When I was a child, our family doctors were called Angel and Himmelhoch. It was, as my parents liked to joke, a partnership made in heaven. In a piece of slang which seems to have disappeared now even from my father’s idiolect, they also used to talk about going to see “the quack.”
In my first few years of high school I was very unhappy at school and became a bit of a malingerer, especially on days when PE was on the timetable. I was taken or sent to the doctor rather more often than I really needed to go.
These days I don’t go to the doctor often. I know most of the things which are wrong with me and the remedy largely lies in my own hands (more exercise, less eating/drinking, stop smoking – though attempts in that direction can be pharmaceutically assisted).
So generally, when the odd need for a diagnosis or a prescription or a referral arises, I go to a medical centre in the city.
I’ve found a doctor there I like. I saw his birthdate once on some paperwork on his desk (I’m good at upside-down reading) and the year was 1938 – or it might have been 1936. In his surgery he has some old photos including a graduation photo and some group shots presumably with other young doctors which by the cut of the suits corroborate this date.
I ask him why he keeps on working. He says he loves it. He comes in for 3 or 4 days a week and as far as I can gather, works for 12 hours on each of those days – from 8am to 8pm.
Maybe that’s just a bit much. Last time I was there he needed to ring up for an approval of something he was going to prescribe for me (OK, I confess: to do with another quit attempt), and there was quite a long conversation with the operator before he finally realised he had rung up the number for people with a militarily-derived entitlement rather than the ordinary Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme number for the rest of us. It was almost 8pm and I suppose he was tired. He claimed this was the first time he had ever made this mistake, which I find a bit unlikely.
The time before, I had a lengthy consultation about a shopping-list of long-deferred issues. During it I noticed a rough patch of skin on the outside of my forearm. At the heel of the hunt I mentioned this to him and he took a quick look at it. “I’ll give you a referral to the skin cancer clinic. They’re very reasonable.” By the latter he meant their fees.
That’s exactly the words he used last time he referred me to them, some years ago. There’s a lot of repetition in the work of a General Practitioner.
A few days later the area on my arm began to itch and soon after the rough patch began to come away. I decided it must have been a previously unnoticed scab from some encounter with sharp vegetation in the garden or somewhere else. I told the doctor about it last time I was there (ie the next time I returned) and he half-heartedly defended the earlier quasi-diagnosis: “It can happen [and still be something which the skin cancer clinic should look at].”
In fact I’m happy to go for another check-up for potential melanomas though it might take me a few months to get around to it. We’ll just have to pass over the bit in the referral letter which refers to the spot on my arm because it is totally gone.
If I had something seriously wrong I expect I would be referred to a specialist with up-to-the-minute expertise, but in the meantime I find it quite comforting to be able to see an old-school doctor.
I suppose that is a short-term view. The longer-term approach at my age would be to find a doctor a good deal younger than oneself.