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.