‘How to be a Doctor’ was written by Stephen Leacock, a Canadian teacher, writer and humourist. He makes fun of doctors and science in this essay. He brings to light the plight of patients who have no other option but to consult doctors who sometimes may be rude or with little knowledge of medicine.
Stephen Leacock lauds the progress of science and tells that he feels mighty proud of the fact. He makes special mention of the development of electricity, linotype, aeroplane and the vacuum cleaner. He then moves on to the progress of medicine. He believes that any lover of humanity would take pride in the growth of medicine.
The author takes a dig at the impractical and insane practices that were followed for the cure of fever many years ago. A hundred years ago it was believed that when blood was let off the body in some quantity, fever could be cured. Now the doctors are sure, Stephen Leacock says, that it cannot cure fever. Seventy years ago, it was thought that administration of sedative drugs would cure fever, but now that ideology has been discarded. Thirty years ago, it was supposed that having a low diet and application of ice cured fever, but now, it is thought to be a false idea. He says that this shows the steady progress of medicine.
The author then pokes fun at the methods used a few generations ago to treat rheumatism. The doctors advised patients to carry round potatoes in their pockets when they walked. Stephen Leacock says that now the doctors allow the patients to walk with whatever they want in their pockets, even watermelons. This is a sarcastic statement to denote that the potato-practice has been thrown aside by the doctors, thereby denoting again, the growth of medicine.
Stephen Leacock says that the only area in the domain of medicine that has not made any progress is the time that it takes to become a doctor. Many years ago, the students studied for two winter sessions at college and worked for two summer sessions in sawmills. But now, it takes eight years for a student to study to become a doctor. But the doctors who come under this training are stupider and lazier every year. He adds that the job of a modern doctor is very simple, something that can be acquired in just two weeks. The following paragraph explains the process.
A patient comes into a doctor’s clinic and tells the doctor that he has a bad pain. When the doctor asks him where the pain is, the patient points to the area. The doctor asks him to put his arms above his head, moves behind him, strikes him powerfully in the back and asks him if he feels the blow. When the patient says that he can feel the pain, the doctor moves in front of him and punches him under his heart. When the patient falls upon the sofa, the doctor asks him to stand up, counts ten, looks at him without speaking and then hits him strong in the stomach, making him double up in pain. He then reads a newspaper, not minding the patient at all.
After muttering to himself for some time, the doctor tells the patient that he must go to bed, stay there, and keep quiet. The doctor has no idea of the malady that has afflicted his patient. But he is sure that if the patient goes to bed and stays there, he would either get quietly well or die a quiet death. The patient asks the doctor about the diet that he must follow. If the doctor is hungry at that time, he tells the patient that he can eat anything, from vegetables to cement. If the doctor has just had his lunch, he forbids the patient to eat even a bite.
The patient asks meekly if he can drink. The doctor usually replies that he can drink a glass of lager now and then or even gin, soda, or whisky. He even suggests taking hot scotch with a couple of sugar lumps and a bit of lemon-peel in it. The doctor’s eyes glisten with the pure love of his profession as he says this with real feeling. But if the doctor has spent the previous night with his medical friends, he forbids the patient to touch alcohol in any shape or form.
But sometimes, these kinds of treatment fail to inspire some of the patients. So, the doctor snips off parts and pieces and extracts of the patient and sends them to laboratories around the country. It doesn’t matter what is wrong with the patient. The doctor insists on some parts being cut off and sent for analysis. The patient’s name is marked such as ‘Mr. Smith’s Hair, October, 1910’ or ‘Part of Mr. Smith’s Ear, October, 1910.’ The patient is infinitely happy that his body parts have been sent for analysis and shares the information with his friends.
Stephen Leacock tells us that this is the case of the doctors in the country. He finishes the essay with a thought-provoking statement that although we find the incidents mentioned by him funny, we still rush to a doctor as soon as we have the slightest discomfort. He adds that he too does the same. He says that going to the hospital in an ambulance with a bell on it is more soothing.