Once upon a time, I was at Death’s door.
I’d lost pints of blood and was in the process of losing more. I’d had a bumpy ambulance ride from a cosy community hospital to the huge impersonal London satellite infirmary which had an operating theatre which could handle me.
They clattered me on one of those wheelie trolleys through the VIP door of the surgical wing, at an alarming rate. Some kindly Indian nurses were shouting at me shrilly to keep me in the land of the living.
And then a very nice young doctor sailed into the melee, and introduced himself. He had blue eyes, foppish blonde hair, a deeply capable air and that easy public school charm I have always fallen for.
Immediately I miraculously forgot i) that I was in my forties and he a spring chicken, ii) that I was wearing an unbecoming green surgical gown with absolutely nothing covering my bottom, and sporting a corpse-like pallor most unflattering and iii) that I was at Death’s door.
A scandalised Death propped his scythe against the wall to watch as, unbelievably, I began to flirt.
“Hello!” came the clueless little girl voice which has worked so well on so many occasions, but not in the last two decades. “Do you know, you look like a cross between my husband and one of my best friends!”
Not the best chat up line: mention of husband not a promising start, but the body was running on empty and waiting for a refill, and the mind is rarely totally focussed at such times.
Graciously, Dr. Gorgeous responded with seamless banter:”Oh, well; your husband must be a very handsome man indeed…”
The nurses all tittered coquettishly. Clearly, I was not the only one under the dashing doctor’s spell.
I assured him that indeed he was, and briefly considered continuing with the witty repartee; but my record so far was dismal, and even with a couple of pints doing a flat race round the old bod, speed of transfer was no replacement for sheer quantity. I was deplorably dull in my infirmity. Curses, I thought muddily.
Sometime during the next two hours, as Dr Gorgeous did his surgical stuff, Death shrugged his shoulders, disgusted, and trudged disconsolately out of the doors to go and bother someone else. This Doctor and his colleagues had ensured my family would see me tomorrow , and tomorrow, and tomorrow.
What a dashing hero.
These doctors; it’s no wonder they fascinate us. They turn up in our hour of need, all capability and intellect.
And yet when you prick them, do they not bleed? Despite inspiring a gamut of emotions and holding life in their hands, they have their moments. They are the same as any cross-section of the population: only very, very clever.
Our storytelling has its share of good doctors, and its measure of dubious ones.
Ladies and Gentlemen, in the good corner, I bring you Dr Zhivago, Boris Pasternak’s lonely physician who is buffeted by the events of Russia in the first half of the twentieth century. A man of great principle, his ideals are in direct opposition to the brutal regime in mother Russia. And though he finds the love of his life, she is not destined to be his for eternity.
He shares the white corner with Dr John Seward, created by Bram Stoker to fall in love with a beautiful aristocrat who falls victim to the foul Nosfiratu. He calls in another knight against the darkness, that slightly crackpot Dr Abraham Van Helsing, and between them they use their medical knowledge to battle and transfuse.
Dr Dolittle talks to animals; Dr Watson is the affable human side to Sherlock Holmes’ slightly crazed brilliance. The list goes on.
But here I leave it, to turn to the dark side.
And oh, how attractive these Machiavellian medics are! Born of parents who are not noble, Christopher Marlowe’s Dr Faustus makes his way in the world using his intellect. Every subject he studies, he has reached its conclusion. So he turns to magic, seeks out the necessary incantations, draws a magic circle and makes a pact with Lucifer himself.
Dr Jekyll we have met before. He has all the knowledge but all the conscience too, and this last weighs heavy. So he makes a potion to transform himself into one who can do evil and not count the cost. the resulting exhilaration becomes addictive.
And who can forget Dr Julius No, Ian Fleming’s anti-hero, who has his finger in so many pies? His organisation harvests guano: another day job includes sabotaging American missile tests.
But his first love is the study of how the human body can withstand pain and stress. Mr Bond provides the perfect guinea pig.
All human, and slightly inhuman, life is there, in the medical profession.
The gravity of doctoring has come in useful for centuries of tales; and was used by one of France’s most gentle, undulating composers to lampoon formality and make a little girl laugh.
‘Gradus ad Parnassum’, or ‘The Steps To Parnassus” was a set of formal studies for piano. And it borrows the name of Doctor to add mock pomp.
Hard work for little fingers. Debussy shows a profound, gentle exuberance towards his daughter which penetrates like an arrow-head to the core of the soul. It is intricate, sweeping, working on every level to charm the soul.
Much, Reader, as that charming surgeon who sent Death packing, that night at the hospital.