This week I’m on my holidays. Apologies for the lack of hyperlinks but I’m thumb-texting this into my phone via ropey wi-fi as an unseasonal monsoon batters the caravan windows.
The miserable weather has given me pause to reflect that in many ways the week before your summer break is more important than the holiday itself. To have any hope of fully relaxing when you finally get away, it’s necessary to start winding down well in advance, and this begins in the consulting room.
After initial pleasantries, you’ll find yourself quickly drifting off to your happy place, planning soon-to-be-fulfilled gastronomic itineraries and internally dusting off mothballed GCSE language skillz (‘Un autre bière, s’il vous plait. Oui, c’est ma troisième, pourquoi do you ask? Oui, je sais it’s seulement onze am. Look, mon job est extremement stressful OK Jean-Pierre?’) before zoning back in with seconds to spare and, I dunno, offering to do some social prescribing or something.
This is when all those years of training kick in, and the RCGP-imprinted ability to nod (or grunt) appreciatively at fifteen-second intervals, no matter what the content of the discussion, suddenly comes into its own.
The closer the holiday looms, the more trivial the complaint, and the less attentive the doctor
Now you might think that consulting in this manner might confer some degree of increased medicolegal risk, but you would be mistaken; in a beautiful symbiosis, it transpires that no patient who attends the GP in the week prior to their holibobs ever has anything wrong with them.
It’s like a Friday afternoon on-call on steroids, as a tide of non-illness sweeps in heralded by the magic words ‘I wouldn’t normally come with this, but…’: hitherto-sensible people seeking reassurance that NHS care will extend to the wilds of Weston-Super-Mare; symptoms that have disappeared long before the appointment but ‘just need to be checked’; yoghurt-advert-healthy-looking kids wheeled out for a once-over in case they get an ear infection like last year.
In this situation you don’t need a GP, you need a crystal ball. Mate, if I could predict the future I wouldn’t have organised my annual leave dates so that I sweat myself hypovolaemic in a non-air-conditioned office through most of the summer, then spend a week shivering on the beach in my fleece.
The closer the holiday looms, the more trivial the complaint, and the less attentive the doctor, advancing inexorably towards a nirvana-like end-point, in which an entirely well patient discusses absolutely nothing with a fully disengaged GP, in a totally risk-free transaction.
I was fantasising about somehow capturing that sweet spot and turning it into a full-time job. Then I realised that the clever app companies our new health secretary is so keen on have got there first.
Oh well, back to the grindstone next week it is.
Dr Pete Deveson is a GP in Surrey