It’s called ‘This Old Stick’ – and when you have thumbed the final page of Dr Andrew Corin’s first sortie into published creative writing, when you have doused the light and closed your eyes, you will be pondering.
And as you wait for sleep you will consider some wonderful old sticks in your own life and lost opportunities to connect with them, to listen and learn, and enjoy.
“I would like you to think that the people in this book are delightful,” says Andrew. “I would like you to think you might like to get to know people like that.” The people are old people, people Dr Corin believes society does not value, and, sadly, we are poorer for that.
Even the title is mildly deprecatory by definition – old stick, a person, used in a familiar, offhand or disparaging manner. So “he’s weird, but not a bad old stick”.
And in his introduction, the Tauranga author and doctor prefaces his anthology of ‘old stick’ stories with statements he has heard – “they’re a drain”, “they smell bad and look funny” and “I don’t know how to communicate with them”.
And from the old sticks themselves – “I don’t have anything to contribute” and “I don’t want to be a burden”.
He says there is a lot of good stuff going on that values elderly people, but as a western, consumerist individualist kind of society, we don’t take care of our elderly. Dr Corin says he hopes his collage of purely fictional stories from behind the closed door of a purely fictional surgery will contribute to “healing this disorder”.
“I want people to get to know old sticks, to think they are going to look around tomorrow and start talking to old people they have ignored up until now.”
Characters like Bob and Irene. Their now estranged daughter comes home with love bites, Bob punches a hole in the wall of their railway bungalow, daughter flees, Bob finds solace at work at the shunting yard, Irene doesn’t find solace and threatens separation. Bob accuses Irene of sleeping with a ghost and they end up at the doctor’s. The Doctor does a lot of observing and listening and detects a flicker of life left in the marriage. Dad shares his inner self, there’s a touching of hands, a promise to fix the hole in the wall and all just may end well. That is a glib summary that probably doesn’t serve the story well. Because it’s a touching story none-the-less and one that comes from the other side of a closed surgery door.
All the characters are fictitious but the author, the doctor, has drawn on real-life interactions with patients over a quarter of a century as a community practitioner to tell patient stories. “Every character has been influenced by multiple characters’ story, and there is enough changed about their story so that it would not be recognisable to anyone.” So the Hippocratic oath is unbreached, not even dented.
“But certainly every story has been influenced by real people, real patients,” says Dr Corin. And that teases the voyeur in us all.
Dr Adrian Fisk who weaves us tantalisingly through his case book in ‘This Old Stick’ is an aging GP, burnt-out, struggling with his workload, and fairly negative about the environment he works in. His journey takes us from poor coping strategies to more flourishing strategies in order to continue working.
Is there a bit of our good doctor and author in Dr Fisk? “That’s the danger here. People will think: ‘Andrew Corin wrote this book, he’s a GP, there’s a GP in the book so it must be Andrew’. People will read a lot of stuff into me that is not me. So the answer is there is very little of Dr Corin in Dr Fisk.”
Is ‘This Old Stick’ a storybook, a textbook or social commentary – it could anyone or a bit of all three. “I just want to encourage readers to connect better with the people around them, people they don’t know very well and in particular the elderly community.”
I have since used Dr Corin’s prescription, albeit in a small way. Driving home last week I passed an elderly man standing in the cold wet dusk at the bottom of Maxwells Road. He was waiting to cross the road with his soggy wee dog. Walking the pooch was obviously not subject to the weather. I liked that and their resilience made me toot, smile and wave my approval. It wasn’t lost. Back came an equal dose of Dr Corin’s medicine.
Maybe we will chat one day and I will flick him my copy of ‘This Old Stick’. To buy the book go to: www.drcorin.nz