Dose of reality at the hospital

17th October 2003 at 01:00
A few weeks ago, I had a small accident at home. After a hard day and a momentary lapse in concentration while chopping an onion, I found myself standing in the kitchen with a flap of skin hanging where the pad of my left index finger should have been.

After bleeding all over the place, and throwing up in the washing-up bowl, I wrapped my finger in several metres of kitchen paper and set off for the nearest Aamp;E department.

The scene when I arrived there was incredibly similar to that outside any school office: black eyes, glue burns, scalped knees, crying kids and angry parents. I felt right at home.

There was another striking similiarity - stressed staff. During the long wait, I watched the young duty doctor doing her rounds. She looked exhausted. Her eyes were sore, her shoulders were rounded - even her hair looked tired.

It was hours before she finally got to me, and when she did, we chatted as she cleaned my finger. It took my mind off what she was doing and it probably helped her to stay awake.

She told me that she was coming to the end of 13 hours on call. She had only had short naps, and had eaten nothing except crisps and coffee, consumed on the hoof.

I could see all the similarities between our two professions, of course. I have also worked into the dead of night to meet deadlines and I cannot remember the last time I sat down for a whole hour at lunchtime.

All the same, I felt a little superior. Her job amounted to slavery! Yes, I pondered, no matter how bad things are for us, there are more badly-treated professionals. I would not be a junior doctor for anything in the world.

"And what job do you do?" the young doctor asked.

"Secondary teacher."

"Ah," she said knowingly. "I thought so. You look so tired and haggard, and that nervous tick in you eye is a dead give-away. You're obviously in a very stressful job."

"Yes," I said, seizing on her sympathy. "We have a lot in common, don't we? Stress, long hours and all that."

She laughed in disbelief. "Well, maybe we do at the moment. But in a few years I'll be raking it in as a consultant with a flash car, an office and a secretary - and you'll still be overworked and unappreciated. I wouldn't have your job for anything."

At that moment I thought I heard a loud thud. No, it was not another accident. It was just the sound of me hitting the bottom of the professional pecking order.

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