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Don't blame technology for making us suffer

iPad elbow? Yes please. It must be awful, really, but it can only exist in a world that has time and decent wifi, and I’d gladly give up an elbow or even a whole limb for those.

I love my iPad, and it makes me a better doctor. Unfortunately, the many insights I get from my galaxy of gorgeous apps come to me a few hours after I’ve seen and treated the patient I’m researching.

It delivers rueful hindsight in a fraction of a second.

For every technological ailment you avoid, or never get the chance to catch, there’s a distinctly non-technological one instead.

In the white-coat era, and when tablets were just a kind of medication, we had pockets full of books. This led to grazing from the repeated bash of Oxford handbook against soft tissue, as well as acute delusional episodes of expertise among the newly qualified.

When we do get our hands on technology, we will sooner or later suffer from it. But we are harmed by ourselves and our lives, not by the devices.

Step forward, bend over and twist round for the humble otoscope. Come on, it was technology once, just like we were once the future. What happens when you’re trying to look in the ear of a wriggling child? You kneel, you chase, you stretch. You hurt.

At my garage, they don’t risk the health of mechanics. Instead, they lift up the car so they can lie underneath, in good light. When did you last examine a patient so comfortably?

The trust tries to help. At induction, we were given so much guidance about posture and computer use that it would take days in front of a flickering screen on a bad chair to read it all. But it is written by managers in comfortable offices for others of their kind.

At my desk, which I share, I have a really nice reading light. It has several settings and even a cold, blue one meant to imitate dawn in Tuscany (or such like). By implication, the trust has bought some nice kit, so we should be using it, and if we don’t, then it’s our fault that we develop problems.

Well, bothersome though it is, I do have to do a bit of reading on the wards, which positively cry out for a lighting designer, darling. Tempting though it is to whisk away the drugs charts, take a lift down four floors, cross the car park, and then enjoy them in Tuscan light, the nurses probably wouldn’t like it.

It’s the same with everything we do. Our anaesthetist has a lovely chair but, eager to free up space in a crowded theatre, sits with his legs at a bizarre right angle. There is so much technology in a small space that he’s trying to mould his body around it. One day he will become an exact imprint of an anaesthetic machine.

The only doctor I know who had never suffered a medical ailment, technological or otherwise, was a friend who worked in public health. If he wasn’t sitting in a rather lovely office, he was giving inspiring talks and encouraging healthy activity.

Now, he says, he spends his days hunched over the computer in despair, trying to make sense of this government’s lunatic reforms, repeatedly stabbing his hand with a pen.

Policy-related ailments — now there’s a whole other story.

A junior doctor in the Midlands

From tennis elbow to iPad hand