So, junior doctors in the UK have been striking for a while. Anyone reading this is probably familiar with it, or if not, they’re familiar with Google.
I’m passionate about my support for our junior doctors, and all our NHS staff in the UK. Particularly junior doctors right now.
First off, I’m 36. 18 years ago I found out I had Type I diabetes. Without medical science, I’d have been dead in pretty short (and horrible) order. Junior doctors didn’t diagnose me or treat me shortly thereafter, but every consultant that did used to be one. I also got diagnosed two weeks before my A-levels, and I got put back together and got through those A-levels with flying colours, which not only kept me alive but has been the foundation of my life since. I think I owe my life in two senses to the NHS. I’d probably have survived in other healthcare, but would my life have been not just saved but my future preserved?
Since then I’d been pretty lucky in managing things well, with some blips. I’ve never (in those first 18 years or second 18 years) ended up overnight in a hospital. My consultants and GPs and nurses have been fabulous. I’ve rarely actually had cause to run into junior doctors in the NHS myself.
I also want to say that during my undergraduate and postgraduate education, I had medical students around me as friends and flatmates. No students worked harder than them. They worked themselves to the bone, and that was before they qualified. I could not have done it. It would have broken me.
I’ve seen a couple of junior doctors personally. One, when I saw them, was clearly pretty worn down. But when I fell apart just from a sense of relief of having someone I felt I could talk to about a problem that was already basically resolved, but had been eating me up, all they cared about was me. I never saw them again after that, and I wish I had, because I never got the chance to say thanks. Just a chance to get it all off my chest was what I needed, and they were that rock I needed. I imagine the junior doctor and very hospital-based lifestyle means patients are often gone and not seen again before they recover to the point they can say thanks properly. If you’re one of those doctors who has never seen a patient again, it’s probably a good thing and they’d give you a bloody big hug now if they could, because all those things you might think are an everyday thing are, for the patients, anything but. They can be lifesavers.
Other doctors I’ve seen have again been clearly worn down, and have still somehow mustered the mental energy to fight against an underfunded and poorly staffed system to get their patients what they need. I don’t know how they’ve done it. I’ve seen some fight so hard, while so tired themselves, they’re miracles.
The NHS hasn’t been perfect for sure. I’ve seen situations where I’ve felt like I’m stuck in an episode of House and the patient just hasn’t been ill enough to demand a cranky guy with a team of crack doctors, and it’s been obvious where the focus has been on getting limited money where it’s been most effective. I’ve had doctors misdiagnose me, but others have rediagnosed and by virtue of experience gained as a junior doctor. One thing I’ve never felt I’ve needed is a “7 day” NHS (quote marks, because I’ve got service on the weekend that’s been fabulous).
I’ve been walking through a hospital and run into and old but not particularly close friend working as a doctor, and seen their own personal exhaustion flip almost instantly into personal concern for me, but I was only emotionally knackered and his colleagues were already doing an outstanding job on the patient I cared about. Mate, if you are reading this, I know you’re not a close friend or anything but just that change in expression when you saw I looked miserable was the world of difference to me. I think you know who you are.
It’s a career path where people constantly, almost completely without complaint give themselves to the community. Junior doctors, and their more senior colleagues (or to put it another way, future selves) give everything from the moment they commit to a medical degree, and stick with it through years of training. I simply could not do it, and I admire them.
I would aspire to be as good a person as them, but I don’t have it in me. I literally don’t. I could not do it. I delivered some biscuits and chocolates to a junior doctors picket line today and perversely the doctor I passed them on to said this:
— Anjani Knöbel (@AnjaniMK) April 27, 2016
I delivered biscuits in a bit of a rush while changing trains. With all due respect, I think we can all agree that’s just a touch ridiculous. I’m not the hero. I’m alive, and I owe my career, and that life, and my happiness, and frankly my sanity to you all.
I try to be a good person and I mostly don’t do a terrible job. Jeremy Hunt though, has worn me down. All that above, and the way he’s treating doctors, I can’t get myself to be a good enough person not to hate him. I don’t want to dwell on it but he makes me a worse person, and I can’t help that. Doctors almost universally seem better than that, despite all the disagreements you have with him.
Why do I love all those doctors so much? Well obviously for all the reasons above, but more importantly than that because they’re the complete opposite of that. I’d rather aspire to be as good as them, be as positive about life, and be as caring than anything else. They make me healthier, but more importantly they make me better. They’re everything we should all be and more, and they deserve our support, and they deserve to be happy and healthy when helping the rest of us, and this contract imposition will not make that happen.
Junior doctors – you’re heroes, and I’m sorry that most of the time when you have done your job your patient isn’t always ready to tell you what a difference they’ve made. I think calling you the backbone of the NHS is an understatement, when the NHS is also the backbone of the nation. I feel really lucky to have swapped just some flipping chocolate biscuits for a BMA “I support junior doctors” badge, and I’m going to wear it with pride.