Saturday, August 10, 2013

The need for cytotoxic therapies...

After Molly falls asleep, I stop her documentary -- whichever it happens to be -- and prepare to watch one of my favourite shows: BBC's Doc Martin. I'm halfway through the 5th (and awaiting the 6th) series.

It's set in Cornwall, England, and tells the story of a prominent surgeon whose development of hemophobia leads him to the quieter life of a country doctor in a familiar village.

Martin Ellingham is a middle-aged, humourless professional who does not suffer fools gladly. In turns he is bluntly honest, oblivious to social expectations, and too impatient to indulge anyone in meaningless chatter. In contrast to his arrogant demeanour, he bears the public truth of his aversion to blood with quiet humility.

This surgeon hails from a family of physicians and a circle of colleagues who practice serious medicine, so we can well sense the embarrassment in his predicament. (The cliches -- that it underscores the seeming randomness with which misfortune can suddenly attend any one of us as well as the frailty that connects us -- hold true.)

He demonstrates his competence as a general practitioner beyond question. Much of the show's humour surrounds the unique complexities of the role of physician in the dual agency that providing rural health care often requires: such doctors daily encounter patients in social settings, friends and foes appear, and professional boundaries blur. In the case of a village, the details of a doctor's private life are held no more privately than those of its other residents.

While the doctor's annoyance at the villagers' intrusive familiarity ought to be checked by the villagers' reaction to his gruff exterior and unmannerly conversational style of delivering his precise diagnoses and in managing relationships, it is not. Ellingham fits in because there is just as much pressure upon him to forge this new life for himself as there is pressure upon the villagers to tolerate him -- they need each other.

To the surprise of all, he manages to develop an intimate relationship with a local woman (Louisa) whose wavering tolerance for brash, unexpected behaviour allows her to find a quasi-comfortable role as his significant other and, eventually, as the mother of his child. 

Some weeks after the birth of their baby, Louisa prepares to go out for the night with a friend for the first time since giving birth. As she leaves, she instructs Martin to read to the baby. Martin agrees but mildly protests considering the obvious cognitive limitations of an infant.

Yet, upon Louisa's return, she quietly observes Martin reading to their baby from a medical journal -- on the need to focus on cytotoxic therapies for cancer patients.

It is such a wonderful scene. The doctor's stiff, arm's-length 'cuddle' that we have seen several times since the baby's birth has been replaced with an earnest attempt to connect -- in his own way -- with his smiling, clearly responsive son.






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