Haunted by Mrs Private’s bowels

Mrs Private has a bug. She knows it’s there and it has been her main purpose in life for the last 24 years to convince the rest of us that she is right.

Generations of gastroenterologists have been and gone, passing through Mrs Private's bowels like wistful ghosts - searching but never finding peace. As the years have crept by her opportunity to engage with fresh-eared doctors have receded, because everybody who is anybody has examined her and been found wanting.

Then I turned up. Mrs Private appeared to inform me that she wanted a private MRI. This would prove that the pain she's had since 1983 is due to a small ball of infection that we have persistently failed to find. Finally she will sleep at night. And once she has been proved right, she will expect full reimbursement for her MRI, her trouble and all the wasted years. What can one say faced with such certainty, such determination?

It is possible to argue that MRI shows bowel poorly, that serious infections do not persist for a quarter of a century in the face of normal blood tests and an unarguable failure to grow thinner or die. Or to suggest that this degree of obsession with a small area slightly north of one's spleen is not healthy, and perhaps something other than an MRI - something just pulled something randomly out of a hat, like an appointment with the mental health team - might be more useful.

I tried hard, but in these days of patient pleasing we have lost the art of saying an absolute 'no' to something too stupid to contemplate. So I wrote the letter and the scan is imminent .

But as certain as I am that Mrs Private's bowels are healthy, there is a little doubt. What if a keen-to-please private radiologist writes a report saying a small ball of spleen-hugging bacteria cannot be excluded? I wait and tremble.

- Dr Selby is a GP in Suffolk. You can write to her at GPcolumnists@haymarket.com

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