My Life As A Witch Doctor

I’ve often wondered what sort of doctor I am. Then suddenly it dawned on me. At one place where I work everyone (except the higher echelons of Administration, naturally) swipes on and off electronically using their index finger. The machine flashes either red (red0) or green (accepted)  – except for me. The scan always comes up purple. At first I thought (hoped?) I was a fembot, but as I rarely show up in group photographs (for I’m usually on the other end of the camera) it dawned on me: I am a witch who is a doctor.

How many days feel
How many days feel

The role of a hospital CMO (Career Medical Officer) can be difficult to explain. The Americans are trending towards the term Hospitalist: a doctor who specialises in hospital medicine. (If you put the accent on the third syllable, the word conjures up images of medieval monks caring for the sick. I like that, though I don’t think it’s quite what the Americans intended.) I often use the term slave. Or minion. People understand these.

The important things of life
The important things of life

Like an old-fashioned GP, the role encompasses many different skills. Down the centuries the term witch has covered quite the spectrum of personalities, from the inspirational to the psychologically, socially and ethically challenged. Some witches, however, were true Renaissance women (and men, I’m broadminded enough to include the term warlock), skilled in their ability to do many things well rather then focusing on just one skill set. They never claimed to be experts, and were willing to think independently in a time when individual thought was not encouraged. They lived, as a consequence, outside the system. The world has changed little.

I lack both the hair and face-mask of those true witch-doctors portrayed in the countless

Tarzan movies of my youth. These days everyone and anyone who works in a hospital wears scrubs with their name tattooed across one breast, even when out shopping.

Sugar is an important part of a witch-doctor diet
Sugar is an important part of a witch-doctor diet

(Wearing scrubs outside of a hospital is a habit I deplore, on a hygiene basis alone. Knowing where they have been during the day, I refuse to stand next to anyone wearing scrubs in a queue. I won’t even begin on the perceived status vs equalising symbolism, nor the fact that very few people actually look good in scrubs. Maybe Audrey Hepburn could have pulled it off, maybe Grace Kelly. They never saw the need to try.) When I put on my heels and flowing skirts perhaps I am donning my own ritualistic uniform.

To some I am nigh invisible. Which doctor is on today? Being invisible, however, has its advantages: I get to bear witness to the full spectrum of humanity. One of my work places consists largely of winding corridors. These are filled with speckled sunshine by day, but by night they become a world of echoes and dark shadows. I’ve been known to scare the living daylights out of the night cleaner when I suddenly appear. I keep telling him ghosts don’t clip-clop down a corridor in heels, but with his music playing away he never hears me.

Unlike a witch who is a doctor, I have no plans to be burnt at the stake, or to be thrown into a pond to see if I sink or float. (I might be a strong swimmer, but it would cause havoc with my shoes). I don’t go into trances and speak in tongues, although I have been known to mutter. I am also good at loosing track of time. Too often suddenly half an hour, an hour has vanished. I am always late.

Like the witches, I see the flaws in the system, but also what is good, and what works. I have time just to be with people, both patients and staff. In some ways I see my role more like a parish priest; through my patients, and those I work with, I have seen the spectrum of humanity, with all its faults but also all its inspirations.

End of a long shift
End of a long shift

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