BLEAK PRACTICE

in which Scrooge considers calling it a day.

This stand alone story is now Part 8 of the the “Dr Scrooge Chronicles’. The first seven parts can be found here


Dr Scrooge was tired. All the time tired. He was more tired than a myxoedematous narcoleptic with sleep apnoea who’d just completed a week of nights. He was tired of Covid, he was tired of work, and increasingly he was tired of life.

It was just gone eight and he was alone in the practice catching up on paperwork at the end of a long day on call. Only it wasn’t the end as he was still left with a home visit to do. And to make matters worse he was supposed to be gathering with Dr Cratchit and a few other friends that evening to celebrate a friends eightieth birthday. ‘Looks like I’m going to be late for another social event’ he sighed to himself as he picked up his bag and the printout of the patient’s details that had been bought to him, along with a consolatory custard cream by the receptionist just before she’d left an hour or so previously.

As he left the building it was beginning to rain and the last light of the day was beginning to fade. Scrooge got into his car and drove out of the car park at the back of the surgery premises and began to make his way to the nursing home where the patient he was visiting lived. The staff there had insisted the man be seen on account of him just not seeming himself and Scrooge had been too worn down by the busyness of the day to do anything but agree to the visit even though he’d felt there would be little point in visiting somebody who he couldn’t help thinking, from his cursory scanning of the notes, was just a demented old man who’s life meant nothing now that all he did all day was sit in a chair.

Scrooge’s frustration increased still further as, barely having started out on his journey he was held up by traffic lights. The red light reflecting on the wet road seemed to goad him into thinking what he’d been considering for some little while. ‘Perhaps it really is now time for me to just stop’, he muttered to himself. ‘After all I could always make ends meet by exploiting the black market in blood sample bottles’.

The year had been a hard one. Though positive swab results of Covid tests continued to appear daily in his inbox, Scrooge hadn’t seen anyone ill with the disease for several months. Even so workload was higher than he’d ever known it to be and he no longer felt he was doing a good job. There just wasn’t the necessary time to give to patients. Earlier in the year he’d worked sessions at the local vaccination centre and had derived great pleasure from doing so, but now he found no satisfaction in rushing headlong through the seemingly endless list of patients that daily presented themselves to him only to later hear in the media how GPs were hiding away from their patients, supposedly behind locked doors. And it looked like it was all about to get a lot worse now that a neighbouring practice had collapsed and he and Bob had been forced to accept several hundred additional patients onto their practice list, including the man he was now on his way to see. With no additional staff to deal with what amounted to an overnight increase of 10% to the practice list, Scrooge wondered how he and all his clinical and non clinical colleagues would cope with the inevitable additional work. No wonder that even his excellent practice manager was now beginning to feel the strain.

It was the worst of times, it really was the worst of times.

As the car idled Scrooge realised that he had long since given up any hope of his turning out to be the hero of his own life and remembered instead something he’d once read about how everybody eventually experiences the defeat of their lives. Perhaps that was what he was now recognising to be the case for himself. His appraisal was coming up soon and, rather than discussing with his appraiser how he might look to improve over the coming year, Scrooge thought that perhaps it was time to get real and instead take the opportunity to discuss how he might best manage his now inevitable decline.

As the traffic lights changed Scrooge continued on his way and within ten minutes he was pulling up outside the nursing home. The rain continued to fall as he climbed out of the car and hurried to the front door. He pressed the doorbell and, as he waited to be let in, he donned the mask, ridiculous plastic apron and blue surgical gloves that purported to be PPE but only managed to make him look like some sinister Smurf with a burgeoning interest in basic butchery.

Eventually he was let in and led to a small room on the second floor of the old building that, over the years he had visited countless times. The room was a barren affair, sparsely furnished with the only decoration being a few framed verses of scripture urging the reader to remember that there was always reasons for hope in even the darkest of days. ‘If only’ thought Scrooge as he turned his eyes towards the frail elderly man he had come to see who sat hunched in a chair with his eyes closed and his mouth wide open. He saw and said nothing. Scrooge walked over to him and, crouching by his side, attempted to make conversation though, even as he did so, he knew there was little prospect of any meaningful communication. Scrooge examined the man but found no specific cause to account for his increasingly frail condition other than the all too apparent dementia that had brought him to the home some years previously. The man was clearly coming to the end of his life.

Stepping back outside of the room, Scrooge explained his findings to the young nurse who had been accompanying him. She passed him the patients treatment escalation plan on which was stated that hospital transfer should be considered in the event of his becoming unwell.

‘Shall I get his things together whilst you call the ambulance?’ the nurse asked. ‘How long do you think it will be?’

Scrooge’s heart sank. He’d been in this situation before, where what was written on the TEP form seemed inappropriate and, rather than helping to make decisions, only succeeded in making things harder. Surely admission wasn’t in the man’s best interests and yet to go against what was clearly written down made Scrooge feel uncomfortable.

The pair walked back along the carpeted corridors to the office where he recognised the familiar face of one of the senior members of the nursing staff who had worked at the home for as long as Scrooge could remember.

‘What do you think Clare?’ he asked her, ‘It can’t be right that we admit the poor chap can it?’

Clare looked up from the desk where she was sat. ‘All I can say’, she replied, ‘is that I’ve known Harry for a very long time, ever since he arrived here I forget how many years ago. And I’d be sad if he died in hospital’.

That was enough for Scrooge. Even so he thought he would try to speak to a member of the elderly man’s family, just to make sure they felt the same way that he did.

‘Do you know who his next of kin is?’ Scrooge asked Clare. ‘Is there anybody at all I can talk to’.

‘There aren’t any children, Harry never married. But there is a younger brother who visits him regularly’. Clare flipped her way through Harry’s file and found the number and, passing it to Scrooge. added ‘Just press ‘9’ for an outside line’.

Scrooge picked up the phone and made the call. After a few rings it was answered and Scrooge introduced himself to somebody whose gentle elderly voice confirmed he was indeed Harry’s brother.

‘I’m sorry to bother you at this time in the evening’, Scrooge began, ‘but it’s about your brother. I’ve been called to see him and I’m afraid he’s not at all well.’

‘He’s not been well for a long time Doctor. It’s his age you see. That and the dementia. It’s been years since he was the man I once knew.’

Scrooge smiled to himself realising already that this conversation was not going to be as difficult as he had feared.

‘I understand’, Scrooge continued, ‘but Harry’s deteriorated rather a lot of late and if I’m honest I think he’s only likely to get worse over the next day or two. I thought you ought to know, just in case you wanted to pop over and see him. Unless of course you thought he ought to be admitted to hospital. The thing is I have a bit of paper here which suggests that some discussions were had previously and that it was felt then that, if he were he to become more unwell, Harry would want to be admitted. But I really don’t think the hospital would be able to do a great deal for Harry and I’m not sure that sending him in now would really be the best thing for your brother’.

‘Please don’t send him to hospital doctor – he wouldn’t want it. It’s like this you see. When you’re old, eventually it happens that the only thing you’re left with is your memories, and Harry, well he hasn’t even got those anymore. They’ll look after him well in the home. Leave him with those who know him best.’

The line went silent for a few seconds and then Harry’s brother spoke again, this time his voice wavering a little as he tried to control the tears.

‘Can I tell you something Doctor? You might look at Harry and think he’s just a demented old man, but I want you to know that that demented old man is still my hero. Always has been – always will be. When I was a boy he looked after me when there wasn’t anybody else who could. He was a good man. And he still is. Even now that his time has come’.

The two men chatted on a little longer before Scrooge eventually put down the phone. He relayed the nature of the conversation to Clare and it was agreed that Harry would stay where he was and the staff would continue to care for him just as they had for many years already. Scrooge updated the TEP form and, though he don’t imagine they’d be necessary, wrote up some ‘just in case’ medications before saying his goodbyes.

Back in his car Scrooge thought about what had just happened. He remembered those words on the wall of Harry’s room, words that his brother had said both he and Harry still believed. Maybe there was cause for hope in dark days after all, even at that moment of apparent defeat. And perhaps, as was the case with Harry, even in the years of one’s inevitable decline, you could remain someone of worth, someone who was still both loved and valued. Scrooge’s mind went back to those sessions he’d worked in the vaccination clinic when the frail and elderly had been wheeled in by those who still loved them irrespective of how dependent they had become on others. It had been a joy to give them their vaccinations, vaccinations that had seemed at the time to be nothing less than a shot of love.

And he thought too of something else he’d recently heard, something about how ‘shiny and new’ was all very well but that things with no past somehow lacked any soul. Perhaps that was true of people too. Although in physical terms Harry and his brother were both past their best, they undoubtedly had soul, their experiences of brokenness producing in them a depth that only age can bring, the wisdom of experience allowing them to accept others despite their imperfections.

*******

It was gone 10 by the time Scrooge arrived at the party and people were already beginning to make their way home. Dr Bob Cratchit was still there though. He was on a weeks leave and had clearly been taking full advantage of the fact by enjoying the liquid refreshment that had been freely on offer. He was a little worse for wear as he handed Scrooge a glass containing what little remained of the celebratory bottles of champagne that had been opened over the course of the evening.

‘What the dickens are you doing turning up so late?’ Cratchit asked Scrooge before adding in a more concerned tone of voice,‘Are you alright. Looks like it must have been a bad day for you today Ebenezer’ Cratchit felt the need to look out for the man who had once been his trainer but was now his senior partner at work.

‘Yes and no, Bob. Yes and no. The day was certainly busy, made busier still by a late visit request. But you know what? I wouldn’t have missed that visit for the world. And I’ll tell you something else. What with the influx of new patients, we’re going to need to try and recruit a new partner. But don’t get any ideas of you lording it over them as senior partner. I’m afraid you’re stuck with me for a little while longer yet.’

And with that Scrooge raised a half full, rather than half empty, glass of warm, flat champagne and drank to all that was good about General Practice.


Related Blogs:

To read ‘The Scrooge Chronicles’, click here

To read ‘Vaccinating to Remain Susceptible’, click here

To read ‘Shot of Love’, click here

To read ‘On Approaching One’s Sell By Date’, click here

To read ‘Reflections on the death of Leonard Cohen’, click here

To read ‘Luther and the Global Pandemic’, click here

To read, ‘But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope’, click here

2 Comments

  1. Thank you once again Peter. I have read your previous posts and been inspired. I am a Christian too and feel so sad when I see desperate patients – ‘ if only they know Jesus and his love.’ Do you speak about Jesus to your patients? If so how do you do it?

    Like

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