Reviewed by Clare Brook
In this memoir Hilton Koppe reflects on his life as a country doctor of forty years. When Hilton received a diagnosis of PTSD from his doctor he was at a loss, how this could be happening to him? Koppe seemed to think that being a doctor should equate to being invincible. He gives the impression of feeling like a fireman who failed to extinguish a fire in his own house. Searching through his history he asks:
Was it the accumulated vicarious trauma from working as a doctor, or was it to do with being a migrant and feeling like an outsider, trying so hard to fit in? Was it because of the intergenerational trauma that came from the experience of my grandparents who had to escape their homelands to survive? Or was it just me and it was always going to happen anyway, because of my personality?
Writing in an eclectic mix of styles: prose, poems, and in the mode of a traditional medical record, and often using patients case histories, Koppe records his memoir with the above questions in mind. His target audience seemingly for other GPs but I think also for anyone stressed, or depressed.
This memoir made interesting reading, particularly learning about Hilton’s perspective as a medical professional over such a long period of time. How caring for so many patients, and really caring, takes a toll. Hilton writes about not crossing the invisible line between patient and doctor, although one might think that caring to the point of worrying is in itself crossing the line. Hilton was clearly conscientious to a fault, so much so it became clear that doctors would benefit from regular counselling sessions with a psychologist. He needed protection from his own work ethic and, perhaps, his need to be a hero, esteemed by patients. The case history of Sophie illustrated this.
Hilton’s therapeutic interventions attempting to treat Sophie’s depression failed, instead she introduced him to reflective writing, which helped his own ailing mental health and inspired him to write this memoir. In Sophie’s case, she wrote poetry with the subject matter of her experience with depression. Reading her poetry, Hilton discovered that she was ‘less than complimentary’ about his treatment, whereas he was expecting to be cast in the role of ‘knight in shining armour’ and not an ‘insensitive 19th Century barber/surgeon’. Given the kind of doctor he was, that does seem a little unfair, certainly Hilton thought so. But depression is an all- consuming ailment and health professionals were at a loss to help beyond drugs and shock therapy. And Sophie was desperate so her recovery via writing was a seminal moment for Hilton.
Whereas Hilton’s personal biography was interesting enough, it is the use of reflective writing as a therapeutic tool that piqued my interest. By using his own experience with depression and the process of reflective writing he, I’m sure, will lead many to heal themselves without relying on drugs along with all the many side effects.
This is a memoir rich in honesty, not flinching from difficult personal issues.
by Hilton Koppe
ISBN. 978 174305 988 3