Mr Grumpy is moaning. Last Monday’s day off was lost to a Dublin meeting, this coming Monday there is a funeral, the Monday after that there is a commemoration service. By the next day off, on 5th December, it will have been four weeks since the previous day off. Mr Grumpy is losing perspective again, each time he does so, he has to remember Dr Samuel.
Doctor Samuel was in Dublin last in 1999. He had flown to London to have cataracts removed from both eyes and a friend had paid for him to travel on to Dublin. Outside of his environment, he seemed much older and world weary. Perhaps this was Doctor Samuel with his guard down, back at home there would be no possibility of relaxing.
The remote African hospital in which Dr Samuel worked had been paid for by a missionary society. It was in a village some twenty miles from the next settlement, the journey by road could take up to four hours; there were moments on the journey when it seemed that it would have been easier to get out of the jeep and walk. The hospital had one hundred beds, which meant that at any one time there could be two hundred patients, for having a bed to oneself would have been a rare privilege. The hospital could not feed so many patients, they depended on members of their family or friends to bring them food each day.
Doctor Samuel had two colleagues, a German doctor funded by a German aid agency, and his own younger brother, who had agreed to help out for the time being. Getting doctors to stay was difficult, the village was remote and the pay was poor. There had been frequent times when he had been the only doctor. Surgery had been difficult at such times, trying to act as surgeon and anaesthetist simultaneously.
Our visit to Doctor Samuel’s hospital coincided with the visit of a German businessman who had been equipping the hospital from his own pocket. The owner of a medical supplies company, he had been ploughing his money back into keeping this remote, flickering candle of hope supplied with equipment. New equipment meant bringing it himself; the only way he could beat the incompetence and corruption of those who would otherwise might have benefited from his generosity.
Doctor Samuel would sit down at the end of his rounds and begin the paperwork for he was also the hospital administrator. A non-stipendiary priest, Doctor Samuel devoted Sunday morning to church duties. If there were no emergencies, Doctor Samuel’s time off was Sunday afternoon before the rapid sunset at 6 pm and his evening rounds.
Doctor Samuel drove us to a lakeshore in his old battered jeep, he heard that going for a drive was what we did on Sunday afternoons. He stood looking out across the lake.
“Do you ever have a holiday?”
He smiled. “A holiday? How could I? Who would there be to do my work? Who would run the hospital?”
It was a stupid question. All it had done was to cause embarrassment.
Mr Grumpy missing three days off? Doctor Samuel would have smiled.