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Where the sunshine falls

30 November, 1999

A local GP shares her busy day – her dilemmas and her achievements – with us. It is the second in a series of articles compiled by Caroline Lynch.

I turned the car on the road thinking, well, now is as good a time as any. A sunny lunch hour would surely catch a farmer with a kettle on the hob. I wasn’t wrong. Through the bay window I could see a capped head turning to the table, cup in hand. Finding no bell, I tapped on the glass. The same nervous feeling that had flitted somewhere in the region of my stomach as my car had turned up her long drive a few moments earlier now fluttered in my chest. He opened the door and after a wordless handshake, I stepped into the porch.

It was only six days since she had died, but the sadness on his face looked a lot older. Her eldest son, the one who had always accompanied her to the surgery or the hospital, was now without his mother. She had a long life, a very active one right up until her eighty-sixth year. Arthritic knees and failing eyesight hadn’t held her back. She rose early every day, even the day after an exhausting trip to a Dublin hospital where she had had some tests. Coming from so far away, she and her son had left home at 4 am and had arrived back close to midnight.

Unfortunately, the news from her tests wasn’t good. She’d had a cancer once, and now it was back. A little radiotherapy was proposed. She and her son had come to see me after this and asked me what I thought. She wondered was she not too old to go through with the treatment. I looked at her bright face, more tired than usual but still pretty fresh and told her I thought she was a strong woman. If the specialists had advised her to go, then go she should. At least she wasn’t facing chemotherapy, a much harder road to travel….

But I was wrong. She stayed, far from her beautiful home, for over two weeks and received her treatments. ‘The hospital staff was so caring,’ her son said. After six treatments though, she became unwell. She couldn’t eat, her breathing becoming laboured. Little by little it became apparent that her heart couldn’t cope with either the illness or its treatment and she ebbed away.

Her son was angry. He felt his mother had been stolen from him, that another year or two of her life had been denied her. I had to agree.

How I wished I had told her to go home, back to her lovely garden with the tree-lined avenue, to her warm kitchen where she could sit and look out at the feeding birds. At least, illness or no, she could have died in her own place, among her own people.

He gave me a cup of tea and walked me to my car. As I looked back to wave goodbye, I thought her empty house looked sadder in the sunshine.

Dream come true
The same sun had shone through my window the day before, lighting the brightly painted walls of my new office and showing the paintings hanging there to good effect. I had once dreamed of an office like this and now, more than thirteen years since I came to work in this northerly rural town, the dream had come true.

My expectations of what General Practice would be like have long been lost amidst the hurly-burly of reality. I knew I wanted to work outside of the hospital environment and I looked forward to the everchanging world of the GP. I have been lucky to be part of a group practice where time for family life with three children has been part of the package.

I have counted my blessings so often that I have become a part of a friendly community where so many generous spirits have chipped in again and again to enable me to juggle home and working life. I never tire of the humour of the north-west, the music of the soft accent, the purple and orange glows of the coastal hills, and the smell of the sea in the air.

Constant challenge
I am indebted to a husband who has always been there for me, in good times and bad. Every day brings laughter, often frustration, occasionally shock and sadness. Amongst the sore ears and bad backs there are tales of sorrow, depression, despair. Every ten minutes brings another story, another challenge, another puzzle. Every so often a sudden catastrophe can spring from nowhere.

I have learned never to be complacent. I try to learn from all my mistakes, victories, lucky chances, near misses. I feel certain this is one job where I will never ‘know it all’. Human life is too complicated for that. Every now and then I stop and look at where the sunshine falls and see things in a whole new light.

This article first appeared in The Messenger (February 2007), a publication of the Irish Jesuits.