‘I liked to take the patient’s jacket or coat and hang it up while they settled themselves in the chair. It was a way of welcoming people to my space, as I would do if they came to my home. A way of indicating that I would like them to be comfortable and relaxed. At a deeper level, this shedding of the outer layer was intended as an invitation to connect, to expose something of their inner selves, if that is what they needed to do. There were those who never removed their coats or jackets and that was their right. That was their comfort level and I respected that.’
Dr Lucia Gannon from Killenaule village in Co. Tipperary is a GP. She is also a mother, a wife, a homeowner and ‘blow-in’ to the small community. This status of ‘blow-in’ meant that for a while and perhaps even today, she is ‘the new lady doctor’ in a community shaped by tradition and firm values. Familiarity is a well-worn part of Killenaule, from patients popping in without an appointment five minutes before closing time, to patients driving themselves about with very questionable vision quality and a presumption on the GP to sign the vision form. This book reflects on the intricate branches of a tightly knit community and the expectation on a new GP to both integrate with a new community and rapidly learn the best way to treat and manage each patient. This learning curve necessitated a confidence climb for Dr Lucia Gannon and certainly much experience in the art of learning to say ‘no’.
This confidence climb saw Dr Lucia Gannon carefully sit across from a distraught mother, fearful that her daughter was battling anorexia and that she may have contributed to it somehow. She documents the steady decline in her daughter’s laughter, the focus on eating and the detachment from school. Dr. Lucia Gannon with gentle encouragement and understanding, offers hope; hope that this girl can be separated from the poisonous thoughts and self-loathing and that a brighter day is just ahead.
On the very day that she gave birth to her child, the home phone was ringing to call on the services of her husband, also a local GP; illustrating with painful honesty just how ‘on call’ a doctor is. Immersed firmly and indispensably in the lives of others, the lives of these two GPs and their children grows and transforms. Family triumphs and family heartbreak must stay within the walls of their home and they must again assume the role of GP once inside the confines of the surgery. As members of the public, we forget this. We forget that GPs have children and subsequent worry. They have parent teacher meetings and school plays to attend, they have forgotten school lunches to drop off and family bereavements just as we do. Yet, they somehow need to allocate room in their mind for a patient, a family worry, the next patient and the unpaid bill of the current patient. These things all jostle for position and Dr Lucia Gannon details how effortless it can seem to us but how much discipline it takes as a GP to successfully play all of these roles.
We expect our GP to get it right all of the time, we expect our GP to be devoted to us and our plight and cause for those few minutes in the surgery; Dr Lucia Gannon awards human qualities back to the role of GP and she reminds us with a stunningly intricate use of language that ‘Medicine has limits. Human kindness does not.’ Often the GP cannot prescribe medicine for what ails us, but a listening and intuitive ear can hear the source of our pain; sometimes we can even hear the pain of the GP too.
(c) Dymphna Nugent
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