One of my regulars is MrI, who is in his late 50s. He’s a professional, but unemployed. I see him because of his blood pressure and intermittent depression, but mostly just for a chat. He used to run a company with a turnover of millions, which went bust during the last recession. He lost his house, his mental health deteriorated and ultimately his marriage broke down. He now finds himself wedged firmly in the poverty trap. Today he was telling me of the Kafka-esque nightmare of trying to receive enough benefits to live on and pay the rent on his tiny housing association flat. Despite applying for over fifty jobs a week, no-one wants to employ an overqualified ex-surveyor with a history of depression. Not even Tesco. His family help him out financially as much as they can but the reality is that a single unemployed man with no dependents gets next to nothing. And the benefits office, the job centre and Citizens’ Advice just don’t know what to make of him. He is rightfully bitter. No, not a medical problem, of course, but he’s a good person and it makes me sad. All human life is here.
I am cheered up by seeing another regular. This time it’s MissH who is expecting her second baby at the age of 20. It’s a while since I’ve seen her and goodness me she looks happy. You’re not supposed to have favourite patients (it’s a bit like having a favourite child I think) but secretly she’s one of mine. I feel rather maternal towards her despite the fact I’m only about ten years older. The reason is to do with breastfeeding. Despite a partner who thought breastfeeding was “disgusting”, postnatal depression, two bouts of mastitis, going back to work six months after the baby was born, and the reactions of amazed-then-bemused friends, MissH breastfed her son until he was nearly two. (Despite the the World Health Organisation advice that optimally babies should have nothing but breastmilk until the age of six months and should continue to breastfeed up to and beyond two years old, the UK statistics are dismal. According to UNICEF and the Office for National Statistics only 3% of British babies are still being breastfed at 5 months.) So whenever I see MissH and her delightful toddler, I think of a teenage single mum who has defied every expectation, and I feel very proud indeed.