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When Peverley met Copperfield…

Pulse star columnist Dr Tony Copperfield's new book Sick Notes is reviewed - by Pulse's other star columnist, Dr Phil Peverley

A few weeks ago, the editor of Pulse phoned me up and asked if I would be prepared to review my junior colleague Tony Copperfield's latest book. Initially I was nonplussed; why would I want to read that? But then it clicked. ‘I see! You're after a sort of ‘Paul reviews Ringo' scenario. Kinky! I like it.'

‘Er, that's one way of looking at it' he replied. ‘Not the only way, I might add'.

And of course, it doesn't bother me in the least that Copperfield has got a book out and I haven't. Why would it? I can't be bothered with all that fame and money. I've got a proper job to do, so you can be assured that envy and jealousy will play no part in this review.

But seriously, silly prejudices aside, this is a fine book and I would recommend it to all GPs. We're all familiar, from the pages of Pulse and his blog on PulseToday, with Tony's idiosyncratic take on general practice, but this is not simply a retread of his Pulse musings. This is a book aimed at both professionals and the lay public. It includes some of his thoughts from his writing for Pulse, some of his Times columns, and some unifying thoughts from twenty-odd years at the front line.

My main problem in reviewing this book has been to wrest my copy from my wife, who has appropriated it for her bedtime reading. This is a difficulty that probably doesn't afflict most professional book reviewers, but it's one that bodes well for the authors. It's a very easy book to read.

Obviously I've already read a lot of Copperfield, from these pages (although not from his Times column, due to my ‘no tabloids' rule) but it's all incredibly fresh. Nothing reminds me of his previous work. The format is different; we have one or two page segments on various topics and all the old saws and frustrations of general practice are rolled out and dissected, but the focus is more on explaining the whys and wherefores of primary care to those less cynical and world-weary than ourselves, and the effect is refreshing.

I'm not afraid to admit this; this book has taught me a lot about why we do some of the things we do. It has even educated me on medical topics; now I know what a Chem Seven blood test is (U+Es, basically) and what a CT scan actually involves, and how to explain shoulder impingement in a language that someone normal might understand, and what a PCT is actually supposed (theoretically) to do.

Useful stuff, and I will be incorporating it into my practice from now on.

The prologue, ‘The Doctor Will See You Now', is as nice a definition of modern general practice as could reasonably be fitted within four pages, and deserves an award on its own. This in itself, I would suggest, is worth the price of entry. And the jokes are great, and many.

If I have a criticism, it's that every character in the book, both doctors and patients (with the exception of the registrar Dr Sami Patel; I‘m not aware of any Patels in Dickens unless he crops up in ‘Pictures From Italy‘, which I‘ve never read, and which seems unlikely), is given a name from the canon of Charles Dickens. I can understand the need for transparent patient confidentiality, but as something of a Dickens obsessive myself, I found it incredibly distracting. Every time that, say, an Esther Summerson turned up, I would find myself remembering the character, placing her in the correct novel, and trying to work out if the character shared any characteristics with the original. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't, and the only apparent reason for this avalanche of irrelevance (there are a LOT of characters) seems to be that the author's nom de plume is a bit Dickensian. It's not enough of a reason. I understand, in the authors' defence, that this was not their idea.

But when I limp home after a ten or twelve hour day at the coalface, and my sons often greet me with ‘Hi Dad, how was work today?', I can't answer them. I'm too tired and inarticulate to give them any impression of the tirade of complicated nonsense I've just been fielding, so I don't bother trying. ‘Ah, it was OK son. I've had worse.'

But I would like them to understand, and one day maybe I'll flip them a copy of Sick Notes, and if they're really interested, they'll understand. And maybe give us a bit of respect for dealing with the mind-numbing whirl of complexity and responsibility that is flayed and displayed in Tony Copperfield's excellent book. It says it like it is. Buy one for yourself, and one for any of those troublesome friends and relatives of yours who suspect that being a GP involves writing sick notes, giving out amoxycillin, and creaming in massive salaries. Tony Copperfield puts it all into dizzying perspective.

Sick Notes by Dr Tony Copperfield is out now, published by Monday Books.

Peverley reviews Copperfield's new book