The GP registrar, Dr S, took a big breath before bringing in her first patient from the waiting room. It was her first ECT (External Clinical Teacher) visit and she was probably wishing she’d been booked in for the other kind of ECT instead.
“I’ve got another doctor sitting in with me today as part of my training. Is that okay, Jacquie?”
“Sure, no problem. I’m just here for my results and a quick script,” replied the 50-something Jacquie as she walked with Dr S down the corridor.
In contrast to Dr S’ obvious discomfort, Jacquie seemed perfectly at ease — until she saw me sitting in the corner. Her eyes widened and then carefully avoided any further contact with mine. She twisted and untwisted the strap of her handbag.
“Are you okay?” Dr S asked. “You seem kind of jumpy.”
The response came through gritted teeth: “I’m fine.”
“Good news about your results. They are all normal. I’ll go through each one with you now. The arsenic level was undetectable”
“No need to go through them. Can I just get a printout please? I’m in a bit of a hurry.”
“Well, okay. You wanted a copy for your naturopath, didn’t you?”
“Umm, no. Just for me.”
Dr S looked confused.
“But didn’t your naturopath give you the list of the blood tests she wanted you to have done?”
“Umm, oh, that’s right. I forgot.”
Dr S shook her head almost imperceptibly as she printed out the results. She turned back to Jacquie.
“And your script?”
“You mentioned you wanted a script. Was that for temazepam?”
“No, I don’t need a script. I have a spare one at home. I forgot.”
Dr S was struck with the possibility of an interesting diagnosis. Her face lit up momentarily before settling into a caring but concerned expression.
“You seem to be having some memory problems, Jacquie. I’d like to ask you a few more questions if that’s okay?”
“Not today, I’ve got to go. Thanks.”
Jacquie flew out of the room, clutching her pathology results.
Dr S turned to me, her brow creased with concern.
“Well, I stuffed that up. Should I have handled the memory issue differently? She seemed really scatty today — she’s never been like that before. Do you think early onset dementia is a possibility?”
“Just take a deep breath. You didn’t do anything wrong. Sometimes there are other things going on.”
I smiled and explained that Jacquie was a regular patient of my practice, 50km away. She’d been in to see me only a week earlier when she’d asked for a range of unusual blood tests as requested by her naturopath. I had not ordered them. I had, however, given her a script for temazepam, which she insisted she used only occasionally.
As is the case with most registrars, Dr S soon relaxed into the ECT visit and found the experience valuable educationally.
It was valuable for me too. And for Jacquie. Somewhat to my surprise, she came back to see me, contrite, and we had a frank and open discussion about what had happened.
Her memory is just fine, although she wishes she could forget that embarrassing day.
(Names have been changed and permission has been obtained from the involved parties for this account to be published).
First published in Australian Doctor on 9th August, 2012 On an ECT visit about an encounter I had a few years back, but memorable even now…