Dr Joe Baker
The first speaker on day two of the recent conference of the North and East Otago Literature Is Therapy Society (NEO-LITh-S) was Professor Iain U Endoe. Professor Endoe believes health professionals are talented actors who, more than any other group except perhaps, err, actors—and of course politicians—are able to radically modify their presenting personas according to the circumstances they encounter. A healthcare worker can discuss rugby with a freezing worker and then immediately go on to discuss post-modern concepts with a professor of literature, feigning interest all the while.
But there are limits, and if that limit is reached health workers may revert back to their innate states, with all their associated prejudices and offensive behaviours. Professor Endoe presented a case where a GP, “James”, transformed his usual solitary, rugged and stoic Cantabrian character into mellow bonhomie when called out to help a holiday maker from Paris who had met with misfortune. It was the severe unrelenting uni-directional banter which eventually led James to break his role play:
“We are on holiday. I slip,” said Alain, the young handsome Frenchman. His five companions, two males and three females, laughed as he explained how he had injured his knee. “And then it swell and I can not move it at all. I can not put weight on it. Zee knee is stuck. Merci beaucoup for coming to see me. I really did not think I could get in zee car.”
“No problem. That’s why we are here,” said James. He examined the knee. He warned Alain it would hurt a little. He heard some French swearing. He recognised the words. The five friends giggled profusely. James decided to impress the group with his understanding of French culture.
“It looks a bit like a splodgy brioche,” he said. “I am not exactly sure what you have done but I’m fairly certain you’ve not broken it. You need to ice the knee and I think we need to give you a knee brace and some pain relief. We can lend you some walking aids and then we should see you again in a few days.”
The companions continued laughing. James wondered if they had been drinking. It was lunchtime after all and the French did have a reputation. He certainly felt like the only sober person at a party. He spotted glasses and two empty bottles. He knew he couldn’t pass comment; he was, after all, playing a leading role in an unfolding drama.
“This is going to cost me a great deal, no?” asked Alain.
James had always been embarrassed by money. “There will be a charge, but in New Zealand, if you have an accident the Government pays most of the medical costs.”
“But you doctors are all very rich. You make lot of money.” The companions were almost hysterical.
James thought, I’m not rich mon ami. He was secretly proud of his schoolboy French but didn’t want to test it. James knew he was the butt of their humour but he needed to play the butt. That was his job. He had a flashback to that forward pass in the 2007 World Cup, but pushed the image down. He had to remain polite and not allow his slowly developing antithesis to show.
“And when can I travel? We go to Christchurch tomorrow.”
“Ideally you should rest with your leg raised, but I guess if you can sit comfortably in the car you could travel. You must not drive. If we can’t see you here then we will need to arrange for you to see someone in Christchurch.”
“And you will charge me extra for that? For this, how you say, arranging? You doctors charge for everything.”
“No not at all. It is all included.”
“And what about walking?”
“You’ll just have to see how it goes.”
It was definitely party-like in the cramped room. One of the women opened another bottle of Côtes du Rhône and filled glasses for the others, including Alain. She offered James a drink. He declined. Their laughter continued.
“But what about medicines and your time, and zee knee brace? You charge me for that?”
James was becoming irritated.
“And soccer? When can I play soccer?”
“It is difficult to be certain,” James replied.
“And zee ice pack. Again, you charge me for that?”
More laughter from Alain’s fan club. James had a sudden vision of the Rainbow Warrior. He smiled back at them through gritted teeth.
“And zee paperwork? You charge me for that? But you doctors are all very rich. You make lot of money.” The companions toasted each other. They were almost hysterical.
Alain became pensive, looked around at his friends, gave a big smile, turned to James, and asked, ‘And what about sex?’
James had had enough. “I would certainly charge you extra for that.” Then, thinking that he may as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb, he added, “Especially because you’re French.”
A hush hit the room. Someone had died and that someone was James. The guffawing and giggling stopped. The friends appeared nervous. Perhaps they thought James was serious. He could already see the complaint being made. His defence would be I can give as good as I get. Best leave quickly he thought. Best finish off the paperwork. As he wrote, there was un silence formidable. He felt their gazes upon him. How to charge? Thank God, Alain had cash. So much easier. Best knock a bit off. Au revoir? Should he say au revoir? Probably not. Might seem to be trying to be smart. Perhaps belligerence would be the key here. “Spot you later,” he said and strode out the motel room. Bloody French, he thought. Give me a German any day.
Professor Endoe went on to tell the small audience that unfortunately James lost all his acting ability after this incident, and began to say what he truly thought about various groups. He was eventually struck off for “not playing the game”.
Note: because James has been struck off, his advice regarding knee injuries should not be regarded as reliable. If a reader does injure a knee, please seek assistance from an appropriately scoped health provider who has been certified as having attended all their required professional development courses.
Dr Joe Baker: Joe Baker is a GP in Dunedin, New Zealand.