As a hospital general physician, Dr Hitchcock regularly holds life in her hands and fields more phone calls from anxious friends and family about their vague symptoms than she can count. She was among the first authorised prescribers of medicinal cannabis in Australia and holds a PhD in English. It is this blend of expertise that makes The Medicine so captivating.
In a revealing series of essays, Hitchcock canvasses the medical spectrum from aged care and alternative therapies to our obsessions with antibiotics, vitamins and screening. She and her colleagues, in her words, “are charged with treating the consequences of politics and policy mixed with bad luck and individual choices”. This idea is later the launch point for the longest essay of the book, Drugs: On medication, legislation and pleasure, exploring consequences of the war on drugs and the case for decriminalisation. Particularly poignant is the essay “Do no harm”, where Hitchcock writes of the guilt pressing down on her as she ruminates that treatment she prescribed inadvertently accelerated the death of an elderly patient.
Reading her work, it is easy to see how comforting Hitchcock would be to her patients. Her writing is a union of honest and humane and you can almost see yourself in the treatment room as she reassures you that your random pain is unlikely to be terminal, but it’s totally understandable you would worry that way.
In an era when we have unprecedented access to life-saving treatment yet remain more convinced than ever by Google that we are dying, Hitchcock offers a meditation on what it means to be healthy: “If you want to live well and long, be born in the right place and time, cross your fingers, eat lots of vegetables, and go for a walk. The miracle cures almost always turn out to be lollies or poison.”