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DR MAX PEMBERTON: Never doubt the power of saying 'I'm sorry'

During a visit to Canada last week, the Pope apologized for decades of abuse in Roman Catholic schools. “I humbly beg forgiveness,” he told a crowd, referring to the Church’s role in government-run boarding schools in Canada, where thousands of Indigenous children were abused and died.

The schools were part of Canada’s plan to assimilate indigenous peoples into Christian society, which the Pope said was “catastrophic” destroying their culture, tearing families apart and marginalizing generations.

This was a deeply shameful, horrible part of the history of the Church and, of course, apologizing will not undo the terrible damage that was done.

However, I am regularly amazed at how powerful the word sorry can be. Sometimes it is the ointment that people need to start healing.

Too often people feel frustrated and angry with their treatment in the health service, but receive no formal confirmation or an apology

Too often people feel frustrated and angry with their treatment in the health service, but receive no formal confirmation or an apology

A sincere apology can make all the difference. Saying sorry means admitting a mistake and this isn’t always easy to do.

Admitting you’ve done something wrong can be hard, but it can really have a big impact on the person who feels hurt by your actions. We could all say more sorry in life, and I wish the NHS in particular would accept this.

All too often people feel frustrated and angry about their treatment in the health service, but receive no formal confirmation or an apology.

They write to hospital managers and chief executives and get short shrift in return. They try to negotiate grievance procedures of Byzantine complexity, when all they really want is someone to say sorry.

Over the years, many readers have contacted me to express their frustration and annoyance at how their complaints and legitimate concerns are being countered by those in power in the NHS. Is it any wonder that when faced with this, they resort to punitive measures through the courts to get justice?

Is it really that hard to apologize? I once worked with a surgeon who had operated on a woman. After the operation, she complained of pain and a strange ‘lingering’ feeling in her abdomen. She went to see him for a check-up, but he dismissed her concerns and assured her that the surgery was a success.

dr.  Max Pemberton (pictured) says we can all do more with saying sorry in life, and he wishes the NHS in particular would take this on board

dr.  Max Pemberton (pictured) says we can all do more with saying sorry in life, and he wishes the NHS in particular would take this on board

dr. Max Pemberton (pictured) says we can all do more with saying sorry in life, and he wishes the NHS in particular would take this on board

One evening, however, it got so bad that she came to the ER. The surgeon on duty agreed to do an exploratory surgery to see what was going on.

As soon as he opened her, the problem was visible to all: after the first operation, a cotton swab was left in her and this caused significant irritation to the surrounding tissue.

There are very strict procedures and protocols in the operating room to make sure this doesn’t happen, but surgeons are human too and even they can make mistakes. Hospital managers and the chief of surgery descended on the ward to try to talk to the patient about what had happened, but she refused to talk to them.

This only made them panic more. Instead, she insisted on talking to the surgeon who had been responsible.

The next day he came to the ward. The managers had warned against doing this without legal representation, but he went anyway, arguing that he owed her to speak to her personally about what had happened. Although he was usually quite an arrogant man, this unexpected display of humility surprised everyone.

“I was wrong—she deserves to hear that from me,” he said with a grim face, and went to her bed.

He apologized profusely to her and said he would understand if she wanted to make a formal complaint against him.

We all knew this could be very damaging to his career, but he felt guilty about what had happened.

She looked at him bewildered. “Why would I want to sue?” she asked. “It was an honest mistake.”

‘What do you want?’ he asked her, bewildered.

‘We all make mistakes. You said sorry. That was all I wanted’.

Cheers to Julia’s Prohibition

Julia Bradbury (pictured) has stopped drinking after her breast cancer surgery.  She says she is determined to do everything she can to prevent the cancer from returning

Julia Bradbury (pictured) has stopped drinking after her breast cancer surgery.  She says she is determined to do everything she can to prevent the cancer from returning

Julia Bradbury (pictured) has stopped drinking after her breast cancer surgery. She says she is determined to do everything she can to prevent the cancer from returning

Julia Bradbury has stopped drinking after her breast cancer surgery. The former Countryfile presenter, who underwent a mastectomy in October, says she is determined to do everything she can to prevent the cancer from returning. If only more people did the same. Although people realize that smoking is bad for their health, many still don’t realize that other lifestyle factors, such as alcohol and obesity, are also linked to cancer. All too often I see people making the changes after they’ve been diagnosed, at which point it’s sometimes too late to undo the years of damage. I know doctors can seem like a bummer because of their constant fingertips on people’s choices. Life is for living and it’s important to have fun and enjoy it, but it’s also important to remember that we whine about a healthy lifestyle and advocate everything in moderation and for a reason.

  • I’ve recently noticed stories highlighting the backlash against social media stars performing “random” acts of kindness towards unwitting strangers, then posting the images to their social media channels. A woman, who was filmed receiving flowers from a stranger, said afterwards how she felt humiliated and ‘dehumanized’. She assumed she was picked because she looked sad and lonely, when in fact she was just quietly enjoying a cup of coffee while shopping. I am disgusted by this trend. These are not acts of kindness. Nor are they random. People are singled out to evoke sympathy on the basis of tired, patronizing tropes of the deserving poor, or those who are supposed to resemble their good fortune. It is exploitation for the sole purpose of getting likes and followers, and sums up the senseless self-promotion that has infected social media.

Doctors claim that the trend towards testosterone replacement therapy in men is “dangerous,” and they see more becoming unwell after taking the steroid to get the perfect, ripped body. While we know that women are under pressure because of their body image, we should keep in mind that men are not immune either.

DR MAX PRESCRIPTION…

GARDENING

Many GPs now prescribe gardening for depression and anxiety.  Research has shown that it can also reduce the risk of dementia by up to 20 percent

Many GPs now prescribe gardening for depression and anxiety.  Research has shown that it can also reduce the risk of dementia by up to 20 percent

Many GPs now prescribe gardening for depression and anxiety. Research has shown that it can also reduce the risk of dementia by up to 20 percent

We’ve known about the mental health benefits of gardening for years. Indeed, many GPs now prescribe it for depression and anxiety. Recent research has shown that gardening is not only a relaxing way to pass the time, but can also reduce the risk of dementia by as much as 20 percent. If you don’t have a garden, contact the National Allotment Society on how to get an allotment garden (nsalg.org.uk).

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