Life Health & Wellbeing

Sunday 20 May 2018

Doctor's orders: Medicine cabinet of Prince was not to be trusted


Illustration: Eorna Walton
Illustration: Eorna Walton

The British health service is paying doctors €1,000 a day to cover short-notice shifts but, as Maurice Gueret notes, that's just not good enough for Robin Hood

The urn of ashes formerly known as Prince is making headlines again. In the wake of the singer's fatal overdose last year, investigators have found that the contents of his family medicine cabinet were not to be trusted. Jars labelled as vitamins comprised powerful opiates, and bottles of common-or-garden anti-inflammatories were found to contain narcotic painkillers. The singer's gammy hip and clean living were noted in many obituaries. Clean labelling was less to the fore.

This Brexit is going to be an interesting beast. Hospitals in the United Kingdom are already reporting severe recruitment problems, with some now offering doctors €1,000 a shift to cover short-notice work in their emergency departments. You might wonder what doctors might do with that sort of money. Many could be too busy to spend it. One casualty consultant from northwest London had an interesting idea to help others less fortunate. He began to lend money to poorly remunerated nurses in his department and would helpfully text them whenever their interest payments were due. His APR rate was reported to be a whopping 150pc and many of his client nurses, often of Filipino origin, struggled with the payments he demanded. Harrow Crown Court wasn't impressed that he was playing Robin Hood without a consumer credit licence. The Inland Revenue wasn't impressed that tax wasn't paid on the loan shark's profits. He got a two-year sentence, suspended if he pays back all the money to the nurses. He also must do 120 hours of unpaid work. Whether it is in an emergency department or a bank is unrecorded.

I wrote recently about Hiqa and their regular inspection of nursing homes up and down the country. A reader has been in touch and wonders if the absence of resident voices may be a missing piece of the jigsaw. She writes, "It's all very well inspecting scuff marks, bins, medication, food and social activities, but has it every occurred to Hiqa to spend a bit of time asking the patients if everything is all right for them?" It would be great if the health service organised some sort of forum for residents to comment anonymously on conditions and services. We seem to be developing a health service that encourages complaints at the expense of observations or suggestions. Hiqa inspectors are closely followed on their examinations by nursing-home staff, which must make it hard for 'home truths' to be told. An anonymous reporting system of the viewpoints of patients and their families could be just as valuable as an official inspection.

There's nothing quite as miserable for a healthy male specimen as the first day or two of a heavy cold. My only personal requirements in such a crisis are fresh lemons squeezed into hot water, an occasional soluble aspirin and a plentiful supply of ironed white handkerchiefs. I tend to work through minor illnesses, taking early nights if possible and avoiding red wine and coffee. I find piping hot tea a better restorative and Netflix a valuable distraction. A new study from psychologists in the US suggests that good company is important, too. Over 150 people, the majority of them men, were quarantined for five days in hotel rooms. They were given nose drops to bring on a cold. Three-quarters of them succumbed and of those who did, the ones who reported loneliness in their lives had worse symptoms. Being lonely didn't make them more likely to come down with a cold. Nor did it make them create more mucous - this was carefully measured. They just found that being lonely makes a minor illness feel worse than it is.

Speaking of minor illness, it can't be easy promoting a remedy for the fungal infection of men's toenails. But it doesn't stop some folk trying. Here's what to do. You commission a statistical survey. You ask women what the biggest turn-offs are when it comes to men and hope they answer 'fungal toenails' along with 'body odour' and 'bad breath'. Then you ask women what are the worst male fashions, and hope they answer 'socks in sandals', along with 'man buns' and 'tight T-shirts'. Then you ask men what celebrity ladies they'd like to play footsie with, and then find out what percentage of women would not date a man with a fungal nail (It's 28pc.) You package all the results with a message about the horrors of toenail fungus and send it to the newspapers as a good summer read. In all the statistical excitement, I seem to have forgotten the name of the remedy.

Dr Maurice Gueret is editor of the  Irish Medical Directory'

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