Do you wish you were Dr Incognito?

There are times when, as a doctor, you crave anonymity in your community. This can be particularly powerful when you live and work in a rural area.

Some great examples of wishing you were invisible from experiences of either myself or my colleagues:-
* Having the Tim Tams in your supermarket trolley pointed out by multiple patients who’d all endured your advice on targets for good nutrition and physical activity. (Handy hint, hide them under the leafy greens and pick a checkout chick/bloke who you don’t recognise!)
* Sitting down to the start of the consult to have the patient comment on your physical attractiveness whilst out for a jog at lunchtime (Note to self, find a new route that doesn’t lead past their front yard…)
* Having a patient ask if you’re enjoying your new couch – which hasn’t arrived yet, but their spouse’s friend works in the store, you find out later (whilst wondering with paranoia if someone’s been through your garbage bins or listening at your windows in the evenings. The problem is, we ALL know a doctor who has had those more nefarious things happen…)
* Buying anything of a sensitive or personal nature and having someone comment on it (No-one likes their patient at the checkout commenting on condom or tampon purchases – it happens!)

On the other side of the coin, there’s no doubt that our patients certainly want to be recognised! One of my least favourite, awkward faux pas moments occurs at least once a week at work, when I fail to realise that I’ve met a patient before and blurt out ‘Nice to meet you’ in a confident but ultimately doomed fashion. (Some quick mitigation of my hopelessness – as a registrar, you haven’t been in a practice as long, and the long-term relationships haven’t formed yet with nearly as many patients as those of your supervisors, blah, blah, blah…) That being said, it still makes you feel like a fair chucklehead. Most of the time, it was one meeting for a simple problem months ago, or you’re seeing the parent of a child you treated previously, and the shame is minimal. But every now and then you’ll make a serious clanger. Times like that, you seriously consider crawling into the Clinical Waste bin to hide, safe amongst the bodily fluids and dressing packs that can’t judge you.

Fear not, though, dear reader. I didn’t start this blog to be that cranky old jaded teacher who, after spending years of your time, tells you to abandon medicine and head for the hills for the sake of your sanity. This is! At the end of the day, the positives of having a prominent place in the community far outweigh the negatives.

As doctors, we have incredibly privileged positions in our communities. We hear the most private details of our patients’ lives, are trusted to provide counsel at people’s darkest hours, and get to share in their most joyous moments as well. Whilst I agree that the invincibility and elevated position of the doctor has decreased in recent years, I still feel lucky to have my job every day.

(For interesting/humorous counterpoints have a read of Dr Mel Clothier at her blog GreenGP, or Dr Marlene Pearce at The Doctor’s Dilemma)

Humour and frustration aside though, where else can I not only:-
*Share in the joy of childbirth
*Counsel through depression and grief
*Treat chronic illness
*Be present in someone’s home as they take their last breaths peacefully

But also
*Receive fresh produce at all times of the year from grateful patients
*Congratulate on big life achievements
*Receive Christmas cards at a much more impressive rate than my friends and family will send them
*And live vicariously as my patients recount their travel stories. One of my favourite moments last year was when one of my patients who shared my love of cycling, sent me a print for me from overseas of a great photo they’d taken of Andre Griepel sprinting to victory in a stage of last year’s Tour de France. If it’s a couch I haven’t received yet – totally creepy – but this I deemed thoughtful!

All in all, at the end of the day, being a GP is an overwhelmingly pleasurable experience, despite those times you channel Oscar the Grouch and consider the coziness of that Clinical Waste bin.

Please feel free to share your highs and lows in the comments.


11 responses to “Do you wish you were Dr Incognito?

  1. I could always wear a mask and cape to work – then I could be masked avenger DR Incognito! I could have catch cries like – Don’t rob it, swab it!! 🙂 don’t share it, sheath it. Don’t eat it, eat the other thing that has less calories and you’re less likely to get diabetes and heart disease… Ok not a strong catch cry but you get the idea 😉

  2. I reckon I have had my finger up the bum of most of my community. When I die, I hope my eulogy will include an invite for any members of the parish whom I have missed to line up for their last chance…whilst rigor mortis ensures rigidity…

    That didnt quite come out the way I planned.

  3. I should have added in the post – I’m sure other people have experienced also being asked for the results of FOBT/Pap Smear/other embarrassing test by a patient whilst down the shops!

    • I’m told a (now-retired) rural GP finally put a stop to this in an unorthodox method; one of his patients complained of abdominal pain to him in the street so he examined her on the nearby bonnet of a parked car.

  4. Now that I live in a small community I see my GP everywhere. Her kids are in my kids class, she turns up at parties I go to, I nearly knocked her off her bike with my bull-bar the other day (awkward!) As a former doctor myself I don’t know whether to consider her a friend, colleague or service provider. Life was much easier in the big city.

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