Columnist Dr Zoe Rog on the unsolicited medical queries that invade her life outside the surgery
My family recently lamented that I seem to spend a lot of my off-duty time being an unofficial GP. Even when I manage to log off from my work laptop, medical queries still seem to infiltrate the rest of my life. The GMC discourages us from giving medical advice to friends and family, and in principle I entirely agree, but it often isn’t so simple when people are determined.
A few weeks ago, I took my daughter to have a manicure for a special event and so we could spend some time together. She was quite taken aback when the therapist providing my treatment waited until she had my hands trapped in a bowl of water and took the opportunity to ask me about a list of medical problems that she apparently didn’t want to bother her own GP with because ‘they’re busy’.
Unfortunately, things like this happen all too often. I once almost had to physically restrain another mum from stripping her youngest child naked in the school car park, as she was so desperate to show me their nappy rash. And when I foolishly agreed to run my children’s primary school Christmas fair and was literally knee-deep in the teddy tombola – at the same time as squeezing my friend’s husband into her elf costume, as she was absent due to one too many drinks – the head teacher conspiratorially came to tell me that the defibrillator was in his office should I need it. I made a mental note to recruit a PTA A&E triage nurse for future school fairs to head off anyone at the door who was looking a bit peaky.
But even when I’m at home, I can’t seem to escape the medical queries. Unsolicited pictures of lumps, rashes and moles appear in my WhatsApp like a macabre quiz, and I find it particularly perplexing that people seem to like to test me by sending these pictures without any kind of history relating to the problem. I usually send links to NICE guidance and helpful webpages.
Now, I try to avoid telling people what I do for a living. I once went on holiday with a friend on the understanding we wouldn’t tell anyone we met about my job. Within three days, a lady in our hotel had spent two hours telling me about her experience of cancer treatment. According to my exasperated friend, I might as well tattoo my profession on to my forehead.
Recently we ordered a new front door for our house, and the workman who came to replace it asked me what I did for a living. I braced myself waiting for his list of medical problems but instead he told me that when he was growing up, his parents never took him to the GP. Instead, they called Madge from across the road if they had a medical query. He recalled sitting in the bath one day when Madge was summoned, complete with a cigarette hanging out of the corner of her mouth. She surveyed his anatomy, reassured him she had seen it all before, and pronounced it ‘nowt to worry about’.
On reflection, I regret that we don’t have enough Madges in society any more. Instead, people are encouraged by others to get things checked urgently by a GP, because of course you can’t be too careful.
And of course, if you happen to know a GP, it would be much better to ask them unofficially, because GPs are busy but their free time is just that – free to the most insistent.
Dr Zoe Rog is a GP in Runcorn, Cheshire