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Down to earth thrills

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SOME years ago I was a member of a skydiving club. I recall a TV producer spending a week at the club making a programme about fear. He wired himself up to measure parameters like heart rate, blood pressure, etc. Not surprisingly, the act of throwing himself from an aircraft for the first time in his life produced graphs resembling a skyline in the Rocky Mountains. What was really interesting was when he wired highly experienced jumpers for comparison. Surprisingly, the ride in the aeroplane to altitude induced alpha-rhythm levels of relaxation in these guys. At the point of exit they produced respectable, but not alarming, spikes of anxiety. However, once in free fall their graphs nearly flattened again (it is quite nice being in free fall). The real buzz came when it was time to reach for the ripcord: then all hell broke loose and their graphs finally approached Rocky Mountain status. Once the satisfying pop of a safely opened canopy had been heard and confirmed, the ‘ride down’ recorded a return to almost euphoric levels of calm.

This has me pondering what graphs of anxiety would have been produced if I had been wired up for a typical day in general practice. Today, for example, I would have spent most of my time peaking furiously. It started with the 60 kg nervous ridgeback, with a less-than-confident owner, which needed to be sedated before we could get anywhere near presurgical catheterisation. Next up was the 12-year-old Cavalier King Charles with a grade V heart murmur needing essential dentistry, followed by Ratty the rat, the precious, adored pet of a profoundly disabled and charming young girl, which needed a massive tumour removed. I finished the morning working up a mysteriously polydipsic dog belonging to an impatient solicitor who had already spent a small fortune at his previous practice that had, quite frankly, done everything right.

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After 10 minutes for lunch there followed four hours of 10-minute appointments, including five extra ‘sit-and-waits’, and my stress graphs were getting seismic. However, my Rocky Mountain moment was undoubtedly on the house visit where, in a dimly lit lounge, cramped on my failing knees between two immovable sofas, I was obliged to euthanase a grumpy, greasy, wrinkly, geriatric basset hound with low blood pressure and no visible veins, while the entire doting family looked on expecting a gentle demise for their loved one. Thanks to the extraordinary patience and contortionist skills of my veterinary nurse, we achieved a dignified end result, but my ‘ride down’ euphoria did not really kick in until I was safely back home reading my grandson his third bedtime story. Who needs to jump out of an aeroplane when you can get the same sort of thrill working in practice?

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