Surgical scrubs may be all very Grey’s Anatomy, but they are poor protection against a squall of January rain as you check the cars in your yard for the next patient.
You would prefer if they were in the waiting room and you were indoors, but it is January in general practice and it feels like Groundhog Day.
There are a few clients indoors, of course. The young, the old‚ the pedestrians and the lucky few who are not suffering from respiratory infections. Most of the usual complaints are staying out of the way – the backaches, the dermatology and the other problems that make up a family doctor’s day. Some will come in with a different complaint and announce, touching the handle on the door, that they have a cold as well. Mercifully, they are few – everyone wears a mask and the door handle gets an extra dollop of disinfectant.
It is all very well to say that you are sick of it.
This is another January since the announcement that a nasty virus was coming out of Wuhan, and if we feel that we should be rid of it by now it has other ideas. In fact, it is joined by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza, three Christmas number ones that linger on in the charts.
We have had enough of them, but they have not had enough of us.
It helps if kids get the shot of anti-flu up the nose. It helps if employers restrain themselves from an urge to see a sick cert because a worker has sensibly decided not to infest the office with their snuffly sinuses. And it helps a lot if an antigen test is done before the GP gets the phone call.
Little things, but they do add up.
The word from the hospitals is grim. Some people just have to go in. We write letters and have no idea which hospital they will try, we just know that they need more care than we can give them. The after-hours are doing their best, and, if they are a bit heavy-handed with antibiotics, we understand .
It is 2021 again as we tackle a long list of phone calls. The questions are slightly different. “Do your muscles hurt?” has replaced, “How’s your sense of smell?” The underlying fear of the first waves of the coronavirus, as it was known, is replaced by weary resignation. We are battle-hardened, trudging up the line again.
It is the same in most countries. The UK’s National Health Service is worse, we hear. At least we are not in a real war. There is a scheme facilitating GPs to open additional clinics in the evenings and weekends. A few of the bigger practices will avail of this, many more feel that they have no more to give, and are doing more than they safely can as it is.
This wave will pass.
The people who need their blood tests and check-ups and medicine adjustments and investigations will have been sidelined again. Many a timely intervention will have been missed, many a deadline ignored and many a routine procedure changed to an emergency. Our waiting rooms will fill again and we will carry on, but those of us on the frontline must be prepared and resourced in peace time for the next hard bleak January. Whenever it falls.