A difficult house call 20 years ago prompts Dr Paul Heslin to write a long-delayed letter
Dear Mr Soap,
I have being meaning to write to you, Joe, for many years now. The idea came, I think, when I did a house call to you as a GP many years ago. I said I would be at your house to see your sick child at 2am but by the time I got to your house, I was frustrated and late by half an hour.
I wanted to tell you then why I was late that night, but we were both worried by your daughter’s illness and thus I figured that it was better to get to medical business straight away and examine your daughter, rather than discuss logistics. I also felt that our relationship was already vulnerable and new. We had never met before. We were both stressed due to the time of night and the delay and the illness unknowns. So it would have been counterproductive to talk about these logistical matters when we first met at the door and when I introduced myself. And it would have been unhelpful at the end of the consultation to talk of these things.
I just wanted to discuss these matters now, many years after the events of that night. I wanted you to know that I was delayed getting to your house for a number of reasons. And if I was a little off hand when I arrived, it was because I was somewhat frustrated. I am sorry. One of the reasons I was late was that I asked you, and you agreed, to leave the light on in the front of your house so that I could identify your house from others more easily in the darkness of night.
I wanted you to know that I was delayed getting to your house for a number of reasons
When I actually found your estate, there were many lights on in some of the houses of your estate but when I finally found your house, I was surprised that it had no lights on at all. Maybe that was because you tend to live in the back of the house or because the lights were broken. In any case, this confused and delayed me. I am hardly a wise man expecting a star in the sky directing me to your house, but I was expecting a light of some sort in your house to help me to get to your sick daughter more efficiently and faster.
The next reason was that you gave me some directions to your estate. These were actually incorrect and so I ended up in another estate using my torch to find your house number. Some housing estates are very good, in that they have names that can be clearly seen, especially at night. Others have either no sign with the estate name or they are grey, non-fluorescent and partially covered in foliage. Many estate planners seem to forget about the difficulty of emergency services finding houses at night, but some are very good indeed. The ones I like best are the estates that have some form of map at the entrance and then the numbers clearly written on the outside walls of the gardens, close to the road, where emergency services and even the pizza delivery man can see the numbers.
The worst estates have no indication of the estate name and the main entrance and then houses with no numbers, or numbers that have been painted over. Others have numbers that are now hidden due to the building of a porch in front of the front door. Some houses have bells that don’t work and some have doorbells inside locked porches.
As a doctor, we may often be blamed for being slow in arriving, but we are coming. We just need you to help us and think this through from our point of view. We want to get to you, we need to get to you, we are struggling to get to you. Help us, just a little.
Joe, I know this occurred 20 years ago. And I know that I could not discuss this with you then, for the reasons above. You would be correct in saying that now we have sat nav and we have mobile phones. But just remember that my mobile may have gone dead after a full day’s shift or you may be in an area with bad mobile coverage, so I can’t ring you to get better directions because you meant turn right when you said left.
Joe, I know that your daughter is well because I have seen her many times since in our practice. She is now a mum herself and you a proud grandfather. All I would ask is that you check your house today and her house too, to make sure that you have an easily visible house number that can be seen during the night as easily as during the day.
And finally Joe, can I ask you to put your ‘friendly’ security Rottweiler in his kennels, locked away for safety. My family values my life as much as you value the life and health of your family. They don’t need me scared out of my wits after a house call at 2am and you don’t need me refusing to call to your house.