“It’s not good news I’m afraid. The tests revealed…”
A particularly grating ringtone emanating from my patient’s groin cut me off. Taking the offending phone out of his pocket, he motioned for me to pause while he took the call.
Despite a ‘Please turn off your mobile phone’ sign in reception, I’ve had patients answer phones while undergoing PAP smears, skin excisions (once as I was injecting lignocaine!), ear syringes and ECGs, but this one took the cake.
“Hi mate… Yeah, now’s fine. Fire away… Sorry mate, no can do. I’m over in Perth at the mo’… Yeah, for work…”
Five minutes and ten seconds later he hung up and casually said, “Sorry. Good mate. So, where were we?”
“Before we discuss your results, I need to ask: Do you know where you are?”
He looked at me as if I’d asked whether or not he believed in Santa Claus.
“When patients show signs of being disorientated, especially when combined with inappropriate behaviour, I need to rule out serious causes.”
“You just conducted a five-minute social phone call during a medical consultation…”
“I said I was sorry,” he interjected.
“…just as I was breaking bad news.”
“Are the results, like, really that bad?” His brow suddenly creased. “C’mon, you can’t keep me in suspense.”
“And during this phone call, you indicated that you were in Perth, whereas in fact, you’re on the other side of the country.”
“I was just getting out of helping Johnno move house. Anyhow you shouldn’t listen in on private phone calls,” he replied indignantly.
“Should I have stepped out of my consulting room to give you privacy?”
“Well no, just not listen. Look, just cut the bullshit. I said I’m sorry. I won’t do it again. Now can you please tell me my results already?”
I was ready to ask for suggestions as to how I could turn my ears off on demand, but didn’t want to waste any more of my time.
“The tests have revealed that you have two sexually transmitted infections,” I said, matter-of-factly.
“What?! She said she’d just been tested and given the all-clear. I can’t believe she lied to me!”
I refrained from mentioning kettles and name-calling pots and proceeded to discuss the specifics. Afterwards he said, “There is no way I’m going to let the missus find out where I’ve been.”
It struck me recently that, as phones become increasingly hi-tech, it’s probably going to become increasingly difficult for this bloke to get away with geographical inconsistencies. A friend was demonstrating his new latest-and-greatest Smartphone at the time…
“… and it’s got Google Latitude so you can log on and see where I am at any moment. This phone is absolutely wonderful,” he gushed. “The only downside is the microphone. If I hold the phone close to my ear, the other person can’t hear me speak, but if I move it down to my mouth, then I can’t hear. The speaker-phone function is pretty useless too – muffles the sound terribly and neither of us can hear. I just love the phone though. Perfect for my needs.”
“A phone that can do anything except allow you to converse with others, eh? In other words, it’s a perfect phone for all your non-phone needs.”
“Making calls are not what phones are about anymore,” he bounced back, without even a hint of irony.
I only hope my friend is right, and that one day soon the mobile-phone-induced consultus interruptus is also rendered obsolete.
(Identifying details have been changed to protect patient privacy)
First published in Portraits of General Practice, Good Practice magazine, June 2014, page 15