Is There A Doctor On Board?

These are the words we all dread hearing boomed airplane530over a plane tannoy.  It happened to me only last week on a charter flight.  Yes, I wanted to be that person striding confidently to the front like a conquering heroine, reassuring everyone that it was all going to be okay and saving a few lives in the process.  Being able to punctuate well and write 400 words on whether you can be a feminist and still wear mascara is all well and good (the answer is yes, by the way) but we are unlikely to ever hear “Is there a writer on board?  If so, please come immediately to the front of the cabin”.  Quick, someone is in danger of death from an extraneous semicolon.  As far as I know, painful as it is, a misplaced apostrophe never killed anyone.

I sometimes wish I’d trained in something more worthy– and better paid — like pioneering heart surgery. Proofreading and delivering a perfect verbatim transcript in my day job, although we often receive praise and heartfelt thanks, will never shape a young life nor will it make a grown man cry with gratitude and name their child after me, as happens to doctors or midwives.  (I do actually have a child named after me in West Africa in recognition for charity work, but that’s nothing to do with my writing).  But writing chose me, not the other way round.  It is my calling and like many writers, I write because I have to.

It doesn’t help that my cousin is a very highly regarded orthopaedic surgeon.  I’ve seen him mentioned in the press by grateful patients: to them, he is a god who helped them walk again.

So why didn’t I go for a career in medicine?  Well, firstly, I’m squeamish and have emetophobia, which also ruled out a fledgling career as an air hostess. Secondly, I wanted to join the Army before I was told, aged 22, that I could only sign up as a secretary, not the Intelligence Officer I was hoping to be. My next choice of career was journalism. I skirted around the medical profession as a St John Ambulance cadet for years, a medical secretary and then a transcriber on The Shipman Inquiry.  I even dated a doctor once.  I never really got my hands dirty though unless you count three seasons as a holiday rep mopping up countless accidents and fights, usually alcohol related, which I think is what triggered the emetophobia …

So until the day when my writing can dramatically save a life, I’ll be plodding on unnoticed and unglorified.  But on the flip side it’s not likely to kill anyone either …



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