A GP's winter tale

Dr Faye Kirkland recalls an out-of-hours shift that reminded her why she became a GP.

Dr Kirkland: 'As the conversation draws to a close, they end the call by simply saying: ‘Happy Christmas, doc’.'

It’s a cold frosty morning before Christmas and I’ve signed up to work a Saturday morning out-of-hours shift.

As I wonder what the day will have in store for me, I see images in my mind of Christmas-related injuries. Sprained ankles sustained while trying to grab the must-have gift of the season, or stumbling out of the works party after too many festive beverages. A nasty episode of right upper quadrant pain post mince pies, or the early morning gastritis from too much mulled wine.

At times like these, I aim to mentally prepare myself for what lies ahead. The eighties classic ‘Eye of the Tiger’ blasts out of the car stereo as I drive to work. I visualise the queues of patients in plastic chairs, hit by the onslaught of winter viruses. I imagine being greeted by a chorus of COPD wheeze. So I try to put myself in the place of the patients and think how annoying it would be to be ill over the festive period and wasting precious time waiting to be seen.

As I walk in, I’m greeted with a cheery ‘hello’ from a smiling receptionist and am surprised to see how many decorations have been approved by infection control.

A few hours of the shift pass by and it still amazes me, after all this time, who comes through the door. From the people who just need simple reassurance to the incredibly sick patients who are surprised when you tell them they need to be admitted to hospital.

A call stops me in my tracks – someone who simply wants to talk. This is a person who hasn’t spoken to anyone for days. They describe the social isolation they feel after losing a close family member. They had listened to a discussion about increasing rates of loneliness on the radio last night and had finally been brave enough to reach out.

There’s a lengthy discussion, risk assessing, signposting to appropriate organisations and, with the patient’s consent, a referral to social services. As the conversation draws to a close, they end the call by simply saying: ‘Happy Christmas, doc’. It’s at times like these that I realise how privileged I am to do my job. ‘Happy Christmas,’ I reply.

  • Dr Kirkland is a GP in Eastbourne, East Sussex

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