I hadn’t thought of Dr Smedley for ten years or more. But when Kath got back from a weekend catching-up with old school friends, and told me all the gossip, including how Alice was coping as a busy GP with an equally busy family life, it made me think about how medics tend to fall into two camps: those that like people, and those that don’t.
‘I mean – why would you go to all that trouble training to be a doctor if you didn’t like people?’ she said. ‘It’d be like setting up as a window cleaner if you were scared of heights.’
‘Or a vet if you were allergic to cats’
‘Or an accountant if you didn’t like numbers’
‘Or a traffic warden. I mean – why would anybody be a traffic warden?’
The thing was, Alice was a complete shoe-in for doctor. Not only was she smart, with that deep and natural intelligence that radiates warmth, but she was kind and funny and empathetic, a winning combination that would make you want to bind yourself to her practice with an unbreakable silver rope.
So in the same way as talking about God almost inevitably leads you on to talking about the devil, I had to mention Dr Smedley.
The best you could say about Dr Smedley was that he washed his hands. I think he was probably knowledgeable, too, of course – you would hope so, anyway, because if he’d made up his qualifications, there really would have been no excuse for having him in-post.
Dr Smedley was a legend. Rude to patients. Rude to staff. Irritable. Impulsive. Aggressive. He was tall and thin with a predatory stoop, like a praying mantis with a set of patient notes, ready to bite your head off for any infringement, real or otherwise. He wore large glasses that gave him better peripheral vision and made it impossible either to sneak up on him or escape undetected.
I only knew him through my role as an EMT with the ambulance service, so I had limited exposure. Still, I had numerous encounters. The worst was when I dropped off a drunk with a head injury to his department.
What happened was, the main hospital was on divert. This meant that only serious emergencies could go there; everything else had to be bussed up country to the next available A and E. Dr Smedley’s A and E. We’d fished a drunk out of a hedge in a park on the northern edge of the city. He was covered in blood from a cut to his head, and had to go to hospital to make sure that his slurred speech and bizarre behaviour was the vodka and not something more sinister. I was the attendant, riding with him in the back of the ambulance. He was already a mess, thrashing around in filthy clothes, wanting to take his penis out and urinate on the floor and so on. When we got to hospital we put him on a trolley and wheeled him through. The nurses were deeply unimpressed, but they understood about the divert and the head injury, so they signed the paperwork and we went back out to the truck to clean up.
A few minutes later, Dr Smedley came striding out.
‘Just what the HELL do you think you’re playing at?’
‘Is this about that drunk head injury we brought in?’
‘Yes, it’s about that drunk head injury. What were you thinking, man?’
‘So what d’you propose to do about it?’
‘Well the other hospital was on divert…’
‘I’m not interested in your pathetic excuses. Get him out of here!’
‘We’ll be happy to take him off your hands and release him back into the wild, but you’ll have to sign a letter to say you take responsibility.’
‘Oh this is absurd!’
‘He’s got a head injury.’
‘With a head injury.’
Dr Smedley gave me a sharp and violent look like he was gauging the striking distance, and I couldn’t help leaning back.
‘I’m going to report you,’ he said. ‘This doesn’t end here.’ And he walked off.
Luckily, one of the nurses had come outside for a fag. She waited until Dr Smedley had crashed his way through the A and E doors, then came over to console me.
‘He’s only raging because the geezer got his cock out and started pissing on the floor,’ she said, blowing smoke off to the side and shrugging, like this was just another working day. ‘Anyway – at least you get to drive off. I’ve got another two hours of this shit.’