Tuesday, July 12, 2022

This small room where we sit with our GPs is full of memories and drama. But especially for the GP herself.

MY GP of almost 40 years is retiring. I greeted this news with delight for her. At last, I thought, time for yourself. I told her how much she would love it and wished her well.

When I left the building, with the latest prescription in my hand, I found myself becoming tearful. It all flashed before me. The time I arrived at her surgery in labour, the time she came to the house to see my young son badly ill with food poisoning, the time I went with women’s problems and she hopped up with delight saying, “I’ve just done a great course in vaginal health!”

It’s not just me though, everyone she has taken care of over all those years is delighted for her that she will now get a break but we also share a sadness about how much we will miss her.

In the old days when I first began to attend her surgery, I was very much in a 1980s hippy mode and thought I knew everything. I look back thinking I was going through what I now understand was the arrogance of the young and healthy. I have since learned that all of us are just temporarily able bodied and surely no one more than a hard working GP is aware of this.

As I have gotten older, I appreciate a lot more the need for tests, time, and medication. I’m still very much in favour of a partnership arrangement with the medical profession, but I am a better patient now. I am much more appreciative of the gifts of science and medicine and how all our lives have been extended by a lifetime of access to health care.

Before the Famine, the life expectancy of an Irish woman was about 35. During the famine life expectancy in Ireland sank to the age of 14. Over the next 150 years our lifetimes have been extended so that we can now look forward, if we are lucky, to living into our 80s.

I am very conscious that many of us don’t get the chance to lead healthy and long lives. More than anyone our GPs understand this and work daily with loss, inadequate systems, overcrowding, long waiting lists for hospital appointments, failures, disabilities that shorten lives, sudden bad news and all the rest of it. This small room where we sit with our GPs is full of memories and drama. But especially for the GP herself.

Weak and all as the system is and frustrating as it can be to wait for procedures, we live with an astonishing level of medical care that literally keeps many of us alive. One small brush with your own mortality puts an end to any other perspective. We are the lucky ones living in the first world with GPs like mine.

I wonder what I will do now without her? I remember all the times she took bloods or repeated the blood pressure monitor test to see if the result would be better. The times she spent extra time and made it look like there was no rush. The time she made a flash decision for me to go into the hospital and she was dead right. Basically, a woman who was always in my corner.

We are not friends with our GPs or with their staff, but we come to know them over many years in a very special way. More and more women are fulfilling these roles and it is hard to imagine how women who are parents, are going through their own pregnancies, childcare issues and everything that goes along with being a mother are managing these jobs.

From other friends who are nurses and doctors, I hear about fatigue and burn out much more than in other jobs. The last two and a half years have been horrendous. So many of them have been ill, have carried on through their post-Covid exhaustion and have changed their practices and their rosters without stint. Sadly, very many of them are talking about leaving those jobs at a time when there are already staff shortages. It’s a worry, but who can blame them?

Of course, there are also endless tragic stories about patients who experience delayed operation times, lack of services for ill children and difficulty communicating with medical professionals. Recent figures show that Ireland has one of the highest spends on health care of any EU country. It doesn’t make sense when the infrastructure and the service on the ground are often so inadequate.

Meanwhile my lovely GP will move on and tend her garden, follow her other interests and spend more quality time with family. After a lifetime of service, her patients will remember her kindness, her gentle manner and her excellent care.

Thank you and enjoy the next chapter, Dr Ann Marie Burke.

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