“An alcoholic is someone who drinks more than his doctor” thinks Geoff as he attacks the second bottle of red. This isn’t going to help, but it’s Friday and, let’s face it, it’s been a bit of a week. He waits for the microwave to do its thing with dinner.
Geoff is a family doctor in suburban London, or he would be if he were real. As it is, he’s just a figment of my imagination. At 38, he’s divorced and already worn out.
On Monday, Geoff had. expected a two-minute silence but nobody had read the memo. “Was there a memo?” says the practice manager. It was a mystery how the staff always take note of the senior partner’s memos though.
His colleagues in the practice think losing two minutes at 11am would be completely out of order. Especially when Remembrance Day falls on a Monday. Especially when there are targets to meet, hoops to jump through.
The practice nurse is wearing a poppy, now crumpled out of shape and dangling precariously from its pin. One of the receptionists has one too. The rest don’t bother.
So at the precise moment when Geoff thought he might be standing shoulder to shoulder, if not with all those who serve, then at least with all those who work in the health centre, he’s peering at a patient with spots.
“What can I do for you today?” asks Geoff. Every doctor knows you never ask what’s wrong today, because patients reply that’s what they came to find out. You don’t ask them what brought them, either. Not unless you want to hear about the 168 bus.
By way of reply, he unzips his flies and whips it out. That’s where the spots are. The patient wants antibiotics. Geoff wants him to get checked out properly. So he sends him to the Pox Palace, but he uses the correct name instead: sexual health clinic.
On Wednesday the computer database is down. Turns out it’s a national outage. “National outrage, more like” fumes Geoff. Still, he likes idea of free-range consulting. He can look people in the eye and do proper medicine instead of being fixated on the computer screen. Funny how much easier it is to listen when you’re not at the mercy of stupid pop-up menus ordering you to ask if they’re depressed, check their medications, and offer a change of contraception.
But by the time the computer’s back on at 11.30am, he’s accumulated pages of illegible patient notes and 20 patients who really need to be seen again.
It’s late on Friday when Geoff finally leaves. He sees that the wall by the No Smoking sign outside the health centre has been used to stub out cigarettes. And he can guess which patients did it. He goes and scrubs it, because nobody else will.
Surely that entitles him to a bonus glass of wine or two.
Alcohol abuse is common in doctors but the expression ‘drunken sailor’ has a lot of truth in it.
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