Lisa Salmon talks to Dr Daniels about life as a family GP.
The possibility of discussing intimate or embarrassing problems with your GP means it’s easier for many people not to think of doctors as human.
But they are, of course, very human. And although they’ve probably seen your medical problem many times before, that doesn’t mean that inside their professional outer shell they aren’t reacting — sometimes wanting to laugh, cry, shriek in horror or even retch.
Such normal human reactions, although hidden by most GPs, are on full show in the new book by doctor Benjamin Daniels, Further Confessions Of A GP — which starts with a stomach-churning tale about a pensioner’s constipation and Dr Daniels’s “overwhelming urge to gag” during her treatment.
The follow-up to his first book Confessions Of A GP, this fascinating insight into life in general practice includes a wealth of patient stories, such as the teenager convinced he lost his virginity and caught HIV some time between leaving a bar and waking up in a kebab shop, a man plagued by a phantom ‘smelly bum’ condition, and a woman whose mobile phone turns up in an unexpected place.
Dr Daniels, who uses a pseudonym so his identity and that of his patients is protected, reassures people that while they might feel embarrassed about going to see a GP about an intimate matter, it’s water off a duck’s back for the doctor.
One story outlined in the book is that of Ted, who went to see Dr Daniels with a knee problem, and mentioned his cough at the end of the consultation.
The GP told him to stop smoking, and thought no more about it – until eight months later when Ted was admitted to hospital with a collapsed lung due to lung cancer.
He writes: “The fear of making a mistake is indeed a terrible part of being a doctor, but on reflection, actually making a mistake is truly the worst part of the job.”
While there’s no particular type of complaint or patient that he dreads, the doctor confesses it can be difficult to help the patients that heap all their problems on him.
“I find that tricky,” he says. “People have very high expectations of their doctor, but the reality is that most aches and pains are going to get better no matter what the doctor does.”
He says that GPs are “relatively limited” as to what they can do, explaining: “We’re good at diagnosing things, and giving people advice and reassurance, and telling them things aren’t life-threatening... but people have overly-high expectations of what we can achieve. That’s not always the case — sometimes we just don’t know why people are unwell.”
¦ Further Confessions Of A GP by Benjamin Daniels, The Friday Project €11.50.
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