A memorable doctor: “We never met”

BMJ 1997; 315 doi: (Published 01 November 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;315:g
  1. Nick Wilson, London Academic Training Scheme general practice registrar
  1. London

    I never met him, not in person. But I did meet him through his receptionist, his scrambled notes, his scruffy premises, and most of all through his patients.

    He was an inner city general practitioner and I was his locum for the day. This was my first experience of a singlehanded practice, having trained and worked in highly thought of group practices. My spirit had been squashed by the transitory life of a locum. The simple problems that patients brought I dealt with adequately enough, but, without investment, the complex problems required time and follow up that I could not offer.

    The practice premises were on the ground floor of a dilapidated terrace house. Inside it was cold and damp, the cylinder gas heaters hadn't had time to warm the air. I was presented with Lloyd George case files near to bursting. All of this seemed unfamiliar to someone who had trained in a flagship practice in purpose built premises. Irritation took hold as I fumbled through copious correspondence in a patient's notes. Each letter had been carefully folded individually, so that I had painstakingly to open up and then refold each letter in turn. The handwriting was hard to decipher and there was no computer to cross check medicines on. I was forced to grapple with how this man thought and slowly I crept further into his head.

    His name cropped up in every consultation and the patients' fondness for the man shone out. I learnt not only of a doctor but also of a man with a wife and children, a gracious manner, and a passion for football. Sitting at his desk, taking tea from his teacup, wearing this man's shoes for a day I started to get to know him. Late in the afternoon I saw a man who had coronary artery disease and he helped fill me in with his past medical history. “I'd had chest pains for some months, Dr A treated it as indigestion, up until my heart attack, that is. My heart stopped twice you know, they had to shock me.” I braced myself to defend a colleague over an apparent medical mishap. I then realised that there was no hint of anger or malice in the man's voice, but rather affection for his doctor, human and imperfect.

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