DR MAX THE MIND DOCTOR: Small acts of kindness that have a big impact
When people hear that I am a doctor, one of two things usually happens.
Either they try to show me a part of their anatomy and ask if I think it’s infected, or they look at me, dewy-eyed, and say how wonderful it is that I help people for a living.
They often bemoan their own job and comment wistfully that they wish they could ‘help’ people, too.
We all contribute to society in one way or another, and you don’t need a medical degree to help others. In fact, the kindness and support that others show is often more meaningful because it’s not in their job description [File photo]
The truth is that while I love my profession, I spend hours each week on paperwork or attending meetings, and at times medicine can seem as mundane as any other job. It’s not all rushing around saving lives.
Besides, lots of other jobs do involve helping people. I couldn’t get to work each day without the Tube driver, for example.
We all contribute to society in one way or another, and you don’t need a medical degree to help others.
In fact, the kindness and support that others show is often more meaningful because it’s not in their job description.
I’m reminded of this each Christmas because of a conversation I had a few years ago.
The truth is that while I love my profession, I spend hours each week on paperwork or attending meetings, and at times medicine can seem as mundane as any other job [File photo]
After my parents divorced, my mum suffered from low self-esteem, so my sister and I insisted that every few months she came up to London for a few hours of pampering.
It did her the world of good (I wish I could say the same for my bank balance!) and has been going on for more than 15 years now.
As a result, we’ve got to know her hairdresser, Brendan, very well. Apart from being my mum’s crimper, he’s a stylist to the stars.
On one occasion just before Christmas, I arrived early to pick her up and found her sitting transfixed.
‘It’s Paul McCartney!’ my mum blurted out as I approached.
‘He’s standing behind me. I could practically touch him,’ she continued with unbridled excitement.
I looked at the man standing a few feet away talking to Brendan and, sure enough, it was the former Beatle himself.
Mum was behaving like a teenager and I wanted to die of embarrassment.
The two men finished their conversation, Sir Paul walked off and Brendan turned round to greet me.
While my mum was busy texting my auntie about her close encounter with a superstar, I took the opportunity to ask him what he was doing for Christmas.
‘Oh, not much,’ he said. ‘I’ll see my mum on Christmas morning, and then I spend Christmas afternoon and Boxing Day at a hospital near where I live.’
‘Why?’ I asked, puzzled.
For those unfortunate enough to have to spend Christmas in hospital, there was no drug that could help them in the way that Brendan’s skill could. The season of goodwill is an annual reminder of the pleasure and satisfaction that we can all derive from helping others [File photo]
‘I go around the wards doing the ladies’ hair. It’s such fun, I do it every year,’ he explained, smiling.
I immediately conjured up an image of the elegant Brendan milling around a grotty NHS ward, giving elderly ladies a free make-over that would normally cost them several weeks’ pension.
He looked embarrassed and added: ‘It’s nothing compared with what you do.’ I shook my head.
The idea of this celebrity hairdresser to the great and the good (and my mum) doing something like this really bowled me over. His compassion and humility embodied the real spirit of Christmas.
Yes, we doctors and nurses help people — but that is our job.
What I took from this encounter was the realisation that every one of us has the capacity to help others in need. In fact, people can often help in ways that a doctor or nurse cannot.
For those unfortunate enough to have to spend Christmas in hospital, there was no drug that could help them in the way that Brendan’s skill could.
The season of goodwill is an annual reminder of the pleasure and satisfaction that we can all derive from helping others.
And as for Sir Paul, if he feels like doing some charitable work this Christmas, I know of a certain 73-year-old woman who can make herself available for a cup of tea and a chinwag at very short notice.
The best news of 2019 so far? An announcement by the Government that it is to offer student nurses bursaries of up to £8,000 a year while training
The best news of 2019 so far?
An announcement by the Government that it is to offer student nurses bursaries of up to £8,000 a year while training.
It’s something I have pleaded for since the bursary (which covered the cost of training to be a nurse) was axed in 2016.
(And I like to think that Boris might have been inspired by reading my many articles on the subject!)
Now, I want to see tuition fees for nursing degrees abolished.
Nurses are the backbone of the NHS and we need to nurture them.
Parties CAN be more fun sober
Are you doing Dry January? I was never a great fan. I thought it was a daft idea to think you could ‘offset’ drinking too much over Christmas by stopping for a month. That’s really not how the body works.
If you’re worried about your drinking, far better to try to make a commitment to moderate it in the long term, rather than cutting it out all together in January.
But I do think that a month of abstinence can have real benefits for your mental health.
You’ll have more interesting and in-depth conversations with people — and you can actually remember those conversations later [File photo]
Having given it a go for the past few years, I’ve reassessed my disdain for Dry January — and I’m going to do it again this coming year.
At the very least, it makes you think about your relationship with drink.
A common practice, however, is to avoid temptation by cutting back on your socialising. But I would encourage everyone to get out and about, because then you’ll understand how a social event can actually be even more enjoyable when you’re sober.
You’ll have more interesting and in-depth conversations with people — and you can actually remember those conversations later. Plus, you wake up the next day feeling great!
Researchers at University College London and Newcastle University have identified a very specific type of hearing impairment that often goes undetected.
It’s been called ‘cocktail party deafness’ because it particularly affects people attending the sort of gatherings so ubiquitous at this time of year.
Amid the cacophony of the crowd, they find it difficult to tune into the voice of a particular person.
This resonated with me. In a room full of people, I often feel like an old man as I strain to hear what a person is saying above the background noise.
The researchers have found that some people’s brains lack the necessary wiring to concentrate on one voice in a crowd — and hope their work will lead to a possible treatment.
Until then, if you see me at a party, please speak slowly and loudly!
I loved Gyles Brandreth’s anecdote in the Mail this week about 85-year-old Dame Judi Dench being dropped by a taxi a mile from the theatre she needed to be at
My new motto; what would Judi say?
I loved Gyles Brandreth’s anecdote in the Mail this week about 85-year-old Dame Judi Dench (right) being dropped by a taxi a mile from the theatre she needed to be at.
Suddenly, she found herself caught in a heavy hailstorm. ‘Isn’t this fun!’ she exclaimed.
What a brilliant attitude to life Dame Judi has. Yes, life can be tough.
We experience setbacks and disappointments, and there’s often not much we can do about it. But what we can do is change our attitude.
Just as some Christians wear bracelets inscribed with the letters WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do?) to inspire them in times of difficulty, I think we could all do with just asking ourselves WWDJS? — What Would Dame Judi Say?
Dr Max Prescribes… Myndmap Journal
And if you want to emulate Dame Judi, then can I recommend this beautifully bound 12-week mindfulness journal, full of exercises and training to help people improve their mental well-being, build resilience and positivity, and challenge negative or unhelpful thoughts. It would make a lovely last-minute Christmas gift.
I bought one for a friend who has struggled with depression and anxiety this year and was really impressed with it.
It comes in a variety of colours and costs £29.99.
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