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Sunday Tasmanian- Sunday, June 12 2005

What the doctor ordered By Christopher Bantick

Doctors are people we all go to see, eventually. The relationship that can be established between a doctor and a patient can be one of certain kind of intimacy. Doctors now our aches, pains and what ails us.
More than this, we trust them to relieve our colds and tell us that's wrong. Doctors as writers are not common. This is perhaps a pity as their patients, living unusual lives, can be stories in themselves.
Frank Madill is a Launceston general Practitioner. He is also a writer with a wonderful bedside manner. His debut book If You Faint, Fall Backwards! is a collection of antecdotes, yarns and portraits of people he knew and situations he found himself in over 40 years as a GP. More than this, he has been a farmer, Member of Tasmanian Parliament in 1992 and Speaker of the House in 1996. In 2004, he had a regular radio segment on ABD Northern Tasmania, entitled, Medicine - Then and Now.
Madill's book is a rare delight. Besides it providing his own story as to how he became a doctor, stories include his residency at Launceston General Hospital and later his GP work in Launceston's northern suburbs. It is both a book of social history and warmly told tales. Many will remind readers of times now gone. Madill says that why the book came into being was through a family missed opportunity.
"The thing that really galvanised me was my mother. I had wanted to get some details of the family history but delayed in doing so. After my mother had a severe stroke, she recovered but had no memory, I missed my opportunity of recording her past."
"I felt that I should leave a record of what I had gone, even if it was for no one else than my two daughters. When I began the early drafts, what I wrote sounded like medical factual accounts rather than stories. After I had got about 30 or 40 pieces, i started to put them into some form."
The book is self-published. In a way, this is entirely fitting. Madill has maintained control of the manuscript and where editorial changes were necessary, they were done by one of his daughters. Exquisite illustrations have been provided by Josie Riches, Launceston artist. The result is book which many publishers would envy.
Madill says that for him posterity was a primary aim.
"The stories reflect a lifestyle that has gone and gone forever. The isolation was one thing. Many of the people I saw didn't have a car let alone a telephone. Medicine and the whole of society has changed massively. As I have been giving talks to groups since the book has been published, I try to emphasise that we are all part of the most rapid change ever to occur in human history.
"As much I have had a varied life, what has been the thing that I come back to is the patients. Medicine is a wonderful. People come to you with their problems, you fix them and they are grateful. In the 20 years I was in the same area before going into politics, many people had chronic illnesses. I also made many friends. Some are still my patients.
"As people pass away that you've known for many years, this has its own kind of personal costs. It was beginning to upset me, so going into parliament was a good break for me.
Madill, now out of politics, is back practising part time. As the book shows, he has a real affection for people and gratitude for what his patients gave him.
"It was the humanity I saw every day and being part of it that gave me great satisfaction. In the early days in the 1960s, I worked all night every third night and all weekend every third weekend. The patients came first always. I found the night work was difficult as it was hard to overcome tiredness. Still, being a GP in northern Tasmania taught me much about life.
"The first thing was that I came to the belief that the most important thing in life is people. The patients taught me a lot about living and I have met a huge range of people. What writing the stories has meant to me is that I have looked back and reassessed things about life generally. It has been an important and gratifying thing for me to do personally."
If You Faint, Fall Backwards! is a book which should be prescribed reading for those feeling that time has overlooked them. It is a book of warming good medicine.
Former governor Sir Guy Green will launch If You Faint, Fall Backwards! on Saturday at 4pmat Hobart Bookshop. All welcome.
Sunday Tasmanian - What the doctor ordered
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