Medical Matters: If you hobble through your holidays, remember flying doctors have feelings too


‘Is anybody here a doctor?” There you are, off on your on holidays, and you go and fall over your sandals. And some well-meaning person is shouting for a doctor. You may be surprised to learn, as you lie clutching your ankle like a cheating soccer player, that not every doctor is delighted to hear the call to duty. Any one of the people in sunglasses gawking at you over their cones could be a doctor, but will they own up and jump to your aid? It’s not that they don’t care, but a doctor on holidays is well out of their comfort zone.

For a start, they have no notes. Doctors cling to their notes like smokers to their fags. They are the only thing they have to show their thoughts and plans. On holidays they have no notes, no history, no secretary and – if they are abroad – no insurance.

In medical school we heard the story of the young doctor who arrived in New York to start work. A man was run over by a cab right in front of him, so he jumped in, stemmed the bleeding, and saved the man’s life. The man survived, was left with a slight limp and sued the Irish lad. He was awarded millions, and apparently the Irish doctor is still slaving away to pay him off.

It may be a myth, but still . . . Most doctors would rather partake in the bull run in Pamplona on stilts than end up in court.

Then again, the doctor might not know what to do. Types of doctor There are as many types of doctor as breeds at a dog show. You might be all right if there is a surgeon about, but it will be unlikely.

Surgeons don’t want to go on holidays at all, and rarely do. They regard any time away from the theatre as wasted and they become disorientated if people aren’t scurrying after them.

So if a surgeon is in the audience, he will probably relish a bit of action and will assemble a team and start to bully them.

Anaesthetists are used to being ignored. They know what to do, and do it well, but cannot get through the crowd and will wander off to do a crossword on the beach, muttering about being unappreciated.

A public health doctor has such an easy life he doesn’t know if he is on holidays or not. You will know you have one of them if he ignores your ankle and starts examining the scene where the accident happened. He will then order an investigation, which will take several years.

Psychiatrists suffer the most on holidays. The poor things find it difficult to relate to people without their I-can-read-your-mind demeanour.

Psychiatrist will put on a blank face and ask you how you feel about having a sprained ankle. They will then bemoan their lack of resources and announce that they will not see any patients for a week when they go home. They have their boundaries, psychiatrists.

GPs are used to treating patients for nothing, but you will hardly meet one as they can’t afford holidays any more. If you meet a dermatologist, they will slap some suntan lotion on you.

If you are really unlucky, a medical student will step forward. Med students combine arrogance with ignorance and are to be avoided. If there is one thing worse than a medical student at an emergency, it is a bunch of medical students – and they travel in packs .

Luckily, they are usually too drunk to know what is going on and will not spot you.

Geneticists, radiologists and pathologists are so far removed from reality that they cannot be expected to do anything practical at all. You might as well expect a child who plays with toy cars to drive you to the airport. Anyway, they are unsure of where to send the bill.

A paediatrician will be nice to you. He will pat you on the head and might give you an ice cream. You will also get a sticker announcing that you have been good on your holidays today, whether you have or not.

Vets will muscle through the crowd of doctors. They will assess your ankle in a trice and take charge, improvise some strapping and form a plan.

They will, though, look a bit puzzled if you speak to them. They’re just not used to the patient answering back. But then, neither is the surgeon.

Pat Harrold is a GP in Nenagh, Co Tipperary. Muiris Houston will return next week.

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