A near-death experience has helped GP Dawn Harper to perfect her bedside manner writes Roz Laws.
It is barely 8pm and we’ve only just had our tea, but on television a man is cheerfully unzipping his trousers to show off a nasty injury to his genitals.
Then a woman appears via Skype to talk about how she wets herself.
It’s not what we expect to see before the watershed, but this is Embarrassing Bodies: Live From The Clinic.
Patients are queuing up to expose their conditions, from excessive sweating to genital warts, on live telly, beaming into a slick studio built in the heart of Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
“There’s no shame, we’re all the same,” encourages presenter Dr Dawn Harper. It seems that people feel comfortable revealing all to her – as she says, we think we know her, and her co-presenter Dr Christian Jessen, better than our own GPs.
Out of the surgery she is just as warm and friendly, happy to chat about the latest award-winning Channel 4 series and her own agonising experience of the NHS.
She has been both a patient, when she nearly died in a horror car smash, and a terrified parent when two of her three children were born prematurely.
It’s the reason she now pushes herself so hard to raise money for disabled children, taking part in hugely challenging charity cycle rides.
Last weekend she cycled a mere 62 miles – just a warm-up for a marathon she is planning next year when she will ride 100 miles a day for ten days.
She took up cycling to recover from the horrific road accident which nearly killed her in 2003.
“I was just crossing the road with my husband Graham,” she remembers. “Suddenly a car came out of nowhere, running through a red light, and ploughed me down. I was left unconscious in the road.
“It could have been so much worse – I am very lucky to be alive – but my left knee was shattered.
“I needed an operation and it took two years to fully recover. I hated being immobile. I’m not a good patient!
“I took up cycling as part of my physiotherapy. I remember sitting on the bike and trying to flex my knee enough to do just one revolution of the pedals. It was agony, but I worked hard to get the function back.
“Now I do silly amounts of cycling – about 100 miles a week – as ‘ticking over’ training. I’ll do a couple of 20-mile rides and then 40 miles at the weekend.
“I’ve cycled from London to Paris and Amsterdam before, and next year I’m hoping to do something really crazy – a 1,000 mile ride over 10 days.”
Dawn lives in Stroud in the Cotswolds with Graham, a fellow GP, and their three children, aged from 15 to 18. She raises money for disabled children’s charities because her two youngest needed specialist care when they were born early.
The youngest, Harvey, arrived at just 32 weeks and was rushed to intensive care.
“It was a very frightening time,” remembers Dawn.