‘You can’t call him deary! He’s got grey hair!’
The two patients have been arguing for three of their allotted 10 minutes. She is adamant that ‘Are you alright, deary?’ is an acceptable greeting for one’s doctor.
He, on the other hand, is more old school. A quick end to their dispute seems unlikely.
Nature has been farsighted enough to know that I would have days when extra gravitas would be useful. To this end, I have been furnished with a fine head of prematurely greying hair. Except, as this good lady has spotted, it’s not entirely even.
She leans forward, peering at me with her glasses on, then off, then on again.
‘It’s only grey in bits.’
She offers the specs to him, so he can give a well-focused second opinion. My rictus grin begins to ache.
She is quite right though. A quite ridiculous set of genes, combined with Mother Nature’s usual carelessness, have combined to give me a broad stripe of silver over each ear and a jaunty white quiff. The overall effect is less what I’d hoped for – all-knowing Dr Kildare – and more the look of an amiable badger who’ll try his best.
Eventually she settled on calling me ‘dear’, and we were able to move into the sunlit uplands of discussing urinary symptoms.
But their little fracas made me think. At the end of my registrar year, I’ve got some idea what’s going on medically, at least a lot of the time. This has freed up more brain space to worry about niceties like terms of address. We have it drummed into us these days that it’s important to find out what the patient likes to be called – but short of open abuse, what does it matter what the patient calls her doctor?
Mostly, I go with calling myself Dr Ramscar. If I’m feeling unusually relaxed, such as when I phone a patient already knowing what the problem is and how I’m going to deal with it, I sometimes slip into using my first name, Nick. This can cause confusion when a patient sees the doctor to diagnose diarrhoea and then receives a chirpy phone call a few days later from some bloke called Nick who knows the lab’s verdict on a stool sample.
Does it matter how we’re addressed? Does it change the nature of a professional relationship? Having spoken to a policeman friend at the weekend and heard some of the fruitier greetings that he gets called, I think ‘deary’ will do me just fine.
Dr Nick Ramscar is a GP in Twickenham