IT: is it good for your health?

For IT guys, it's work hard, play hard and to hell with the consequences. But if you worry that your debauched lifestyle is...

For IT guys, it's work hard, play hard and to hell with the consequences. But if you worry that your debauched lifestyle is catching up with you, there is a book written for blokes that offers practical advice and diagnoses. Martin Couzins tells us what it's all about

You're a bloke, which is fine, and you've got a pain in your chest, which isn't. Being a bloke is better than being a bad lad or a nauseating new man - life is beer and pixels. But there is a downside - too much stress, too little time, long hours spent staring at a VDU, exercise limited to the clicking of a mouse and the odd swivel, and a diet full of convenience and kebab.

You know your lifestyle isn't perfect and you feel a twinge of guilt - and more recently a twinge of chest pain when you move. It has been bugging you for days.

In fact, for pain in the chest read pain in the bum, because it's getting to you. Didn't your dad have some heart trouble? Hasn't your partner told you to stop whining and sort it out? You know that a downloadable mass of medical advice is just a couple of hour-glass cursors away, but you also know that it is unregulated and unreliable. And you certainly won't see your GP - you're frightened it will seem trivial and even more frightened that he'll say it's serious.

Relax. Your troubles are over. If you won't go to the doc, you can now bring the doc to you - in the guise of the non preachy, pragmatic, sensible, accessible and generally rather reassuring A Bloke's Diagnose It Yourself Guide to Health, written by Dr Keith Hopcroft.

The book is full of good news. First, the vast majority of symptoms suffered by blokes - men aged between 15 and 50 - are harmless and go away on their own. So, most of the time, you can stop worrying. Second, with a little guidance, it is really not that difficult to self-diagnose, as physical check-ups and special tests aren't usually necessary.

Remember how before computers came along blokes spent all their time tinkering with cars? And remember those manuals with handy flow charts starting, "So your car won't start?" and ending "flat battery"? This is exactly how the Bloke's DIY Guide To Health works.

It covers just about every symptom known to man - from loss of weight through to loss of consciousness to loss of sex drive. For each symptom, there is an easy-to-follow flow chart guiding you to the correct diagnosis, with helpful clues along the way and the odd flashing blue light logo for those few occasions when you really do need medical help, pronto. An accompanying page gives extra information about each diagnosis - what it means, how likely it is and what to do about it.

Suppose, though, you have decided to bite the bullet and see your GP - or the DIY Guide has pointed you in that direction. What next?

Again, the book is full of helpful, realistic advice. The How To Get A Good Seeing To section gives hot tips on beating the queues at your surgery, getting round the receptionists and making the most of your consultation when you eventually get there.

It also reveals some handy insider information - such as things not to say to your GP. These apparently innocuous phrases (see box) can wind them up, as they have already heard them a hundred times that week or because they come across as a demand. They are highlighted not to slate patients, but because they risk messing up your consultation - and you want the doc on your side.

One example of a typical no-no is to wave a printout or magazine cutting your GP, saying, "I want this treatment mentioned here."

Media-promoted treatments aren't always appropriate and, with this opening gambit, your GP may feel their professional opinion is being devalued. So feel free to print something interesting about your condition off the Net, but stick it under the doc's nose after you have given them the chance to reach his own conclusion, by which time they'll be more receptive.

Another example is, "While I'm, here, doctor..." The patient has something embarrassing, such as impotence, but spends his allocated 10 minutes discussing his cold while trying to pluck up the courage to mention the real problem. Only as he's leaving does he finally spill the beans, which is why doctors also call this a "hand on (door)knob consultation". The doc has to start all over again, is running late and your "real" problem suffers from a rushed and truncated consultation.

The Diagnose It Yourself icing on the cake, though, is left until the last chapter, Live Fast and Die Old, which covers lifestyle and health promotion. The approach is refreshingly realistic, pointing out that the medical profession too often emphasises quantity rather than quality of life.

The book acknowledges that many blokes simply don't want to party less hard just so they get a few extra months playing bingo in their dotage. So, among all the sensible stuff about smoking and diet, there is a generous helping of good news and quirkiness. Suffice to say that lovers of sex, alcohol and tomato sauce are in for a wild time and may well live forever.

The book has received publicity and plaudits from characters as diverse as Gloria Hunniford and Johnnie Vaughan. These celebs point out that it is rare to read a medical book and end up feeling reassured rather than a quivering wreck of hypochondriasis. Which is the whole point.

  • Keith Hopcroft is a GP practising in Essex and is contributing doctor to The Scotsman newspaper.

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