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Arch Dis Child. 2007 June; 92(6): 559.
PMCID: PMC2066155

And what do you do?

One of the things a nosy person such as myself enjoys about medicine is the opportunity to ask personal questions with impunity and discover the soap opera going on behind that normal exterior. I actually relish the Catherine Cooksonesque component of the medical interview known as “social and family history”. Mostly because it's all got a lot more interesting since I took the leap into my paediatric training. In adult medicine, the key questions were “Booze? Cigarettes? Job? Incontinent? Stairs?” and off we whisked to some proper medicine. But in paeds the situation is a little different.

Being a graduate of a modern, tree‐hugging course, I have gone to some lengths to think up nice politically correct versions of the traditional questions. So I ask “and do all your child's brothers and sisters have the same dad?” and prepare to draw something that looks like a deformed tap‐dancing spider on acid instead of a traditional genogram. My pièce de résistance is keeping my wages for housework badge on as I ask the mothers of my patients “and do you work at all – outside the home?”. Not once have I given in and scribbled “housewife” (or the declaration, commendable in its brevity, “H/W”). No, I'm a good girl, I dutifully write “full time mother”. When I am feeling particularly saintly, I even ask the mother what she did before she had children (recognising the need to acknowledge a woman's role outside that of childrearing, see?). On one memorable occasion this resulted in the reply “F***kin' nowt, doc,” from her husband.

Sometimes the answer strikes fear into one's heart. Fellow medical professionals are always an intimidating bunch, and caring for them and their families is a special challenge. During my brief spell in O&G I learned that midwives dread caring for teachers – because they won't do as they're told, apparently. Hearing my colleagues' trepidation at treating the child of lawyers is particularly entertaining to the daughter of two of the accursed species (mine have neither scales nor fangs though, so are assumed to be normal people unless there is a full moon). What we do, to some extent, is who we are. And it is tied into how other people perceive us.

Perhaps I should stop asking. Is it relevant that little Johnny's dad sells air conditioning? Then again, it's winter – hardly peak sales time for air con. Could that contribute to financial problems and an atmosphere of stress which has made Johnny's abdominal migraine flare up? Does it really matter that Amelia's mum is a secondary school teacher? Maybe, if she turns out to have a biochemistry PhD, as I don't think my virology for beginners talk will have quite the same impact. Anyway, it becomes addictive. Just one more pet history, and then I'll stop. I can give up any time I want to, you see. Any time. Just tell me, what sort of dog? And how long have you had it?

Footnotes

Competing interests: None.


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