The landscape of general practice has changed significantly over the course of this pandemic.

Gone are the days of the bustling waiting rooms where you could hear the patients chatting, babies crying and the colourful scene of people from all walks of life waiting to be called in next.

Most of our work is now mainly conducted digitally – telephone consultations or video consultations – I am still finding it a challenging transition.

Maybe it’s because I have grown up with the traditional model of medicine, where it is all about the human interactions and so turning to tech to be the medium that sits between the two of you still feels alien.

You learn so much about a person, in my case – the patient, just by looking at them. Walking into the waiting room to collect them, having that little chat on the way to the room and observing everything from the way they are dressed, walking, talking to the energy they are emitting, tells you a lot. Over time, you can actually start hypothesising a diagnosis before you even begin the consultation.

I miss that little blether you could have about their day, the weather, what they have been up to…now, it’s so clinical and robotic and the thing I miss most is not being able to physically see every one of them. So recently I have brought the blether back. At the start of my consultation on the phone, which is how we speak to every patient before we decide next steps, I make a point of asking some general questions, prompting a friendly chat.

With such a huge rise in mental health cases, I am curious to learn about what my patients are up to in their spare time. I am fascinated by how people are managing the pressures, the isolation, the monotony of every day – “how are you really doing?”

One thing I have learned over my 15 year career as a doctor so far is that people are not a collection of symptoms that point to a diagnosis. People are a collection of real stories, hardships, experiences and circumstances which over a period of time have led to them developing symptoms that, if left unmanaged or unheard, create illness. I

t is sometimes hard to form rapport over the phone with strangers but it’s not impossible. On average I speak to 100 patients a week. Many of these patients I have never met before in real life so I feel my role involves getting to know them better, helping them to trust me and for me to understand their real needs.

I guess part of the curiosity is that I miss people in general right now. It has been a long year and the absence of loved ones is palpable. It is perhaps another reason why I look forward to going into work where I have the privilege to listen, connect and help where I can.

Something I have been finding so beautiful is how people have been tackling these bizarre and tough times. When I have asked the question to my elderly patients, for example, of how they pass their time, I have found them telling me about how they look forward to speaking to their children or grandchildren every day.

They are hearing from friends and family more than they ever did before and the joy in their voice is comforting. It prompts me to make the calls when I get home to my elders.

Once upon a time we would live for the weekends, the getaways and the holidays, but now I have been learning about how people are connecting with the little moments that they look forward to and which brings them some relief and respite from it all.

From the stressed out mum who finds comfort in a quiet cup of tea, the furloughed restaurant manager whose enjoying some new found precious time with his family, the truck driver who has started exercising to the hairdresser whose taken up jewellery making – it is inspiring.

As the pace appears to have slowed down, we have learned to adapt and find pauses. This can’t be a bad thing but something I hope we can take forward when the pace picks up again. Personally I have connected back with reading again, something I had stopped doing because devices are forever in our hands. I look forward to the fresh air, the walks with my kids and this week the snow – who knew it could bring so much excitement?

From my patients, many of whom are fighting some tough battles, I am learning that it is possible to still find moments of joy, that they are in fact hidden in the every day monotony; sometimes we just have to make more of an effort to find them. The moments needn’t be complicated but finding gratitude in all the little things that make you feel nice inside is what we all need to do that little bit more of. And lastly, if you get the chance, have a little blether, it is so good for the soul, even if it’s with your doctor!