A Cloak of Visibility

Any small town GPs out there? How do you respond when you see a patient down the street? Do you a) try to hide or pretend you didn’t see them, b) smile and rush past like you’ve got somewhere to be, or c) greet them warmly and ask how they are, or d) ask them to dance. In the supermarket.

I used to pick option A, but the new and improved Dr DeLoony is a B. Unless they are someone I am better off avoiding, I would rather risk them being a little embarrassed by seeing me than thinking I don’t care about them or that I’m rude. Conversely, if I see my doctor/s down the street, I pretend I didn’t see them to spare them this dilemma!

It gets trickier if the patient saw you about a sensitive issue such as a sexual health or mental health matter. I have been on the point of a smile and hello only to have a rapidly receding patient flee across the market place, evidently fearful I might start loudly discussing their genital herpes.

The opposite is more disconcerting- when someone sees me out in public and loudly asks ‘so what was the result of that blood test?’ or ‘did you do that Viagra script for me yet?’ I get a little rattled.

Not only can’t I remember every detail of every patient I’ve ever seen (this is a surprise to some people, bless them for thinking I’m superhuman), but I wonder at their lack of embarrassment (and propriety).

I live in a big regional town, but run into people everywhere. The same group of people seem to attend all the same things I do… Perhaps I should become more unpredictable.

I think back to what it would have been like for Dr Mum, in the tiny town where I grew up. I remember it had to be a super, super hot day for her ever to consider going to the pool with us. She and my dad would do our grocery shopping at 7am on a Saturday morning. I think this was at least in part to avoid being asked for medical advice at inappropriate moments but also to preserve a modicum of personal freedom and privacy.

So how do y’all deal with being a Doc about town?

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2 comments

  1. David Chessor did a nice blog post about this – but I can’t seem to access his blog at the moment! (notjustagp.com).
    I’ve just recently started work in the small town where I plan to be for the next few years, and I suspect I’ll encounter this more and more. When I see new patients at the practice I keep having this momentary confusion when I wonder if I’ve seen them out and about socially, and vice versa! I, too, am interested in hearing how people tackle this issue, and I’ll be sure to report back if I have any insightful epiphanies.

    I am, however, finding it increasingly lovely to be able to bump into friends and colleagues down at the saturday markets, or the beach, or the main street. And it’s great to be able to ring the local hospital and speak to people I know, rather than the faceless nameless hospital doctors of the big city hospitals.

    Pros and cons, as always!

  2. My first decade as a GP was spent living and working in tiny communities, and my brain is hopeless at linking faces and medical problems. My trick was to use a small human shield: preferably my own child, although one of their friends would do in an emergency.
    Walking around town with a young child on your shoulders is a prophylaxis guaranteed to ward off all but the most persistent patient conversations. For those remaining ‘unstoppables’, each child comes fitted with an emergency button located at the back of their ribs; secretly poke this, and during the ensuing loud mayhem you’ll be able to make your escape while apologising for your child’s impatience.

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