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An Ornament To His Profession

An Ornament To His Profession
An Ornament To His Profession was my first novel. It deals with a subject few other Ďmedicalí novels seem to have gone into Ė the price that doctoring exacts. By that I do not mean the day-to-day pressures of a doctorís life Ė the busy-ness, the stress, the erratic hours, the damaged family life, though those feature pretty prominently. No, I focus on the emotional demands of being someone obsessed by the desire to help others. And not even all of those demands, either. I concentrate on the pity that any doctor worth his or her salt is bound to feel for the sick, injured, and disabled. Well, whereís the problem, you may ask. Thatís what youíre supposed to feel. Thatís what we look for in a doctor. Correct. And most doctors cope by an instinctive self-distancing, a carapace which they slide into place. They feel their patientsí distress, but at a remove. They can care when they have to, but do not carry the burden with them. Itís not coldness; itís a necessity if they are to survive.

But what if a doctor cannot manage the trick. What if a doctor is genuinely, but undefendedly, compassionate? What if such a doctor at the same time is all too aware of his inability to help in so many cases? We are over-familiar with medical miracles these days. And they exist, increasingly. But disease is disease. And death canít be postponed for ever. Mallory is such a doctor, too sensitive, not just to his patientsís distress, but to his own limitations. Once I had invented him, I had to explain why, apart from his given character, he should be as he is, and the answer had to be in his upbringing. Patients love him. But is he a good doctor? Or should he not have become one in the first place? Can doctoring be a substitute for other, commoner relationships? You will decide. There isnít a right answer.

I found constructing such a novel no easy task. There are four plot lines in Ornament. All have to interweave, and develop, and conclude in a satisfying (if not necessarily agreeable) manner. I have compared it to constructing a Rubic Cube. It was, I freely admit, one of the more exacting intellectual exercises in my life. But its completion did at least convince me I had the ability to continue to write others, and indeed, with WHY and Adulteress Anonymous, experiment in the form.
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