Don't bother to fib. Your doc knows how that remote got into your bottom
It hurts less if you tell the truth. Not only is it important but the doctor already knows you're lying anyway
It seems “Trust me, I’m a doctor” doesn’t cut both ways. New research has found that 71% of GPs think their patients, when asked about how much alcohol they drink, are economical with the truth.
As someone who worked as a doctor for six years, to say we all think you’re a bunch of liars with a can of petrol-strength lager hidden in every pocket is something of a misrepresentation. It’s more that it’s medically important that we know how much you’re actually drinking, rather than how much you tell us you are.
It’s strange, perhaps, in a culture where the ability to down more pints than you can count on two hands is a badge of honour (or even a vote-winner, as William Hague apparently thought in 2000), that boozy pride tends to evaporate as soon as you walk into the waiting room. But we know you’re embarrassed by it, and that you guilt-trip yourself over those six glasses of rosé you knocked back at the weekend.We know you don’t really tot up every drink, or remember the recommended limits, and we know how easy it is to underestimate. We get it – just like people upgrade their CVs to make that summer job in Starbucks seem like they were running the company single-handedly. We’re good at reading people; we meet a lot of you, often for very short periods of time, and we’re not accusing you of lying. Not about alcohol that is. You mostly lie about other stuff. When I ticked “medicine” on my university application form, I had no idea how much of my life would be spent removing objects from patients’ orifices.
Our pet name for this phenomenon is “Eiffel syndrome”, coming from the patients’ protests of “I fell, doctor! I fell!” when asked what happened. These patients lie, bare-faced, to spare their own blushes, even though there’s no point trying to spare ours – our cheeks soon lose their ability to redden.Only once did I actually believe a patient’s story – a credible and painful-sounding incident with a sofa and a remote control that had me furrowing my brow and thinking: “Well, I suppose it’s not totally inconceivable.” Upon removal of the remote control in theatre, however, it had a condom on it, so perhaps it wasn’t a complete accident.
The GUM clinic (genitourinary medicine, a clinic for sexual health) also sees more fiction than a library – patients love to offer up an evolving encyclopedia of excuses for whatever malady they happen to be suffering from. If I had a quid for every case of “immaculate chlamydia” I saw, I’d have probably doubled my hourly rate. And even antenatal clinics aren’t immune from this, with dates of conception that would have required time machines and teleportation for the gentleman in the room to have played any role whatsoever.
But sometimes it’s crucial, life-saving, even, that we don’t take everything we’re told at face value. We need to recognise drug-seeking behaviour in A&E (accident and emergency). We need to spot domestic violence in antenatal clinics. We need to know if the accidental injury that four-year-old child had was truly as innocent as explained.So don’t make our lives harder than they have to be. Being straight with us about the little things saves us all time and lets us get to the heart of the matter. Rest assured, you won’t be the person who drinks the most in that morning’s clinic – and that includes the doctor – and you won’t even be the first person that week with something unusual inserted somewhere painful.
Doctors are human, and we totally get it. Don’t forget, once we clock off we don’t just go sit in a cupboard and recharge our batteries for the next day – sometimes we’re the ones getting overly rosé-happy on a Friday night. We have lives, and families, and we know how scary it is to be a patient. Sometimes, we are the patients.
We also make poor decisions, say the wrong things when we’re stressed and get embarrassed. Don’t underestimate the relief that comes from being open about your issues: the truth feels good once it’s out there, so let's say it how it is. But for the love of doctors the world over, please, stop sticking objects up yourselves.
• Adam Kay is a doctor turned comedian whose diary of his years in medicine, ‘This is Going to Hurt’ (2017), was a bestseller.
– © The Daily Telegraph