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All in a doctor’s day

Dr Lucia Gannon gives an account of how writing a book has provided her with a valuable perspective on her life as a GP

I held the manuscript in my hands one last time before inserting it into the big brown envelope. I was glad to be alone as I was overwhelmed by a mixture of emotions that I needed to name and process. Relief, anxiety, doubt, pride, satisfaction, excitement and sadness. It was finally done. The documents I held in my hands were called proofs. I had made my corrections, taking out a word here, inserting another sentence there, but I knew I was simply putting off the inevitable. Any further changes and I would be in danger of destroying what I had created. It was time to let it go. 

Hours and hours had gone into this manuscript. But more important than the time, was the emotional labour that I had invested in it. For the past 15 months, since I had read the Twitter message asking me if I would consider writing a book about my experiences as a rural GP, I had thought of little else. With a mixture of excitement and fear, I had taken the first tentative steps and typed the words that would become my first draft.

Many words and drafts later, I held the finished product in my hands. The journey had been a strangely quiet and enriching one. I had tracked it, as I did most things, in hours and words. I have yet to total the hours. Work was a welcome distraction. I left my laptop and entered the world of patients and blood tests and phone calls and staff queries, hungry for real life, for the present, for something tangible after spending so much time alone and in the past.  Alone with the memories of it all and my attempts to form a narrative that would illustrate how it had all happened. Why I had chosen this path – if indeed it had ever been a choice. Why I was where I was and why I still went to work, for reasons other than simply paying the bills. And in that questioning I came to appreciate all over again, perhaps more than I did when actually living it, the joys and sorrows, the challenges and rewards of the journey. As I stepped outside of myself, I became re-acquainted with the  young, uncertain wife, mother and  GP that always seemed to be striving to do the right thing and never feeling she quite measured up. I felt a compassion for her that I did not feel in the early years, being far too busy to notice that that was what she needed. 

While at work, I became acutely aware of how quickly time passes. The girl who was now looking for contraception before heading off to college, I still remembered as a baby in a pink patterned baby seat. The boy whose drawing I had framed on my wall, now a father of two. I remembered again the patients who had died, re-told long-forgotten stories of their exploits, appreciated their uniqueness and felt grateful for how they had enriched my life. 

I thought again about the mistakes I had made. The sharpness in my voice at times when I was annoyed. The times I did not listen, made assumptions and unnecessary judgements and I forgave myself my failings, let go of the stories I had told myself and resolved to move on with compassion and confidence. 

I thought of all that I had learned. How I now knew how to really listen, even if I did not always achieve this. How I was now less likely to invalidate the suffering of others, by giving too much advice, too soon, thinking that I knew what was best for them, when their suffering was the very thing that gave meaning to their lives. That everyone has a story to tell and that ordinary lives are extraordinary, simply because they navigate a host of obstacles and carry on regardless. That no one has it easy, but that life becomes much easier when lived with gratitude, appreciation and acceptance of what is. 

I came to appreciate, once again, that general practice is a special occupation, more than a job, or a service. I have tried in this book to speak my truth and portray the value of what I and other GPs have to offer, every day, in millions of consultations all over the country.  

I closed the envelope and made my way to the local post-office. 

“Still here,” I said to PJ, the postmaster, alluding to the fact that the neighbouring post office in Ballingarry had just been closed down. 

He laughed. “Here today, anyway,” he replied. 

“Like myself,” I said, as I handed over the package.

All in a Doctor’s Day: Memoirs of an Irish Country Practice by Lucia Gannon, published by Gill Books, is available for pre-order now and will be in bookshops nationwide on 19 April 2019.

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