Medical Matters: A medical columnist whose new book has all the write stuff . . .

Tue, Dec 3, 2013, 01:00

There aren’t too many of us medical scribblers in Ireland.

Few have columns in a national newspaper. But one of these rare birds has just published a book of his columns and a nice collection it is too.

Dr Maurice Gueret is a columnist with the Sunday Independent. His is a humorous style, but with serious intent. Here he is writing about celebrity doctors, prompted by the travails of the late Michael Jackson’s doctor, Conrad Murray.

Readers will recall he was jailed and lost his medical licence after Jackson died at home.

Murray attended the pop star closely, including providing a novel but dangerous solution to Jackson’s insomnia: nightly doses of the intravenous anaesthetic agent propolfol.

Doctor to the stars
“One minute it’s pig’s back time. Handsome retainer of $150k per month, perks, parties and posh bedroom once occupied by Bubbles the chimp.

“Then the walls come tumbling down. Your family boasted that you were a doctor to the stars, when you were just one cardiac arrest away from being pilloried as a greedy drug-pushing quack with faulty resuscitation techniques.

“It’s almost as risky as working for the Health Service Executive.

“Elvis has one. Marilyn has one. Adolf had two – and they frequently differed as doctors do.

“The concept of a personal physician is nothing new. Emperors and popes, dictators and queens – they have been domesticating their doctors for centuries.

“Any study of personal physicians reveals that too high a value is put on accessibility, and we all know that over-familiarity breeds medical contempt. If you want to hire a doctor to live with you, perhaps you should first ask what sort of doctor would want to live with you.

“Celebrity medical arrangements have not been particularly good for the health of the doctors either. Royal courts of Europe have been littered for centuries with the severed heads of well-meaning medical soothsayers . . .”

Enthralled by celebrity
“Doctors can be as enthralled as anyone else by the hairy chest and breath sounds of celebrity at the end of their stethoscopes.

“George Bernard Shaw wrote of the delusion that every doctor is a man of science, just as every organ-
grinder is a Beethoven and every pigeon-dealer is a Darwin.

“Shaw claimed that a large majority of doctors are not interested in medicine or science, they practise only to earn their bread. Very true. Some of us even write for a crust.”

Like me, Maurice is a Trinity graduate. Both of us were fortunate to be taught by two men who instilled in students the importance of questioning orthodoxy: Prof James McCormick and Dr Petr Skrabanek.

Maurice has remained more faithful to their influence than most and regularly sounds off on what he sees as the excesses of health promotion.

Health promotionists
“A myth is enveloping this country that disease is an enemy that is easy to defeat. The idea that you can keep your heart content by eating particularly happy foods is one such nonsense. Just recently I heard of a poor man who dropped dead in his early 40s from a massive coronary.

“A sportsman, lean and lithe, he never drank alcohol, never smoked and looked after himself.

“The French have a rather useful expression we should avail of more. C’est la vie I think it goes.

“Born with a disease called chronic scepticism, I have never been able to take the guff of health promotionists too seriously.

“If doctors were meant to preach, we should be wearing collars around our necks, not stethoscopes which purport to help us listen.

“The doctor with all the answers is often the one who has not been listening to the questions.”

What the Doctor Saw is published by IMD publications. It would make an ideal stocking filler for doctors, nurses and other health professionals this Christmas.

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