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Are you sitting comfortably?



Wow, last week was a bummer, wasn’t it? Not the Cyber attack, though I accept that was annoying, not least because the media repeatedly played footage/soundbites of earnest GPs explaining how we were having to resort to pen and paper, like that’s a bad thing.

No, I’m talking about the fact that my back went. As in, I bent over and it went completely into spasm. As in one of the worst pains I’ve felt, and I’ve felt the pain of an FA Cup semi-final penalty shoot-out defeat. As in, while the NHS network was being hacked, so were my sacroiliacs.

It did teach me a very valuable lesson, though. Because I’m me, and patients are patients, that is to say I have a highly developed level of cynicism and patients have a highly developed level of exaggeration, I’ve not always been the most sympathetic of doctors. That applies to symptoms in general but back pain in particular. Indeed, I’ve always taught trainees that patients who claim their back pain is such agony that they refuse to sit down during the consultation are definitely nuts.

Oh dear. I now realise I have been very much mistaken. In fact, the typical patient presentation of, ‘It’s like someone putting a thousand volts through my spine while someone else hits my buttocks with a cricket bat and a third person pushes a million needles into my legs’ represents a masterclass in understatement. It’s much worse than that. And as for not being able to sit down, yes, I understand, because to do so involves as much cautious adjustment, readjustment, potential pain, counting down and fear of not being able to get back up again as the average Apollo moon landing.

Obvs, I still went to work. And the staff were very sympathetic, if we can all accept that, ‘You’re walking like you’ve got a carrot stuck up your arse’ is an expression of sympathy. The main problem was moving from my chair to examine patients. This involved such grimacing, groaning, deliberate and ponderous movement and manifest reluctance that they’d have been forgiven for thinking that having to check them over was a major nuisance, so in that sense they didn’t notice anything unusual.

And, would you believe it, my very first patient that day was an acute back begging for tramadol. Tosser.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield