thought chills me. I believe Jesus would prefer they learned to think for themselves.

(Very presumptuous of me, I know.)

I also think you're being a little hard on yourself (equally presumptuous).

The blessing is lovely, and well received. Thank you for passing it on.

Elaine said...

I think that was an excellent and very thoughtful post. If you can reflect on your practice in this way, you must be giving your patients the best care you possibly can, given the constraints under which you have to work. Keep that benediction in your thoughts.

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preilijuly said...

Thank you for sharing!

I've never been able to think "What would Jesus do?" - I'm just a human-being. But I certainly have found a lot of help in my life and also in difficult clinical situations, reminding myself of God's message - Jas 1:5-8 and Phil 4:4-7. It's like giving away the burden of too much responsibility, understanding that I'm not in control of everything and that I can do my best, having a peaceful mind.

Calavera said...

Why would anyone be offended by it? It was beautiful, thank you for sharing.


Dr Andrew Brown said...

The Shrink: Thank you for your kind words. I count my blessings and I do think that I am a fortunate man - but I intend to keep on blogging none the less. :-)

Orchidea: You're right that "what would Jesus do" can be simplistic and unhelpful. It is also extremely presumptuous to imagine that we can know the mind of God.
I'm glad you liked the blessing as much as I did.

Elaine: Welcome to the blog and thank you for your kind thoughts.

Preilijuly: Thanks for your comments and the scriptural links. I am very fond of Micah 6,8.
"And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God."
Easy to say, very hard to do!

Cal: Richard Dawkins might not be too pleased. There again, he is unlikely to be an avid reader of this blog. :-)

Anonymous said...

You are clearly a caring doctor with a conscience, who feels the burden of others' troubles and illnesses (which obviously may not be one and the same). In that situation, it's easy to feel never-quite-good-enough. I work as an advocate in an inner city church in Canada and am inundated with the needs of very poor, very ill people, many of whom owe much of their misfortune to the vicissitudes of government and society. Even where time constraints and/or cash funding are not issues (as they are not in my job), the fortitude to stay emotionally present with people is. You can't always do it. (You'd probably be dead if you did!)Be aware that even when you feel a failure, many people have also benefited from your kindness.

A. said...

You do seem to be too hard on yourself. Don't forget to give yourself a little forgiveness too.

And I'm with Cal, why should anyone be offended? Even Richard Dawkins ought to accept it in the spirit in which it was offered.

Dr Andrew Brown said...

Thanks, Anonymous and A. for your kind thoughts & encouragement.