By Dr. Richard Colman
Available from Amazon
Richard Colman is a man of granite single-mindedness, unwavering in his professional opinion and conduct. Single-minded in pursuing a career path of his choosing that melded his personal life and world views to his views on patient management in all its holistic complexions. Richard’s autobiography is a tapestry of an unusual doctor.
We first get an inkling of this in his decision to take a gap year before Cambridge. A year that enabled him to bring perspective to the dreaming spires. A similar reward when he took another gap year to travel around the world before starting his clinical training in Barts. His world tour is enthralling given the nonchalant way that he describes his itinerary, to which many an experienced traveler would have donated a whole book. His shoulders were broadening.
Clinical studies at Barts fly by in a chapter. This book could well have stretched to a few volumes to do justice to each of the subjects. By this stage in the book I had an uneasy feeling that this enjoyable, bouncing-along tale was leading to more demanding chapters.
When Richard met his wife Mary the tale lightens up with more personal feelings seeping through into the lines that described another world tour before they settled into family life. They set up home by adopting the idyll of renovating a grade II listed farm house in middle of north York moors. Hard work, companion animals, locum doctoring and then children! Early days that we will all recognise. Intriguingly Richard’s medical practice took an unexpected turn into the holistic theory of counselling and the practice of self-help medicine.
At this point the patina of the book darkens when it appears that advertising his holistic practice might fall foul of GMC restrictions and Richard sets out to delve into background of this. His description of the details of building a case against GMC restrictions on advertising is enthralling. We have now left the salad days and we are chewing on the grizzle of the legal, ethical and philosophical aspects of Dr Colman’s first brush against the GMC. The book is electrified by this. The change in tempo is abrupt but delicious, like the arrival of the main course. Richard’s revisiting of the case is forensic, even when it is tinged with a degree of resignation that the slow process of combative attrition would be the norm, along with his resolve to continue with a “so be it” intransigence. By this time Richard has developed a varied portfolio of work which to my mind was ahead of its time.
Then we are suddenly back in a fluffy bed with kids, and more kids, which are the down in every family duvet. Add a marathon or two as the icing on the cake, and family life reigns supreme.
Chapter 9 and we are back into the marathon-like politics of the GMC and Richard’s election as a GP representative for 5 years. We are also starting to get a feeling of two books running in tandem under one cover. The kind of feeling one gets when one discovers an assumed colleague is actually a patient, or that a patient is actually a well-informed colleague. As scintillating as walking over egg shells on thin ice.
The niceties of case law considered by Richard are illuminating in their succinct exposition of all the ramifications for the doctor patient relationship. The arguing of points of a specific case of which Richard was seeking clarifications are refreshing in their adroitness, even when they were discouraging in their apparent lack of success. However, Richard’s perseverance in pursuing perceived miscarriages of justice, and his opinions on the inadequacy of procedures, should be the stuff of legend. Their cogency had my rapt attention blow for blow (albeit in slow motion).
Following his failure to be reelected to the GMC Richard moved into occupational health alongside some locum work. His private holistic medical practice was abandoned for administrative reasons.
Richard moved through a few occupational health positions but was stalwart in refusing to continue in post when prescribed company procedures – often computer template driven – came between him and optimal care for his patients in the occupational setting. Doing the right thing came first – always!
These latter career moves are described as a cathartic debriefing more than a celebration of a life from which he has graduated with honours.
Then we are back accompanying him on his travels by bike and on foot to Scotland isles and to South America. Burning with passion for the winds of life in his face; a life force is attenuated by the poignant death of parents.
In one final immersion into the dark arts of medical politics Richard discusses the dichotomy and imbalance between prescribed practice and the constraints of funding, alongside changes at the GMC, and the introduction of revalidation.
Richard’s forthright views are underpinned by a robust and intertwined understanding of the philosophy and ethics relevant to the aspects of medical practice being discussed.
The autobiography winds down with various part-time positions, and the adventure of a solo trip to Eastern Europe.
Unlike many autobiographies, by the end of the book I felt as though I had been on a long and demanding journey, but one more than balanced by the uniqueness of the scenery.
The book ends when Richard was 66 and I have the feeling that it is but the prologue to an even more interesting autobiography over the coming years.
I surmise that Richard would diagnose the tear in his eye as a symptom of an occupational disease unique to the author of a medical autobiography.
My take home from Richard’s autobiography would be that it is a splintered ricochet of a pot shot at the edifice of the medical establishment taken from the camouflage of a happy and contented family life.