Twelve Questions

Sarah Daniell poses 12 questions to well-known faces

Twelve Questions with Dr Graeme Washer

Surgeon Dr Graeme Washer is a passionate advocate for health care and he is a spokesman for the Men's Health Trust NZ. September is Prostate Awareness month. He has four children and lives in Auckland with his partner.

Graeme Washer says GPs are the most reliable and effective part of healthcare. Picture / Steven McNicholl
Graeme Washer says GPs are the most reliable and effective part of healthcare. Picture / Steven McNicholl

1. You're a specialist in abdominal and colorectal disease. Wouldn't you prefer, Hello I'm Dr Graeme Washer - a brain surgeon?

I don't tell people what I do unless cornered. I usually say, "I'm a travel agent." I like to fly under the radar. I really don't want to be in the position of saying, at a party, "Tell me how your bowels are moving."

2. What is the greatest obstacle to men taking care of their health?

Blokeness. For God's sake, you are not bulletproof. You are not immortal.

A lot of men still come in to see me and say, "She sent me." You know when their wife is there that it's serious.

3. What's the greatest health issue for men today?

Balancing a healthy life with the pressures of time and work and earning. There are huge pressures today. Men still have that provider gene - that sense of obligation.

There is pressure to achieve in a whole lot of areas.

4. What is it like to be a doctor for someone confronted with the end of life?

Being there at the end of lives is an enormous privilege. At the end of life the thread is always the same - it's about the "un-dones". The things unsaid, the things undone. As a doctor it's critical you do it right, for them and their family. It's critical you are not afraid not to know and learning to say, "I don't know". Patients are fine when doctors say "I don't know". They want honesty. Patients spot bullshit a mile off.

5.What is the single greatest advance in medical science?

Immunisation. Heads and shoulders above everything else. It riles me when you have people in clean, disease free countries not immunising. Go to Africa where measles are still killing people.

6.What should have been achieved by now in medicine?

Health equity. We should be able to deliver health care to everyone in all parts of society. Medical science has the tools but we are handicapped by things like politics. Research is clear that the social and economic consequences of poor healthcare are huge.

7.Who is/are the great unsung hero/es of New Zealand medical science?

Good GPs. No contest. They are not valued enough. They are the most reliable and effective part of New Zealand medical science. In the United States where they have no strong family doctor base, you end up with millions of specialists costing vast amounts. Primary healthcare is vital. Far and away before the hospital ivory tower bullshit.

8.What phrase do you dread hearing?

"I can't."

9.Define frivolity - what it means to you?

Doing something for no reason. So much of what I do is about having to do it. I guess for me it's being with friends and having a few drinks - although there is a reason for that. It's a vital connection.

10.Music in surgery - you operate best while listening to?

If I'm not listening to Baroque classical I like chill-out electronica. You can't have intrusive music in surgery because you really don't want to lose concentration.

11.If you could take up one vice in your dotage what would it be?

I've been around medicine long enough to see the downside of vices. Would I become an alcoholic? No. I would travel the world in style and enjoy a few cocktails along the way. I'd go to a lot of places.

12. Do you believe in the afterlife?

I have faith. In what? I believe there is a greater good. I have a belief in people rather than a supernatural being.

- NZ Herald

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