Liam Farrell: Why GPs and patients are different

Doctors are different from patients; even after we become patients ourselves, we're still different.

A recent article in The New York Times (so It Must Be True) described how doctors diagnosed with progressive cancer eschewed all heroic treatments and instead, accepted their fate with stoicism.

We don't rage against the dying of the light, we go gently into that good night.

There's always a choice; the options might suck, but we understand our choices better.

As Dr Seuss said: 'Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answer is simple.'

Sorrow and loss are baked into the clay of which the world is made, but even in winter, the cold isn't always bitter, and not every day is cruel.

Doctors comprehend the limitations of modern medicine, that death cannot be escaped, only deferred; it's like the floods, too little prevention, excessive treatment and unwillingness to accept the inevitable.

Patients see things differently - raised on a diet of George Clooney refusing to give up on CPR after the 200th defib, and finally being successful (and the patient not being left a vegetable), they think medicine has all the answers.

When I was a young buck, before life had started treating me like a doormat, I was diligent and punctual. At that time, we shared a waiting room with another practice. One day I'd made an early start and my first few patients had not taken long. My colleague, on the other side, had been a little late and was making slow progress. So my queue was really short, while his stretched for miles. The objective person might have thought: 'Here are two doctors. One is well-organised and efficient, the other is poorly organised and inefficient. The well-organised doctor is probably a better doctor.'

But patients see things differently. Mrs Mooney came in scowling, even more so than usual.

'Why Mrs Mooney, you're like a breath of spring,' I said gaily, on the general principle of Never Do What The Enemy Is Expecting.

'Not very popular, are you?' she said.

  • Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Follow him on Twitter @drlfarrell.

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