A few weeks ago, my family doctor retired. He closed the doors of his practice for the last time after 43 years of service. That’s a hell of a lot of time!
I remember when I was little and had a fever, he came home to examine me. Back then, in a small village of almost a thousand souls, when a child was sick it was not customary to call the paediatrician, our family doctor came in his place. He would walk up the hill panting with his cigarette stuck to the corner of his mouth. He would check my eyes, my tongue, my lymph nodes, and carefully listen to my breath sounds. He would then grunt some rough sentence like “you’re pregnant” (it was his way of saying that I only had a little flu) and prescribed me some medicines. He never failed a diagnosis, not in my case at least.
Years ago, when I was already living in Spain, a friend of mine, who was pregnant at that time, had a bad mononucleosis. She felt really worried and exhausted. The doctors of an important hospital in the surrounding areas of Barcelona could not understand what was happening to her, they just kept on using the ultrasound to check whether the baby was fine. I had mononucleosis when I was 12 years old: Gianni (my family doctor) examined me and he understood immediately the reason of my illness.
I thought of him then, when my friend told me about her medical vicissitudes, and I did it yesterday when my family doctor here in Spain told me that I could receive the results of my blood test directly by e-mail, if I wanted to. Moreover, she told me that the next time I need a blood test, I can book it straight from home, without even having to show up at her practice. Aren’t I lucky, now? From now on I suppose this is the way it will be: no more doctors grunting, listening to my breath, noticing the dark circles under my eyes or checking my lymph nodes. No medical professional asking me how I feel while spitting a rough sentence or a dirty joke. I hope that nothing has changed on health security: I suppose that if something in my results is not right, they will call me immediately from the hospital. But it is just not the same thing.
Everything is much colder, impersonal and distant. Family doctors are no longer those reassuring people we go to if we do not feel well. Those people we tell our aches and pains, while they tap our back and write down a prescription, and, when we do, we start feeling a little better. They are white-collar workers, instead, who just stare at the computer screen and write down what the patient says. They do not touch, do not observe, do not listen anymore.
I am sure that this will save a lot of money to the Treasury and ensure a simplification of the bureaucracy, but it is not the same thing. It is all just so sad, dear doctor!
Cover photo by Fabrice Van Opdenbosch