Anecdotes from a life in general practice

GPs have a story to tell, writes Dr David Carvel

Dr Carvel: observations on GP life

Shortly before retiring from our small, southern Scottish market town practice, my senior partner expressed just one regret.

He hadn't recorded the anecdotes, incidents and memorable events he witnessed in 40 years as a GP. I vowed I would never share that regret.

Around that time, 10 years ago, I was asked by a local newspaper to write a regular column. I agreed on the condition that it would be my 'view' of general practice and would appear under a pseudonym.

I pitched myself as an older physician, one conceived at the inception of the NHS in 1948 and in the twilight of his career. I chose the rather implausible pseudonym 'Dr Ken B Moody', suggestive of a patient's departing comment about my curmudgeonly demeanour.

Patients were given similar semi-cryptic monikers, befitting the content of the piece in which they appeared. The resultant 200 or so articles written over a four-year period were edited and published as two books, View from the Surgery and Reality GP. I opted for the self-publishing route in both print and electronic formats.

When the first book was published, there were rumours I was the author. Patients had probably not been aware of their turns of phrase or mannerisms during consultations and the coincidence and humour of situations may not have been apparent.

They certainly never saw the many notes, scrawled with ideas and prompts, folded away in my shirt pocket for later literary crafting.

My pattern was to draft an 800-1,000 word article in an evening and return to it the next day for completion. Several patients had read my pithy, inconsequential, idiomatic submissions to national newspapers and suggested I might put these observations 'to better use'. It seemed silly, therefore, to deny I had written a book about my working life.

I've never breached confidentiality - the results are inoffensive and anonymised, and employ enough artistic licence to prevent problems. Patients have even expressed dismay that they did not appear within the pages (including a couple who, unwittingly, have done). Each chapter takes about 10 minutes to read and they appear in no particular order, not unlike life in surgery.

The articles continue to appear and seem to be popular with Scottish expatriates. The modest royalty cheques trickle in, but will never ease my tax or superannuation burdens.

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