30/10/22

Lately I’ve been contemplating the privilege of being a doctor.

Not for the knowledge or the title.

But for the invitation given to me by patients to take a glimpse into the most private aspects of their lives through the stories they have to share. Every time a patient tells me a story, however small or insignificant I think it is, they are sharing a piece of themselves with me. They are gifting me.

Stories about their childhoods. About family politics and the granddaughter they are so proud of and the brother they haven’t spoken to in years.

Whole family trees unpacked in hospital gowns.

Stories about how they lost their job and feel like a failure because they can’t feed their family. How substance abuse ruined their life. Secrets shared about their fear of dying. How they survived cancer back in ’92 and how all they can think about is that it has found its way back.

Good stories too. About the first time they met their wife of 63 years, on a train in London. Or how they cannot wait to get home to the garden they have tended. A photo of a great grandson born just yesterday. A book recommendation when they see mine peeking out of my bag.

Funny stories about old scars and new tattoos. About their annoying neighbour who can’t mind her own business. About how they once left boiled eggs in her post box.

Small bits of information layered together to make a mosaic. A whole person. With a whole life. Outside of a sick bed.

Too often I find myself trying to rush away from the bedside. There are always more patients to see; more drips to be re-sited; more pressing issues to deal with. I don’t have time to listen to stories, I think.

What a shame.

These are stories that wouldn’t ordinarily be told, not to a stranger at least. Which is what I am – a stranger with a stethoscope around her neck.

My patients are entrusting pieces of their lives to me.

For the rest of 2022 I’m committing to make an effort to listen. I want to listen. I need to listen. It’s a privilege.

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