My out-patient clinics seem to be transmuting into book-signings and judging by the people asking me medical stuff at my last book-signing, the converse is true as well.
One patient at the end of the consultation in my clinic, said, ‘On a different matter, Mr Nath, I read your book and thought it was very good.’
‘Thank you,’ I said.
‘Are you very religious yourself, then?’
‘No, I’m an atheist,’ I replied.
‘Oh I just wondered because the main character was so religious.’
‘But,’ I said, ‘that is a fictional character; it isn’t me.’
Which brings me to my point. I have a sneaking feeling all writers inject a little of themselves into their work and into their characters. My wife, Jane, read ‘The Cyclist’ and said she just knew I had written it because there was so much in it, which she knew I was capable of thinking or saying. Be that as it may, I can assure you all that Auguste Ran is not Fred Nath and I deny any similarities – well any big ones at any rate.
There is a thread in the book though, to which some readers seem oblivious and others puzzle over. I’ve worked in the Great Grumbling Machine of the NHS all my working life (a long time by anyone’s standards) and I’ve seen a lot of changes. Consultants used to have control over what they did and were trusted to have the integrity not only to provide the best possible treatment to their patients, they had the courage to treat the most deserving patients first without worrying too much about waiting lists etc.
Nowadays, there is a pernicious waiting-list culture, driven by targets made up by people who don’t understand the priorities which drive us. Patients in severe pain, patients whose lives could potentially be at risk and those for whom early intervention could prevent disability must come first. I recall having a conversation with a manager and explaining that the 17-year-old with the tumour had to be operated upon before the overdue waiting-list patient, because his life was at risk. The manager insisted the boy with the tumour could wait. Needless to say, I did what I thought was right and you don’t need to ponder too much upon what that was.
The relevance to my book is that the central character is one who has a nice tidy successful life until his world is taken over by a bullying hierarchy and he ceases to feel empowered or even trusted. This is quite like having one’s dedication and integrity called to question by people who are empowered by false ideals and a ‘Greater Power’ like Government.
Think about it. Should one just bend in the wind of change or should one stand firm and crack like a brittle old oak? I don’t know the answers to these things, but I reckon I’ll stick to what I know and hope it’s enough, like all us Consultants do.