‘I only had ten cans yesterday, doc,’ he said. ‘And today I haven’t had any. I just don’t feel like it. Today’s the first day in ten years I haven’t had a drink.’
I looked at him. He was yellow; he had hepatitis.
‘Well,’ I said, ‘you’ve got hepatitis. That’s why you don’t want to drink. What’s more, you mustn’t drink for at least three months.’
‘Oh!’ he said.
‘And I see from looking at your hospital records that sometimes you vomit blood in the morning.’
‘Yeah, that’s right.’
‘It’s not a terribly good sign, you know.’
‘Oh, isn’t it?’ he said. ‘I thought everyone did it.’
He returned three months later. To my surprise he had not touched a drop.
‘Hey doc!’ he said. ‘I feel terrific, I haven’t felt this good in years. Why’s that then?’
‘Why do you think?’ I asked.
‘I don’t know. You’re the doc, you should know.’
‘Well, for the first time in ten years you haven’t got a hangover.’
A look of deep cogitation passed over his face like the shadow of a cloud over a field on a summer’s day.
‘Does that mean I can go back on the beer?’
Some men become doctors out of a noble desire to save lives, or because they seek money and prestige; Anthony Daniels did so because he was middle class, because he had to do something and because his father – not a man to be lightly gainsaid – pushed him into it.
But this inauspicious beginning led to a great career – if not as a doctor (though he became a respected consultant psychiatrist), then as a doctor-writer.
Both in his own name, and under his better-known nom de plume of Theodore Dalrymple, Daniels is a prolific author whose work has spanned 30 years and much of the globe.
His formidable energy is equalled in his prose by a clarity and elegance which few can match, and it is this, as well as his unusual experience, originality of insight and unconventional views (by modern standards), which have won him worldwide acclaim.
But although he is read – as Theodore Dalrymple – in almost every country on earth, relatively little is known about him.
Fool or Physician, which was his second book and remains his most personal, offers his followers a small insight into his past.
It details his reluctant entry into medical school (‘I specialised in doing and knowing the least necessary to pass the examinations’), his earliest ventures in medicine in a small midlands town and his subsequent work overseas when, bored almost to tears by life in the NHS, he travels first to the then-Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa (as a ‘well-meaning liberal’ his ‘problem was to discover where in the world pure evil still confronted pure good, where I could demonstrate that I was on the side of the angels, but at the same time live comfortably and register with the General Medical Council’), and later to the Gilbert Islands, a pacific paradise brimming with drunken expatriates, eccentrics and lunatics.
As ever, doctoring was the key to a door, on the other side of which was a different, more interesting life.