I was nestled into one of the few chairs in our luxuriously appointed coffee room that still has its full quota of supporting straps under the cushion when one of our assistants stormed in. She was so angry that she almost plonked herself down in the place we reserve for visiting PCT dignitaries, the chair with only a single bungee remaining to prevent an occupant’s backside hitting the floor, specially set up for scalding-coffee-in-the-lap scenarios.
‘I hate that man! He’s a board-certified, top-of-the-range sleazeball. He is the creeps’ creep. Compared with him, Charlie Sheen looks as squeaky clean as a can of Mister Sheen. How his wife puts up with him I’ll never know,’ she said.
Sarah is not normally moved to outbursts like this. Her main selling points, colleague-wise, are her clinical acumen, her even temper and the fact that her trainer was an expatriate Madrileño with a heavenly name, so that every time she asks me how to deal with a tricky situation I get to put on my serious face and say: ‘Sarah, let’s think. What would Jesus do?’ She never tires of that one.
She went on: ‘He, and I’m choosing my words carefully here, is the uncontested world champion mid-heavyweight douchebag.’
‘That may be true,’ I replied. ‘But remember that if you move on from here it will fall to him, as senior partner, to write your reference.’
They say you’ve never really appreciated a Morrisons double-choc-chunk muffin until you’ve seen the better part of it hurtling across a common room towards you. They’re right. ‘Not him, you arse! My last patient.’
So your patient’s an arsehole – well, welcome to my world. But the problem wasn’t simply that she hated the bloke with a passion – for the way he always referred to her as Doctor Darlin’, and finished almost every consultation with a leery: ‘If only I was 10 years younger, eh?’
It was her concern that one day, as a result of that boiling hatred, she’d miss something obvious, either in the history, peppered as it was with innuendo, or, if it became absolutely necessary, when she laid hands upon him.
‘Believe me,’ I said. ‘That won’t be an issue. It’s the patients you get to like, however few and far between, who are the ones where you’ll miss something.’
It’s been five years since Terry died. Rendered housebound by rheumatoid arthritis, virtually bed-bound as a result of pneumoconiosis, he could spin a fine yarn about life down the pit, in the choir and, of course, cheering on the rugby at the Arms Park with a doctor’s paper stuffed in his pocket.
So when he bled from his tail end for the first time in years, for a month or two at least we just put it down to drug-induced constipation and his well-documented piles. Terry was just too nice a bloke to have a massive, low-lying rectal tumour to deal with on top of everything else.
Except, of course, that he wasn’t. Whether the delay made a difference, no-one knows. But if and when Sarah’s current bête noire develops a malignancy, she isn’t going to miss it. She can be certain of that.
Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex.