I have been reading the autobiography of AJ Cronin. It was written in 1952, and I guess that as an author he is not read much today. Yet Dr Finlay's Casebook was a weekly television duty when I was younger and The Citadel, not only a wonderful film starring Robert Donat, but also a book that almost evrybody read that went through over 30 impressions.
It becomes apparent that both Dr Finlay and The Citadel are intensely autobiographical. There really was a Dr Cameron and a Janet at Tanochbrae.
Cronin was a rather unobservant Catholic and his wife a strict Presbyterian, yet they had a long and happy marriage. He gives a picture of what medicine was like during the early part of the 20th century. Lobar pneumonia ran its course without antibiotics and was expected to be fatal. Scarlet fever was an epidemic to strike terror into families. Syphilis an incurable scourge bringing madness to the next generation. Doctors sold tea and sympathy for pennies, wise words and good advice for nothing or strychnine tonics and bogus diagnoses for guineas.
Just as now they got paid more for injections.
For those who made it in this Darwinian struggle there were servants, fine clothes, a Rolls or a Bentley, a gentleman's club and invitations to sup with the high and mighty. For those who failed, there was scraping a living in a lock-up surgery, a dismal two room Bayswater flat and cheap whisky.
Cronin knew both lifestyles, but Providence intervened to deflate his ego whenever he got to thinking that his success was down to him, and the daily degradation that he saw around him caused him to remember his roots.
Life has certainly changed in the last 60 years and all of us in the Western world are affluent and well taken care of, but when I read this book I remembered why I became a doctor.