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Like being at your own funeral - without the inconvenience of dying

Written by Dr Genevieve Yates · Saturday 19th April 2014

I’m sure there are times when all us GPs feel under-appreciated — by our patients, staff, specialist colleagues or society in general. You can’t blame them for sometimes taking us for granted — it’s part of the human condition. People don’t value what they have until they lose it, whether “it” is the ability to walk or a domestic fairy who makes sure there’s always spare toilet paper.

It’s a common lament that we can’t be at our own funerals to hear how much we’re loved. Mind you, eulogies are rarely objective and balanced. Nonetheless, it’s a pity we’re not around to hear the praise — deserved or otherwise — that is expressed once we’re gone.

The long-serving, somewhat-taken-for-granted GP has a non-fatal way of bringing out the appreciation in his or her patients and staff: moving on.

After 10 years of GP-ing in the Noosa hinterland and a lifetime of living in south-east Queensland, I headed south of the border: to northern NSW. The hardest part of the move for me — harder than selling my house in a depressed market, harder than dealing with banks, builders, real estate agents, solicitors and Australia Post, harder even than trying to get rational answers out of my telecommunications company after they cut off my internet and phone prematurely — was telling my patients that I was leaving.

I knew many of my patients were very attached. I knew they’d come to me expecting to receive a loyal, life-long partner kind of doctoring, rather than the one-night-stand variety. But I had no idea how difficult it would be to break the “I’m leaving you” news again and again and again.

Hard as breaking up a relationship may be, at least you only have to do it once when you leave a romantic partnership. For me, telling patients I was leaving felt a bit like breaking up with hundreds of boyfriends, one after the other after the other.

You may interpret this as my being too close to my patients or not close enough to my boyfriends, but the fact is I found the protracted process exhausting, emotionally draining and just plain horrible. The “it’s not you, it’s me” part goes without saying and
I know I am far from irreplaceable, but seeing the tears well up in countless eyes because of the words I’ve uttered was enough to break my tender heart.

Looking on the bright side, as I am wont to do, if I’d ever felt under-appreciated, I sure don’t now. I received more expressions of gratitude in those last three months than I did in the previous decade. To hear how influential I was in some of my patients’ lives put a warm glow in my battered heart. And as much as it hurt me to see my patients upset, it probably would’ve hurt me more if they’d been completely indifferent to my leaving.

However, I did please someone. Mrs L had been trying for years to get her husband to agree to move interstate to be near family. His last remaining excuse was that his multiple complex medical problems meant that he couldn’t possibly leave me, his long-term GP. A grateful Mrs L rang me within hours of my informing them of my impending departure to say:

“He’s finally come around. Thank you so much for deciding to leave us.”

It’s nice to be appreciated!

(This blog post has been adapted from a column first published in Australian Doctor www.australiandoctor.com.au/opinions/the-last-word/the-last-word-on-moving-on- )

Dr Genevieve Yates is an Australian GP, medical educator, medico-legal presenter and writer. You can read more of her work at http://genevieveyates.com/

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