Arthur Jekyll was a doctor. Of course he was, how could he be otherwise, when both his parents, and their parents before them, had been doctors? What other options did he have when all the terrors and comforts of his formative years had been accompanied by a heavy dose of familial doctoring?
The general consensus at the hospital was that Arthur was a good doctor: one who could soothe the most fretful patient with the kiss of his stethoscope. Nurses abandoned all hope of a social life for the chance to work alongside him, happy to negotiate their attendance at weddings and school sports days around Dr Jekyll’s duty roster. Managers were emboldened to kick off their shoes and turn away from the computers on their desks to contemplate the flowerbeds in the car-park after reviewing his monthly outcome reports.
Arthur strode the hospital corridors with the air of a man who was fulfilling his destiny. And doing it well. Smiling. Until one of those viruses that do the rounds each winter wormed its way through his defences and he had to take a few days off sick.
So what? Doctors can get sick just like anyone else. Even those, like Arthur, with doctoring antibodies circulating in their bloodstream since infancy. And it was only your bog-standard flu: unpleasant and debilitating but no big deal for a not-too-unfit man of forty-three. A few days in his pyjamas watching mindless sitcoms should have seen to it. Should have.
Battling his aching limbs between sheets soggy with sweat, the thought came to Arthur that he was tired of doctoring. This thought surprised and unnerved him but, once it was out, he could hardly unthink it. The more he thought, the more he realised that he hated doctoring, and everything about it. He hated the patients who would piss on him and shit on him until he had exorcised the pestilence from their bodies. He hated his retinue of puppy-eyed students who sucked like leeches on his every word and gesture. He hated the bureaucrats who could flip from friend to fuehrer at the drop of a Department of Health directive.
“I want out,” he told his wife when she brought him his scrambled eggs on toast. “I’ll do any other job, sweep the streets, anything. I just don’t want to go back to that hospital.”
Sheila wiped his brow with a cool flannel and made sympathetic noises. But she knew that, even if she were to work full-time, it wouldn’t be enough to pay the mortgage and keep their two kids in pizzas and videogames. “We’ll discuss it when you’re better,” she said.
For all his delirium, Arthur knew he couldn’t get better until the doctoring problem was sorted. So Sheila came up with a compromise: Arthur would keep his job but, every other weekend, instead of carrying out his duties as husband and father, he would do his own thing. It didn’t matter what, they agreed, as long as it took his mind off doctoring and didn’t entail breaking faith with his marriage vows. Sheila would look after the kids, as usual.
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