‘Until the next time, doc,’ says my first patient, on the way out. ‘It’s been a slice,’ say I, waving him away, airily.
‘The exit is over there.
Give my best regards to the bus stop.’ He leaves.
‘Aye, well thank you anyway doctor,’ says my next patient, rising reluctantly without the hoped-for benzo prescription. ‘Aye aye,’ I say dismissively. ‘Please don’t catch your arse in the door on the way out.’ She leaves. I don’t bother to watch the door slam.
‘Goodbye, doctor,’ says my third patient, demurely, from under her dense burgundy fringe. I shift a bit in my seat. Are those eyelashes fluttering? Hard to say. But my imagination is running riot, whether I want it to or not. I am, after all, a greying, middle-aged man who is not all that far off buying a red sports car in a desperate stereotypical attempt to postpone the inevitable. I’m vulnerable.
‘Shall I see you again in a month?’ she asks. ‘Yes, that’s fine,’ I say, running a finger around my collar. ‘Please see the girls on the desk, Miss Jones.’ She turns and smiles on the way out, and I am close to falling off my chair and lying giggling on the floor. She’s coming to see me again!
And then, or course, I take a long, hard look in the mirror, slap myself, and tell myself not to be such a bloody old fool.
As a medical student, I used to wonder occasionally if I would ever have problems through being attracted to my patients. But it’s never happened. However, it is clear from the proceedings of the GMC that it has happened to a not insignificant number of us.
And we are occasionally made aware that some of our patients have crushes on us. Back when I was handsome, I was once called out in the middle of the night to see a young lady. When I entered her bedroom she jumped out of bed, naked, and tried (none too subtly) to get me back in there with her. Luckily, her parents were downstairs and came to my aid, but it was an unnerving experience.
It still happens occasionally, although not as graphically. Several middle-aged women (and one middle-aged man – what sort of signals am I giving off?) have made it clear that they are ‘available’, should I be interested. It’s difficult to know what to do in such situations, other than immediately stopping their hormone replacement therapy.
This is an awkward issue and, rare though it is, it is one that needs addressing, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. The therapeutic relationship can be a close one. Patients tell us things they would tell no one else. We need constant vigilance and self-awareness to ensure the relationship never strays beyond a professional level.
Looking at the screen, I see that Miss Jones has already made her next appointment.
A couple of clicks of the mouse and it’s done. Next month she’ll be shaking her burgundy fringe at one of my partners.
With a sigh, I pick up the brochure on my desk and start flicking through pictures of red sports cars.
Dr Phil Peverley is a GP in Sunderland.