In the press recently, titled Snakes and Ladders, Professor Garner has relayed his experiences of Covid-19. No doubt we all empathize completely, and wish him a speedy recovery.
He also had a place of comparative ‘luxury’ where, on the BMJ blog site, he was able to tell his important story. Conversely, if he were sat in front of his GP, his GP would not be allowed enough time to listen to all he had to say and make a suitable diagnosis, or definite plan for recovery. CFS or ME would be mooted, and as they are only descriptions and not a definitive diagnosis, it would mean a dead end as far any useful treatment. The symptoms that he and many others describe would be judged as being ‘too varied’.
Multitudes of patients have witnessed their overworked GP being expected to make life changing judgments in the ten minutes allocated to each patient, with 20 minutes allowed only when particularly requested beforehand. Life changing, because in reality that is precisely what happens. It is the job of a physician to interpret for medical purposes, what a patient is saying, that interpretation is then added to medical records, for life! With the best will in the world, those 10 minute interpretations are often woefully lacking in reality, often perpetuated and as accurate as Chinese Whisper.
When a physician or scientific researcher experiences an illness from ‘the inside’ rather than from a detached clinical or research setting, that position, hopefully, has to be one of the most important aspects in driving medical advancements. The validity and opportunity of shared personal experiences from physicians, et al. as useful indicators for significant, accurate medical interpretations and study, is unequaled.
For many prolonged illnesses, the most forward thinking, empathetic and compassionate attitudes are shown by those medics whose personal experiences involve themselves, or close family members. Prime examples, are physicians and researchers focusing on tick and other vector- borne diseases.
Leaders in tick-borne illness medicine are powerhouses of knowledge, which in truth, and to date, have yet to be positively or fully acknowledged in the UK – what a wasted opportunity – well, certainly from a patient perspective.
Every cloud………the ‘silver lining’ gives hope that Professor Garner is left with a greater understanding of the devastating and lasting impact of many infections, bacterial, fungal or viral, all of which can leave in place serious and complex symptoms.
His story will certainly resonate with many patients – former active and productive lives on hold or lost forever. For the ‘lucky’ few, family life on the brink of destruction, just managing to hold things together. Whilst for the unlucky majority, the reality bears witness to complete and utter devastation of family life, careers…… friends and social life, gone.
Most infectious agents have one purpose, ultimate survival.
Tick-borne infections rarely kill in dramatic fashion, they persist, they invade, they destroy, they evade, they are masters of masquerade. With humans and animals affected similarly, and with animals being particularly stoic, there is so much to be learned from the ethos and practice of One-Health.
What does kill patients is excruciating pain, penetrating, unrelenting. Loss of livelihoods, destruction of families, humiliation, suicides, the list is comprehensive and undeniable.
Accolades and degrees in science are all very well, but they are of no use to a practicing physician, scientist, or researcher, if they are not matched with an even larger degree involving an open mind, humanity and humility.
Paul Garner: For 7 weeks I have been through a roller coaster of ill health, extreme emotions, and utter exhaustion