It was more than a decade ago that I began submitting my thoughts to medical and scientific journals. I have aged since then. As have the journals.
A decade on, and I have had more responses published in the BMJ than any other Scottish doctor.
In 2010 I shared one of my first efforts with a colleague [based on my response to a perspective by Jim Van Os on ‘Schizophrenia’].
This was the reply that I received:
There are two types of comments I want to make, one relating to the theme, and one to the way you put your thoughts across. I’ll start with the latter. This is a very personal paper, even before you mention your sister. You are quoting people you admire, and you have a lot of ideas. This is good, but my feeling is that something written for publication in the yellow journal should have a different slant; i.e. just because you quote psychiatrists you like doesn’t necessarily mean their opinion should count, or be put together in form of an argument. The other worry I have is that when you quote there is too much of you and your opinion in it – you need to let the readers judge at the end of your argument whether we think that those guys are good guys. We don’t want to be told. Let Murray’s thoughts speak, not your own. Secondly the paper is not focused enough, there are too many ideas which have too little connection with each other (mind brain dichotomy, problem of consciousness, prevention versus treatment, and at the end omission of the patient’s voice). The paper is too crowded with ideas not sufficiently connected and too heavily reliant on your opinion. I don’t mince my words because life is too short; but I hope you interpret these comments as what they are meant to be: as the encouraging comments from a friend.
I replied to my friend and colleague:
“Your appraisal will help me no end and your fresh honesty, delivered only through kindness, is more important than any hurt that truth causes. I understood that even as I first read your words.
As I said on the phone yesterday, my thoughts of you will never change: for your kind self shows daily beyond simple doctoring.
I know myself too well: my doubts, fears, and weaknesses. I am very ardent, though far less serious than people may think! It is my desperate wish that on my last breath that I have been truthful about my experiences, and used them along with my dear older sister, to help progress understanding. Yet I am a coward, for revealing self, to explain illness, carries consequences.
In truth, my creative self gives me great happiness but is naught compared to my family. I love being a doctor and am honoured that I can look after patients, who under their clothes, are naked like me.
Despite my weakness, I am unshakably your friend,