Yes, a patient can seriously damage a doctor's health

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The Independent Online

Yesterday, I brought you part of an epoch-making trial in which a doctor is suing a patient for medical negligence. Yes, Dr Fellowes maintains that if only his patient, Mrs Armstrong, had looked after herself better, she would not be wasting his time today. The case has aroused so much interest among doctors and malingerers alike that I am bringing you more today, starting with the first appearance in court of the accused patient, Mrs Wilma Armstrong.

Counsel: Mrs Armstrong, you are accused of medical negligence by Dr Fellowes...

Defendant: Well, he's a fine one to talk. Negligence, indeed! I go to him with my complaints and all he does is criticise me. I should get out more, he says. I should give up smoking. I should eat less. That's not what a doctor is meant to do, just be negative and destructive, and ruin your social life. A doctor is meant to cure you, not boss you about!

Counsel: The point is that...

Defendant: I've bent over backwards to try to help him. Take this thing about exercise. Now, my Uncle Joe was struck by a lorry when he was out jogging, so how he can say that exercise is good for you, I don't know. But I thought I would humour him and go along with what he said, so I said to him, Doctor, I don't really have time to go out for long walks about the place, but I tell you what, if you can give me some pills that will make me want to take exercise, I'll take them and we'll see if they work.

Counsel: The point is...

Defendant: But would he? No, he wouldn't. Said there weren't any such things. Well, of course there are such things. People are taking them all the time. They're always advertising them on TV. Just drink this and you'll have more energy, do more things, they say. And all the top athletes take them. You read about it all the time. They're all taking drugs and medication to make them run faster, go further and leap higher, so you'd think the least he could do would be to let me have a little of whatever it is they're taking, so it will make me take some exercise. Not a bit of it. Bit of will power, that's all it takes, he says. All you need is will power. Will power! How does he think I got to the surgery in the first place? It's no picnic getting there, I can tell you. First of all, I have to get the No 39 bus...

Counsel: Yes, but what the court wants to know is...

Defendant: And what the doctor says doesn't make sense. Eat less, he says. Give up smoking, he says. But everyone knows that smoking takes away your appetite. If I gave up smoking, my appetite would come back and I'd only eat more. Where's the sense in that? For a doctor, he doesn't seem to know much about the human body. And another thing. Exercise makes you hungry. If I go on the long walks he wants me to go on, what am I going to do? Replace that lost energy by eating more. Put on more weight. You see, he doesn't make sense. And then he accuses me of negligence! I've a good mind to counter-sue for sheer barefaced cheek...

Counsel: MRS ARMSTRONG!

Defendant: Yes?

Counsel: We are not here to listen to your monologue! The way this court works is that I ask you a question, and you give me the answer. Then you wait for another question.

Defendant: Fair enough.

Counsel: Now, Mrs Armstrong, I believe that the last time you went to Dr Fellowes, you were complaining of bad knees...

Defendant: I'll say I was! They were causing me agony. First one, then the other. Such aches and pains. I could hardly walk. He said that the reason for this was that I was loading too much weight on them. Weight, I said. You think I go round the house carrying heavy loads? I'm not well enough to carry heavy things. No, no, no, he said, I mean your own weight, your knees aren't well enough to carry your own weight. The cheek! Look, I said, that might be true if I did a lot of standing up, but most of the time I'm sitting down, taking the weight off my legs, so what's he talking about? And if he wants me to take more exercise, what's that but giving my knees more of a load? You see...

In the public interest, we are drawing a veil over the rest of this trial. But remember, the average doctor has to put up with this mental cruelty from patients all the time. The next time you go to your doctor, give the poor thing a break. And if in doubt, don't go at all. This trial was sponsored by the 'Better Patients Mean Better Doctors' campaign

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