Friday, April 27, 2012

Roll on the 23rd Century

What follows is perhaps not for the squeamish, or for reading too close to mealtimes...

It is an inconvenient truth, but there are some things we are called on to do that are just plain awkward and embarrassing to have done. Until Dr McCoy’s hand held “Wibbly” scanner is invented we have to make do with more archaic and difficult methods, and en route to that same Star Trek tech we are developing methods that though better than the traditional, are still plain odd at first blush. (Blush being very much the operative word here).

There, how very English of me. I’ve spent an entire paragraph skirting around a difficult topic without saying anything meaningful or illuminating. And I’m risking spending another doing just the same, so time to bite the metaphorical bullet and get on with it. There’s an old surgical aphorism that’s as true today as it’s always been, and it simply states “If you don’t put your finger in, you put your foot in it!”

Men of a certain age, and ladies of pretty much any age will now be cringing and looking away squeamishly. The awkward reality is that there are some bits of us that can go spectacularly wrong, that we can’t actually see, and so, to gain a better understanding of certain symptoms of alarm we have to rely on other methods. These begin with the simple (?) “digital exam”. No, not some clever electro replacement for “analog exam” just the humble expedient of placing a gloved finger into an orifice and “rummaging” (it’s actually a bit more technical than that at the operators end, but I fear further explanation would put us all off our cornflakes). This method remains the gold standard for initial assessment for enlargement of the prostate and early examination of some suspected ovarian problems and can help differentiate the likely causes of some abdominal pains or “funny bleeding”.

Moving along we have an array of other bodily intrusions on offer from the now antique barium studies through scopes for use from either end (though separate scopes for each you’ll be glad to hear), there are also scopes that go up the hooter (or schnozz for American clinicians). The latest innovation in our neck of the woods is an ultrasound probe designed to bypass the bones of the pelvis to generate ultrasound images of the uterus and ovaries internally. All of these would fit nicely into the folklore attending those lurid tales of alien abduction so beloved of Midwestern agrarian types and hairy, wild eyed, science geek conspiracy theorists.

So why am I mentioning all this now, I hear you ask. You did ask didn’t you? You’ve not just read a couple of lines at random and run away screaming?


So why indeed.

On a handful of occasions down the years patients, including one of mine right now, resist the suggestion that we intrude on their “personal space” to such an extreme degree. Despite careful explanation they find the concept of an invasive examination too personally challenging. Mostly, with some gentle persuasion they can be won round, or alternative methods can be found to garner the necessary information, but every doctor carries with them a few cases where this has not been possible, and for the want of a timely smear, or prostate exam, or colonoscopy or other such “space invader” examination, an aggressive disease has taken hold where it need not have.

For these patients, as Dr Neighbour so elegantly put it a few weeks ago, it’s as though they are “dying of embarrassment.”

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

It's all Greek...

Two weeks ago, in mid-afternoon surgery, there was a soft “plink” noise. Only a quiet noise, but such a noise as comes laden with evil portent. Accompanying the “plink” was a flash of the screen, followed by an evanescent appearance of the fabled BSOD* then nothing. Like a heavyweight boxer smacked on the chin by Ali in his pomp, my computer folded at the knees, collapsed to the canvas and tiny cartoon bluebirds started flitting around its brow to the accompaniment of a tweety whistle.

The gremlins had struck with perfect timing, late on the Wednesday before the Easter weekend. So Maundy Thursday morning we called IT. They promised and engineer on next working day (i.e. Tuesday). No big problem as one of our learners was off on hols and her broom cupboard --- er *room* (ahem) was free to consult in. **

After a tranquil and relaxing Easter (yeah right… but that’s another whole set of stories involving fire and sacrifice and tedious little distractions of a similar sort, not for here and now) your humble interlocutor was out of surgery on Tuesday morning touring the Nursing Homes of the district—part of a new initiative to enhance our care of the elderly-- and so fully expected to be back after lunch to find a shiny new terminal humming away right as nine-pence.

No such luck!

Happily we were a nurse down so had a treatment room spare, with a computer in, so 3 days 3 rooms and on with the motley. Except none of the punters could get used to the idea of me consulting in the nurses room and all and sundry developed a compelling need to rummage in the treatment room cupboards for this dressing or that blood tube as I was trying to work. Still we got through. But by close of play still no sign of IT.

Wednesday and Dr Neighbour was out all morning—day 4 room 4 and by now it wasn’t just the punters that didn’t know where they were going. All my diagnostic kit was liberally distributed through the other three rooms, all of which were now in occupation, so whenever I needed to check an ear, dip a urine or test a BP I was off wandering the corridors like a lost soul looking for my kit. Oh and Wednesday we had a student in for tuition with yours truly. The poor thing didn’t know what on earth was going on, but gamely took to entertaining the punters whilst I roamed chuntering through the building questing for this or that.

IT phoned late on Wednesday and announced they would definitely be in on Thursday. Probably.

Thursday we had a problem. Everybody was back in and consulting, so I had a room (my own) with no computer, and there was a computer in the office space behind reception with no privacy. Solution, print out contact sheets for the whole surgery (recent history, significant problem lists, current meds and any up to date bloods) and consult without the “one eyed monster” writing scripts by hand and updating the computer record afterwards. Simples!***

So sure enough two patients in, IT guy arrives to install a new box and take the old one away to be sealed in carbonite and buried in a vault on the Death Star. Brilliant news, except that he needed an hour and a half to twiddle knobs and adjust dials to get the thing working properly. And it’s a one time now or never offer ‘cos he’s got to be elsewhere working for a godlike NHS manager by 13.00 and he’s off to a stag do in Amsterdam after that (you’re thinking TMI right? So was I). So send all the punters home or try to consult in the car park? As I ask the question of our chief receptionist we both look to the vacant practice manager’s office for inspiration. P.M. off for the week getting drowned in the balmy post Easter rains so no help forthcoming from that quarter.

Now I know you’re all already ahead of me here. Office, vacant, and with computer linked to clinical system. There followed what the younger generation would call a face-palm moment.

Day 5 room 5 and by lunch surgery sorted and back, at last to normality. I’m back in my Tardis and all’s right with the multiverse. Excepting the trivial matter of a loss of data slowly gleaned over ten or so years of consulting and only partially and fitfully backed up. And the abiding impression of a few dozen punters and a final year student of my Alma Mater that I’m a bumbling fool who suffers with terminal “olecrano-gluteal dysgnosia”****.

*Blue Screen Of Death

** Yes the Ambridge surgery treats its learners rather like Hogwarts does. Only without the pointy hats and wands and such.

*** In joke in Blighty about a talking meerkat. In all honesty if you need to ask you're better off not knowing, trust me. (Though You Tube will probably oblige, but you’ll really wish you hadn’t bothered. Honest.)

**** EVCHN for first correct translation. (There's a tiny clue in the title)