After a positive experience in a small department of St. George’s Tooting where they could do commercials for the NHS, I am grateful all over again for a good doctor.
I grew up with doctors. I had a lung shadow, the precursor of pulmonary tb and though the disease never developed, both lungs are scarred. So that, when I emigrated briefly to the US, we had to get the files from Middlesbrough General Hospital to prove that I was in the clear.
My mother took me to a private doctor called Annette Anderson when I began to have the nervous constipation that plagued my earlier life. I presume a woman was thought more conducive to adolescent confidences. She was. She also had me taking for years a medicine to train what she referred to in a deep Scottish voice as “a lazy bole” (bowel to you).
In London I rarely go past 51 Sloane Street without a whisper of acknowledgement because there I met a doctor whom I first consulted in the aftermath of an abortion.
He was kind, honest and generous and gave the Harley Street horror who had ditched me when I didn’t have enough money a heartlifting dressing down.
He became a cherished reference point. Paid for ? Sure. He earned every penny.
I hear rather recently that he long ago went off to Yorkshire. I hope the county was kind to him.
And then when I was 30 or so, working for Woman magazine, a book was published called Birth Without Violence by a French obstetrician called Frederick Leboyer.
The ideas were fascinating and somehow or other, I got invited to his press conference where I lied barefaced and said I wanted to interview him for the magazine.
I don’t know why, I wanted to listen to him.
He asked me back to his hotel, waved me to a chair and let me assemble notebook and pencil.
After a few minutes, he said “You understand French don’t you ?” Some, I allowed.
“Well then, I’ll go on in French, you in English and if we misunderstand, we’ll stop and work it out.”
We went on.
Out of nowhere he asked “Why do you wear black ?” I felt as if I were on oath, I must tell the truth.
So I said “A mixture of self-dramatization and anonymity.” He nodded.
We went on with my questions and his replies.
“Do you sing ?” he inquired.
I said “Dr. Leboyer, I sang in the school choir. I don’t have a great voice.”
“Sing more” he said.
A lot followed about centering oneself, lifting your heart, breathing as power, singing or whistling in adversity. “And put away that book. This is not for publication. This is for us.”
He told me about going to India, how though the psychologists and related therapists he knew instantly rallied to his theories about helping a new-born child make a more peaceful transition from the womb to the world, clinicians were harder to persuade.
“Will you walk for me ?” he smiled.
It’s unsettling to walk for somebody you don’t know, just walk, not prance or audition. I closed my eyes and prayed not to bump into anything.
“Better than I expected ” he remarked.
“What do you mean ?”
“Less tense than I expected” he said in English “with all that” expressive hands “static.”
And then he did something I shall never forget.
He got up and set two straight chairs, facing each other. He pointed me to one and sat close, knee to knee, with me. He took both my wrists and asked me to hold his.
“Now, close your eyes …” I did and felt cool honey comfort poured from the top of my head all through me.
I don’t know how long we sat there. He broke the hold, we stood up.
I drew breath to speak, he gestured no.
I collected my things, he walked me to the door.
We shook hands.
I never saw him again.
Doctor: from the Latin … docere meaning to teach