I’ve read a number of books over the years and something stands out to me: a great number of them tell the story of travels, of lands distant and of journeys of lifetimes. From Gulliver’s Travels to Around the World in 80 Days to The Lord of The Rings, most of my favourite books seem to be telling me that great worth is to be found through travelling to far off countries and experiencing different cultures. Although they were (probably) originally written purely as a form of escapism it seems to me that the unintended effect of such stories has been to glorify Leaving to the detriment of the appreciation of Staying.
I write this to appreciate those who stay put.
Let me give a true but extreme example of an all too common mindset: when I was in my final year of uni I was speaking to a friend of mine, Laura (fake name), about how our placements were going. Laura had been in a GP surgery for 7 weeks in a rural town in Grampian where she’d spent a lot of time getting to know the GPs and the locals. She told me a story of an Old Lady in her 80s who was nearing the end of her life and still lived in the house that she’d been born in, and whilst telling me of this lady Laura, quite matter-of-factly, said, ‘what a waste of a life, there’s so much she hasn’t seen.’
Is it really a waste of a life to stay in one place? I don’t think so.
I’m going to pause now and state that I’m not arguing against the flux of peoples across borders: here’s a reason why, other than that I haven’t stayed put. I once watched a documentary about how the invention of the safety bicycle (known more commonly these days as ‘the bicycle’) changed the world by enabling travel between villages and allowing exchange of ideas and body fluids amongst previously distant peoples to bring the human race to the path of ever moving technology on which it now walks. We effectively started cross breeding to create more advanced peoples. The modern situation of travel just extends that exchange to an international level from a local or national one. And of that I thoroughly approve. To put it another way I should say that without the input of people from other nations I believe that the NHS would fall apart and/or would not progress.
Anyway, back to the point. I think to some of the staff that I’ve met in DGRI who are from these parts and how they have benefitted both patients and me in my time here. Where new ideas and different expertise may come with those from elsewhere a deep local knowledge is of immeasurable value and as important if not more so. I’ve a couple of times had patients who have been known to nursing staff and my consultation has gone that much more smoothly because of a gift piece of advice, ‘Michael, that gentleman’s wife recently died of disease X so be careful what you say’, ‘The ambulance is coming from Moffat so they’ll probably be here in about 40 minutes’. It makes my day run that bit more cleanly and lets me feel closer to my patients through a connection which I haven’t been here long enough to share.
In addition to the work-based benefit of local informants I have benefitted massively from extra-curricular hints and tips. Right back at the beginning of my time here it was the local members of staff who told me about the Lockerbie Jazz Festival and the Local Whisky Festival (drink responsibly). These little pointers have made me enjoy my time here so much more than I may otherwise have because I’ve been able to jump feet first into the regional culture and not wasted any time looking.
When my friend told me that that Old Lady had wasted her life I got to thinking: we’ve glorified GPs. It has become cool to spend a little time everywhere at the expense of truly being the specialist of the place that you live. It’s people like Laura that can refer you to a place that you may love, but it’s the people like the Old Lady who really make it worthwhile going.
Michael Stewart is a Foundation Year 1 Doctor at Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary