Tuesday 6 January 2009

Alternative Medicine. Is there a doctor on the phone?

One has to take one’s fun where one can find it, these days, amidst all the doom and gloom.

As that rightly celebrated (and much missed) columnist Cassandra of the Daily Mirror noted, telling of the time when he enjoyed (literally) a telephone number differing by one digit from the local railway goods yard, and how he answered the inevitable wrong numbers and directed everything from bales of wire netting to crates of pigeons hither and yon across the Metropolis. Hilarious. Especially the pipe organ dispatched to Hackney Gasworks.

[“Camden Goods” – September 24th 1956, quoted in his book “Cassandra At His Finest and Funniest” – please, please, pleas,e if you can find a copy, do yourself a favour and read it !]

We have a similar scenario – I hesitate to call it a problem – in that our telephone number differs only by the last digit (a 9 instead of an 8) from our neighbourhood Doctor’s Surgery. Consequently we are subjected to a steady trickle of people banging on about their insanitary and embarrassing complaints, plus the statutory few with attitude, who steadfastly refuse to believe that they have a wrong number.

“Are you sure you’re not the Surgery?”

“Certain. We’re a booksellers/”

“So why did you answer the phone, then?”

It would of course be easy to give people the right number and suggest they dial again, but there are three arguments against this simple remedy.

Firstly, they’d never get through to the surgery. You could die waiting for them to answer the phone, especially if you’re a bit under the weather to start with.

Secondly, eight out of ten callers have minimal English. Judging by my ad hoc telephone survey, the Children of Allah must be a fairly unhealthy lot, compared to the indigenous population. Or maybe there’s just more of them than there are of us.

Thirdly, where’s the fun in putting them right? Or, for that matter, where’s the point? Doctor will in any event be far too busy to see them for at least ten days, and all he’ll do when they do finally get past the receptionist and enter the hallowed halls is to prescribe a few pills. Doctors don’t do doctoring any more, they are merely overpaid sales reps for the international drug companies, when they’re not being pushers of Nanny-State propaganda for our Stasi-inspired Government. I know this, because I went in recently with a touch of tennis elbow, and after waiting the best part of an hour got given a diet sheet and a ten minute lecture on the evils of smoking. I tore up the first, stuck a metaphorical two fingers up to the second, and bought some Deep Heat from the Chemist, which sorted me out in no time.

Anything more serious than a boil on the bum and you’’ have to go to the Walk-in Centre, so-called because it’s located bang in the centre of the traffic gridlock known as Coventry, and is invariably a two mile walk from the nearest available extortion racket masquerading as a council car park. Once you get there you’ll be kept waiting, sitting on a extra hard chair, for five or six hours, before being given a cursory examination by a twelve year old doctor who has been on duty without a break since a week ago last Thursday, and an appointment to see a consultant in about six months time. If you haven’t died in the meanwhile from the Bubonic Plague you caught in the waiting room.

So I decided that the best course for all concerned would be for me to diagnose and treat the various ailments of my callers myself. Dr Phil, the telephone medic, that’s me. “What seems to be the trouble?” is the watchword.

I work on the assumption that for real emergencies folk will know enough to dial 999 without my help. So if they’re talking to me they’re not exactly at death’s door. For anything that sounds as if it might be complicated I cut out the various middlemedics and give them an appointment at the hospital at some point in the distant future. With instructions to telephone the hospital and confirm a couple of weeks beforehand, because they might be busy that day.

Other than that, I find that the bulk of the supplicants can, like Caesar’s Gaul, be divided into three parts.

A large percentage of callers turn out to be the indigent and indolent parasites and shirkers amongst us, trying to pull a sickie.. I’ve no time for them. I simply say “Sorry – we don’t issue sick notes any more – we gave out so many that the Benefit Office won’t accept them any longer. Suggest you go back to work.”

For anything girly, such as morning sickness, period pains, or of an obstetric or gynaecological nature generally, I prescribe Friars Balsam, to be diluted in a large bowl of boiling water and the fragrant steam so generated inhaled. I have good medical precedent for this; when I was first married in about 1962 our local GP prescribed this to my wife, who went to him because she thought she might be pregnant. He habitually prescribed Friars Balsam for everything from a fractured skull to Athlete’s Foot, however, so we weren’t really surprised. However, she gave birth to a perfectly heathy son, so presumably it’s effective.

Most of the rest can be assuaged with a sharp intake of breath and “There’s a lot of it about – take two soluble aspirins twice a day and telephone again in a week to confirm that you’re still alive, so that we can keep our computer records up to date.” “Antibiotics? We don’t prescribe antibiotics any more, I’m afraid . Not since the Credit Crunch. That skinflint Gordon Brown put a stop to it. “ You owe me bigtime, Cameron!

Otherwise, I tend towards the Revenge Option, and prescribe medicaments that I had inflicted on me as a child; Witch Hazel or Arnica for aches and pains, Iodine (ouch!), half-a-pint of Cod Liver Oil for anybody that phones when I’m in the shower or is otherwise mildly annoying, a double dose of Dr Collis Brown’s Chlorodyne for anybody that really pisses me off, and so on. Does anybody remember Dr Potter’s Pink Pills for Pale People? I bet my local Chemist does, by now. I wish I could recall the name of that purple ointment they used to use for such things as Impetigo.

The odd thing is, that in spite of sending monthly invoices to the Health Minister, I don’t seem to have received any payment for my services to date. Which seeing as how I must have saved the NHS a small fortune, is a damned bad show, I reckon. No wonder the country is in such a mess.

One final thought. The phone number situation presumably works both ways, so be careful; if they’re as fed up of taking my calls as I am of taking theirs, you’ll ring ‘em up to order some nineteenth century French erotica, and receive a 16 page booklet on the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and a ten minute lecture on contraception.