It was early morning and Festive Road was quiet. Most of the residents were indoors reading the newspaper reports of how GPs were hiding behind locked doors and still refusing to see patients. Some others though, having found themselves put on hold after phoning for an emergency ambulance, were discovering that it wasn’t just primary care that was currently facing unprecedented demand.
At number 52 Mr Benn was sitting in his chair and thinking to himself how it seemed that some people had forgotten that the ‘S’ in NHS was for ‘service’ and not for ‘slave’, that the NHS was intended to be free at the point of need, rather than at the point of whim, and that healthcare can’t be simultaneously quick, cheap and good. ‘You can only have two of those three ideals at any one time’, he said to himself getting up from his chair. ‘But never mind that, what I need is to get away from all of this negativity’. And with that Mr Benn put on his black bowler hat, left his house and started to make his way to the special costume shop from which he knew adventures could start.
On the way he saw a man trying to lift a large box out of the back of his car. Though it was far too heavy for him to carry himself, the man refused to accept the help being offered by his friends who were standing nearby and who were being forced therefore to watch him as he struggled.
It wasn’t long before Mr Benn arrived at the costume shop. He went in and started looking at all the costumes, wondering which one to try on. He saw one costume hanging up that he’d not noticed before. It consisted simply of a cardigan and a tweed jacket complete with leather elbow pads.
‘Who wears a costume like that?’ Mr Benn thought to himself.
Just then, as if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared.
‘Good morning, sir’, said the shopkeeper.
‘Good morning’, said Mr Benn. ‘What uniform is this?’ he asked pointing to the costume he’d just been looking at.
‘Why don’t you try it on and see for yourself?’ the shopkeeper replied. ‘But’ he added, ‘you’ll be needing these accessories’. And he passed Mr Benn a flimsy plastic apron, a surgical face mask and a pair of blue latex gloves.
Mr Benn took the costume into the fitting room and, once inside, he quickly changed. He looked at himself in the mirror and then walked through the door that he knew could lead to an adventure.
On the other side Mr Benn found himself outside a GP surgery. There was a long line of people queuing to enter the building. Mr Benn noticed that the doors were unlocked and that there was no electrified concertina wire fence surrounding the building. Neither was there a sniper gunning down anybody who approached the practice seeking to gain entrance.
Mr Benn made his way past the people, the vast majority of whom were waiting patiently to be dealt with. At the front of the queue, however, a man was shouting at the receptionist and complaining that GPs were lazy, work shy cowards who were overpaid and ought therefore to be ashamed of themselves. He insisted that he knew all this was true as he’d read about it in the paper that morning. When he finally finished shouting, the receptionist calmly explained that, if he’d just like to wait outside for a few minutes, the GP would call him on his mobile and see him for the appointment that had been agreed the previous evening when he’d rung in about his medical concerns.
Inside the building Mr Benn made his way through to the waiting room where a few chairs were appropriately spaced to allow social distancing. On one was sat a frail elderly man. He rose unsteadily to his feet when a smiling young doctor came out of her consulting room and called his name. As she did so, the doctor noticed Mr Benn.
‘Hello’, she said, ‘Are you the locum? It’s so good to see you. We’re snowed under here today as we’re short on doctors, what with one partner self isolating and working from home and another on long term sick leave due to some personal difficulties. Pop yourself in that room over there. All the passwords you’ll need should be in an envelope that you’ll find on the desk. If you need anything, give me a shout’
Mr Benn made his way to the room the doctor had been pointing to as she’d been speaking and within a few minutes, Mr Benn was sat gazing at a computer screen on which a long list of patient names was growing ever longer. As he picked up the phone to make the first call, Mr Benn looked at the clock and noticed that it was only just gone eight o’clock in the morning. The working day had begun. All morning Mr Benn consulted patients either on the telephone or, whenever necessary, face to face. When he had finally completed the morning’s work it was gone half past one.
Having spent the whole morning in his consulting room, Mr Benn felt the need to stretch his legs so he decided to tour the building and see what else was going on. Reception was still busy dealing with a huge numbers of telephone calls and one of the office staff was checking how many blood bottles were left in the building so as to determine whether or not there would be enough for the blood tests that were booked to take place over the coming weeks. The practice nurse was squeezing in an extra leg ulcer dressing at the end of her morning clinic and the HCA was seeing a patient for whom a doctor had requested an urgent ECG.
Upstairs, as if her day was’t busy enough already, the practice manager was now having to have an urgent discussion with the CCG regarding the growing crises over the impending collapse of a neighbouring practice and the admin team were rebooking all the flu clinic appointments that they had spent hours arranging the week before as they had just been informed that the vaccines would be arriving two weeks later than had previously been promised. Back downstairs most of the doctors were still in their rooms either still consulting or working through the mountain of results, letters and reports that still had to be dealt with.
In the final room that Mr Benn came to a doctor was slowly rocking in his chair with his head in his hands. He looked close to tears. Mr Benn stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. The nameplate on the door read Dr Mungo.
‘Are you OK?’ Mr Benn asked. ‘How’s your morning been?’
‘Not the greatest’, the doctor replied. ‘But then, there haven’t been many days that have been all that great recently. One wonders how long it can carry on like this with just too much being asked of us. And I wonder too how long I can carry on. Sometimes I feel like a cardboard cutout of myself, going through the motions like a two dimensional character in a poorly animated children’s cartoon from the late 1960’s or early 1970’s!’
‘Nobody can do it all’, said Mr Benn. ‘And there’s no shame in being asked for more than you’ve got and only being able to give all that you have. Is there anything I can do to lighten your load? I’d be happy to help’.
Dr Mungo asked if Mr Benn would mind doing a home visit and Mr Benn said he’d be glad to and so, within a few minutes, he was heading off to see a man in late middle age who was suffering from a neurodegenerative disease. His wife, Mary, had phoned that morning as she was becoming increasingly concerned about his frame of mind.
When he arrived at the house Mary was waiting for him on the doorstep. She ushered Mr Benn upstairs adding the words ‘You’ll find Midge in the front bedroom’. A cachectic looking man who appeared much older than his years was laid on the bed. He was reluctant to make eye contact and more reluctant still to speak. Mr Benn sat on the edge of the bed and looked around the room. The contents revealed that the occupant had a keen interest in cricket and Mr Benn noticed a photograph of the man he’d come to see batting for the local village team. It had clearly been taken in happier times. Mr Benn allowed the silence to remain for a minute or two before asking in a quiet voice ‘What’s up?’
The man looked at Mr Benn and began to speak.
‘It’s just that I’m such a burden to everyone. And especially to my wife. I can’t do anything for myself now that I’m so weak and so she has to do everything for me. It’s ruining her life. She’d be better off if I was no longer around. I just wish I was dead’.
Mr Benn wasn’t sure what to say and so, for a short time, he said nothing. But then he gently spoke to the man
‘I’m saddened to hear how difficult your life is at the moment. It must be so very hard for you. I don’t know why this is happening to you and it’s hard for me to know quite what to say. But can I say simply this? You’re not a burden. Just now you need to be carried, but a burden is something that is unwilling borne. Your illness is a burden – but you are not. Though she would no doubt rather that things were different, though your condition is no doubt something that causes her great sadness, it’s clear that Mary loves you. And so, though your condition weighs you both down, she is glad to help carry the load. You are not a burden because she carries you gladly, and a burden gladly carried is not really a burden at all. Please try and take some comfort that you’ve somebody who cares for you as she does. You really are so well loved by her’
Mr Benn paused for a few seconds before adding. ‘And, for what it’s worth, I care about you as well.’
After a few more minutes of silence, Mr Benn stood up. He didn’t know if he’d been of any help but, as he turned to leave, he saw Mary standing at the bedroom door. She smiled at him and whispered ‘Thank you’ as he passed her. Mr Benn, started down the stairs but, as he did so, he glanced behind him and noticed that Mary had entered the bedroom and she and Midge were embracing. And that made Mr Benn smile too.
He arrived back at the surgery just in time to start a busy afternoon consisting of still more phone calls and numerous face to face consultations. Eventually, shortly before 7pm, the work for the day was complete.
Just then a man appeared, sporting a moustache, a pair of circular framed glasses and a purple fez.
‘Excuse me Doctor’, he said ‘Would you mind seeing just one last patient? Given his symptoms, you’ll need to see him in the isolation room’.
Mr Benn followed the man along a corridor until they reached the room situated at its end. The man opened the door and Mr Benn stepped though it. As he had expected, Mr Benn found himself back in the fitting room of the costume shop. He took one last look at himself in the mirror before changing back into his own clothes. In the shop he returned the costume to the shopkeeper before starting the walk home to Festive Road.
As he approached number 52, Mr Benn noticed that the man he’d seen that morning was now being helped by his friends to carry the heavy box into his house. And as he passed a group of people who were chatting happily to one another Mr Benn was able to overhear the topic of their conversation. It was about how much they all appreciated the efforts of those working at the local health centre. It seemed that not everybody believed what they had been reading in the papers.
As he reached his front door Mr Benn thought about the days events. He’d enjoyed spending some time with Midge and Mary and hoped he’d been at least a little help to them. He didn’t want to ever forget that there would always be some things that were genuinely worth doing.
He reached into his pocket for his house key but found there instead an old cigarette card. On it was a picture of a cricketer and Mr Benn recognised it as Midge as he had been in his younger days.
‘How on Earth did that get there?’ Mr Benn said to himself. ‘I guess I’ll never know, but I’ll keep it just the same. It’s just what I need to remember’.
Other story posts:
To read “A GP Called Paddington’, click here
To read ‘Jeeves and the Hormone Deficiency’, click here
To read ‘The Dr Scrooge Chronicles’, click here
To read ‘The Three Little GPs and the Big Bad Secretary of State for Health’, click here
To read ‘A Mission Impossible’, click here
To read ‘The Happy Practice – A Cautionary Tale’, click here
To read ‘A Grimm Tale’, click here
To read ‘The NHS – the ‘S’ is for service not slave’, click here
To read ‘Because sometimes not even chocolate is enough’, click here
To read ‘What price resilience’, click here
To read ‘Toward maintaining a more compassionate resilience’, click here
And, just so that you are aware, the following three related blogs contain expressly Christian content:
To read ‘True Love?’, click here
To read ‘Rest assured’, click here
To read ‘Don’t forget to be ordinary if you want to be happy’, click here