Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Romeo and Juliet

Mrs K was biting her thumb at me. Literally, repeatedly, vehemently, furiously, contemptuously biting her thumb at me.

This small Greek lady did not speak English, but thanks to an admirable display of body language, and my cursory acquaintance with a Shakespearean thumb-based dispute, her displeasure was all too clear.

I had not expected this. Despite 6 years of medical education at two of the best universities in the country, I was flummoxed by this small woman's fury. This fury was a force unlike any other - not amenable to reason, unmodified by calm explanations by Greek interpreters, family members or bilingual patients.

And this was after I had spent the vast majority of my first day as a doctor with her. Because I was determined that my first ever patient would leave the hospital on time, in good health, and with a smile on her face.

On 1st August 2007, junior doctors all over the UK simultaneously took up new posts. The Daily Mail, turning on its head its usual policy of unerring optimism, predicted total chaos. And yes, we did struggle. These junior doctors (still, from my lowly viewpoint, my seniors) were unavailable throughout the day as they sat through a hospital "induction". We were overstretched, overrun, overawed.

But, as far as I know, no patient suffered the consequences. And so my enduring memory will be that of the bilious Greek OAP - my Juliet - disgusted with the perceived faults of her doctor. She left my NHS hospital, under her own steam, less than 24 hours after major keyhole surgery, thanks to a talented consultant surgeon and good nursing care. But not with a smile on her face.

Star-crossed lovers never had it so easy.

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