Sense of impending doom, a phenomenon recognised by doctors and described by patients nearing death. I can only describe it as an incomprehensible feeling of fear and angst. It is often said that the dying know when their time in near. My mother fondly shares memories of her grandfather. She maintains that he knew exactly when his time was up and the angels had come to get him. My mum, only 8 at the time, was standing at the foot of his bed. Just before he died, he looked at her and smiled as he spoke his last words, “Move out of their way, they are here to take me.” Was it cerebral hypoxia? delirium? or just faith?
As doctors we have the privilege to witness all stages of human life be it the beginning or the end. Not very long ago, I cared for a middle-aged man with cancer. He wasn’t well, but despite the relentless diarrhoea and disabling mucositis he never lost hope. One morning he clung to my hand, eyes glazed, his face creased with panic and fear. In the many months I had cared for him I had never seen him cry, “Doctor, I feel like something bad is about to happen,” he repeated over and over again. His grip on my hand tightened as he desperately looked to me for some reassurance, I obliged, “You will be fine, I promise.” Minutes after I left him I heard the ward siren followed by the stampede of doctors running towards his room. He may not have described angels but like my great-grandfather he too had had a sense of the end.
It is in death that I truly appreciate the sanctity of life. The vulnerability and helplessness felt is a humble reminder that we are but human and that the end is inevitable. Everyone and everything is on a clock, and one-day time runs out on everyone.
As doctors prepare to vote for industrial action I can’t help but feel the same heart-sinking feeling that I feel with my patients. I am clinging onto the feeble remnants of the NHS whispering false promises as it nears its doom; the promise that healthcare will remain free and accessible to everyone, the promise that we will always choose life over profit, the promise that I will be able to do right by my patients.
As doctors, it is hard to shake off our sense of duty and put ourselves before patients. But we are under attack and our profession facing extinction. While I admire the efforts of my colleagues in acquiring public support, the time has come to unite as one. We have tried negotiations, we have tried petitions, we have tried protesting and we have tried obtaining political and public support.
We do not need to apologise for striking or fear losing public support, as current Hunt-ites will have us believe. Until we think ourselves to be deserving and worthy of better, we can’t expect others to think the same. We offer an integral service that only we can provide. I don’t need my patients to like me. I don’t need to justify how hard I work. I don’t need to justify what I earn. I just need to be the best at what I do for them.
It is our blood and sweat that fuels the NHS. We must cut its lifeline and institute a sense of impending doom. Maybe it is in its death that people will truly recognise its sanctity, the NHS that they use with such entitlement and disregard. Lets strike and show them what they are missing, and then just maybe we can have a chance at a system where doctors are celebrated and free healthcare appreciated.