Richard Gordon: SURGEON AT ARMS

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Graham turned over. 'For God's sake remind me in the morning I'm due to see a fellow at the Royal College of Surgeons. He wants to touch me for some charity, I imagine.'

He turned out the light. At twenty to four he woke, switched on the light, gasped at the pain exploding from his throat into his left arm, and died.


Clare had rather hoped for something at the Abbey, but whoever invisibly decides such delicate questions demurred. Official memories are long and not subject to the mellowing of human ones. A knighthood for Graham Trevose had been acceptable, in times when a man's merit mattered more than the man himself. But a memorial service at the Abbey…the doctor, though distinguished, was far from impeccable. Someone in some small quiet office remembered there was really a bad scandal-he had lived openly with a mistress during the war.

In the end, the final pageant was held in St Pancras Church, a frequent choice for such affairs in memory of medical men, possibly because of its nearness to the red-brick ramparts of the British Medical Association in Bloomsbury. It was a befittingly miserable day in late September, with cold wet winds from the north blowing down the railway lines to the termini which dominate that depressing area of London. Haileybury stumped along, a thick overcoat over his blue suit, wondering if it were going to trigger off his bronchitis again. It was becoming increasingly burdensome to run the laps of the years. It occurred to him to list mentally his own infirmities. Apart from the chest, there was presbyopia, ptosis, arthritis of the left hip, a bilateral hallux valgus, a small inguinal hernia he ought to have something done about, and of course the piles. But a man was as old as his arteries, as the physicians kept saying when everything else was falling to bits. He supposed if his number didn't come up in the cancer lottery a good surgeon and antibiotics would keep him going a while. At least that morning he was alive, while Trevose was dead. To Haileybury's mind, death restored the formality of surnames.

'Excuse me, Sir Eric-'

Haileybury paused on the pavement outside the church, staring blankly at a young man in a raincoat.

'I'm from the _Daily Press,'_ said the young man.

Graham deceased had the news value of Graham alive. The London evening placards had announced FAMOUS SURGEON DEAD, and middle-aged men in crowded trains heard the echo of Churchill's funeral drums. Sir Graham Trevose was part of the legend. And if young pilots in Spitfires and Hurricanes had shot out of the sky only half the enemy aeroplanes they thought they did, the legend could shine when required as brightly as ever. It seemed about the only thing the country had got out of the war.

'Do you think,' the young man continued, 'that Sir Graham deserved his distinction as "The Wizard" of plastic surgery?'

'I don't know. How could I know?' Haileybury started edging away. 'Wasn't the term invented by you people in Fleet Street?'

'I understand you had certain differences with Sir Graham?'

'I was never aware of any,' Haileybury muttered.

'Do you think it morally wrong, using surgery to construct new noses and such things for people who can afford it?'

Haileybury sniffed. 'I have never given the matter any thought.'

'Perhaps, Sir Eric, you have a comment on Sir Graham's great work in the war-'

But Haileybury had escaped into the sanctuary of a holy place, like a medieval criminal.

The church was crowded and warm and smelt of damp overcoats, reminding Haileybury of the out-patients' clinic. He was shown to a pew at the front. He decided his arthritis put even a perfunctory kneel on the hassock out of the question. At least the service would be short and businesslike. Services for dead doctors generally were. Medical men live in far too close intimacy with death to regard its arrival as other than an unexpected stroke of treachery. And at his age, Haileybury reflected, such functions become occasions less of pain than foreboding. He adjusted his glasses and reached for the folded sheet of printed paper set before him. Experience told him they would have _O God, Our Help In Ages Past._ He found he was right. He felt pleased with his little guess, it brightened his morning considerably.

He folded his arms and stared along the pews. The widow, of course. Rum sort of business, really all over and done with now. Her son. The first son, now an academic, he believed. He'd forgotten what line. These days they made professors in all sorts of peculiar little subjects. Woman doubtless his wife. Been trouble there in the past, too, he seemed to remember. Trust the Trevose family to make fools of themselves when a female came into it. Other man the nephew, Alec. Always seeing him on the television. Looked damned prosperous. Needed a haircut. The other people around him were elderly men of washed-out military appearance, and of course the surgical big wigs. The biggest wig was giving the address. Wouldn't say anything about Trevose, really, of course. At least, Haileybury reflected, he sincerely hoped not.

Odd chap, Trevose. Neurotic, of course, but he supposed all medical men were to some degree. You must be, to pick such a strange occupation. As slippery as a snake, unreliable, abominably self-centred. Fond of fame, money, and women. The first two failings didn't matter much, but the last did. Women were human beings. Trevose always seemed to forget that little fact. Of course, it all changed in the last twenty years of his life. I always rather liked Trevose, Haileybury decided, even when I didn't care to admit it to myself. He livened things up. Didn't take life too solemnly. I rather wish I'd had the courage to be more like him myself.

Haileybury looked behind him. Full of Trevose's patients. It suddenly struck him these men had hardly aged. Over twenty-five years ago they had been dragged from blazing aeroplanes, shattered tanks, and ships' scalding engine rooms; now the skin collected in bits from all over their bodies had frozen on their faces in unwrinkled youth. He supposed it was some compensation for having your features ravaged by a shell-splinter at twenty, if you were immune from the ravages of time at forty-five. He searched for some more delicate examples of Trevose's reconstructive art. But all the worldly and often charming men and women who had besought Trevose at considerable discomfort and expense to make them new faces seemed disinclined to show them in public.

A fitting epitaph, Haileybury thought, dragging himself to his feet as they began.

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