It may not have escaped your professional observation that there are only two classes of mankind in the world—doctors and patients. I have some delicacy in confessing that I belong to the patient class—ever since a doctor told me that all patients were phenomenal liars where their own symptoms were concerned. If I dared to take advantage of this magnificent opportunity which now lies before me, I should like to talk to you all about my symptoms. However, I have been ordered—on medical advice—not to talk about patients, but doctors. Speaking then, as a patient, I should say that the average patient looks upon the average doctor very much as the noncombatant looks upon the troops fighting on his behalf. The more trained men there are between his dearly beloved body and the enemy, he thinks, the better.
I have had the good fortune this afternoon of meeting a number of trained men who, in due time, will be drafted into your permanently mobilized army which is always in action, always under fire against Death. Of course it is a little unfortunate that Death, as the senior practitioner, is always bound to win in the long run, but we noncombatants, we patients, console ourselves with the idea that it will be your business to make the best terms you can with Death on our behalf; to see how his attacks can best be delayed or diverted, and when he insists on driving the attack home, to take care that he does it according to the rules of civilized warfare. Every sane human being is agreed that this long-drawn fight for time which we call Life is one of the most important things in the world. It follows therefore that you, who control and oversee this fight and you who will reinforce it, must be among the most important people in the world. Certainly the world will treat you on that basis. It has long ago decided that you have no working hours that anybody is bound to respect, and nothing except extreme bodily illness will excuse you in its eyes from refusing to help a man who thinks he may need your help at any hour of the day or night. Nobody will care whether you are in your bed or in your bath, on your holiday or at the theater. If any one of the children of men has a pain or a hurt in him you will be summoned. And, as you know, what little vitality you may have accumulated in your leisure will be dragged out of you again.
In all times of flood, fire, famine, plague, pestilence, battle, murder, or sudden death, it will be required of you that you report for duty at once, go on duty at once, and remain on duty until your strength fails you or your conscience relieves you, whichever may be the longer period. This is your position. These are some of your obligations. I do not think they will grow any lighter. Have you heard of any legislation to limit your output? Have you heard of any bill for an eight-hour day for doctors? Do you know of any change in public opinion which will allow you not to attend a patient even when you know that the man never means to pay you? Have you heard any outcry against those people who are perfectly able to pay for medical attention and surgical appliances, and yet cadge round the hospitals for free advice, a cork leg, or a glass eye? I am afraid you have not.
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