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At the heart of general practice since 1960

A case of post-holiday blues

Phil finds returning to work hard enough without being pounced upon for vicarious details

Phil finds returning to work hard enough without being pounced upon for vicarious details

I resist the impulse to slap myself soundly on the forehead. I also resist the impulse to shout: 'What the hell has that got to do with you?' because that would be rude.

Even though she is the fifth patient in a row to enquire about my holidays, I don't want to cause a scene.

It's hard enough already when you get back from your summer jollies.

As well as a fortnight's worth of soul-destroying administrative stodge, the first four days back are booked solid with those blameless but deluded punters who are under the impression that they have to support me like a football team.

'Look,' I might say. 'You've been coughing up blood for 10 days. I really don't mind if you go and see someone else. In fact, I'd prefer you to. Look at the mess on my carpet.'

'Oh no, doctor!' chuckles my pale but cheerfully faithful friend. 'You're my doctor. I'll just stick with you if that's alright,' as he hocks another clot into the sink.

'By the way, did you enjoy your holiday?'

As well as an oppressively intensive schedule, I have to factor in a minute or two in each appointment to give a short presentation on my vacational activities. 'Hello doctor! How did you enjoy your hol…'

'Stop right there! Motor home, France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, good weather apart from last Thursday, slight sunburn on nose and left my CD player on the ferry.

No, thank you, no suggestions for getting it back. No! Schtumm! Tell me about your hip.'

Why do they care? I just don't get it.

Even I don't care that much and I'm the one who was there. I have briefly considered producing a holiday Powerpoint presentation that we could play on the wall of the waiting room, but I know it would create more questions than it answered.

It's like the photo of my sons that I keep on my desk.

It's not there for me; I know what they look like. It's for the punters. They find it endlessly and inexplicably fascinating.

Sometimes I wonder if they make an appointment just to see the new school photo. 'Ooh, aren't they handsome? That one's the spit of you!'

'No, he gets his looks from his mum,' I might say. 'See the moustache?'

This year I cocked up badly. In a fit of distraction, I accidentally answered a patient's question honestly.

'How were your holidays, doctor?' she asked, and like a fool I said: 'Fine, fine. Apart from the bit where we crashed the motor home.'

And it's true. My wife was driving, and in a moment of distraction I am unlikely to let her forget as long as we both live, she drove into a concrete post and ripped the motor home open like a sardine can.

It could still be driven, and we were a long way from home, so for the rest of the holiday we drove around in the camping-site equivalent of the Friends set, with one wall open to interested observers.

My patient fell on this bit of information like a starving vulture. She left. Presumably something must have passed between her and my subsequent patient in the corridor, because the next lady burst open the door and yelled: 'Was anyone hurt?'

Within hours, via that patient grapevine I have no input into and will never understand, everyone knows.

'Were you insured?' asks some bloke I don't think I've ever met before. 'Er, I think so,' I venture. 'What have you heard?' I realise he is more likely to know than I am.

It gets worse. My wife is a GP just down the road, and we have some families with members in both practices.

'Sorry to hear about the crash, doctor,' says one lady. 'I hear you're going to America next year!'

This is news to me, but I know when I'm beaten. 'Is that right?' I say, getting out my diary. 'When am I leaving?'

Dr Phil Peverley is a GP in Sunderland

Phil Peverley

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