Peter Aird is a GP in Bridgwater, Somerset.
In which Dr Scrooge is visited……
It was a little after 6.30pm on Christmas Eve and, having said goodbye to his reception staff and wished them all a Merry Christmas, Dr Ebenezer Scrooge was alone in his consulting room.
But Scrooge himself was in no mood for merriment. He wasn’t enjoying the way Covid was forcing him to work, and he felt unappreciated. Some were describing GPs as a national disgrace, imagining perhaps that they’d spent the summer on the golf course. This was certainly not the case for Dr Scrooge who, apart from that incident involving a lemon, a stained glass window and the irate members of the parochial church council, hadn’t picked up a golf club for many years.
At least now he had a few days off work. With no family of his own, spending that time alone wasn’t something he was looking forward to. Furthermore, today’s letter of complaint, one that he felt was wholly justified, had dampened his spirits even more.
‘I should have done better’ he thought to himself. ‘It wouldn’t have happened if I was a decent doctor.’
He stood up from his desk and made his way to the waiting area, empty now as it had been most of the year. Scrooge missed interacting with patients, sharing a joke with them as they waited. He’d often bend down low to look under the chairs when the patient he’d called hadn’t been there, as if they might be hiding from him there. Someone always smiled, even if that someone was only Scrooge himself!
He sat down on one of the two remaining chairs and considered the past year, one in which he had been urged, not without good reason, to distance himself from those who had sought to come to him for help. The result had been that the needs of his patients were too often seen in isolation and their care had become less personal, something which he felt had been as detrimental for him as it undoubtedly had been for his patients.
And it wasn’t only at work that things had changed.
Last week he’d been shopping. He’d parked in a multi-storey car park where, ‘due to COVID restrictions’, the top three storeys had been closed off, thus forcing people to crowd into the two remaining levels. Then he’d heard a father reassuring his little boy that his mother wasn’t dead but had simply popped into a nearby shop. It’d have been funny if it hadn’t been so sad, evidence of the crippling and excessive anxiety many were experiencing. And then, to top it all, he’d visited his local branch of Waitrose and bought fennel, dill and some ‘essential’ orzo, three items that a year previously he’d never heard of. What, he wondered, was the world, and he, coming to.
‘I’m a failing doctor, in a failing system in a failing world. Time for me to resign. Both the practice and the local community will better off without me!’
His mind made up, Scrooge started back to his room in search of some headed paper. But as he did so the TV screen burst to life and the figure of an elderly man appeared surrounded by swirling mist. Dressed in a old duffel coat, he was sporting a trilby hat. From within the TV he called Scrooge’s name.
Scrooge turned to address the figure.
‘Not again!’ he started. ‘Must I be haunted every Christmas? Who are you this time? “The Ghost of The Christmas We Never Expected”?
The elderly man, somewhat taken aback, began to make his way awkwardly out of the TV. Before long he was standing in front of Scrooge, smiling broadly.
‘Well a good evening to you too, Dr Scrooge! My name’s Clarence, and I’m your guardian angel, allocated to you now that George has no further need of me.’
‘Clarence? What kind of a name is that for an angel. And who’s George when he’s a home?’
Clarence was now removing his coat and carefully placing it on the back of a chair in that rather irritating way that patients sometimes do at the start of consultations. He was clearly planning on staying a while.
‘I’m surprised you don’t recognise me. But then you’ve probably only ever seen me in black and white. But surely you must remember George. His was a wonderful life.’
‘Well bully for George. I hope he’s happy’
‘Indeed he is. Very happy. But from what I’ve been hearing, that can’t be said of you. Have you thought about chatting it over with your appraiser?’
‘Not likely! I know they’re supposed to be supportive but I prefer to pretend that everything’s fine with my appraiser. Fortunately he’s not hard to fool. Like long haired sheep it’s easy to pull the wool over his eyes!’
‘Perhaps I can help then – I do have some experience in this area. It seems you are questioning how useful your life as a GP has been. You think you haven’t made a difference. But you have, a huge difference, often in ways you cannot imagine.’
Scrooge remained silent, not though by way of employing a therapeutic tool. He was eager to hear what Clarence had to say but reluctant to appear as such. The angel, sensing Scrooge’s predicament, went on.