TV doc Rosemary Leonard has had to deal with some demanding - as well as some downright bizarre - cases during her 25 years on the frontline as a GP, she tells Hannah Stephenson
Published 26/08/2012 | 08:00
There's not much that surprises BBC Breakfast's resident doctor Rosemary Leonard these days. During her time as a GP, she's delivered a baby to an unsuspecting teenage mother in her surgery, tackled an octogenarian nymphomaniac and treated an eco-protester with appendicitis.
But one of the most frightening events was being held captive by a man while on a house call.
Dr Leonard had been called to a council flat to see a seven-year-old girl with a cold and slight temperature, but on arrival the girl's aggressive father demanded a paediatrician. Despite explaining that paediatricians don't do home visits, the father would not be appeased.
"My offer of a fast ambulance fell on deaf ears. This man wasn't letting me go anywhere and, to ram the point home, he violently bolted the bedroom door."
Now trapped in the room with the girl and her terrified mother, Dr Leonard spotted her chance of escape and jumped through the bedroom window onto the grass and ran to her car. When the police were informed, they arrested the father on a charge of unlawful imprisonment, for which he received a 12-month jail sentence.
But it's not the first - and probably not the last - time the doctor has been threatened.
"Someone once thumped me in the tummy when I was pregnant. The patient was angry," she shrugs.
"With all GPs the thing that scares us is violence. Only last week I had a patient who was screaming and shouting at me who was drug-crazed. That was really scary."
Some of Dr Leonard's more unusual cases are introduced in her latest book, Doctor, Doctor: Incredible True Tales From A GP's Surgery, including that of a lonely ex-coal miner with a chronic chest condition and the heartbreaking story about a mother's refusal to let her child have the MMR vaccination.
The TV doctor, who has presented TV series for the BBC, Sky and Living, has treated hundreds of patients over the years but when her own son William, then aged six, was ill, she failed to notice.
"William had a cough for about a month and I said, 'You've just got a cough, you're not ill'," she recalls.
"It was an appalling wake-up call when he came in unable to breathe. He was obviously having an asthma attack.
"I felt mortified that I could have been so negligent about my own son's health."
She says she often felt she should have spent more time with her two sons, admitting: "Getting the balance right is every working mother's guilt trip."
Today, she does three days a week at her south London surgery and the rest of the time is spent writing or doing media work.
"Patients are much more demanding," she says, "though we are always trying to be there as family doctors, 25 years ago we were less accessible than we are now.
"They want results straight away and aren't prepared to wait. There's a fine line between reasonable and unreasonable and more and more step over it.
"Far more patients are less respectful than they used to be. They can be angry, demanding and rude.
"Some people have unrealistic expectations, when the average GP is trying to look after 1,500 people. Some patients don't realise they are not the only one. Often those who are the least sick are the most demanding." GPs are expected to be a cure-all, she maintains. "I still say to people, 'If I had a cure for the common cold, I wouldn't be sitting in this surgery, I'd be a millionaire.' It's unrealistic expectations of what we can and cannot do."
The internet has sparked more patient awareness but also more fear, she says.
"People do Google their symptoms. Whenever they do that, they latch on to the most serious diagnosis. The internet doesn't tell you the most likely diagnosis - for that you need your GP."
Privacy is hard to maintain as Dr Leonard lives near her surgery, which means patients knock on her door from time to time.
"If somebody's got chest pain and it's a Sunday, I'm not going to say 'Go away', but it happens less now.'' She believes the increasing number of TV medical programmes - both fiction and non-fiction - have gone some way towards raising awareness of a number of health issues.
"But to make good drama you've got to have the unusual. A lot of my book is the unusual and it's true that real life can be stranger than fiction.
"Like the story I remember of one young Bangladeshi girl and her husband who was trying to get her pregnant through her tummy button."
Dr Leonard tries to be a good patient - although she confesses that her routine smear and mammogram are overdue - but her no-nonsense approach with patients has served her well.
"You do have to be tough. I find it easier to be tough now that I'm older. As a young doctor to turn round and say 'I don't know' can be quite difficult because a patient might think, 'She's no good, she hasn't done enough training.'
"But now, I turn round and say, 'I haven't got a clue but I will try to find out', and patients respect me."