BY Jessica Hinh
The following piece received 3rd place in the Writing (Clinical) section of The Auricle’s 2021 Writing and Visual Art Competition and is responding to the prompt “Australia has one of the best health systems in the world but it is far from perfect. What would a perfect health system look like?“
The next patient was due in five minutes. With the gentle, languid air of someone who’d perfected a routine many times, the doctor scrolled through the calendar and clicked on the patient profile, ready to skim through the history.
Blankness occupied each of the profile boxes. A new patient. The doctor flipped open to a fresh page in his leather-bound notebook, feeling the cool, heavy metal of the fountainpen sink into his palm as he etched ‘New patient – age 24’ at the top. He knew that the younger doctors at the general practice clinic found it strange that he still took histories with pen and paper, but there was something inconceivably romantic about the lost art of writing and penmanship.
There was a knock on the door, and a young man entered the room with a countenance so spiritless that it gripped the seasoned doctor’s heart. Ill-fitting, worn-out clothes draped off him, starkly contrasting the pristine navy wool that was perfectly tailored to the doctor’s body.
‘He doesn’t speak much English,’ chimed the receptionist who had accompanied him to the door. ‘He’s a refugee – just came to Australia a few months ago’.
‘Thanks, Fiona. Come in, son.’
The young man took a seat in front of the rich, mahogany desk. The doctor observed quietly as the young man’s eyes darted around the room, his gaze momentarily pausing at each personal element adorning the office – a photo of the doctor and his wife surrounded by their three children, all smiling in unadulterated mirth, a university diploma for graduation of medical school in 2021 encased in a chestnut frame, and a small flag draped over the bookshelf emblazoned with a white star in front of bright stripes of yellow, green and red.
The doctor inspected the patient’s face. It was impressionable and naïve, yet weathered and cautious. He knew this disposition well. It ensconced a soul, hardened by trauma, loss, and heartache, yet brimming with unbridled potential.
That had been his own spirit decades ago.
The doctor had fled the advancing flames of persecution with his family back when his country was embroiled in devastating violence and hatred; when some of humanity’s ugliest crimes were inflicted upon innocent people whose background and culture mirrored his own. He’d wept in frustration and rage at the failure of the governing body to protect his people; at the way people of his ethnicity were deprived of basic humanity and were instead, mercilessly subjected to genocide.
The doctor hadn’t been a doctor back then. He’d traversed the oceans with his family as a seeker of asylum. He’d spent many days and nights at the mercy of the earth’s relentless, mercurial forces. He’d endured experiences so harrowing that it physically and mentally broke him. He had sought refuge in the squalor of camps, surrounded by many who harboured the same hopeless destitute that he had unwittingly internalised.
And it was all in the hope of seeking sanctity in the new country. Australia was a country that promised to fill all the emptiness that trauma had so cruelly left. He believed it to be the place where could find acceptance, rebuild his broken soul, and carve out a future where success wasn’t a concept so distant that he would never allow himself to even think about it.
‘Australia’s one of the best countries in the world!’, he would routinely hear, so much so that the phrase dwindled into meaningless sentiment.
And yet, it wasn’t.
On the surface, Australia seemed perfect. It had buildings bathed in cement and glass grandeur and infrastructure of gleaming precision. The country boasted cleanliness and wealth that he would still marvel to this very day.
Yet, for months and years after arriving in Australia, the doctor had never been plagued by such a paradoxical, perplexing feeling of safety yet instability. Though surrounded by people who preached acceptance, how was it possible to feel belonging when most of the people you encountered knew nothing about your culture, your language, or your history? How could you feel safe when you didn’t understand your new society? How could you feel settled when you didn’t even understand how your new society worked; when the concepts of education, law and health were as foreign as the people that brought them to life?
As the doctor stared into the eyes of the young man sitting in front of him, he saw the uncertainty and fear which he himself had projected when sitting in front of a doctor for the first time in Australia. The unsettled feeling internally gnawing at him had been compounded when the doctor started the consult in a manner that made it obvious that he just didn’t understand him.
But things were different now. He had become a doctor to make sure of it.
He valorised the role of healthcare, the one constituent of society that deeply needed cultural safety and acceptance. Fuelled by the desire to weed out barriers which prevented people like him from receiving quality healthcare, he spent his professional career seeding roots for a better system; one that promoted inclusivity as much as it lauded innovation and research. During this time, he continued to educate himself and others of the rich tapestry of cultural nuance, and the importance of ascribing acceptance to people who came from a different background to you.
After all, a healthcare system will never be perfect unless it’s perfect for everyone within it.
Things were different now.
He regarded the young man with poignance and kindness.
“We’ll look after you, son. Let’s call for a translator.”