‘For a while I masqueraded as a greetings card salesman’
Writing competition finalist Dr Robert Jaggs-Fowler avoids the attentions that follow a doctor on holiday by playing at other jobs
One of the delightful aspects of living within rural North Lincolnshire is that, as I know so many people, I cannot help but feel an intrinsic part of the community despite being what the natives yellowbellies refer to as a ‘blow-in’ (alluding to the fact that we are on the migratory pathways between Southern Europe and Scandinavia, and that I am a Kentish Man by birth). However, the converse is that everyone also knows me, or so it seems.
That can be particularly taxing when trying to dine in local restaurants. In such situations, patients are quick to grasp the nettle while I lack the protection of my receptionists. ‘Hello, doctor, I wonder whether you could tell me my blood test results?’ is one such greeting.
Of course, such enquiries leave me feeling particularly vulnerable – not least because I can rarely remember people’s names, let alone their test results, but also because it gives patients the opportunity to spy on my eating habits. (‘Ah, I see you had the duck, doctor. That’s not good for cholesterol, is it? Oh, and sticky toffee pudding… I didn’t know you had a sweet tooth. Bad for the waistline, you know!’)
The problem becomes even worse on holiday if other holidaymakers detect that I am a GP – a situation no doubt familiar to every medical colleague. In such circumstances, tales of medical woe abound and I am treated to no end of traumatic life stories and requests for second opinions. Understandably, being the ‘tour medic’ is not quite my idea of a good vacation. So, having endured several years of ducking and diving, I hit upon the strategy of re-inventing myself.
For a while, I masqueraded as a greetings card salesman. It wasn’t far from the truth, as my wife did once have a greetings card business. And it worked, though I did get a few strange looks from fellow passengers when the ‘card salesman’ responded to an urgent call to assist with a pregnant lady on the flight home from India.
I have also been a ‘medical scientist’, though Dolly the Sheep made life a little contentious when we travelled to the Holy Land, so I thought better of it and dropped that particular alter ego after its first couple of seasons.
A ‘member of the armed forces’ bought me a few years of relative peace, at least until we started going to war with everyone.
Then the somewhat euphemistic title of ‘public servant’ worked well for a while. But when someone decided that I must be a politician and started a competition of ‘Guess the Party’, while another traveller decided that they had definitely heard me speak at Prime Minister’s Question Time, that I decided it was yet again time to move on.
Being a writer sometimes has its advantages. Under that guise I can take on almost any persona, from a medico-legal author in the world of academia to a newspaper columnist, a short story writer or a poet, depending on how I gauge my enquiring audience at any particular moment. Even then there are draw-backs, as almost everyone these days is a would-be novelist and has a half-written unpublished manuscript at home that they would ‘just love you to read’, and what’s the name of my publisher?
Following a New Year’s trip to Bavaria, I did indeed take delivery of an enormous script for a play. The playwright’s original language was German, and the rough translation (courtesy of Google Translate) had many faults. Nonetheless, being set in a German brothel meant that some scenes had captivating (and unintentionally hilarious) moments. I dutifully struggled through to the bitter end before penning a brief but encouraging response to the writer under my newly-adopted guise as a literary agent.
However, what I thought was my ultimate pièce de résistance came a couple of years ago during a cruise to the Caribbean.
In response to the usual enquiry of ‘what do you do?’ from a rather wearisome chap, I had a moment of inspiration and announced that I was an undertaker. Nobody in polite society, or so I thought, would want to discuss that topic over pre-dinner cocktails.
How wrong I was.
‘Goodness me, what a coincidence!’ Came the reply as he leaned closer.
‘So am I! I work in Nottingham. In fact, I think I saw you at last year’s Undertakers’ Ball. Where precisely in Lincolnshire did you say you are from?’
Dr Robert M Jaggs-Fowler is a GP in Lincolnshire.
Pulse asked for talented GP writers to send us stories to inspire and amuse their colleagues, and we were bowled over by the quality of the entries submitted.
Nearly 30 GPs took the time to put pen to paper – or finger to keyboard – and entries varied from amusing tales from consultations to clinical dilemmas or political ideas about general practice or the NHS in general.