Country Doctor, by Michael Sparrow

I’m kind of glad that Michael Sparrow, the author of the memoir Country Doctor, is not my doctor. He declares more than once that he doesn’t know what he’s doing, that he spent a lot of his med school years drinking, and is frequently irritated by his patients. On the other, I would love to spend an afternoon in a pub with Sparrow as he recounts his uproarious misadventures as a Royal Air Force doctor in Belize and general practitioner in Devon and Cornwall.

There is a narrative, of sorts, to Country Doctor. Sparrow shares his bumpy road to becoming a doctor, from his ability to dissect earthworms in school, to his madcap school days, through his air force career, to being a GP in a cushy county in southern England. From page to page, however, Sparrow is more likely to tell his readers brief stories about weird patients, reckless men from the RAF, and his drunken shenanigans with his fellow students. Some of these stories are barely a page long and are more like vignettes than anything else. This is a good book for people looking for someone to dip in and out of.

The other thing that comes through Country Doctor is Sparrow’s irrepressible and often inappropriate sense of humor. It’s a wonder that Sparrow doesn’t get beaten up more than he does, given his habit of mouthing off to whoever is bothering him. It’s also a wonder that Sparrow made it through med school and five years of RAF service at all. He frequently says that his supervisors and superior officers are glad to see the back of him when he moves on to his next gig. Sparrow’s jokes and pranks are all (well, mostly) forgivable because he has one thing that redeems him as a doctor: a wonderful bedside manner. One woman who has a drunk Sparrow to deliver her child tells him while he’s trying to apologize for whatever he did that she’d never laughed harder while she labored.

I’m not all that sure what I think of Sparrow myself. I think I might have loved him if Sparrow was less self-deprecating of his medical skills. He frankly scared me more than once as he talked about his lack of knowledge. I thought of other doctors from comedies I’ve seen or read, like the crew from M*A*S*H* or from Man’s 4th Best Hospital. Sparrow is not quite in the league of those hilarious, flawed, genius doctors. But then, in rural Devon, Sparrow doesn’t have to be Hawkeye Pierce. He just needs to know his patients. Sparrow may not know the bones of the human body, but no one knows his patients better…or is more willing to take the piss out of them as needed.


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