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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Haslam's view: Is there a doctor in the house?

All too often, I have found the world of medicine following me to the most unlikely places.

For instance, many years ago, while camping with my family in rural France, a woman in the queue in the bread shop fell to the floor and began to convulse.

It is extraordinary how naked you feel when you have no drugs and no equipment. But it seemed important to do something, so I announced to everyone in my very best French that there was no cause for alarm, that I was a doctor, and please would they call an ambulance.

The problem is that my very best French bears little resemblance to the French spoken by people who do speak French. The rest of the shoppers looked at me as if I was, how you say, slightly odd. I learned later that I had actually announced that I was an English bottle of medicine and that I would be getting into an ambulance and leaving. But the woman recovered and the crowd dispersed, and doubtless spent the rest of their day talking about the crazy Englishman.

And a couple of years later, on a holiday in Greece, a girl on the bus taking us from the airport to the hotel also started to convulse.

Again, I was the only doctor around and it was back on duty straightaway. The girl looked horribly ill, had never convulsed before, had previously been well and, I suspected, had a degree of meningism. The rep called for an ambulance on my advice and the unconscious child was admitted to hospital.

A week or so later, I bumped into the rep.

‘How's the girl?' I asked. I learned that she had been kept in hospital for several days, had all manner of investigations and treatments, and was now resting in another hotel.

‘But,' the rep said, ‘the parents are furious with you. They say you've ruined their holiday. The doctors in the hospital say you probably saved her life but the parents don't believe them and think you should have kept your nose out of their business.'

As ever, the law of medicine that says you get the most thanks from those for whom you do the least, and vice versa, had come true.

And I've lost count of how many times I've been called to treat people on planes. Perhaps the most worrying was a fellow passenger with profound bradycardia midway across the North Atlantic. The pilot asked me whether I wanted the plane to be diverted. I don't often feel the responsibility of my clinical role, but I certainly did as I walked through that plane to go and talk to the captain on the flight deck.

And on one flight back from Florida, while dealing with a relatively minor illness, the flight attendants explained to me how used they were to dealing with childhood deaths.

I probably looked astonished but their explanation was simple: Walt Disney World was the destination for a large number of critically or terminally ill children for the holiday of their dreams. And for all too many, the journey was literally the last straw. Quite an extraordinarily moving discovery.

But this year's holiday was incident free. No one knew I was a doctor. Nobody collapsed anywhere in sight. No one wanted an opinion on anything. Bliss.

Author

Professor David Haslam CBE
FRCGP
GP, Ramsey, Cambridgeshire; President, Royal College of General Practitioners; national clinical adviser to the Healthcare Commission; and Visiting Professor at de Montfort University, Leicester

The parents say you've ruined their holiday. The doctors say you probably saved her life

Haslam's view

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