BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 19 October 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:981
  1. Eric Hainsworth

    The station master

    My first appointment, in 1952, was as house physician at an acute general hospital.

    Shortly after my arrival a man aged 66 was admitted having had a moderately severe stroke, with aphasia. His wife had struggled for a few weeks to care for him at home, but had found it too difficult. He was very demanding and refused to try to help himself. Home care facilities at that time were not as comprehensive as they are today, and in spite of her efforts he was scruffy and unkempt.

    After his admission his wife spent as much time with him as the visiting hours allowed, and she willingly helped the nursing staff as much as she could. Within a few days I got to know her well. She told me that his working life had been spent on the railway, and at his retirement he was station master at a local station. For several years his station had been awarded the top prize for the best kept and best organised local station. His personal appearance had been immaculate, with a daily clean shirt and white stiff collar and, if possible, a fresh floral buttonhole. Nothing was too much trouble for him, and he would help everybody.

    To see this man as I saw him as a patient, it was impossible to realise what sort of person he had been before his illness.

    During my subsequent life, spent mostly working in general practice in a village community for over 30 years, I saw several similar patients, but I have never forgotten this scruffy unkempt man, slumped in a chair. He taught me a great amount about life and I hope this was reflected in my care for all my patients.—ERIC HAINSWORTH is a retired general practitioner in Liskeard, Cornwall

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