Saturday, 30 March 2013
A Good Man in Africa
After I had my second heart attack in Angola, I ended up having a conversation with the consultant, a South African on contract to ISOS, an organisation similar to BUPA.
'Well', he said, 'You're alive so you can go now'
'Aren't you going to look at the cardiogram they did?'
'Nope. What do YOU think it indicates?' he asked. He looked bloody knackered.
'That I've had another heart attack?' I suggested.
'Myocardial Infarction actually' he corrected me. 'See? You know better than me so what do you need me for? Honestly, you can go now, you are just wasting your money and I could do with the bed spaces. Here's a prescription, take these if you get the chest pains again. They'll keep you alive until you die. Guaranteed', he added.
'Any other advice?' I asked
'None that I'd waste my breath on', he said looking at his wrist watch.
I must have looked a bit confused so he so took his glasses off his tired eyes, laid them on his desk and pushed my unopened file over to me to hang onto.
'Look' he sighed, 'you're brought in here stinking of whisky, you smoke over 40 a day and you do bugger all exercise. You're overweight and you don't eat properly. You're supposed to be intelligent. If it's the job that's killing you, resign, it's not rocket science. Go and grow potatoes in the Sahara for all I care. If you can't give a shit about yourself, why should I? I have real patients out there some of whom I can help. There's bugger all I can do to help you, you're hell bent on killing yourself. You're alive for the moment so why don't you just piss off and enjoy what's left of it?'
'Was it you who started my heart again?' I asked in one last attempt to connect with my Doctor.
'Nope. It was a machine. It's orange and not terribly expensive. All we have to do is keep it charged and follow the instructions. Sometimes it goes off, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes you live, sometimes you don't. In your case you did so we will be billing you and not your family. Will there be anything else?'
You have to admit, this was a very polite way of saying, 'Get out of my flaming clinic'.
You may question his bedside manner, but he was right. Instead of a real mirror, the reflection of which we see only in our own minds and is always distorted in our favour, he'd given me a verbal mirror, an honest opinion.
As I passed ever so humble back through reception, looking at the kids burning up with malaria, comatose in their mother's arms desperately waiting for attention before they died, I came to the conclusion that while his corporate employers may have been concerned had I complained, I reckoned this doctor was a Good Man in Africa.