‘Who do you think you are?’ an eminent paediatrician once thundered at me across a child’s cot during his weekly grand ward round. ‘Anton Chekhov?’
I was a lowly medical student; my white student-smock had a small front pocket meant for my doctoring tools; mine contained, a little ostentatiously, a book of poems instead. I had failed to answer a question correctly. His Eminence plucked out the highly visible book, asked a few polite literary questions to lull me, then proceeded to humiliate me in front of the entire ward team, at length. This was before medical schools became more touchy-feely, caring-sharing places; the old-school teaching principle of ‘thalamic learning’ meant that a public humiliation in front of your peers left such an indelible trace that you never made a fatal mistake again.