I had a very difficult consultation today. Not in terms of “what to do” but because I was treating an ex-colleague (one of our old partners) who is a patient of the practice. I’m not really sure why she is registered with us rather than at another GP surgery locally (it’s good practice for staff of one practice to be registered at another practice for their own health care). But when I noticed the name on my appointments screen, my heart did sink. Not because it wasn’t lovely to see her and catch up on how she was finding retirement, but because I find it so difficult treating other doctors. Like many doctors, one way of dealing with the difficulties and uncertainties of our job, is to keep a professional distance between ourselves and our patients. I’m the doc and here are my colleagues, you’re the patient, and never the twain shall meet. The advantage of that is that professional objectivity helps with decision making and clear judgement, the disadvantage sometimes is that it can dilute our empathy. But when a doctor becomes a patient, that distinction is blurred, and professional objectivity is much harder to find.
I do hope I still did my best and the right thing – but it was awkward all right. I have always suffered somewhat from Imposter Syndrome, where despite the letters after my name, I am somehow just waiting for the knock on the door and a voice that says “Ha! You’re not a doctor really. You’re too imperfect and inexperienced and I know you’re making it up as you go along!”. So here I am, trying to diagnose one of the GPs who used to work here, and who has thirty years more experience than me, and I am terrified that she thinks that I’m useless. I always try to encompass and address my patients own feelings and thoughts about what s wrong with them, but when I did so she told me that she found it difficult to be objective herself, and anyway, “You’re the doctor!”.
And I had to touch her. Gosh, that was difficult. As a doctor I touch people all the time, but as a person I’m not particularly demonstrative outside my own family, certainly not the mwah-mwah big-hugs type. So to physically lay my hands on an ex-colleague was most odd.
I expect I will be seeing more of her, and that my initial discomfort will fade, but it has been an interesting experience, and it’s certainly a subject I will revisit.