Doctor! Doctor!

Mark Love

I’m going back a few years now remembering those early visits to the doctors with my son and wondering how any of us came out alive …

“Mmm I’d be  VERY careful doing that,” I said, suddenly on the edge of my seat.

“That’s quite alright,” said the new locum GP, not a little brusquely, “I know what I’m doing.”

And so, with that, I settled back in my seat and watched with interest as the doctor raised a scary looking ophthalmoscope to my son’s eye with the intention of examining his odd squint. “I think we understand each other perfectly, don’t we young ma…” the intensely educated medical professional continued confidently, and might have actually finished had my six-year-old not, at that precise moment, violently punched the pointy looking device into his eye.

I love doctors! Some of my best friends are doctors! That’s not actually true, although I do admire their innate sense of rhythm and their colourful way of dressing. I mean, what’s not to like about someone who, at a moment’s notice, will WILLINGLY slide two lubricated fingers up your bum without you needing to first buy them dinner?

Seriously, most of them are great. And, to paraphrase an old Ben Elton gag, you try getting help from an unpaid, internet blogger next time you need your anal glands squeezing! (That is a thing isn’t it??? I’m sure it’s a thing.)

But - unless they are already carers themselves - it’s possible that your GP probably won’t have a clue about the stresses and strains that you’re dealing with on a day to day basis.

And their receptionist, even less so.

For the first six years of his life, my son rarely slept for longer than half an hour at a time. It was brutal – especially since our two-year old had also been a terrible sleeper. We didn’t cope so much as survived in a semi-gelatinous state. With the lack of sleep came a variety of petty and not so petty ailments. I remember my GP – one of a long list of fly-by-nights – concluding that it was probably the chronic lack of sleep that was affecting my metabolism so dramatically. “What I do when MY sleep is being disturbed,” he said sagely, “is move to the furthest bedroom away from the person who is disturbing me.”

Even in my devastated state I remember thinking that this was perhaps really useful advice for anyone who lived in the kind of mansion that a senior GP couple with their ferocious annual salary could afford. But not so much for an unemployed word tickler, trapped by circumstance in an Edwardian workers’ cottage. Still, at least the sage advice was free – unlike the prescription.

Despite his other issues, my son is as strong as an ox and has the metabolic constitution of a  goat (and occasionally the perfume of a rotting donkey). This has, thankfully, resulted in very few journeys to the doctors. There was one occasion early on, however, when a cut on his leg had somehow become infected, and had laid him dramatically low (back then if he wasn’t a blur of meaningless destruction, you knew he was ill). I had phoned for a doctor’s appointment, and had stressed that, for the good of everyone else in the surgery that day, it would be preferable if my son was not kept waiting any longer than was necessary.

The receptionist sighed, muttered something, and then informed me, in a stern, some might say sour manner that my son would have to wait his turn like everyone else. Oh no, I understood that, I reasoned, we’re not looking for preferential treatment, it’s just that I’ll arrive a few minutes ahead of the appointment time, and if, come the passing of that appointment time, we are not in the doctor’s warm embrace, then I couldn’t entirely guarantee that anyone else in the building would make it out alive.

He will wait his turn, she reiterated. Not a little unkindly.

Receptionists quite reasonably develop an impenetrable armour at some point during their career. I understand that often they’re dealing with rough sorts, using rough language to describe how rough they are feeling, and afterwards that the receptionist might feel that they had been a little roughly treated themselves. Welcome to the world of caring.

I saw a similar armour in the face of an experienced policeman who tried to arrest me for refusing to return a girlfriend’s car keys, which I had taken. This girlfriend had been determined to drive from London to Brighton. And I had just seen her neck an entire bottle and a half of Smirnoff in three gulps.

They won’t be TOLD that sort. They have to SEE.

Predictably, on the day, the appointments overran. I reiterated my concerns to the receptionist, but was firmly rebuffed. Seeking some breakthrough in this impasse I offered a compromise. “How about I keep him outside, gently murdering the shrubbery, and you come find me when it’s our time to go in?” I ventured. 

It was made clear to me in the arching of her drawn-on brow and the disparaging twist of her mouth that this was definitely NOT going to happen. And so, defeated, I meekly led my son to a seat in the waiting room.

Where for the next forty minutes, my son screamed blue murder. I tried. I really tried. But I doubt that the wellbeing and recovery of any of the dozen or so other inpatients in that waiting room that day was in anyway aided by the carnage that swallowed those long, loooooong moments. If the screaming wasn’t enough, then the attempts to claw his way through me, and destroy every item of furniture in the room was probably the very unpleasant icing on the poo cake.

By the time we at last got to see our doctor, the human beings in that waiting room were shells. Pale, wan ghosts of what they had once been. Though it was abundantly clear, from the receptionist’s expression, that she considered it was MY bad parenting that was to blame.

And it would have all been so easy to avoid. Medical records that clearly state, AT THE TOP  – the only bit anyone ever seems to read – that I am his CARER, and I know him, and that I should be listened to. Please.

It is one of life’s little ironies that emails arrive from medical and care professionals demanding precisely how they expect to be addressed these days, and yet, despite having full access to his records, they are still requesting to have a detailed telephone conversation with an intellectually impaired, non-verbal young man.

So, physician heal thyself, and thy shirty gate keepers, as a renowned northern wise person probably once said.  Reach out to carers’ charities and hear from the horse’s mouth exactly how you can make the experience of a GP visit better for them, their charges, and therefore all your patients and staff.

In cooperation we’ll find a cure.

*Only a few medical personnel were injured in the making of this blog!

*These are the words of Mark and not Carers in Bedfordshire