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Diary of an FY1 – Summer

July 12, 2015

Does it matter what your doctor looks like?

This is a question that often crops up when people talk about tattoos, ear studs for men, or mini-skirts/shirts left unbuttoned like a 1970s lothario (I know one fellow FY1 doctor who meets at least two of these criteria). From these debates, I’ve always got the sense that people really care what their healthcare professionals look like. But not all people – some could not give a damn as long as their cares about them and knows their gluteus maximus from their humeral epicondyles. So when I write “people,” I’m not referring to a unanimous generality – more likely a subsection that read the Daily Express and think things were better before we joined the EU.

But this being my own personal column, and being an inveterate narcissist, I am more concerned with how I look.

There are mornings where I jump out of bed, have a close shave and am ready to greet the world. Pufing out my chest, I look (in my mind at least) like Dirk Bogarde’s Dr Sparrow from the Doctor in the House films. On these days, my stethoscope swings jauntily from my neck as I visit my patients with a smile and good humour. Being a doctor is so attractive!

But then there are days when I wake with my own personal thundercloud. Pity it’s only metaphorical weather – I can’t blame the static for the unkempt birds’ nest that is my hair. Shaving leaves stubble and blood clots across my cheeks. My skin is sallow and with dark bags under my eyes (and why do I still gets spots. I look like Dr House at his most misanthropic, without Hugh Laurie’s chiseled good looks. My patients shrink away from the Dr Hyde plaguing their bedside. A medical degree is hell on complexion.

Over the course of the past year, this has become slowly less important to me. Unpolished shoes come second to a neutropenic patient spiking a temperature and I’ve found that most people don’t mind who puts their catheter in so long as they relieve their acute retention. For my part, I can’t comment on my patients’ views on tattoos and piercings as I am lacking in either, vanilla as I am.

All this would just be part of the highs and lows of everyday life apart from one thing. I am a nervous sweater. I sweat when I am nervous. This usually happens when I am performing procedures. I’m not afraid or phobic of needles or blood but give me a cannula and the sweat glands open. Even when inserting catheters, which strangely, I find the most therapeutic and calming of procedures, makes me drip. I try to reassure patients that, yes, I know what I’m doing and no, I’m not a medical student anymore and this isn’t my first time, but that only goes so far when you’re needing more gauze than the patient.

Fortunately, this flaw of mine can be mitigated by a secret trick invented by doctors long ago. It involves being so busy and overworked that you forget lunch and don’t drink enough. It is a masterful solution with only a few slight side-effects of low blood pressure, dizziness, fainting, kidney stones and general misery. It is the price I pay not to look like a wet fish.

That would be the end of my vanity-related woes if St Elsewhere’s hadn’t creaked into the worst season of all – Summer. St Elsewhere’s is an old-fashioned hospital, that old, industrial kind of building whose architects felt that air conditioning was a flippant fad but that asbestos was the hallmark of superior design. Thus, in the summer, both the doctors and walls start to melt. The oppressive heat this month is trumping my strategies to hide my perspiration. Like the fiery eye of Sauron, the summer heat finds me out and eviscerates me. My one respite is finding a doctors’ station caressed by a breeze through an open window and camping there indefinitely.

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