Letters, calls and emails: Mere sympathy cannot trump understanding

Dear Editor

I would like to reply to Dr Ian Smith's letter (GP, 4 May).

Is Dr Smith seriously suggesting that I should always be sympathetic towards the GP in the Dilemma?

My wife is a healthcare professional who some years ago found herself in a similar situation to that in the Dilemma (GP, 20 April). After a promotion, she found herself still trying to do her two previous jobs despite assurances that she would get cover. Determined not to let her patients down, she started to show the classic symptoms of stress. By recognising this we were able to take positive and decisive action which resolved the situation.

During a recent training session for volunteers at Action on Pain, who are all affected by chronic pain but deal with it in a positive way, I explained that: 'We do not do sympathy, but we have buckets of understanding.' While trying to stop a robbery, I was critically injured. A very long spell in hospital left me physically and emotionally drained. Moving to a rehab centre, the first words from the superintendent physiotherapist were: 'I cannot do anything for you.' After a long pause he added, 'but I can show you how.' Not sympathy, but understanding and pointing the way forward. This spirit put my life back on track. I dread to think what tea and tissues would have achieved.

Sympathy is not always the answer. Facing reality and dealing with issues before they develop is far more effective.

Dr Ian Semmons, Chairman, Action on Pain.

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