Thoracic and Sleep Physician and Bond University Professor, Roger Allen, draws breath from his busy and varied private practice to reflect on his years in medicine and the men who most influenced his career choice.
Q. Growing up in the coastal NSW town of Ballina, salt air filled your lungs and medicine coursed through your blood, I gather.
I was tremendously influenced by my late father, Lucius, who was initially a country GP and his father, Kennedy, a classicist barrister. Our home in Ballina was attached to the surgery and at times it was like growing up in an army casualty clearing station, with patients regularly overflowing into the family lounge, dying, vomiting or awaiting transport to hospital. Dinner conversations were akin to medical grand rounds, as my father reviewed the interesting “cases” of the day, or digressed to a geography or history lesson with the cutlery and upturned bowls as mountains and rivers. He too was a classicist; a polymath, eccentric and foremost, a teacher – he was a language master at two privet schools before studying medicine. We moved to London when I was nine, then to Brisbane in 1961, leaving those halcyon days behind.
I recorded those times in Ballina Boy: A child’s odyssey through the 1950’s, capturing changes in lifestyle and medicine.
Q. You used a military analogy to describe your childhood home and your consulting rooms are filled with military memorabilia. Is there a connection?
My uncle fought in Greece and Crete and I served for many years as an army reservist. I went to East Timor with the United Nations Forces in 2000 where I ran the ICU. I still see many soldiers from Enoggera in my capacity as consultant to the Army: I very much enjoy this aspect of my work.
DID YOU KNOW?
Sarcoidosis mainly affects people in their late 20s to early 40s, more commonly males.
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Q. Describe some of the key issues in thoracic medicine that you have encountered.
I have had a special interest in occupational lung diseases since the late 1970s, particularly asbestos-related diseases, and have prepared thousands of medico-legal reports over the past 20 years.
I don’t see as much asthma as I once did and that’s great: it shows general practitioners are well able to manage that condition.
But sarcoidosis remains a condition that is missed a lot because it presents with so many symptoms that appear to have nothing to do with the lungs: severe tiredness, dry mouth, skin lesions, renal impairment, uveitis, joint pains, neurological and bone marrow involvement. I did a PhD at the University of Melbourne on this condition, I am on the World Association of Sarcoidosis and other Granulomatous Diseases executive and have published widely on this condition. Left untreated, it can permanently damage organs (including the heart) yet it can be effectively treated.
Q. You also specialise in sleep disorders. Is sleep under-rated?
For something we spend – or should spend – one third of our lives doing, yes! Sleep apnoea is not something that happens only to the obese. I see thin young people with this. Its symptoms overlap with depression such as dysthymia, lack of concentration, tiredness and loss of libido.
Q. Do you have a pet practice hate?
I do wish doctors would ensure a copy of reports accompanied radiograph images (CTs and the like). Their absence can be potentially dangerous as well as inconvenient and time-wasting. I still like the old-fashion celluloid films compared to CD’s.
Q. What can the AMA offer members?
There’s a wealth of specialist experience to be shared with doctors-in training and general practitioners through mentoring and networking opportunities.