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The things they say

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Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Don’t patients say the funniest things? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Ha ha ha. Ha. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t want this blog to degenerate into that blog, ie, the one that resorts to relaying the funny things that patients say, because that’s like relating the funny things your kids say, which are funny to you but achingly tedious to the politely smiling person listening.

But it is funny, isn’t it, the things patients say? Like the woman who thought she had carnal tunnel syndrome. Ha ha ha. Ha ha. Ha. Etc.

Today, though, I had a variation on this theme in that it was a relative, not the patient, saying the funny thing. And it wasn’t so much funny as disturbing.

The patient is a full-on, frequent-attending, molar-eroding uber-heartsink. She always has lots wrong, her symptoms never make sense, she inevitably seems dissatisfied and so on. I’ve tried all the usual heartsink tricks. Nothing works. Our consultations typically end in frustrating and unsatisfying 0-0 draws.

An evil whisper in my ear makes me see a potential end to years of torture

Then she attends with her daughter. We do the usual, and we reach the point where I throw my hands up in a despairing kind of way. That’s when the daughter says it. And this is what she says: ‘She has such faith in you, doctor. If you said she should put her head in the oven, she’d do it.’

I cannot truly convey here the thought processes spinning vertiginously out of control in my head at this point, and for a considerable time after. Mainly, though, I am thinking, if I said she should put her head in the oven, she’d do it.

The daughter is looking at me expectantly and some time has passed. I’m trying to articulate something sensible but an internal dialogue keeps intruding.

‘Well, perhaps-’

(Really, faith in me?)

‘Maybe we could-’

(Head in a gas oven?)

‘It might be an idea to-’

(Does that even work these days though?)

And so on for quite a while until I find myself suddenly blurting, in a bid to end the torment, ‘Look, maybe we should just runs some blood tests.’

They seem OK with this and I’m feeling an odd mixture of relief and weirded-outness. I print off the form and hand it over.

Then, just as they’re leaving, with hand poised on door knob, the evil whisper in my ear becomes just too much as I see a potential end to years of torture simply by giving in to this overwhelming temptation. So I put up my hand decisively and say, ‘Wait!’

They pause.

‘I’m thinking about all these symptoms you’ve experienced for so many years. How much you’ve suffered. How I’ve done so little to help. And about what you said. You know. About ovens. Heads. And so on. And it does strike me that, you know, maybe in some way it would be a kindness, I mean, we have tried just about everything else. So…’

‘Yes?’ asks her daughter, a little breathlessly and with a strange look in her eyes. ‘What is it, doctor?’

I snap to, as if waking from a dream, but I haven’t been dreaming. I take a deep breath, then exhale. ‘Nothing.’ I say. ‘Same time next week.’

Dr Tony Copperfield is a jobbing GP in Essex