Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bringing home the bacon

One of the downsides of working in the health sector is that there is a tendency for others to see you as an expert in All Things Health Related. I never mind being asked about things in which I consider myself to be a relative expert, but have to confess these are fairly slim pickings. There are over 1000 dermatological conditions, and I'm very good at advising on four of them; reasonably good at around another twenty; slightly pathetic at the next, say, thirty; and frankly nowhere on the rest (correct that: I'd have a good stab at spelling quite a few). I really do wonder what I've been doing with my life... but that's another blog entirely. Having said that, there's a time and a place. Ideally the time is my working hours and the place is a consulting room; but failing that, I'd prefer it if friends do not, for example, drop their trousers in the middle of a dinner party to show me their awkward little rash. Not unless they've bought me flowers first, at least... actually a number of friends have flashed some skin at me in times of extreme anxiety / embarrassment / itching, and that's fine, we've remained friends, I think I helped, and anyway the matter now rests with our lawyers.

More problematic is the friend who rings up 'just to check' because the GP is closed and they're worried. Or else because they are too embarrassed to 'bother' the GP, and want reassurance that it really is 'something' that deserves attention. Over the years I have had calls about a range of symptoms, particularly from parents of young children in the days before NHS Direct. The difficulty is not overstepping the mark in terms of giving a person the impression I am in some way qualified to recognise, for example, the signs of meningitis - particularly remotely. I don't want a disaster on my conscience, so I may err on the side of caution - but on the other hand, I don't want to worry them unduly. So I flip between 'yes-I'm-sure-it's-fine-but-get-to-an-emergency-room-NOW!!!' - style advice. Not necessarily helpful to the recipient, but then, I don't want to encourage them...

Since NHS Direct started there has been less of this sort of thing, for which I am grateful. But last week, at 9:45pm, came this gem from the mother of a schoolfriend of one of my girls. And for once, I was lost for a good answer. I will try to recreate the phone conversation for you here:

"Hello, I'm sorry to bother you at the late hour, but I really need some urgent health advice and I didn't know who to ask."
(Me) "O-kay....what's up?"

"I know this may sound like an odd question, but is it safe to eat raw bacon?"
"Err...what do you mean, safe?" (stalling for time!)
"Well, I've just been watching my lodger preparing her supper, and she was cooking with bacon, chopping it up on the board we use for raw meat, and as she chopped she was putting one piece in the pot, and one piece in her mouth!"
(Desperately seizing on something I know) "I think it might be a problem in that she was using the same board as you use, say, for raw chicken..."
"Yes, yes, but is it OK to eat raw bacon? Is it safe?
"Well, I'm no expert on food safety, but isn't bacon a cured meat? I mean, does that make it a bit safer than normal raw meat? Certainly safer than raw chicken..."
"Oh, thank goodness! You've totally put my mind at rest!"
(Trying to claw things back rapidly) "Well I don't know! I mean, I'm just guessing!
"Who would have thought it! It's safe to eat raw bacon!
"I didn't quite say..."
"Well thanks very much for that, I'll let you get to bed!"
"Err..." 
"Goodnight!"

(Click. Brrr. The call ends.)

SO...if you hear or otherwise come across a wild rumour that raw bacon is the Next Big Culinary Ingredient and Totally Safe To Eat, please think twice before doing so. It may just have started here. And as you'll agree from the exchange detailed above - I Know Nothing.