Filler A memorable patient

Blind in more ways than one

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 08 June 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:1381
  1. Nirupam Goenka, specialist registrar in diabetes and endocrinology
  1. University Hospital Aintree, Liverpool

    Much has been said said about race relations recently in the media. Also the topic of “racism in the NHS” has always been a popular subject for the medical press to write about. As a British Asian doctor, however, who has grown up and been educated in this country, I can remember having experienced racism only during one moment in my medical career.

    I was a final year medical student when I met my memorable patient, an elderly gentleman, who had been admitted to hospital with infected foot ulcers and cellulitis. He had also completely lost his sight because of the ravages of many years of poorly controlled diabetes. I had been asked by one of the house officers to insert a venflon into him, as he required intravenous antibiotics. I politely introduced myself to him, “My name is Niru, and I am a medical student.” I then followed on by asking him whether he would allow me to insert an intravenous cannula. He nodded his agreement, and I inserted the venflon carefully. After I had finished, we began chatting. He had led an interesting life and was full of amusing stories and anecdotes, all of which he told with enthusiasm. Finally it was time for me to go and I thanked him, but as I was about to leave he beckoned me closer, and whispered “Neil, that's a good English name, I'm glad you're not a Paki or a Coon.” I was taken aback, and then I realised that he had evidently misheard my name, and, being blind, he obviously could not see the colour of my skin. I could not help but laugh when I thought about the sheer irony of the situation.

    I have thought about this gentleman several times since then, as it was he who demonstrated the irrationality of prejudice to me more clearly than anything else ever could.

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