I could hear them coming down the corridor, long before they arrived at my consulting room; two small children in conflict. Each was accusing the other of something or other, and recriminations were flying.
Both of them were shamelessly informing on each other, base pleading filled the air, and if the little boy’s opinion was to be credited, the little girl was stinky.
Twins, aged about four. The mother, who actually had the appointment, was the very model of the terminally harassed. She’d gone past the stage of trying to impose authority, and was basically begging for some sort of temporary order. ‘Please Tyler, please Minty, (Minty?) stop fighting or the doctor will be very cross.’
I was quick to leap in. ‘Can I just stop you there for a moment? I’m not going to be very cross. Sorry, but that’s your job, okay? Hello Tyler and Minty, by the way.’
I hate it when patients try to do that. I’m not the bogeyman. If ever a patient tries to use me as a scary authority figure and pretend to their children that I’m going to do the parenting that they are so manifestly failing to do, I am quick to stop them in their tracks.
I tell them that if they try that again, a big nasty policeman will come and take them away to prison.
Mrs Harassed sat down, while her children fought over the other chair, and started to tell me about her problem (tension headaches I think it was – can’t imagine why she was suffering those).
Half-way into her first whinge Tyler clocked Minty, who had possession of the chair, with a haymaker that jerked her head back and banged it off the wall.
There was a shocked silence. Mrs Harassed leapt to her feet. ‘Right young man! You are going back to the waiting room right now to sit with grandma.’
And with that she grabbed Tyler by the wrist, and with a rapidly diminishing squeal of protest, they were gone. Minty and I were left staring at each other, nonplussed.
And here, ladies and gentlemen, is the rub. I suddenly found myself in a very uncomfortable position indeed. I was sitting on my own in my consulting room, with a shocked and upset four-year-old girl, arms locked round her drawn-up knees, tear-filling eyes fixed on me, lower lip trembling and protruding further by the second, and very obviously about to burst into floods.
And I was with her, alone.
It wouldn’t have been a big deal 20, 15, maybe even 10 years ago. I could have done the talking rabbit hand puppetry schtick that always entertained my sons, or given her a tickle or even a cuddle to calm her down until her mum came back.
But now, and especially recently thanks to the allegations against that ‘Now-then- now-then’ track-suited tit-end which are polluting the corridors of the NHS, I can’t go anywhere near her. In fact, I had to get out of there immediately! I was almost panicking.
Circling round her, keeping at least 10 feet away, I made it to the door, opened it, and stood half in and half out. ‘It’s okay, Minty, mum will be back soon!’ I blathered, willing the bloody woman to come back from the waiting room.
The little girl was starting to cry, but what could I do? ‘Come on, come on, come on,’ I urged through gritted teeth. Seconds passed like years. Then the mother reappeared.
Once Mrs Harassed sat down again, I couldn’t let the incident pass unmentioned. ‘Look, why did you do that? You shouldn’t leave your daughter alone with me like that.’
She’d relaxed somewhat, now the fighting had stopped. ‘Why on earth not, doctor? After all, if I can’t trust you, who can I trust?’
Dr Phil Peverley is a GP in Sunderland