A little less sympathy for the family doctor, please.

It is doctors and nurses time for me now.

Yesterday I went to the neurological hospital, it used to be called the funny farm in less sensitive times, to see my consultant.

Today I go to the bone man, the consultant at the general hospital, who has to work out why I fractured my spine and tore all my torso muscles when I had that brain haemorrhage.

So it is really me, me, me, time.

Everyone wants to look at me, test me, ask me questions.

Does it hurt?

How do you feel?

What is it like if I do this to you?

It is like you are the most interesting person in the world, well the room at least.

Yesterday, my main consultant told me good news about all those tests “for the improbable causes” of my haemorrhage. They all came back clear.

I have an impressive list of conditions that I do not suffer from but they still don’t know why, that day, 30th. October, 2008, I had a major brain haemorrhage and two “extreme” brain seizures.

The search goes on and she told me to expect a telephone call very soon from the neuroradiologist, a very clever man who will supervise the next MRI brain scan and analyse the results. My consultant says that she will monitor the process when it happens – so she means business obviously.

At last, it seems, they should be able to see that the blood has drained away enough for them to tell what is lying underneath.

It could be something that needs surgery or it could be the end of the search – a frustrating but still good conclusion that the danger has passed and no one will ever know why it happened in the first place.

Surgery is more likely, of course but, hey, let’s think positively about all that. As people say on buses and in pubs, it is amazing what they can do these days.

I react strangely to these things – maybe it is being English, being born with a stiff upper lip, or maybe some childhood experience impregnated itself into my behavioural patterns, but I always have a sense of being a nuisance when I am ill.

Writing out that list of symptoms for my consultant the other night, I couldn’t eliminate that apologetic feeling. Am I imagining all this? I think, maybe it is just a cold and I am making a lot of fuss about nothing.

It defies those scan results which show my brain like a star burst of blood but it persists all the same.

I put it down to a childhood illness and our family doctor.

General Practitioners are, let’s be honest, such general practitioners that they haven’t really got a clue about anything more than the common cold, a sprained ankle or a “nasty” rash.

I used to have these pains as a child, extreme to say the least. I would turn green, become light sensitive, vomit and have to lie down in a darkened room.

The doctor, often sighing with impatience, would be consulted. He suggested it was sinuses…and gave me some inhalant capsules but he favoured the alternative conclusion: that there was nothing the matter with me.

So it was my fault. I was imagining it. I should take it on the chin, not make such a fuss and get on with things.

So I did and the attacks persisted and, eventually, the doctor wasn’t consulted – there was no point, after all, they were over-worked and underpaid and, of course, always right.

These attacks continued when I went to university a long way away from that old doctor’s surgery.

A friend said I should see a doctor when I had one of those green monster vomiting attacks. I resisted but was persuaded and duly signed up with a new GP who seemed less impatient, less full of himself.

When I described my symptoms, he fetched a book from his shelves, impressively old and vellum covered.

He read out a paragraph which copied my list exactly.

“Classical migraine” he said.

He gave me some tablets and my migraines from then, ten years after the first attack, things were under control. Painful, debilitating, often happening in embarrassing situations but they were not my fault any more.

I think, though that the damage was done: I have been a lifetime apologist for ill health.

That old family doctor is probably dead now or, if not, so old that he will have learnt that pain seldom has no cause.

Let’s hope that his type is weeded out of our national health service. General practitioners these days are certainly not over-worked or underpaid with their five day working week, never working nights or weekends and their annual salaries that are now over £100 thousand a year.

I don’t know whether neurologists and brain surgeons are cleverer than normal medics but my experience with my medical team during this illness has made me realize how giant a chasm there is between someone who knows what they are talking about and those who obviously don’t.

Do people get more arrogant and aggressive the lower down the medical ladder you climb? Certainly doctor’s receptionists come across as the only members of the medical world who are more bad tempered and insensitive than those over-rated also-rans, the family doctor.

Don’t get me wrong, some GP’s are very charming and sometimes they are very reassuring if you have one of those “nasty” rashes but let’s not pretend that they know how to do much more than refer you to someone who knows what they are doing.

Just don’t believe everything they say.


  1. Sounds similar to Rachel’s experiences. GPs seem to know very little about diabetes when it doesn’t tick all the usual boxes, so she had a lot of problems until Chas made her go to a really good specialist on Harley Street. I’ve heard similar stories from a colleague with diabetes at work too.

    I wonder if it’s not so much that consultants are less arrogant, just that they really know what they are doing. You generally have to contend with a certain amount of condescending superiority from doctors of all kinds, even among university students they are mostly set apart in their special doctor world.

    I sympathise with GPs. The sheer range of stuff that can go wrong with the human body is mind boggling, far too much to fit into any one generalist’s brain. But they do need to be humble enough to listen, and to refer to more knowledgable authorities when need be, don’t they.

  2. Over the arrogance point, maybe I have been very lucky with my neurological consultants but I have been genuinely surprized by how they have been so lacking in pomposity and condescension.

    They have all been humourous, self-mocking, and genuinely open to patient suggestions.

    They have also been remarkably bright.

    I have been really impressed by them.

    It was a major contrast to the attitude of my GP who took a much grander stance and was consistently wrong.

    In the end we had a stand up row but at least the GP was fair enough to ring up later and apologise.

    I agree that GPs have to have a wide knowledge, if not a deep one but in my experience they often have a humility problem.

    I have learnt to equate it with their ignorance.

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