When I retired from medical practice just over a year ago I retained some insurance with my medical defence union that would cover me in the event of my offering a patient necessary and immediate care. This is known as “Good Samaritan” cover. The expression is apposite; the first time I had cause to assume the Samaritan role was in a city in the Scottish central belt. A gentleman, rather down on his luck, asked me if I would attend his friend who had fallen down an embankment in an out of the way location. As we made our way to the patient, along a woodland path, we actually passed the priest and the Levite going the other way (Luke 10, 30). The second time, I drove round a particularly treacherous hairpin bend near where I live to come upon the sight of two men (truly Good Samaritans) dragging an injured man from the flaming wreckage of two vehicles. Then the whole crash scene exploded like something out of Hollywood.
There is clearly an element of personal risk involved in any medical intervention, and if you read any First Aid Manual, the order of events in resuscitation (Airway, Breathing, Circulation…) is always preceded by a cautionary note. Take a long hard look at the situation and appreciate just what it is you are getting yourself into. Don’t be the victim of “the second crash”.
This raises a beguiling question. Would Jesus have advised the Good Samaritan to take out Good Samaritan cover? It sounds like one of these self-referential conundrums of the sort that keep philosophers awake at night. My instinct is that Jesus would have regarded his Heavenly Father as more than adequate indemnity. You might say to him, “What’s going to happen to me if I get involved?” And he would point to the injured patient and say, “What’s going to happen to him if you don’t?” But it’s always a risky business to second-guess what Jesus would do. He would answer your question with some deeply subversive parable. A guy attends a wedding and gets chucked out because he’s not wearing the right clobber. What’s all that about? It’s surreal. It’s like a bad dream from which you wake up in a cold sweat.
I always enjoyed opportunistic medicine. When the flight attendant asked, is there a doctor on board? – I always went, and it was always deeply rewarding, not just in the sense that they would bump you up to first class and give you something out of duty free. It is a profound privilege to enter people’s lives in a unique way, the lives of the patient, the patient’s companion, the cabin crew, the Captain. When you are seeing your thirtieth patient on a Monday afternoon it can all seem a little humdrum, but when you are called unexpectedly to treat somebody when you’re on holiday, you attain a fresh perspective and you suddenly realise that the craft you practise is intensely interesting. Opportunistic medicine also frees you from the burden of time management. In medical practice you are often more worried about the patients stacked up in the waiting room than the patient before you.
So I’ll stick my neck out and hazard the guess that Jesus, in his role as Consultant Physician, would say to his junior doctor disciples, if you get the call, go. You have no idea where it will take you. Put your faith in the Almighty… and the MDDUS.
…or the MDU, or the MPS… Other providers are available.