This tale is Part Four of ‘Scrooge in the Time of Coronavirus’ which is itself Book Two of ‘The Dr Scrooge Chronicles’. Book One is entitled ‘A Primary Care Christmas Carol’.
To read ‘A Primary Care Christmas Carol ’, click here.
To read Part One of ‘ Scrooge in the Time of Coronavirus – A Tale of Two Patients’, click here.
To read Part Two of ‘Scrooge in the Time of Coronavirus – It’s A Wonderful GP Life’, click here.
To read Part Three of ‘Scrooge in the Time of Coronavirus – Bleak Practice’, click here
in which Scrooge meets a red faced portly gentleman and finally calls for help.
It was Christmas Eve and Dr Scrooge was writing up the notes of the final consultation of his afternoon surgery. He looked up at the clock on the wall and noted that it was just before 7pm. It had been a long day. Through his open door he could hear Dr Cratchit singing a medley of Christmas songs. Clearly his colleague was looking forward to Christmas with his young family and his excitement had undoubtedly been heightened by the fact that during the afternoon it had begun to snow.
‘So here it is merry Christmas everybody’s having fun’, sang Dr Cratchit poking his head around the corner of Scrooge’s door. ‘Look to the future now it’s only just begun!’
‘Christmas it may be Bob, but I’m not sure that everyone is having fun,’ countered Scrooge suppressing a cough. ‘And I’m not so sure the future has just begun either. It rather seems to me that the future is on hold.’
Dr Cratchit however was not going to allow his spirits to be dampened. ‘I hope you’re not reverting to being a Christmas grump, Ebenezer. Why don’t you come round to our place for Christmas? You really would be most welcome’.
‘Thanks Bob, but I’d rather not. Maybe next year. You head off home. And do tell the receptionists that they can go home too. I’m nearly done – I won’t be here much longer.’
‘Well OK. As long as you’re sure. Have a good few days Ebenezer and I’ll see you on the other side!’. And with that Dr Cratchit left and a minute or two later Scrooge could hear him laughing with the receptionists as they braved the icy car park just outside his window. Soon all was quiet and Scrooge knew he was all alone in the building.
Scrooge had enjoyed spending last Christmas with Bob but this year his heart simply wasn’t it. It had been a hard year with his workload spiralling out of control. The weight of expectation on GPs had taken its toll with everybody seemingly wanting more and more from a profession that was already on its knees. Furthermore the constant criticism that had come from both the media and government had only made matters worse and the end result was that his mood had sunk ever lower.
‘Right now,’ thought Scrooge to himself, ‘Christmas is the last thing I need. The days off, of course, are welcome, especially after the last couple of weeks but Christmas isn’t like it was when I was a child. Back then Christmas was a magical time, a time you could really enjoy. But now? Now it’s seems it’s just another opportunity to burden oneself with the thousands of things we are expected to do if we are to be deemed acceptable celebrants of what our consumerist society has now made Christmas. I’ve had enough. I just want it all to stop.’
Even Scrooge’s Facebook feed seemed now to be asking more of him. All those memes which appeared to be simply offering winsome advice were, to Scrooge’s mind at least, just more examples of others exhorting him to do more. Urging him to ‘Be kind’ was all very well, he thought, but they might as well simply have insisted he ‘Do better’. Nonetheless Scrooge had made every effort to be kind, but no matter how hard he had tried there always seemed to be someone whispering in his ear, telling him that he still wasn’t good enough. Even that frequently offered advice that he be kind to himself felt to Scrooge like one more demand that he’d not been able to fulfil.
For over and above all others, there was another reason why Scrooge had not wanted to spend Christmas with the Cratchit’s. All week he’d been feeling unwell. He’d been coughing too. A PCR test the previous weekend had come back negative so, despite not really feeling up to it, he’d continued to work, unwilling as he was to leave Cratchit to manage the escalating workload by himself. That afternoon though he’d taken a significant turn for the worse. At one point he had been rigoring with a temperature of 38.7 and only by taking a couple of paracetamols had he been able to bring his fever down such that he felt well enough to keep on seeing patients.
Feeling so unwell meant it took Scrooge rather longer than he had expected to complete his paperwork and it was nearly 8pm before he finished all that he needed to do. Sensing his temperature was once more on the climb Scrooge rummaged through his desk drawers till he found some doxycycline that a patient had handed back to him earlier in the week. Then, for reasons he wasn’t quite sure of, he stuffed his pulse oximeter into his pocket before finally leaving his room and making his way out of the building. Outside it was bitterly cold and the snow was falling more heavily such that it was now beginning to settle. Scrooge got into his car and tried to start the engine only to hear the ominous clicking sound that could mean nothing other than the battery was completely flat.
Scrooge allowed his head to slump forward and rest on the steering wheel. ‘Great’, he said to himself. ‘That’s all I need!’ With it being Christmas Eve and not wanting to risk spoiling somebody’s family celebrations, Scrooge couldn’t bring himself to call anybody out and and so he decided to walk home instead. ‘It seems that this year I won’t be driving home for Christmas’ he muttered to himself as he began to cough once more, this time rather more forcefully.
Once he’d stopped coughing Scrooge got back out of his car and started to make his way home. Initially he trudged along main roads but it wasn’t long before he came to where his route took a sharp right turn. Scrooge pushed open the iron gates of the cemetery and, passing through them, continued a few paces on before stopping to gaze upon the gravestone that was clearly illuminated by the nearby street lights. The inscription read ‘In loving memory of Enid Gray who fell asleep August 6th 2020’. Scrooge remembered the elderly lady who had once been his patient, one with whom he’d spent Christmas with only three years previously and whose hand he’d held as she had taken her final breath. The inscription on her headstone ended with the words ‘Now at rest’. Scrooge couldn’t help feeling momentarily envious of Mrs Gray. How he could do with a little rest too.
On the other side of the path was another grave. This one was freshly dug and had yet to have been dignified with a headstone. Scrooge though didn’t need informing just who it was that lay beneath the still raised turf. Mark Ashley had died just three weeks previously, having presented to Scrooge only a month earlier already in the advanced stages of a malignant disease. He’d delayed attending because of concerns about catching Covid and now left behind him a grieving wife and two teenage children. Like Mrs Gray, he had been overcome by a disease that had been far more effective than Covid 19 in removing individuals from Scrooge’s patient list.
Scrooge continued along the cobbled path that ran straight across the centre of the cemetery. The night closed in on him as he ventured ever further from the streetlights that lined the road he had now left behind. About a hundred yards ahead a solitary lamp was shining brightly, driving back the darkness that surrounded it. Beneath was a bench upon which sat a portly gentleman who appeared to be wearing a red suit and whose face, itself somewhat rosy, was endowed with a long white beard. As Scrooge approached him, the figure stood up and greeted Scrooge with a broad smile and a cheery wave.
‘Good evening Dr Scrooge.’ said the man who clearly knew who Scrooge was.
‘Good evening’, replied Scrooge. ‘But I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage. I don’t recognise you in your costume’.
‘You don’t recognise me?’ questioned the man, clearly amused by Scrooge’s failure to know who it was that had addressed him. ‘That’s most unusual. I tend to get recognised by most people. So much so that’s it difficult sometimes to have a few quiet minutes to myself!’
‘I know the feeling’, interrupted Scrooge before allowing the man to explain that he had a number of names but that he was most commonly referred to as either Father Christmas or Santa Claus.
‘Very amusing I’m sure’, said Scrooge, ‘but who are you really. Are you one of my patients perhaps?’
‘No no,’ said the man, ‘I’m not local. I’m just passing through. But I’ll be sure to register as a temporary resident at your practice should I need any medical assistance. I do sometimes suffer with a touch of gout. I suspect it’s a consequence of all the port that I’m proffered at this time of year’
‘Oh come of it’ said Scrooge. ‘Father Christmas doesn’t exist’
‘Are you sure?’ the man replied. ‘I mean – haven’t you seen “Miracle on 34th Street?”’
‘Of course I’m sure. And some sentimental Christmas film isn’t going to persuade me otherwise. I’m a bit old to believe in Father Christmas!’
‘Nobody’s too old to believe in me. Next you’ll be saying that Christmas is for the children!’
‘Well isn’t it?’
‘Well yes – but it’s for adults too. However old we are, we all still need Christmas. What would life be without something as fantastic as Christmas to look forward to, something to lift our spirits and give us hope in even the hardest of hard times?. Don’t you believe the Christmas story?’
‘Of course I don’t. The Christmas story is no more true than your beard is real!’, Scrooge snapped back.
‘Well I’d have to agree with you there’, said the man pulling on his beard firmly and surprising Scrooge somewhat when it failed to come off in his hand. ‘What about peace and goodwill to all men? Especially in these days of pandemic, couldn’t we all do with a little more of such things?’
‘Peace and goodwill – bah humbug!’ said Scrooge who was somewhat taken aback by hearing himself using an expression he’d not used for years. ‘Say what you like! I don’t believe in you or the Christmas story. The idea of there being someone so good and kind as to dispense gifts on everyone is ridiculous. The world is a tough place.’
‘Indeed it is – but there’s always hope.’
‘Not for the dead there isn’t’ said Scrooge indicating to the stranger as he did so the graves that lay scattered around them. The man in the red suit appeared to want to challenge Scrooge’s assertion but Scrooge wasn’t about to let a man he had decided was one bauble short of a fully decorated Christmas tree interrupt him now. ‘The truth is’, Scrooge continued, ‘that in the end the world defeats us all. And just now that most certainly includes me. That said, the idea of their being someone who is as kind as the person you’re claiming to be is, undoubtedly, quite appealing. Wouldn’t it just be heaven if there really was somebody who could bring some genuine joy into this miserable world, who could give us some hope for the future, who could put an end to all this death and disease?’
‘That’s quite a Christmas list you have there Dr Scrooge and you may have to look to someone other than myself for all that’s on it. Nonetheless the less, I’ll see what I can do. In the meantime how about a yo-yo, a penny whistle and this half eaten satsuma that Rudolph mistook for a carrot?’
‘That’s very kind of you Santa’, smiled Scrooge resigning himself now to playing along with the peculiar man who was clearly set on staying in role. ‘I don’t suppose you could sort out the crises in General Practice too could you?’.
‘I’m not sure that I can I’m afraid, not this Christmas at least. But I’ll say this. When you have 55,000 GPs, all of whom are doing their best in incredibly difficult circumstances and others are saying that it still isn’t good enough, then the problem isn’t with GPs. And here’s another thing. You are aware aren’t you that I know who’s been good and who’s been bad this year? Well you GPs, and all those who work alongside you, are most certainly not on my naughty list!’
And with that the man gave a whistle and from out of nowhere a sleigh appeared. It was laden down with presents and was pulled by eight reindeer one of whom had a particularly shiny nose. The man stepped on to the sleigh and took hold of the reigns. Then, with a hearty ‘Ho, ho, ho’, he gave them a sharp tug and a second later he had disappeared from sight leaving a bewildered Scrooge alone once more.
Scrooge stood motionless for a few minutes not knowing quite what to make of what had just happened. What was it about Christmas Eve that in recent years had resulted him repeatedly having such strange encounters? Soon though his thoughts turned to more pressing concerns when he suddenly developed a sharp pain in the side of his chest. He started coughing again and brought up some mucky green sputum which this time, Scrooge noticed, was flecked with blood. Keen to get home, he tried to quicken his pace but it was another twenty five minutes before he eventually found himself outside his house. As he turned the key in the lock and pushed open the front door Scrooge was really rather breathless from his exertions.
Inside it was dark and Scrooge stumbled his way to the lounge where he collapsed into his favourite armchair. He switched on the small lamp that stood on the table next to him and noticed the advent calendar that one of his patients had given him at the beginning of December. The last door was still closed as Scrooge hadn’t had time that morning to open it. He peeled it back now revealing a picture of a new born baby lying in a manger but Scrooge paid no attention to the scripture verse that was written on the inside of the door. Instead, conscious that his breathing had deteriorated still further, Scrooge reached into his pocket and pulled out the pulse oximeter that he’d placed there earlier and applied it to the index finger of his left hand.
Seeing it record a pulse rate of 128 and an oxygen concentration of just 86%, Scrooge realised that, Christmas Eve or not, now was the time to call for help. He took hold of his phone and tapped out 999 only to hear a message explaining that due to the volume of calls that were currently being received there was nobody immediately available to take his call but that it would be answered as soon as somebody was free. Several minutes went by before somebody eventually responded. After determining what the problem was the call handler assured Scrooge that an ambulance would be dispatched as soon as possible but cautioned him that, due to the unprecedented demand that they were currently experiencing, they may be some delay.
Scrooge sat quietly in the chair feeling himself becoming more and more tired. He looked down at the advent calendar and now noticed the words that were printed on the inside of the door he’d just opened. ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’. They were the last words Scrooge saw. He found them strangely comforting and, believing them to be true, he managed a smile as, letting go of his hopes and fears, his eyes grew ever more heavy until he eventually fell into a deep, and dreamless sleep.
Outside, up in the sky, the silent stars went by.
Early in the new year the local newspaper reported Scrooge’s death and described how he’d been found by the ambulance crew when they eventually arrived at his home in the early hours of Christmas Day. It had been several hours after Scrooge had made his initial call for help.
His funeral was well attended and many there spoke of how much they had appreciated all that he had done for them. Had he been there it would have cheered Scrooge’s heart. But, of course, he wasn’t. Scrooge was somewhere far better, somewhere where he enjoyed everlasting light and could spend his days resting a while with Mrs Gray or learning the art of encouragement by spiritual visitation from Clarence, the angel he’d met the Christmas before and with whom he had become firm friends.
In time Scrooge took on the role of ‘The Ghost of General Practice at it’s Best’. There was nothing he loved more than visiting GPs and reminding them that, however great their struggle, there was always hope, always something good to enjoy about their work, always some light to be found in the darkness.
So if one Christmas something unaccountable happens, if perhaps a mince pie appears on your desk whilst you’ve been called away to a colleague’s consulting room as a result of their panic button going off for seemingly no reason whatsoever, ask yourself if you too may have been visited by Dr Scrooge, someone who now really is having fun and whose future, like yours, has ‘only just begun’.
To read the whole of ‘The Scrooge Chronicles’, click here
Other medically related Christmas themed blogs:
To read ‘How the Grinch and Covid stole General Practices Christmas’, click here
To read ‘Twas the night before Christmas – 2020’, click here
To read ‘A Merry, and Resilient, Christmas’, click here
Other GP related stories:
To read ‘Mr Benn – the GP’, click here
To read ‘A Bear called Paddington’, click here
To read ‘The Three Little GPs and the Big Bad Secretary of State for Health’, click here
To read ‘Jeeves and the Hormone Deficiency’, click here
To read ‘The Happy Practice – A Cautionary Tale’, click here
To read ‘A Mission Impossible’, click here
To read ‘A Grimm Tale’, click here