The GP's guide to surviving a dinner party

How to handle medical questions and still enjoy your social life. Jennifer Taylor talks to Dr Tom Smith.

'Why does asparagus make my wee smell?' Perhaps not the conversation you hope for at dinner parties, but sometimes there's no escaping it.

With more than 40 years of GP experience behind him, Dr Tom Smith, who now locums in the south-west corner of Scotland, has heard them all. Or at least enough to give some tips on surviving that dinner party.

Dr Smith points out that unlike real medicine in the surgery, there's no instant access to the answers, nor the chance to take a proper history or exam of the patient. So when we pontificate socially we rely on our experience.

Make it fun
People may ask you ridiculous questions and there is no harm in having a bit of fun, as long as you are prepared for the consequences. 'Why do I get blue fluff in my navel?' was one woman's question at a dinner party Dr Smith attended. Recalling a Petri dish with bacterial growths including something resembling blue fluff, he informed the lady she could have a growth of pseudomonas pyocyaneus - and it didn't go down particularly well.

Have knowledge behind you
People will not hesitate to ask you general medical questions. 'Do mobile phones cause brain tumours?' is just one example. 'How much wine can you drink?' is another popular one. Give a definitive answer, citing a journal and some statistics if you can. Otherwise, 'be prepared to be ignorant', says Dr Smith. On these ones it's better to say you don't know than to make it up.

Be rude if you need to
If you think the other person is being rude, don't be afraid to be rude back. You may be telling them some home truths.

Dr Smith was once approached at a party by a man with a red, bloated face, who was carrying a very large glass of amber liquid in one hand that was clearly not non-alcoholic.

The man pinned Dr Smith to the wall with his other hand and breathed into his face: 'My doctor says I've got red cells that are too big, what does that mean?' Dr Smith replied that over-sized red cells meant that his liver was damaged, probably by his whisky habit, and he really shouldn't be drinking it.

Don't be the second opinion
Don't be surprised if someone rolls up their sleeve to show you some freckles they think are malignant, despite being diagnosed as benign. Don't get drawn into these ones.

Suggest an appointment
'I think I have a sexually transmitted infection and I want you to tell me about it,' was one lady's confession to Dr Smith.

She had come up behind him at a dinner party and told him not to turn around, anxious to maintain her anonymity.

Dr Smith replied, 'I'm sorry this isn't the time or the place, come to my surgery tomorrow.' The woman was offended and did not take up his offer.

Be clear you're off duty
People should respect that you need some time to relax, and they shouldn't really be grilling you about medical things when you are at a dinner party.

To drive the point home, quiz them about their jobs. Lawyers are a good one - could you explain to me how to organise the sale of my house? Can you fix up my will for me, I've got a copy in my bag?

Talk to their own GP
'I think my child has autism' is an increasingly familiar anxiety. Similarly, I think my child is too small, tall, fat, thin, or any other permutation are other things that keep mums awake at night. Dr Smith advises worried mums to visit their own GP.

Bear these tips in mind when next accosted at a dinner party, and for the tenacious questioner, suggest they visit a local bookshop and purchase Dr Smith's book Doctor, have you got a minute?

Or that they go and visit their own GP.

Win a copy of the book 

So why does asparagus make my wee smell? For answers to this and other questions, get a copy of Dr Tom Smith’s book Doctor, Have you got a minute?

Please go to the Discounts section to enter. 

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