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Sorry Mrs C, your time's up

Copperfield finds making the switch from autodoc to caring husband hard to do - even with a large glass of Chablis

Copperfield finds making the switch from autodoc to caring husband hard to do - even with a large glass of Chablis

Poor Mrs C. Like many GP spouses, she has to put up with some serious grief. Because, when I arrive home from the primary care coalface, grim and grimy from digging my way through the pathological pits, I'm grumpy, tense and knackered. And I don't smell too good.

In fact, the coalface metaphor, though popular, isn't that accurate. Because it's more like wading through treacle. At least in a coalmine you achieve something. Anyway, Mrs C knows exactly what to do. That's why I find a large glass of Chablis in my hand before I've summoned up the expletives to adequately describe my day.

The little Copperfields do their bit, too, reassuring their frazzled father that all homework is done before settling down nicely to beat the crap out of some on-screen zombies. Bless.

I try not to bring work home. Insurance reports, letters to dictate, notes to gut… they're all left on my desk. Anyone who patronises me with the mantra ‘Do today's work today' is, in my view, a) seriously underemployed and b) heading for the wrong end of a baseball bat.

But there's something about work I just can't shake off. And that's the incessant feeling of pressure. The main problem is that most of my day is fractured into 10-minute appointment slots. Any dialogue extending beyond that time makes me uncomfortable: it means I'm running late, the natives are restless, the tension's rising. Which is why, after a brief conversation with Mrs C over the spag bol, I mentally buzz for someone else.

Brief interactions

Understandably, she gets annoyed by this. It's not that I'm bored, I explain. It's just that general practice primes me for brief interactions, so I'm understandably distracted and impatient. Although I admit trying to fob her off with a patient leaflet is perhaps a step too far.

And my efforts to prolong any dialogue inevitably backfire. My brain takes an interest, but my mouth's still on autodoc. So I mean to say: ‘How was you day?' but it comes out as: ‘When was your last smear?'

She tries to distract me with a list of menial tasks. But in my stressed, exhausted state, it just transmogrifies into a pop-up prompt list: ‘Clean car, two points; mow lawn, five points; gym attendance below required threshold.' A domestic QOF list, but without the ker-ching consolation.

Sometimes, it turns ugly – typically because of a ‘trigger phrase'. Mrs C might declare she's ‘tired', and I'm like a coiled spring, waiting for the addendum ‘…all the time'. Or she might casually mention she thinks her hormones are playing up. She's not to know these innocent remarks elicit in us GPs a Pavlovian need to hammer nails into our skull.

There we have it. The evening chez Copperfield. The wine's kicking in, the kids are complaining they can't hear the zombies' death rattle, Mrs C's upset because she reckons I use up all my patience and caring at work, and I can't remember if I'm a GP impersonating a husband or the other way round. Which is when spag bol gets hurled in my direction.

I'd chuck her off my list, but she's the only one I've got.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can email him at tony


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