On the theme ‘A case I’ll never forget’, Dr Rishika Sinha tells the tale of an unsung hero who has sacrificed his health for his family
It was the morning surgery. The next patient walked in. He was wearing an oversized old coat with paint marks and the seams out. His shoes were bigger than his feet; the laces were tightly pulled so that they would not get thrown off when he walked. His trousers were old, too.
He looked youngish, maybe late thirties, but had no teeth, up or down. I had to confirm his age on the computer; he was in his early forties. How strange, no teeth. Not much hair on his head and cheeks nearly hollowing out on either side of his face. He looked clean, fully alert and had a pleasant smiling face.
Scrolling through his notes, I noticed that he had moved from a neighbouring practice, which can sometimes be a red flag. Previous experience told me to put my guard up and have the antennae sharp and sound because he could complain easily, or demand medication.
He revealed, upon asking, that he was not given an appointment by his last practice for his teenage son who was threatening to kill himself even after the crisis team had asked the child to be seen by his GP that day. He had made an uproar in a public space and shouted at the reception staff due to which police were called over. He said he had felt he had nowhere to turn to. Out of desperation, he moved practices.
He had come because he worked in a pizza shop and did long shifts mostly on his feet, complaining of both knees hurting a lot. On examination, he had thin legs, normal looking knees but arthritic. He was wanting an X-ray. He did not have time for physiotherapy. A sick note was not an option as he had to work to bring in money for his wife and four kids who lived at home. His wife needed to be looked after, too. He had no time for himself and no money to spend on himself.
I could not help but ask what happened to his teeth; his answer sent chills down my body. He never ate properly, even through his childhood. Malnutrition in the twenty-first century left him with no dentition.
‘Dentists are too expensive, doctor. I take my children to every appointment, but never have I dared to register myself,’ came his reply with a fleshly smile and a twinkle in his eyes. He has been trying his hardest to keep things afloat for his family. My heart felt so heavy after this consultation.
When he was leaving, he shook my hands and said that no doctor had ever talked to him properly and for the first time he felt listened to. He neither shouted at me or demanded any medication or a sick note.
His X-rays came back normal as expected, and I sent him an Accurx message on his phone. The brave soul will probably keep soldiering on through the pain, I thought.
Something felt wrong that day. I did not know how to help him or my wet eyes. We keep doing our duties and keep feeling helpless. I will never forget this great unsung hero, and the many that live all around us.
Dr Rishika Sinha is a GP in Billingham