Harsh reality of the GP world

When I was a trainee we were real men; we received a warm welcome at our new practices, as befits an extra (and free) pair of hands, and then, like the Spartan children, we were summarily dumped in the deep end and left to get on with it, living off the land and only eating what we could kill.

At my first 'tutorial' I was telling my 'trainer' about the morning surgery.

My trainer was one of the old school; he had arrived just in time for lunch and he'd had the morning off. Isn't that what trainees were for? Why have a dog and then bark yourself?

'One patient today thought that Septrin was actually a tonic,' I said, thinking it a rather droll and amusing tale.

Funny and patronising stories about patients and their gullibility had been a staple of hospital canteen conversations (second only in importance to who was sleeping with whom).

To me it was still a 'them and us' situation and, after only one morning in general practice I hadn't yet been fully converted to the actual truth, that is patients were now our friends, and that hospitals and hospital doctors were the real enemy.

'Isn't it?' he replied, scratching his woolly head, a look of mild distress and befuddlement on his dear old face, as if the world was moving much too fast for him these days and he couldn't keep up with all the changes.

'Well, no, actually, it isn't', I said slowly, realising then that I was truly, truly on my own in this big, bad world. That I had been pitilessly expelled from the great womb of the hospital and that nipples were now in short supply.

'And do many people know of this?' he asked plaintively.

I didn't want to hurt his feelings, as he was my trainer, I had to work with him for a year, and anyway, I was always taught to humour old folks.

'It's quite a recent advance,' I said minimally.

'Whatever will they think of next?' he said, shrugging his shoulders in dismay.

Then he visibly brightened up, as if something very reassuring had just occurred to him, an island of stability in an ever more transient world.

'Well, I must be off now, I'll see you tomorrow; I might be a wee bit late, but feel free to call me at once if you've any problems. Remember my door is always open', he said.

Some things never change, I thought.

Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Email him at GPcolumnists@haymarket.com.

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