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‘One guy came into A&E because his washing machine was broken’: my life as a doctor in badly behaved Britain

Nov 08, 2023

What with the hypochondriacs and the time-wasters, a medic’s work is never done. And let’s not forget the injured bottoms …

At school, I was quite nerdy and interested in human biology, so I decided to go into medicine. No one else in my family is a doctor, so I didn’t have any role models. At medical school, you were given a whole dead body to dissect – I heard stories of people playing cricket with limbs and skipping with intestines.

Dealing with patients every day means dealing with a lot of hypochondria – people who have minor symptoms, or absolutely nothing wrong with them, are often convinced that they are dying. One lady came into A&E every day for a year – even though she would be waiting six hours or more to be seen. We have had parents who wanted to have a party, but didn’t have childcare, so dropped off their kids at A&E. Another set of parents came into A&E on Christmas Day to try to get batteries for their kids’ toys because the shops were closed.

When patients do require hospital treatment, not all of them are willing to stay put. I remember one patient who had undergone an 18-hour operation and had drains and lines sticking out of him; he was supposed to stay in hospital for a month to recover, but he unplugged himself from all the machines and discharged himself because he had had enough of staying in hospital.

In one city where I worked, not a weekend would go by without someone coming in with something stuck up their bottom. Once, a nurse said: “I think he might have passed it.” When I looked down, there was a vibrator buzzing all over the bed. Then there was the lady with the carrot. She said: “I was doing some gardening, fell over and landed on it.” It’s an excuse we have heard thousands of times.

The pandemic was horrific. People were dying and there were a lot of people in intensive care. I know of a second-year nursing student who spent months in quarantine without being allowed to go home. A young person with so little experience being put in that situation is awful, but it was a common story.

When the initial data on Covid emerged, there was a very high mortality prediction. Covid was a proper threat to life – extremely transmissible, with a genuine fear that it was going to kill even more people than it did. With hindsight, it’s easy to say some things should have been done differently, but, based on the available evidence, I think governments around the world were acting in people’s best interests.

The world may have returned to normal, but you still get the same amount of idiots. Recently, a guy came in to A&E because his washing machine had broken down. How do you respond to that?