Little patients jumping on the bed? Not in my practice, they won't

It's a tough old job being a GP. All that human misery and suffering ... and that's just the receptionists. Boom boom. Now I've got this week's gag out of the way, permit me a paragraph's introspection on the plight of the family doctor. Nobody wants to be one any more. Across the country, training schemes lie empty at the bottom of the career ladder while fiftysomething cynics scramble to retire early at the top end. Mind you, the notion of a career ladder in general practice is a myth for most GPs. You can qualify as a doctor at 23, a GP at 26 and then do essentially the same job, day in, day out for the next 40 years. As a friend of mine put it: "Thank God for fund-holding. It may be unethical, it may be iniquitous ... but at least it's different." Boredom aside, there are lots of other scapegoats for the dearth of tomorrow's GPs. The reforms, the administration, the lack of resources, the Patients' Association, the pollen count - you name it, we've blamed it - and it hasn't made a blob of difference. So I say it's time for doctors to come clean about their plight and point the finger where the blame really lies. Nursery rhymes.

Yep, in the process of spending quality time with my progeny, I've discovered that an alarming number of nursery rhymes mention doctors, and they all encourage inappropriate behaviour. Example:

"Miss Polly had a Dolly who was Sick, Sick, Sick

So she called for the Doctor to come Quick, Quick, Quick."

Didn't even try giving her Calpol first. Silly cow. I mean, what sort of example's that to have ingrained on your kid's forebrain for life? It's grossly irresponsible. As an urgent alternative, might I suggest ...

"Miss Polly had a Dolly who was Sick, Sick, Sick

So she consulted Dr Hammond's Home Health Companion*

Realised it was probably a virus

Put her to bed with paracetamol and plenty of fluids

And didn't need to bother her GP ever again."

Scarcely had I recovered from my frenzied attack on Ms Polly, when I stumbled across the most outrageous piece of brain-washing in Mother Goose's entire collection:

"There were five little monkeys jumping on the bed

One fell off and bumped his head

Called in the doctor and the doctor said

No more monkeys jumping on the bed."

Not in my version they don't. They call in the doctor and the doctor says: "If you phone me up about those frigging monkeys again, you're off the list!" This, alas, is a counting rhyme so there are five verses which a) show the monkeys completely disregarding the previous doctor's orders and b) reinforce the hideous "GPs are vets" message. A friend of mine was called out to help hunt for a lost tortoise. Another to sort out a wasps' nest under the eaves. And now I know where the seed for these inappropriate night visits was sown. I was so unimpressed, I rewrote the whole rhyme.

"There were four little monkeys jumping on the bed

One fell off and bumped his head

So they took him straight to casualty

And the casualty officer said: `This is a minor bump. It's the kind of thing your GP should be dealing with. So don't bother us with your rubbish.'

"There were three little monkeys jumping on the bed

Because they're risk-taking males and they've got these learned patterns of behaviour

And - would you believe it? - one falls off and bumps his head

What do they do now?

They look at the clock and it's quarter past midnight

The last night bus has gone and they can't drive because they're monkeys, obviously.

So they call up the person who's there for them 24 hours a day - their GP.

Now as luck would have it he's on a visit in a neighbouring tower block trying to retrieve somebody's hamster.

`I wouldn't normally come' says the GP, `But as I'm down your way I'll pop along.' The monkeys wait and wait but the GP never arrives, because he's been mugged on the way and beaten unconscious.

Eventually the monkeys panic and carry the third little monkey up to casualty. And the casualty officer says: `This monkey has a severe head injury. You shouldn't have waited for the GP - you should have brought him straight up.'

But they're too late. The third little monkey dies. And the other little monkeys are crying in casualty when they spot a big neon sign from the local solicitor `Do you want to sue a doctor?'

`Yes,' they say. `We're going to sue our GP for failing to visit.'

But the GP's been off sick with depression since his mugging. When he finally gets back to work, there's a writ there from the little monkeys' solicitor. And it tips him over the edge and he commits suicide.

"Two little monkeys and a lawyer jumping on the bed

Trying to figure out how to get money out of the late Dr Thornton's estate.

"One little monkey jumping on the floor.

He had to sell the bed to pay the lawyer"n

* pounds 9.99 Available from all major outlets

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