What you have to realise as a patient is that however important you are outside hospital, however many lackeys jump to your call, inside hospital you are merely the patient in Bed 10. You are no more important than the patient in Bed 11. Or 12. Yes you’re the reason the whole place exists …but the man or woman who calls the shots, for whom everything stops on the ward, is the consultant.
Not surprising then that some of them have God-complexes. The worst one I ever had used to stride into the ward with his team of junior doctors, medical students and the ward sister scurrying after him. He’d barely look at me…and would call me Mrs Brown throughout, much to the consternation of everyone else around him. But contrary to popular belief, my experience is those types are few and far between and actually it’s us, the patients who have a tendency to put consultants up on a pedestal. The highlight of our hospital day is when they appear at our bedside. We listen intently to their every word, desperately trying to remember what they’ve said so we can repeat it at visiting time. We assume they are all-knowing and all-powerful in their ability to heal. Sadly that’s not always the case.
It must be quite hard not to develop a God-complex if you’re a consultant. They live in a world where the patients are desperate for a word of wisdom from their lips, and in a hospital hierarchy which places them firmly at the top. They are always surrounded by at least two or three minions to take notes, hold the stethoscope, or pass them a pen. They test their minions all the time too. What does this C4 complement result mean Junior Doctor? What’s your diagnosis Lowly Medical Student? Watching from the bed as the Gods torment their minions can be most entertaining …… or agonizing. And of course consultants have the ultimate God characteristic. Their decisions can decide if someone lives or dies. What power ……and responsibility.
In reality even they can’t perform miracles. Sometimes the superheroes just don’t know why your body is functioning so poorly or what to do to make it better. The realisation as a patient that your doctor doesn’t know everything, that he or she is actually human, can be pretty depressing.
I now have a consultant who having decided in an outpatient appointment that I needed to be admitted straight into hospital, zoomed across town on his motorbike to get my medical records from one hospital to another. As he strode into Accident and Emergency in his leathers with his helmet and my notes under his arm, in my head I gave him superhero status, right up there on a pedestal where he’s pretty much stayed ever since. It helps that he’s super brainy and has saved my life on a fair few occasions. He also always remembers the names of my kids, and was the only person in a long stream of doctors to ask me how I felt emotionally after five days under sedation. I used to think I was special, that my complex medical needs (or alternatively my witty personality), was why he remembered me but over the years I’ve eventually worked out he’s like that with all his patients. Somehow in that God-like way, he makes us all feel special.
So hospital consultants, if you are reading this, it’s simple. The best consultants keep their God- like tendencies (and egos) firmly in check, just bringing them out to dazzle us when we really need their healing powers. And us patients hang on your every word. We live for that 3 minutes every other day, or once a week, that we might see you. We all like to think that we are your most important/medically interesting/favourite patient – so please be nice to us and if nothing else, make an effort to at least remember our name.