Impotent in the face of patients

Remember Billy Bunter? When the fat cad of the Remove needed an excuse for dodging rugger practice, he used to complain of plumbago (and double pneumonia, both at the same time). At the time I didn't understand this, but now I do.

I've had low back pain for the last few weeks. It has made me feel old for the first time in my life, and this has been hard for me because when I was young, I used to have the body of a Greek god (at least that's what my Auntie Mamie used to tell me; we were a very close family, in retrospect a lot closer than might have been considered entirely healthy, but that's rural Ireland for you, and at that time there was no TV and nothing to do in the evenings).

Even simple things like using the bathroom have become more complicated, especially as the analgesics have given me constipation; there's nothing like a series of disappointing bowel motions to take the sparkle out of the day.

The only saving grace is that worrying about being constipated has taken my mind off the dyspepsia caused by the NSAIDs. I'm now also on a PPI for the dyspepsia, and this drug cocktail has made me temporarily impotent.

This may sound too much like an admission of defeat, too much of an acceptance that time marches on and that I am a has-been because I am no longer thinking about sex every 17 seconds ('Go not gently into the good night/But rage, rage, against the dying of the light', said Dylan Thomas, but he was wrong).

But really, at the moment impotence is not bothering me. Despite what the men's health lobby would imply, impotence is not the absolute be-all and end-all of a middle-aged man's concerns, especially when he is spending most of his time screaming in agony or straining in the bog.

Suffering in this way has of course made me more empathetic and understanding towards other sufferers, and the insight has been significant. I now realise, from my own bitter experience, that people with real back pain have difficulty getting up out of a chair.

'Can I have my cert?' they say brightly, bouncing gaily into the surgery (it's amazing how often they are dressed in fitness gear) as if they are on the way to a floor show with Olga Korbut, maybe including a balletic jete over the desk as an encore. They must reserve the theatrics for the medical referee, because there's no point in wasting such talent on a push-over like a GP.

- Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh.

Email him at GPcolumnists@haynet.com

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