Mark's story - Part 2

Dr Mark Davies is featured in Spark the Difference's Humans of Healthcare art exhibition and is interviewed here by Sam Meikle, founder of Spark the Difference.

Mark's interview is published in two parts. You can listen Part 1 of Mark's interview here. The recording and transcript of Part 2 is below. You'll also find links to Mark's two interview warm-ups: (1) Getting to know Mark in 10 questions and (2) Mark's drawing challenge.

Mark: So the reason I got upset, is ‘cause I haven’t thought about her for years and years and years and years, I hadn’t really reflected on that.

And when you - when I started talking about it - I remember she was teaching me, teaching me as I was doing it. She was lovely. And her husband was a management consultant working in the health service. When she died, he left the house and never went back.

Sam: Too hard?

Mark: Yeah. I got a letter about 10 years later, just a really nice letter, saying he was having a nice life, met someone else and all that kind of stuff.

Sam: Did you reply?

Mark: No.

Sam: Why?

Mark: Quite often people broadcast to clinicians. They’re not expecting something back – they’re putting something out. I thought he was broadcasting, not want to exchange. Might have been wrong, but you make a judgment.

Sam: Why do you think they broadcast?

Mark: I think it’s cathartic, I was a personification of his wife’s passing. I had been there at the point of her dying. For him, I was a part of that death; a part of - those moments that he lost the woman that he loved.

Saying he was doing all right and was moving on - to me, I felt was him saying that to himself.

Sam: If you feel comfortable to do so - and that is the clause here - if you feel comfortable to do so, please tell me about the scariest, darkest or most challenging moment of your career?

Mark: One of the hardest points in my career, was around the death of a child.

The parents who brought the child in to see me, on the night before. The child had a temperature but didn't have any other signs that I thought indicated a significant illness. I had explained to them what they should do if the child got worse and various other things.

I came into work the following morning to receive a message that the child had subsequently died later on that day, in an intensive care unit.

That was very difficult and there was a lot of self-doubt, on my part around my own clinical skills and had I done anything wrong.

I have to say my colleagues were amazing during that time and enormously supportive – both my colleagues in hospital and in general practice; and in fact, the family were very supportive as well.

But no, I think that was the darkest period I had to go through.

If you start to doubt your own skills, then what right have you got to be there, caring for people? So that's a difficult thing when you start to feel that you are not sure the skills that you have trained and honed and practiced and improved over time are all up to scratch. It's a terrible responsibility.

Sam: Can you tell me about the most emotionally challenging period? So it may be an individual moment or over a longer period of time.

Mark: A difficult time for me is when I stopped being a doctor. I spent 25 years being a GP.

I done it so long it became who I was, it was part of my identity. Even now when I don’t practice, people say what do you do; I often say I am a general practitioner. Just – if I don’t know them very well, it’s an easy thing to say.

And letting that go and taking what I thought was a brave step of doing something different - that was, a bit of a stretch, that was a bit of a difficult thing. It was described to a friend of mine as me letting my safety blanket down, which I thought was a good way of describing it. So yes, that was a challenging time for me.

Sam: And it's only been a relatively recent period hasn't it?

Mark: A couple years ago, yeah.

Sam: What have you learned from that?

Mark: I think that is a really good question. I think what I have learnt is that there are lots of different ways of touching people's lives. Although medicine is incredibly intense and tangible, there are other ways of touching people's lives that are less visible, but can be more profound and larger scale. Seeing that and experiencing that has been very reassuring.

Sam: What has working in healthcare taught you about people?

Mark: It's exposed me to the most miraculous variation in our species. My goodness we're a varied bunch. People's reactions to adversity are constantly surprising and amazing and it brings out sometimes the very worst in people - and sometimes the very, very, very best in people.

Seeing that is both inspiring and challenging and exciting.

Sam: Thinking about the people you’ve worked with and for over the year, and all of the people who've helped you along the way - who has had the greatest impact on?

Mark: I remember working with a consultant surgeon, when I worked up in Manchester, who - I was amazed by the level of personal commitment that he gave his patients.

So he would come into the hospital every day - Saturday and Sunday - to see all patients who are under his care. He knew their histories and what was going on with them far better than I did as I was what was called then the House Officer.

And I was amazed at his ability to hold in his head all the facts and figures and results that were going on for his patients in a way that I struggled to. So that was very impressive. But the thing that was really inspiring about him was his drive for professional excellence.

He studied and worked and honed his technique and was on this constant, aggressive drive of self-improvement. And seeing that drive to technical and knowledge improvement in the context of a deep humanity and a deep interest in people – being able to combine those two things - for me, he epitomised a lot of what was good about clinicians and certainly he's been someone that I've aspired to.

Sam: What kind of surgeon was he?

Mark: Well, he was what was then referred to as a general surgeon – they don’t even exist anymore. It seems amazing to say it now, but he did all sort of things. A lot of thyroid surgery, breast surgery, bowel surgery - people don't do that anymore.

Sam: They don’t make them like they used to.

Mark: They don’t make them like that anymore.

It was very funny actually because he had an essential tremor so his hand shook, which used to…

Sam: Is that funny?

Mark: Well it used to make the patients quite nervous as well when they saw him trying to write on their notes just before the operation. But he was a very good surgeon.

Sam: If there is anything you regret about your career or that you could go back and change, what would it be?

Mark: You know it sounds trite to say it, but I don’t regret anything.

So the things that I've done which have led me to good things, have been great - but the things I've done that have superficially seemed like the wrong decision, [there] have been all sorts of interesting consequences and lessons and positive things that have come out of it.

So the person I am now is a combination of all those good things and the things that weren’t so good. So, I wouldn't change a thing. I would be a different person with a different set of perceptions and a different understanding of the world if I hadn't been on the journey that I've been. That journey is really important to me. That was my life.

Sam: Looking back across your career to date, what do you hope that people you’ve worked with, remember you for?

Mark: I’d like to be considered a good doctor. Someone who's been kind and respectful to my patients and someone who's been a supportive and thoughtful colleague.

Sam: Mark, it’s been an absolute pleasure to speak with you and hear about your life and work.

Mark: It’s been great, thank you very much.

Sam: Thank you and thank you for listening.