I have two shortcuts in my medical software for this time of year.
“Has had joint aches, fever, vomiting, sore eyes and throat for three days. Now dry cough, severe fatigue. Feels like hit by bus. Usually fit and well. Looks terrible.”
I enter the specific features of their misery. Then comes my other shortcut.
“Advised regular paracetamol, ibuprofen. Rest, Netflix. Return in 72 hours if ongoing fever, develops chest pain, shortness of breath or heavily productive cough. Frequent hand washing. Avoid small babies, elderly and public transport. Advised recovery can take a month. Advised consider vaccination next year.”
Friends, the time is upon us. GPs are lining up the stethoscope, thermometer and tongue depressor on their desks. There will be at least eight people a day for the next four months who will roll in and say they have the flu, and they need something to “get it gone” by tomorrow, because they have canteen duty, or three kids, or they’re flying to Madrid. In the interest of my vocal cords, let’s clear up a few things.
If you’re sick and worried, see a doctor. “Just a virus” is about the stupidest phrase ever. (HIV is just a virus. Other strong performers include polio, Ebola, rabies, smallpox and herpes.) Influenza can be incredibly dangerous, as evidenced by the tragic deaths last season. Your doctor’s job is to assess how your body is handling the virus and whether you’re heading off road and need extra help in hospital. Other sneaky infections hide in the wave of influenza, and while they examine you, your GP is thinking about meningitis, measles, true bacterial lung infections and similar bad-ass rarities.
So if you’re sick, come on in. Just put on a mask in the waiting room. And understand that the doctor who writes you a script for antibiotics after 30 seconds is giving you what you think you need (as well as thrush and irritable bowel), therefore ensuring future business and saving themselves time. The doctor who elicits your particular cluster of symptoms, considers your medical history, examines you for signs of impending doom and writes you a medical certificate is doing the right thing by you and the people around you.
• Elizabeth Oliver is a practicing GP and RACGP fellow.
This article appeared in the Guardian in April 2018
She blogs at That Lady Doctor