Pixie McKenna: As a working mother, there is a huge amount of guilt attached to not being there
Pixie McKenna (44), a TV presenter and GP, is from Cork. She lives in Cambridge with her husband, John 'Mitch' Mitchell, and their daughter Darcy (3), and she works in private practice in London. Her new medical show begins on RTE One this month
Published 02/11/2015 | 02:30
I get up at 5.45am, because we live in Cambridge, and normally I have to go into London. I hate rushing in the morning. I like to have time to sit down, have a seriously large amount of tea, and then get my clothes ready. I never get anything ready the night before, because I have this idea that if I died in the night, I'd have wasted 20 minutes. Instead, I run round the house first thing, swearing and trying to force legs into tights, find knickers, and so on. My husband is not a morning person, so I haven't got a stitch of clothing in the bedroom. Otherwise, I would be trying to work my way through the wardrobes in the pitch black, because I can't turn a light on, as he's asleep.
I never have breakfast, unless I have a hangover, or I'm staying in a hotel. Otherwise, I just have about two pints of builder's tea with milk. And jeepers, I know breakfast is the most important meal of the day! But like all doctors, I don't practise what I preach. Darcy is normally up about 7am, and I'm out the door by 7.15am, so I see her before I go off to the station on my bike. I get the train into London, and I work. It's a 45-minute journey, and I get a lot done on the train. I'm a very last-minute sort of person, so usually I will be trying to finish something, like a quote, or a piece for the paper.
I work in Harley Street, and I usually walk from the station; it takes about half an hour. I usually do two or three days of clinics a week. My official days are Tuesdays and Wednesdays; I start work at 9.30am, and I finish at 5pm. I work in private practice, and I feel very privileged to do so, because, while my job doesn't produce zero stress, I look at my colleagues in the UK and in Ireland who are in public practice, and they are being asked to do more, with less resources. I don't have that problem.
I have a different problem, which is telling people that they don't need the things they think they need. It's a different agenda. If money is no object, and access to services is no object, people want more and more. And what they want isn't necessarily what they need. They want more health screening, to optimise their health. I'm all in favour of screening for common things, but I am really against looking for trouble. Check the biggies - heart disease, blood pressure, blood sugar, do your screening for your women's bits, and then let it go.
Sometimes people have symptoms for which we don't have an explanation. Once we've checked that there isn't anything sinister going on, then, sometimes, you have to live with things. Nobody is perfect - you can have a creak or an ache or a drip here and there; sometimes you've just got to suck it up and get on with life. As a GP, I think that reassurance is 90pc of your job, but equally as important is how you deliver it, and that's the beauty of having more time as a private GP. I don't for a moment believe that a doctor that you pay loads of money to is clinically any better than a doctor you don't pay loads of money to; the difference is time.
I take a 40-minute lunch break, and I eat at my desk. I bring my lunch in. I know it's really bad, that I should get out and get some vitamin D, but I do that at the start or the day and the end of the day. I bring in smoked salmon sandwiches - I think I must eat about three smoked salmon a week - so I smell fishy in the afternoon. My husband makes some fruit salad for me, and I bring that in too. In the afternoon, I see more patients, then, after work, occasionally I will have a doctors' meeting of an hour or so, or I might have to go to a launch or presentation. Otherwise, I go straight home, to do my mother duty; my most important job. I try to be home between 6.30pm and 6.45pm, and that's Darcy time. Then we have dinner.
On the days that I'm Cambridge-based, when I'm not in clinic, I'll cook. I'm a very messy cook. My husband is a very good cook, who tidies up after himself. I take out every single pot and pan and ingredient and bottle; he says, 'The kitchen's been Pixie-d . . . ' I always cook potatoes - mashed, boiled, roast, chipped. My mother gives me blocks of meat to bring back from Cork, because she doesn't believe English meat is any good, and we eat an awful lot of fish - salmon, haddock, cod. After dinner, normally, Mitch and I sit down and watch telly for an hour and have a conversation. It's the only time in the day that we see each other.
If I'm doing telly here in the UK - such as Channel 4's Embarrassing Bodies, where we deal with conditions and body parts generally considered mortifying - someone will come and pick me up by car at 7am. For Irish shoots, I've been flying into Shannon. Filming days are long, and full-on. Even if you're not the person in the clinic at a particular moment, you're hanging around outside, and members of the public will stop and ask for advice or sympathy, or 'Where's the toilet?' I've seen pretty much everything at this stage - after all, these are ailments that people have been too embarrassed to go to their doctor about - so I don't shock easily.
Wherever I am, if possible, I like to get home at night. As anyone who is a working mother knows, there is a huge amount of guilt attached to not being there. Since Darcy, I've got much better at saying no to things. I am a 'yes' person, a crowd pleaser, so I've had to rein myself in and learn to say no. Pre-baby, I would have been at the opening of an envelope. Now, I'm quite selective. I'm a big fan of 'us' time for me and Mitch. Darcy's got an amazing godmother who's great at babysitting, so every six weeks or so, we get a weekend away on our own. My parents always did that. It didn't do us any harm, and it did them a whole lot of good. Usually, I go to bed at 10pm. I can't stay up late any more; if I'm still up at 11pm, I'm getting nervous; life is too busy for that.
In conversation with Emily Hourican
'You Really Should See A Doctor' starts on RTE One on Wednesday, November 11
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