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Harriet’s hats


Sometimes a special patient brings colour to clinic

Loaded down with four volumes of medical records, I struggled into the clinic room to see the next patient. Beaming from under a bowler hat covered with silver glitter, a plump, dishevelled woman greets me enthusiastically: “Hello, I’m Harriet! Are you my new neurosurgeon?” There is clear fluid dripping from the tip of her nose, and throughout the consultation she continues to wipe the recurrent drops of leaking cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). I listen in increasing despair as she stoically recounts 12 years of neurosurgical management, a litany of operations like a Michelin tour of the central nervous system. Flummoxed, I tell her I will have to seek advice. Afterwards I learn that she has delivered chocolates to all the staff she knows: the receptionist, the typist, the nurse unit manager, the physio and the surgeon who did her last operation.

At the next visit, I too am on the recipient list for chocolates. Harriet is wearing a hat of purple artificial velvet with appliqué trains. Still CSF drips from her nose. She wipes the drops with white tissues and drops the crumpled blooms to join the growing pile in her lap. I send her away with a bundle of coloured forms for further tests and scans.

Returning months later with her test results, Harriet is clutching…