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British Expat Newsletter:
20 September 2006

Hello, and welcome to those who have joined up since our last newsletter.

In this issue

  • This week: Self-prescription
  • Virtual Snacks
  • Bizarre Searches
  • Quotation and joke

This week

What do you do when you fall ill? Do you shrug it off and wait for it to run its course? Do you book the first available appointment with your doctor? Or do you try to work out yourself what’s wrong with you, find out what you need to treat it, and go round to the chemist’s to buy it?

Personally, I hate going to the doctor’s. It’s not just that I don’t like being ill, though of course I don’t. Who does?

No, what irritates me is the air of superiority that many of them assume when talking (down) to you. Of course they want to appear reassuringly confident that they know what’s going on and are in control of the situation – they want to put the patient at her ease. Sadly, all too often this spills over into them being in control of your body. “You must stop , or else I won’t clear you to go on this overseas assignment.” – “No, you can’t have that medication. Have this one instead, it’s far better. Side-effects? Nothing worth mentioning.”

It’s not even as if they really are always sure what’s going on. I don’t know – maybe after so many years of acting the part of the omniscient father figure to patients who want to believe they’re in the best possible hands, they stop playing a part and actually live it instead. But they’re only human, just like the rest of us; and, like the rest of us, they sometimes make mistakes. Most of us probably know someone who’s suffered as a result of inadequate or even plain wrong medical treatment. I have myself, more than once.

Funnily enough, while getting ready to write this I came across an advert for a book called “How To Stop Your Doctor Killing You”. The ad claimed that “the person most likely to kill you is not a terrorist, a burglar, a deranged relative, a mugger or a drunken motorist. It’s your doctor” – with over 20,000 killed by doctors each year in the UK, compared with 859 murders and 2,663 in road accidents. I’m not sure how verifiable those figures are. But I do think it’s important to bear in mind that, just like any other kind of professional, doctors can and do get it wrong.

Of course, if you’re in the tropics and suffering from something really weird or nasty, or if you’ve been badly injured, expert help is probably the only answer. So even if you’re a self-prescriber, it may well be worth considering medical insurance for in-patient treatment. And in any event, if you’re going to self-prescribe you’ll want to keep a careful eye out for any kind of change for the worse in your condition. (Though of course that’s not easy if you’re feverish and becoming delirious – and if that’s a risk, it’d be sensible to make sure that there’s someone else looking out for you.)

Fortunately, many countries take a more relaxed view over allowing people to make their own choices than the UK. Many of the countries of South and South-East Asia seem happy enough to allow their citizens to buy what they think they should have. Not in every instance, though, and sometimes you can find weird anomalies where, for instance, you can buy Valium over the counter but not codeine phosphate. And of course there are certain risks to the self-prescription route. For instance, you may go and ask for something to treat a relatively minor complaint and be given a drug that’s far more powerful than you need. Or, all too often, an antibiotic. There are already concerns that the use of antibiotics where not indicated – or the failure by patients to complete the course – is causing many of the more popular antibiotics to lose their efficacy as antibiotic-resistant strains of diseases develop.

But if you’re confident enough in your self-diagnostic abilities to self-prescribe, then you’re probably confident enough in your ability to read instructions about prescribed dosage, completing the course, contra-indications, side-effects and all the rest of it. So, given the choice between buying the medication I think I need over the counter and getting patronised by someone who’s really just taking educated guesses, I’ll go to the chemist’s rather than the doctor’s any time.

But all this is my personal point of view and is NOT a recommendation – weigh the risks for yourselves and make your own minds up.
Do you have anything to say about this topic, or do you have some suggestions for other issues we might discuss in our weekly email? Why not comment and tell us about it?

Virtual Snacks

Just a few suggestions if you have a little time to spare: is a good guide to health, illness and treatment written in a very chatty, easily understood style. It’s got lots of useful sections, including one on travel. is a pretty comprehensive list of illnesses, symptoms, diagnoses and misdiagnoses. It does recommend very strongly against self-diagnosis, though then again it is a US site, with all the legal implications that brings…

The US National Institutes of Health have a website, Medline Plus, which has plenty of information on drugs, medicines and herbal remedies. Useful if the pharmacies in your country are more familiar with the US names for drugs.
Medline Plus: Drug information

(Sorry the US sites outnumber the UK ones – it’s just that they seem to have most of the information. “Nanny” at work in the UK again… :rolleyes: )

Bizarre Searches

Some strange search terms which have led people to visit British Expat recently:

  • best buy electro shock device for sex
  • letters london blast
  • noddy holder gay
  • penis bar
  • hoax die each year testing if a 9v battery works on their tongue
  • how to clean a haggis
  • topless saleswomen are legal in liverpool
  • greeting genitals ancient times
  • pavement lyrics make me sweeter
  • charlie gardener beard
  • camel genitals
  • mr. mervin nkuma

Till next time…
Happy surfing!

British Expat Magazine


“Doctors will have more lives to answer for in the next world than even we generals.”

– Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France (1769-1821)


A man goes to see his doctor suffering from a miserable cold. The doctor prescribes some tablets, but they don’t help.

On his next visit the doctor gives him a shot, but that doesn’t do any good.

On his third visit the doctor tells the man, “Go home and have a hot bath. As soon as you finish bathing, open all the windows and stand in the draught.”

“But doctor,” protests the man, “if I do that, I’ll get pneumonia.”

“I know,” says the doctor. “I can cure pneumonia.”

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