Tales Of A Medicine-Watcher: 2. Proud ‘Neath Heated Brow

Tales of a Medicine-Watcher are true stories from 50 years in medicine. Names and dates changed, staff names real (unless otherwise noted). The term Medicine-Watcher is used in The Youngest Science, the autobiography of Lewis Thomas, which I use with respect. 


“Mr Harris!” The old Alfred Hospital outpatients was hot and crowded that summer of 1988. There were 12 cubicles that led off the teeming waiting room, no appointments in those days, everyone turned up about the same time. I called out again, somewhat impatiently, and a little too loudly “MR BOB HARRIS!”

Deep in the waiting crowd, a hand slowly went up, and sort of waved, and I could see the elderly Mr Harris in his wheelchair, trying to get started and escape the seats and legs and bags. Just what I needed. Didn’t he know that I was a busy trainee, patients to see, a lunchtime meeting, teaching rounds. The overwhelming feeling of self-aggrandisement took over as I strode towards Mr Harris, still trapped, and I grabbed the handles of his wheelchair, turned it 45 degrees and pushed hard.

There was a loud ‘CRACK’ followed by a louder yell from Mr Harris ‘YEOWWW’! The entire waiting room become deathly silent as everyone, staff, students, patients, turned to look at my horrified face as I focussed on his left foot, dangling, hanging, limp, facing backwards. My supervisor and Head of Clinic, Dr (later Professor) Dan Czarny, stared, motionless.

“It’s all right, Doc, it’s me wooden leg” Mr Harris said as he looked up, half-smiling. Laughter all around. Apologies, arrangements with the prosthetic department, brand new foot.

I grew up a bit. And thereafter tried to treat patients and wheelchairs with great respect.

“Crimson flames tied through my ears, rollin’ high and mighty traps
Pounced with fire on flaming roads using ideas as my maps
“We’ll meet on edges, soon, ” said I, proud ‘neath heated brow
Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now” (Bob Dylan, 1964)






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