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Number 9: Winter 2013

About suffering they were never wrong the old masters

Jane Haynes

From the start my telephone number was available to everyone and I never wavered in my wish to remain in open communication with those patients who wanted that information or reassurance that I would be returning to work. It is very important to me as a therapist who – during my own long analysis – experienced the irony that when some of the most critical moments of my life occurred my analyst was unavailable that my patients all have my mobile phone number available to them 24/7. I cannot recall when I have been inappropriately disturbed or taken advantage of by telephone, although the advent of texting and emails now make the situation of intrusion more complex to assess.

I knew that when I returned to practice it would be impossible for me to face my patients like a closed book. One of the immediate consequences of suffering a traumatic shock can be that you feel as though you have become transparent and that complete strangers have access to the fact that something sensational has happened to you.  As you shop in the supermarket still in a daze, but life must, as Auden reminds us continue, you cannot imagine that your circumstances are not transmitted across your features. You no longer know what you look like, if you ever did; whether you look as devastated as you feel, or whether you have aged and become unrecognisable overnight. Later on my appearance became important to me, not only out of vanity but also from self-preservation and the expectations of some people that one must inevitably look visibly ravaged by trauma.  Most people assume you are depressed and wounded by the tragedy and of course you are; but at the same time all sorts of other emotions like humour, love, courage and a new vision of relatedness may, if you are fortunate in your support systems, also begin to emerge. There were even inappropriate moments of family hilarity which of course were born out of hysteria and not unrelated to the gallows type humour that keeps many doctors and particularly surgeons sane.