'Hello, Doctor. How are you?'
It is a phrase which is rarely heard, but when it is forthcoming the questioner, usually in the form of a patient entering my consulting room, immediately scores a few points. After all, shouldn't it be the other way round? Isn't it my role to ask them how they are? The mere idea that someone is showing the slightest concern as to the well-being of their doctor is always received with a sense of gratification; although I usually have to ward off the desire to respond with a list of complaints: 'not too good – tired all the time, back ache and repetitive strain from over-use of this computer, stressed from too much work, and the Secretary of State for Health doesn't understand me...'
However, it is generally true that, as a profession, GPs are a fairly healthy group of professionals and when we do succumb, it is usually to something fairly dramatic like heart attacks, bleeding ulcers, brain tumours and so forth. Not for us the fortnight off with a box of tissues and a glass of lemon and honey. Which leads me to the question as to why that should be so? I, for one, cannot remember the last time I needed antibiotics for sinusitis, bronchitis, tonsillitis or some similar infection.
Now, I am not for one moment suggesting that GPs are somehow imbued with an invisible cloak of invincibility. It is not that the adornment of a stethoscope acts like a magic amulet, warding off all assault by infective bugs (in the same way as a red-cross arm band worn by army doctors wards off rockets fired from hundreds of miles away). Neither is it that we have a turbo-charged immune system, upgraded as a perk of passing our exams. The truth is fascinatingly simple, and I will now share the secret with you all as a perk of your patronage of this newspaper. It is:
WASH YOUR HANDS
There, I have said it. Now, you too have the power to be infection-free, and no longer need to spend Fridays trying to see a doctor for a course of antibiotics before the weekend.
Without wishing to cause an outbreak of obsessive-compulsive disorder in North Lincolnshire, you need to think smartly and realise that these crafty bugs are everywhere you go. They are on your office telephones and keyboards, the door handles to your favourite shops and cafes, the escalator handrail, the buttons in the lift, your friend's mobile phone, and the money in your pockets. We cannot steer clear of them. However, what we can do is to avoid transferring them to our nose and mouth, where they will thrive and you will suffer.
The simple rule is, do not touch food or drink, or let your fingers anywhere near your mouth or nose (even to rub or scratch it) unless you have recently washed your hands.
Simple, isn't it? Now, with the addition of a few years of studying, you too could be a healthy doctor.
This article was first published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph on Friday 17th December 2010