Dilemas: Keep the doctor away

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When Steph found the top expert on her rare disease, she was delighted with his medical help. Now he says he wants to meet her again. What should she do?

WHAT VIRGINIA SAYS

The reason that doctors and teachers are warned against having affairs or over-personal relationships with their patients or pupils is because they can so easily abuse their professional position. (Personally, I think the rule ought to apply to plumbers, garage mechanics, hairdressers and anyone who appears like a knight in shining armour when one's in trouble. I even fancy the man who comes to fix the washing machine, simply because I am at his mercy.)

But you only have to look at Monica Lewinsky to see how easy it is to fall for a powerful man, and it's small wonder Steph is intrigued by this situation, as well as feeling confused and abused.

Someone who can explain your very body to you, even if it doesn't involve any sexual parts, is taking a great personal interest in you, and it's easy to interpret this as an attractive, daddy-ish care.

A remark like, "I can assure you that you have nothing to worry about at present, your levels are within normal limits, but I suggest you take these tablets to maintain the status quo", usually prompts the thought: "My hero!"

But Steph feels an uncomfortable mixture of confusion, intrigue and abuse. And my instinctive reaction is that this man has tried this on before. Why should he single Steph out for special attention?

He probably does it all the time with attractive female patients. He probably gets away with it most of the time. This is probably his way of meeting new women. The fact that he's been so glib as to suggest she rings him, rather than the other way round, shows that he's considered the ethics of the situation. After all, no one but the most conceited bloke would ever suggest you rang him for a first date. He'd take your phone number and then ring you.

Simply the fact that she feels uncomfortable is a sign that there is something wrong with this doctor/patient relationship. It might make her feel better to write to the General Medical Council and get everything off her chest. She may not want to make a formal complaint but she may just want to tell someone about it. Who knows, they may have had hundreds of other complaints about the man and her letter may be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

It's unlikely that they would do much on the basis of what has happened, because his invitation wasn't serious abuse, but they may file her letter away and clobber him with it if he ever transgresses again.

But perhaps she wants to go out with him. If so, she will lose him as a doctor because, life being what it is, this is unlikely to be the romance of her life, and will most probably end in tears.

Can she even keep him as a doctor if she refuses his invitation to ring her? I think she could if she were to write him a letter saying that she was flattered by his interest in her, but would prefer to keep the relationship professional and would appreciate it if, the next time she saw him, the matter were not referred to again.

Obviously, the best thing would be to find another consultant, but if this man is really the big cheese in her disease area and has a reassuring way with him, she wants to hang on to him as a doctor.

Perhaps next time she could take along a willing bloke to escort her, and introduce him as her boyfriend so that she could get the benefit of this man's medical advice, but not the abuse of the seduction.

WHAT READERS SAY

A manipulative game

This consultant is aware of his patients' vulnerability and takes advantage of this fact.

This young woman has a rare disease; it is, of course, understandable that she was feeling apprehensive about the outcome of the sessions when she went to see him. She must have also felt terribly grateful to him when she heard that she was OK. He then put forward his invitation to dinner.

It is a manipulative game that he is playing and my advice to her would be to recite a short mantra every day from now on, two or three times every hour, saying:

"I only go out with men who would never make me feel abused or upset. Men respect me and respect my personal boundaries. I may be single for the time being and of course it is flattering to be asked out, but I wait for the right guy to ask me out. I deserve it."

LUCIANA MEEAJAUN

East Grinstead

Don't trust this man

Her doctor has blatantly overstepped the boundaries of the professional relationship and shown himself to be untrustworthy in his dealing with his patients. Steph may like to consider whether he might turn out to be untrustworthy in other ways if she pursues this relationship - and whether, too, it could ever be a relationship between equals, rather than one in which he expects her to remain a star-struck admirer of his greatness.

HILARY YOUNG

Nottingham

A doctor writes

Symptoms: A trusting, but vulnerable patient hears what she wants to hear ("marvellously reassuring"), before the unprofessional come-on.

Diagnosis: CON MAN.

Treatment: Have nothing more to do with him. Report him to the GMC. Don't pay his fee.

NIGEL DAY

Newark, Notts

Next Week's

Dilemma

Dear Virginia,

My husband has recently retired. He used to work very hard and often went away for long periods abroad, so I have built up my own life independently, and thoroughly enjoy it. I have also liked being on my own. I love my husband very much but his endless presence is driving me mad. When I try to explain, he gets upset and says I don't love him, which is not true. I just need time to myself. Am I asking too much? Yours sincerely, Eileen.

Everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent an bouquet. Send letters and dilemmas to Virginia Ironside, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, fax 0171-293 2182, or e-mail: dilemmas@independent. co.uk - giving a postal address for the bouquet.

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