Peter Aird is a GP in Bridgwater, Somerset.
It’s Christmas Eve and a disheartened Dr Scrooge has been considering resignation. But his guardian angel, Clarence, is about to explain how Scrooge’s life has had more of a positive effect on others than he had ever imagined – see yesterday.
‘Well let’s start with the obvious. Take Mr Carton. Surely you remember how, after your telephone consultation with him you agreed a face to face review and thus diagnosed his back pain as an abdominal aortic aneurysm. He’s alive this Christmas because of you. And then there was the kindness you showed to Mrs Gray as she died. That mattered too, you know? Enormously’.
Scrooge grudgingly indicated his agreement. ‘But it’s no more than any GP would have done’.
‘Perhaps. Even so, you made a difference. If ‘The Ghost of General Practice Present’ were here we could taken and shown you how happy so many people are this evening because of your actions over the years. I’d WhatsApp her but I know she’s busy haunting a Covid vaccination centre this evening. It’s been a tough year for the members of BASIL too you know.’
‘BASIL?’, Scrooge interrupted, ‘I’ve heard of SAGE, but who the heck are BASIL?’
‘“Beings and Spirits in Limbo”’, Clarence replied. ‘We’ve all been meeting on Zoom this year. It’s been awful. The Ghost of General Practice Past still hasn’t learnt how to unmute himself and The Ghost of General Practice Yet To Come’ can’t stop smugly telling everyone how he correctly predicted the increase in remote consulting and the wearing of masks during face to face reviews.’
‘Enough of that though, back to what I was saying. In addition to those positive outcomes there are many others of which you are unaware. That time you reassured that couple that their child’s rash didn’t warrant an ambulance. As a result, a man who was suffering an MI at the time was attended to promptly when he called 999. Wonderfully he was stented within an hour of the onset of his chest pain. And then there’s Dr Cratchit of course.’
‘Bob? What about him?’
‘He was desperate that Christmas a couple of years ago. He didn’t tell you, but he really was close to the edge, It was your support that pulled him through. And it was you who gave a job to the young lady that is now his wife, not to mention the mother of their child. In some respects the happiness of that young family is down to you. And I could tell you many similar stories.’
‘Even so, that complaint I received today. It’s completely justified. I made a mistake and people are suffering as a result’.
‘So you slipped up. And that’s regrettable and hard to live with. But surely you didn’t imagine that you would never make a mistake as a doctor? Nobody always gets it right. Try to remember as well all the times you do.’
‘Even so, it’d be nice to be appreciated a little.’
‘Well of course. And the truth is many people do. But still, the value of an action remains irrespective of any appreciation that might be shown for it. Surely happiness comes more from performing an act of kindness than from the appreciation that might follow it. If you really want to be appreciated, post an amusing cat video on Facebook. Only don’t expect that to satisfy you for long!’
‘If Covid has taught us anything Ebenezer, surely it’s this: it’s possible to be content with less and that, rather than striving after more, we would do well to be content with what we already have. Life has always been uncertain. We are not the sole masters of our fate, nor of those we love or care for. There is much that we don’t and can’t know. We need to acknowledge just how little we really understand, that we don’t always know best and that everyone sometimes makes mistakes. Even GPs!’
Scrooge smiled and took a step towards Clarence who had got to his feet and was now putting his hat and coat back on. Scrooge hesitated, mindful again of social distancing guidelines. Clarence didn’t seem concerned though as he stepped forward too. The two men exchanged a firm handshake.
‘Thank you,’ said Scrooge. ‘It was good of you to come.’
‘‘Not at all, Ebenezer. It was a pleasure. And thank you for all your efforts this year. You, and all your staff, are doing a grand job. And it isn’t going unnoticed, not by those who count. Now, you’ll forgive me if I don’t stand and applaud you. And seeing as I don’t have a voucher entitling you to a free coffee or a discount bar of chocolate, I’m afraid you’ll have to make do with this!’
And with that, and before he could undertake the relevant detailed risk assessment, Scrooge was experiencing something he’d never experienced before. He was being hugged by an angel.
‘Don’t worry about Covid-19, Dr Scrooge,’ laughed Clarence, sensing Scrooge’s unease. ‘This duffel coat and trilby hat offer complete protection. Or at least as much as those flimsy plastic aprons you’ve all been wearing these past few months. And besides, what’s the worst that could happen? Only that you die and discover what many know already, that there aren’t varying degrees of danger where I come from.’
As they separated, Scrooge looked bemused.
‘Haven’t you heard, Ebenezer?’ Clarence continued, chuckling to himself. ‘There are no tiers in heaven!’
And with that a bright light filled the waiting room and as it faded Scrooge found himself alone once more. Forgetting all thoughts of resignation, he made his way outside and, checking his phone, noticed that he’d received a text message. It was from Bob Cratchit.
‘Where are you? Hope you’ve not forgotten you’re bubbling with us this Christmas and playing Father Christmas for us and our little one’
Scrooge smiled to himself. Perhaps this would be a Merry Christmas after all.