“In the past, things were completely different. You were still practising real medicine back then. Now you’re presented with rubbish all the time. Patients used to be genuinely sick, otherwise of course they didn’t go to the doctor. You should see my clinic now. At least half of the people in there just need primary care. They all want me to offer a listening ear. At that murderous pace? I only have ten minutes to completely check out the patient, not to mention listening to their life story. I can’t keep up the pace any more. And that doesn’t prevent anyone from double-booking patients, of course…”

One of the doctors’ assistants has now started a conversation with a third colleague. The other is staring softly into the void. She is suddenly startled by a clattering sound: a patient has come closer to the counter and knocked over a sign. You can sit down, I’ll register you.

“Look, Dino, this is what you’re doing it for”, the doctor snaps at me. But when I look at her, I can see that she has adopted the posture of the doctor’s assistant, including the glassy stare. There is a long silence. It strikes me that their fields of vision intersect. Perhaps that makes things less lonely.

I turn around and look over the counter. We just started our ten-minute break and there are already three patients waiting. A mother looks uneasily at her child, who is moving a number of beads from one side to the other with rapidly decreasing enthusiasm. The patient who just knocked over the sign looks sullenly at his mobile phone. He’s watching a TikTok video, which shows someone making a cake in the shape of SpongeBob.

The third patient is a bit more distant. He is old and neatly dressed. These two things are interrelated, I have found. He is wearing beige trousers over two thin legs with long support stockings. Probably heart failure. Under the sleeves of his jacket, I can see his fingers dangling from their bony joints. Rheumatism, certainly, or osteoarthritis. These are the kinds of things you learn to recognise with experience. Just as when I look at his eyes clouded with cataracts, I can clearly see that his field of vision does not intersect with that of the doctor.

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Leprous cherub

What is the meaning of life? Why did I want to work in a hospital? Columnist and medical…