Tuesday, October 02, 2012
Trust me, I’m a doctor
There’s an old adage that gets bandied around bars across the Pacific which postulates that expatriate communities are made up of missionaries, mercenaries and misfits. Usually there’s no doubt about who makes up the first two categories, but defining those who fall under the latter can be a little more tricky.
There are those amongst the ‘misfits’ who are really easy to pick; such as the skinny, long-haired, dope-smoking yachtie who washed-up on a bar stool in the late ‘80s and who never quite got it together to move on, but then there are those who might have arrived as missionary or mercenary, but who then fell -out with the missus and shacked-up with a local dame (and not necessarily in that order), who now have a couple of light brown kids but never quite crossed that line to being ‘local’.
But then there are the professionals; lawyers, stock-brokers, scientists, doctors. Folk who, back in their home environment, have the run of the land, what with their six- or seven-figure income, their automatic social respect and their multiple dwellings and holiday homes. But there are some amongst these professionals who don’t quite fit the mould, and they end up in some pretty out of the way places, no doubt having fallen through all types of social and professional cracks along the way.
One such example was a European doctor I once met who had voluntarily exiled himself on one of the most remote Pacific Islands he could find. Here he used his significant medical and surgical qualifications to serve the local community out of the sparsely equipped, wall-less hospital, and in non-work periods, took long, naked runs around the island, drank fermented coconuts and embraced his ever-encroaching senility. Why he was there, and not back home with his kin was never clear, but the last I heard he was still there, performing hysterectomies wearing nothing but a surgical gown and gloves.
More recently, I have come across a much younger European doctor who has found himself on a distant shore, serving well-healed expatriates and well-insured travellers from a small private hospital. This short, skinny, bespectacled squib is friendly enough, but one might questions his commitment to the health of his patients, when he clearly has such little regard for his own.
Arriving at his office for a consultation first thing in the morning, and you will be accosted by the stench of cigarette smoke wafting through his office door, or the repellent sight of a desk littered with burned-out cigarette stubs resting precariously on empty Coke cans, or two or three half empty coffee cups which, by the looks of their foaming, milky contents, look as though they have been curdling happily away through the sultry tropical evening.
Other than his questionable levels of personal and environmental hygiene, his obvious obsessive compulsive tendencies, his inability to remember a patient he may have seen only the day before, his rock-solid standard prescription of Penicillin V and his tendency to follow every patient out of the consulting room while lighting up a ciggie, this sickly-thin, weedy medico has a rather strange obsession with buff, male body-builders, and without exception, has a number of body-building websites open on his desktop every time I have entered his room.
Clearly there are reasons that this doctor has not quite fit the medical services environment of a big, European teaching hospital, nor even that of a small, suburban or provincial family medical clinic. Why this misfit has found his way to tis part of the world is understandable, but why his current employers are happy to threaten their duty of care to their clients is a little more difficult to fathom. Perhaps the reason so many misfits do end up stopping on the islands is because in a world where no one else will take them, the Pacific will always have something for someone to do … no matter how scary or weird they may be.
‘Would you like some Penicillin V with that?’. Pic: http://cutcaster.com