From memory, for memory, and in memory.
I used to have a physiotherapy clinic in central Dunedin. One Friday evening I farewelled my final patient and began to tidy up before heading home. It had been a busy week and I was exhausted. Already mentally off-duty, I wandered into the waiting room to stack the magazines, and to my surprise and annoyance found two men sitting there. In an American drawl, one of them said, “My friend here needs an appointment.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but the clinic is closed.”
The man persisted. “This is very important,” he said. “He needs an appointment now.”
I glanced at the friend. He was certainly holding himself rigidly, as if in pain. But the very idea of treating one more patient that day was too much for me. “I’m sorry,” I repeated, “but I am closing now.”
The man amped up his appeal. It’s urgent; it’s necessary; it has to be done and you have to do it.
I amped up my refusal. No, I couldn’t treat his friend. It was impossible. The clinic was closed. They would have to try somewhere else. At first it was my exhaustion speaking but before long it was just plain stubbornness. This man was irritating me with his pushiness, and the other man was irritating me by not speaking up for himself.
But the first man kept at it. Surely I could squeeze his friend in. Okay, if not now, how about tomorrow morning?
Eventually, ungraciously, I conceded that if it was really necessary, I’d open the clinic on Saturday morning for this one appointment. I did not want to do this, and I only offered because I felt pressured into it. I was hoping they would say no, that they’d prefer to seek immediate treatment elsewhere. But they leapt at it. Enormously bad-tempered, I fetched my appointment book and a pen (this happened in the paper age, many moons ago).
“His name is Campbell,” said the man.
My pen hovered over the page. “Is that the first name or the surname?”
“That’s his last name. His first name is Glen.”
Grumpily, I wrote Glen Campbell against the 9 am slot. It looked familiar. Glen Campbell, Glen Campbell … Glen Campbell was in my waiting room? Glen Campbell in l’il ol’ Dunedin? It came to me, a vague recollection, that I’d seen a poster somewhere advertising a concert. I tried to keep my eyes on the appointment book, but couldn’t help shooting a glance at him, just enough of a glance to catch the amusement in both their eyes. They knew I knew. I knew they knew I knew. I’d be damned if I was going to let on that I knew they knew I knew.
“I’ll see you tomorrow at nine,” I said, coolly, although my face was flaring. I had just refused to treat Glen Campbell. And I was also thinking, rather defensively, so what!? Famous schmamous. Campbell Schampbell. A patient is a patient. No special treatment here.
But would I have treated him immediately had I realised who he was? Yes, I think it is very likely I would have, and this knowledge about myself was uncomfortable. When I thought he was Joe Bloggs I was ready to turf him into the street. It would seem I practised a contingent compassion.
I was still churning this over when I came into work again the next morning. I’ve churned it over many times since. The thing is, you just never know who the next patient in your waiting room will turn out to be … so front up, professional. Everyone is famous, to someone somewhere.
Mr Campbell turned out to be a lovely, courteous and gracious person, very much more gracious than I had been the evening before. On Saturday morning we talked a fair bit, about pain, about God (actually he did all the talking about God), about music. He gave me a complementary pass to the show that evening at the Regent Theatre, and it was a very fine show indeed.
Glen Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2011. The 2014 film, I’ll Be Me, which documented Campbell’s final tour, has been described as throwing open a window into the reality of living with this illness. It included his last studio-recorded song, the very moving “I’m not gonna miss you”.
Glen Campbell died on 8 August 2017, aged 81.
Sue Wootton is co-editor of Corpus. A former physiotherapist, she lives in Dunedin, New Zealand.