A potentially life-saving Tweet

twitter_This is an old column (late 2013) that has been loitering in my drafts’ folder for ages. 

I was planning to post it when I had finally mastered the intricacies of Twitter… but I don’t think that is going to happen in the foreseeable future. Much as I can appreciate Twitter’s value, I’m still very much an occasional spectator.  

I owe my Twitter fumblings a debt though… they may have just saved my mother’s life….

November, 2013

I used to think Twitter was for twits – twits with short attention spans, an inability to construct proper sentences and the misguided impression that everyone else is interested in their mundane lives.

Despite my reservations, I tentatively dipped my toe into the Twitterverse earlier this year, and discovered, to my surprise, that there is no shortage of relevant and interesting tweets relating to medicine and medical education.  It’s just a matter of knowing where to look and whom to follow.

Twitter has also added whole new educational and networking dimensions to the conferences I’ve attended this year.  Where once I would’ve deliberately left my electronic devices behind to avoid distraction, I now not only carry my iPad and phone with me, but actively interact with them during presentations.

I’m still very much a novice tweeter, though.  I’m not yet quick or deft enough to always operate unobtrusively. I feel guilty about this, for as a presenter myself, I know how annoying it can be to have your audience seemingly so distracted.

And I confess to being distracted myself by incoming emails, like the one from my father in Canada, received while I was sending a tweet relating to the handy HANDI (Handbook of Non-Drug Interventions) being introduced by Professor Paul Glasziou at GP13.

My dad’s email was titled “Mum’s health”. It gave a detailed description of a very acute and severe systemic illness following a viral respiratory tract infection.  After describing a typical pneumonia +/- sepsis, Dad then went on to say that he’d given her a cold and flu tablet, and did I have “any further suggestions?”

Any further suggestions?!  I emailed back immediately with my provisional diagnosis and told him to get her to hospital ASAP, and to ignore any protests.  45 minutes later, when the session ended, I rang to check that he’d received my email.  “Yes,” he confirmed, “but your mother says she’s too sick to go anywhere.”

Despite her not wanting to talk to me (which was a worrying sign in itself), I got Dad to put me on speaker phone and I got very bossy with my seriously ill mother.   She could barely talk, which made it easier for me to ride roughshod over her objections.

And it was just as well I did.  She was admitted and treated immediately.  Hypoxic, tachycardic, febrile and dehydrated, with intractable hypotension (60/35!), altered mental state, elevated serum lactate and rip-roaring consolidation on chest X-ray, she had lobar pneumonia with sepsis, just as I’d predicted.

I can just imagine the scene in the Canadian ER that night.  An older Australian woman in septic shock is dragged in by her husband, the couple apologising for disturbing the staff after-hours and potentially wasting their time, saying the only reason they were there was that they have a bossy doctor-daughter who bullied them into coming.  On the plus side, my parents did their bit for perpetuating the “Tough Aussie” legend!

Mind you, this is not atypical for our family.  “Breed ’em tough” was my parents’ preferred parenting style.  Severe abdominal pain (appendicitis) was not enough of an excuse to get out of cleaning a bedroom; a swollen and deformed wrist (fractured radius and ulna) not a reason to cry. We were never short of love and attention, but whinging never got us kids far.

There is a time and a place for seeking help though, and very luckily, thanks to being inspired to tweet about a handbook of non-drug interventions (HANDI), I was able to step in to ensure that my mother got the lifesaving drug interventions she didn’t know she needed.

First published in Australian Doctor on 15th November, 2013 On Twitter


Reflections on GP the Musical’s trip to Darwin (for GP13)

The 8th performance of GP the Musical – the show written, directed and acted by GPs – was up in Darwin this month, as part of the GP13 conference.

Cast pre-show photo Darwin 17th October 2013

Cast pre-show photo Darwin 17th October 2013

Still buzzing from our unexpectedly sold out season at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in April, the cast members were all eager to don their costumes and dance up a storm, despite the Darwin heat.  While high on enthusiasm, we were a little rustier than anticipated and had only a very limited time to rehearse. No doubt this was quite stressful for director Dr Katrina Anderson, but she soon whipped us into some semblance of shape using her indomitable directing skills.

Receptionist song at GPTM Darwin

Receptionist song at GPTM Darwin

It is both daunting and comforting to perform in front of colleagues. We expected a very supportive and forgiving crowd (and they were!) but knowing there were some serious heavyweights in the crowd (the likes of RACGP president, Dr Liz Marles, Chair of Council, Dr Eleanor Chew and the legendary Professor John Murtagh) did produce a few butterflies. We weren’t sure whether these VIPs would appreciate us sending up everything from E-health records to naturopathy to heartsink patients, but our college memberships were not rescinded the next day, so they must have taken the show in the tongue-in-cheek manner intended.

Professor John Murtagh was particularly effusive with his praise of the show. He told us how he had tried to get tickets when GP the Musical was at the Comedy Festival, but was turned away by the box office due to the show being sold out.  I’m sure he was too humble and polite to do the whole “Do you have any idea who I am?” routine, but we kind of wish he had!

WONCA president Professor Michael Kidd gave us a personal apology for not being able to attend the Darwin performance (he was flying out to India that evening).  He had seen the show in Melbourne but said he had wanted to see it “one more time”.

Enough of the name dropping!

We had many non-India-bound audience members who had chosen to “come back again” for a second or third viewing.  Those who had last seen it at the 2012 GPET Convention, experienced not only a more practised performance but 20 minutes of extra dialogue and two new songs (E-health records and Naturopath Song).

Mr Black and Dr Karla

Mr Black and Dr Karla

There were some changes since the Melbourne International Comedy Festival season too.  There were dialogue tweaks (deliberate ones, mostly ;-)) and a cast re-shuffling:  a previous patient became the female doctor and the doctor accepted a job promotion to become the receptionist.    Dr John Buckley returned as the unstoppable Mr Goodall.

The other change was that the show jumped on the social media bandwagon and had a live twitter stream:  #GPTM.  Photos and comments were posted during the show by both audience members and the show’s multi-tasking receptionist character (while on stage).  OK, I’ll stop hiding behind the 3rd person.  The crazy receptionist was me.   I’d obviously overlooked the fact that playing a new role for the first time with very little rehearsal would probably need my full attention.  At some point, I must have subconsciously  decided that acting, singing, dancing and playing live music in front of a large audience of colleagues, invited guests and VIPs was not enough of a challenge, and so added live tweeting into the mix.  Miraculously I managed to post numerous tweets using the prop conveniently placed on the desk at which I was sitting for much of the show (aka laptop) without missing cues or lines.   More good luck than good management, in retrospect. You can check out the tweets at #GPTM if you’re curious.

All in all, it was a tremendously enjoyable night (for the cast at least).

Encore performance at Rural Faculty Function

Encore performance at Rural Faculty Function

Wanting a little more of the  Darwin limelight, we came back “one more time” and did an encore performance of our final song, The one to see is your GP, the following evening at the RACGP Rural Faculty Function.  It wasn’t scheduled and we weren’t invited as such – we snuck onto stage while the star act of the evening, the very talented and entertaining GP band, the Medical Cheekydocs, took a five minute loo break.

We have the band to thank not only for a wonderful night’s music and for graciously allowing us to monopolise the stage for a few minutes, but for the existence of the musical at all.  For it was back in 2010, while the band (then called Simon and the GPETtes) were rehearsing on a station outside Alice Springs for the 2010 GPET Convention, that the idea of GP the Musical was first dreamed up by Gerard Ingham and myself (both then band members). We started writing the show a couple of months later, and the rest, as they say, is history.

We couldn’t have done any of it without our director and fabulous cast, so thank you all!

There are no future GP the Musical  shows scheduled at present, but who knows?  We may just “come back again” next year to a theatre near you.

Post show drinks

Post show drinks

Mr Goodall getting cuddly with Mr Black

Mr Goodall getting cuddly with Mr Black