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All in a Doctor’s Day by Lucia Gannon

Article by Lucia Gannon © 18 May 2019 .
Posted in the Members' Blog ( ).

The Twitter message arrived on an ordinary Monday. I read it as I walked from the surgery to my house after a busy afternoon at work. Would I consider writing a book about my life as a GP in the rural village of Killenaule. I laughed as I showed it to my husband, Liam. He didn’t laugh. With no hint of surprise or doubt, he simply asked, “well, what are you thinking?”

I looked at him in amazement. I had worked as a GP with my husband in our country practice in Tipperary for more than twenty years. There was nothing extraordinary about it. There was nothing to write about. In any case, there was no evidence that I would be capable of writing anything remotely interesting that spanned the last twenty years of our lives. I was writing short columns for a medical newspaper for some years but a memoir would be a much greater challenge.

Liam did not agree. “Of course, you can do it,” he replied. “It’s just a question of whether you want to or not.” Well who doesn’t want to write a book, I thought. I put the phone with the message aside and attended to my dinner. But a seed had been planted. A commissioning editor at Gill Books had read one of my articles, had liked it and had wanted to read more. I could at least talk to her. Knowing my personality, however, I knew that once I made that phone call and listened to what she had to say, I would be unlikely to say no. I could not resist a challenge such as this.

And so, the long process began but before it did, as I procrastinated putting words on the screen, I decided I had better clear a physical space in which to write. As I sorted through some old notebooks, wondering if they were worth keeping, I came across one, with a list of goals that I had set down for myself some years earlier. One of many, long-forgotten lists that I had a habit of writing. I was about to toss it aside when one of the items on the list caught my eye. “Write GP memoir” was written clearly as goal number five.

How had I forgotten this and what force had given me this opportunity to achieve this goal? My decision was made. I would at least try. Fifteen months later I was happy with and proud of the result. Proud of my achievement and happy with the many unintended positive consequences of my actions. As a doctor, I am constantly trying to improve the quality of peoples’ lives. I had not imagined that writing this book would help me achieve this. I had not imagined that it would restore to some the joy of reading, a joy that they had not previously experienced or that had been stolen from them through physical or psychological illness.

In the weeks following the publication I listened to stories that reinforced my belief that there is so much more to good health and happiness than medicine. A woman told me she had not read a book since her father died fifteen years previously but having read mine, she realised that she was not alone in her grief and did not feel so isolated. A man told me that mine was the second book he had ever read in his life and how much he had enjoyed it. Two is twice as many as one and I can only hope that for him there may be a third and a fourth.

A young woman who did not have the concentration to read anything since she had chemotherapy for cancer five years ago, had felt again the joy of losing herself in the story of another. An elderly lady who had lost her mother when she was three weeks old identified with my maternal loss and even though she had thought for years that it would be considered self-indulgent or irrelevant to discuss her loss, she could now tell me about it, knowing that I was probably someone who could understand some of her long buried feelings.

A friend who found herself in tears as she was transported back to the days of early motherhood, social isolation and career uncertainty could see that those were indeed difficult years and give herself some of the compassion and understanding now that she could not muster in her early married life.

All of these responses have made the effort worthwhile and I feel privileged that my words have the power to inspire, sooth and resonate with so many people. My gratitude however, is mainly for the young editor, who was curious enough to want to get inside the doctor’s head, to better understand humanity and the doctor-patient interaction, that she was willing to take a chance and allow me the opportunity to achieve this goal and so contribute to the good in the world in a way I would not have thought possible. The young editor without whom, none of this would have happened.

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