Phil Hammond MD

If you want to live a long, fruitful and healthy life, don't look to your doctor for advice
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Do doctors take their own advice? As a fat alcoholic, chain-smoking couch potato, I can honestly say yes, without the slightest tinge of hypocrisy.

"Who gives a stuff about cholesterol?" I yell from under the desk. "Get out of my surgery and get a life!"

It wasn't ever thus. I used to dish out all the health promotion dogmas - "Drink in moderation", "Don't smoke", "If you must smoke, don't put it in your mouth" - knowing that none of my patients took the slightest bit of notice.

They all know I keep 10 Silk Cut and a packet of Clorets behind the speculums. And let's not forget the whisky in the jar. I'd go home feeling depressed and guilty, and drink myself into oblivion by way of compensation.

Then a laughter therapist came to town and changed my life.

I'm not normally the sort of person who signs up for a workshop called "Ho Ho Holistic Health Care", but I did anyway, just for a laugh.

It was anything but at first. We weren't allowed to laugh at the things doctors traditionally laugh at, such as other people's misfortune, but instead we had to lie in a circle, join hands and "release the joy of the inner child." Then we were invited to have fun. A bald man came on with his juggling balls. Two women did something with a piece of cheese.

By this time, I was starting to doubt the healing power of laughter - until Jay, our group leader, took me to one side.

"Dr Phil," he said, "I want you to forget all the routine advice you give to your patients, day in day out. Exercise, diet, smoking, lifestyle - forget it. It's boring, it confuses people, it doesn't work. I want you to start prescribing fun."

A week later, I was back in the surgery, sitting opposite Brian. Brian is a particularly whingey patient who suffers from whooshing in his toes and an itchy nose. Normally, I save him up for the medical student, but he'd come in as an emergency because the whooshing had got suddenly louder. I was about to tell him to piss off when I remembered Jay's wise words.

"Brian," I said, "when did you last release the joy of your inner child?" He wasn't so sure about that so I changed tack. "did you last have fun?"

"1963."

"Well Brian, it's time you had some more. I'm prescribing fun, three times a day, avoid milky drinks."

Off he went and had some fun and, wonder of wonders, all his irritating symptoms disappeared. Until he was arrested for showing his penis to a Lollipop Lady. One person's fun, it appears, is another person's gross indecency.

Brian's about the only patient left who does what I say, though whether he still will when he gets out remains to be seen.

I thought Malcolm was on my side, too, until I tried to change his tablets to a better brand. Well, they were cheaper anyway, but it was the same drug and the tablets were also the same colour, shape and size. They even had the same line across the middle. Just when I thought I'd got away with it, he phoned me at home.

"You know those tablets you gave me last time?"

"Yes."

"They're not the same."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, my usual lot sink when I throw them down the toilet, and these ones float."

It's times like these that I wonder why we bother with doctors at all. It costs those of you who pay tax pounds 200,000 to get one of us through medical school and then, if we work full time in the NHS, we'll each be responsible for dishing out around pounds 2m worth of resources during our careers.

And yet a third of patients completely disregard our advice, a third have a bash at it but give up, leaving just a third to follow the doctor. Not a very good return for your money.

These days people get their health information direct from the press, all spiced up and ready to incite mass panic. "Killer virus ate my face", "Mad Cows to Inherit the Earth ... All women on the Pill will die this morning", you know the sort of thing.

With headlines like these, who needs doctors?

No one takes much notice of us nowadays, except to comment on how poorly we look. A number of studies have shown that doctors are less healthy than their patients, and the gap is widening.

It used to be that an alcoholic was someone who drank more than his GP, but recent evidence suggests that half as much will do it. And the only reason doctors drink is to give them something to do when they're smoking. Small wonder nobody does what we say.

If you want to live a long and fruitful life, take my advice: find out what your doctor does and do the opposite.

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