I’m sorry you’ve been waiting so long, but no, you’re not next to be seen. Yes, I do realise you have a heart condition. The next person I’m going to see has cancer, and the person I’m currently dealing with cannot breathe; as a general rule, if you’re well enough to harass the staff who are just trying to deal with each case as efficiently and safely as they can, you’re well enough to wait your turn. I am more worried about the elderly woman who has been on a trolley in the corridor for the last few hours, uncomplaining but definitely unwell.
This isn’t the kind of medicine I want to do, nor the kind of doctor I want to be. I’ve only been a doctor for 18 months, and I’m still idealistic. I want to be able to spend time with each person, to make a diagnosis, not just a best guess. I want to feel sure, if I send you home, that you’re not going to fall and hurt yourself, or get worse and bounce back to A&E. I want to feel I have done my best, rather than simply what I could. I want to have the energy to empathise, but I cannot muster it; the endless tide of misery, anxiety and misfortune has already worn me down.
I’m exhausted. It is demoralising to start a shift only to find that the department already has a four-hour wait to see a doctor. There are people lining the corridors, and there is nowhere to take new patients, so the wait gets longer. Each time I open the door to the waiting room to call the next name, I am accosted by people who tell me that this is unacceptable, that this is “supposed to be the NHS” – and all I can do is apologise, because it is, and it was, but there is nothing I can do about it.
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