Sunday, 2 September 2007


Well here I am back from my summer holidays, and I had a marvellous time. I went on a course totally unconnected with medicine (except insofar as medicine touches everything), something that I am passionate about. And I achieved a long-held ambition which turned out to be just as good as I had hoped. But oddly, the most satisfying thing was socialising with other people on the course. It is rare that I mix with people who are not either medics or friends. I worried a bit beforehand about how I would get on with thirty strangers, even though we shared a common interest. But you won't be surprised to hear that the interpersonal skills I have developed over the past two decades allowed me to cope.

One thing that struck me was that we all had our little quirks (some bigger than others) but managed to get on well together. And as I wasn't their doctor I didn't have to worry about analysing what it all meant or how their personalities might affect their treatment. I could just enjoy interacting with them as fellow human beings. I am now trying to use this insight when seeing my patients. I have tended to compartmentalise work from the rest of my life, and to treat patients more formally than my social contacts. This may be necessary to some extent, but it can go too far. So I am now trying to be more open and to accept my patients for what and who they are.

A number of freedoms seem to have arisen from this. I feel liberated from the need to be all things to all men, to be always right, and to always provide satisfaction. I used to think that I had to make everything right, and couldn't tolerate any unhappiness or criticism by the patient. I now feel more relaxed about potential criticism, and find it easier to say "no" when required. I have tended to practise medicine as though the sky was about to fall on my head but I am now finding it easier to avoid constant worry about mistakes, and I no longer feel the need to ingratiate myself all the time in case things go wrong. I have an odd sensation of calm before seeing patients, as though I could cope with anything. Perhaps some doctors always feel that way, but it's an enjoyable novelty for me.

And so far things have been going alright. I have seen a number of patients to review problems that I treated before I went away, and lo and behold they are better, and I turn out to have done all the right things. Some even seem to have gained some insight from seeing me. For example, a rather tense lady of my age with recurrent neck pain due to cervical spondylosis was much better after a course of amitriptyline and a consultation or two with me.

The only fly in the ointment is that experience suggests this "holiday honeymoon" period will only last three to four days. No doubt next week I shall be my usual stressed self. But it was good while it lasted, and I shall have this blog entry to look back on.


Calavera said...

It's awesome that you got to experience something a little different from your usual field of work.

I've complained about it a bit to my own friends, but sometimes I find the company of fellow medics rather insufferable. I really can't stand talking about medicine too much outside of it, and I hate it when people start discussing it in an irrelevant context.

It's so good that you got to hang out with some non-medics - I think my non-medic friends keep me alive!

Elaine said...

I really do hope that you continue to gain from your experience as much as you have to date. As you said yourself, in case of need, re-read this blog.

Elaine said...

Your course sounds like one I went on - on more than one occasion - while I was studying with the Open University. I too found it so liberating to escape to a time out of time and away from all the cares of the NHS.

Kelly said...

Good to have you back and even better to hear you had a really enjoyable and refreshing holiday. It was a much deserved one I reckon.

The Shrink said...

Glad to hear you had a fun and rewarding break de-stressing.

. . . and to always provide satisfaction. I used to think that I had to make everything right, and couldn't tolerate any unhappiness . . .

I'd sussed I couldn't deliver this all the time to all patients. Making people "better" is what we do. "Better" may mean effecting change through managing a medical problem. It may mean "better" through not changing the situation one iota and simply helping them to cope.

But beyond this improvement in well being, "satisfaction" and ridding them of "unhappiness" are lofty goals, indeed! Worth shooting for, none the less, but achieving them is a real bonus and hardly expected to be commonplace.

As one GP said to me once, "If they want to be happy, they should go and see a clown. I do not look like a clown. I am not a clown. It is not my job to make people happy."

When consulting do you have you got a red nose and face paint and comical costume? No, thought not :-)

Happiness isn't always achieveable and shouldn't be seen as core business but I confess I do still like to try for it. And reaching up is good. My grandmother used to say, "Aim for the stars and you'll hit the treetops." Sometimes that has to be good enough :-)

Dr Andrew Brown said...

Thanks to all for your kind thoughts.

The Shrink: Your analysis is spot on, of course. I'm sure that people have told me it before, but you have to work it out for yourself. :-)

Anonymous said...

Happiness is highly overrated and people drive themselves mad trying to attain it or simply waiting for it to somehow magically appear. Most are too busy and distracted to recognise happiness when it hits them. Contentment, now that's something to strive for. It's an over-sized, ancient cashmere jumper belonging to your spouse, a cat weaving itself around your calf and your first cup of tea in the morning while you look out of the window into the rain.

Clowns give me the creeps.

Anonymous said...

I hope that Andrew Brown's 'refreshment' lasts more than a few days. It looks as though the insights that he has had will serve him much longer than that.

Dr Andrew Brown said...

Thanks again for your kind comments.

This is turning into an interesting discussion on the nature of happiness. No doubt it has been analysed in much greater depth elsewhere in the blogosphere. I liked the idea I read recently that happiness is only recognised in retrospect.

I think our best way of achieving it is to live life as fully as we can, make friends, try new experiences (except incest and country dancing, obviously), and remain inquisitive thoughtful and open.

Hmm, not so easy then... :-)

Anonymous said...

Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.

~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

Dr Andrew Brown said...

Thanks, Anonymous.