Touch me, I'm a doctor

27th July 2007 at 01:00
Phil Hammond has a close encounter with a burly Dutchman and wonders why we make so little contact with our GPs

Have you ever experienced the joys of "uncondi-tional stroking"? Well you should. We need it every day, in every way, to be at one with our physical, emotional and spiritual selves. How do I know all this? I've had a watsu, or water shiatsu if you prefer.

Now I'm not normally the kind of guy to go in for this sort of thing, but this was for television and I need the publicity. Even if it means taking off my glasses, exposing my beer gut to the camera and being bent and pummelled in a boiling pool by a bearded Dutchman.

Pim de Griff is one of the few watsu practitioners in the UK. "Most men have forgotten what it's like to be cradled by another man," he whispered as he elevated the experience from physical to spiritual. The whiskers tickled a bit, but the overall effect was surprisingly invigorating. Not in the least bit sexual. Honest.

If complementary therapists can get away with such close physical contact, then why not doctors? There are plenty of patients I'd love to submerge in a hot tub. "It's all right Mrs Smallbone. The intimacy of aquatic bodywork represents a new way of being. Don't forget to breathe now."

Sadly, not many doctors are that broad-minded and many go to great lengths not to touch their patients at all, not even to shake hands. This seems a pity as the key to healing is human contact. Doctors have to rediscover the power of touch. But first, we need to sort out people who want to be touched from those that don't.

This isn't always easy. If a man pitches up to Pim for a watsu, he can be fairly sure he wants to be touched. But if the same man comes to me for a repeat of his gout medication, I'm not so sure. For legal reasons, I have to get informed consent first. So I lean across and say: "Would you like me to touch you?" or, to avoid confusion, "Would you like me to touch you in that special way that only a doctor can?"

For those who consent, I give them a questionnaire to fill out at the end. "How satisfied were you with the way your doctor touched you today? Name three things you liked most. Name three suggested improvements." I've tried this approach in my surgery for the past fortnight but it'll be a while before the results appear in The Lancet. Preliminary findings can be found in the Sunday Mirro

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