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Garfield -

"Impressively Away"

The guru said to the doctor, "You have to alter your mind-set at once. There are unprecedented paradigm shifts in our rapidly changing society and a radical revamp of policy, strategy and style is required to ensure survival. The buzz word is "overhaul". You have to overhaul your attitude, your antiquated professional approach, your old-fashion ideas of right and wrong and even your pride. In short, you will have to re-invent yourself, otherwise you will soon become irrelevant. Man, it is war out there."

The doctor became blurred. All he did just now was to tell the guru that practice is tough nowadays. He did not expect such a barrage of words from him. It took him some time to digest the message but when its significance sank in, a feeling of inadequacy and impotence started to grow in him and threatened to overwhelm him. It is hard for someone who considers himself able-bodied still, to accept the fact that he is becoming irrelevant. "Condemned," he mumbled to himself.

They were silent for a while and then the guru spoke again. "Don’t panic and don’t give up," he said. He had read the doctor’s mind perfectly. "All you need is to change. To change is not difficult even for a person of your ability." He was kind not to say "limited ability", and for that the doctor was grateful.

"Is there still hope for me?" the doctor asked in a weak voice.

"Yes there is. Now pull yourself together and listen."

"Yes sir," he said obediently.

"First of all you must be absolutely certain in your mind what you want out of your career. Fame? Money? Power? To be a present-day Dr Albert Schweitzer? Judging from your hedonistic behaviour it is quite obvious to me where your interest really lies. Your work is but a means to realise a comfortable life, but so be it, there is no need to apologize for being an Epicurean, there are millions like you around. Anyway you don’t have the talent, both intellectual and social, to become a famous or powerful doctor and neither do you possess the compassion and commitment necessary to be a medical missionary."

His observation is accurate but the doctor wasn’t always like this. When he was younger he was very much into issues like social justice, human rights, the under-class, professional decorum and the environment but now on the wrong side of forty he finds that he is more interested in places serving good food and in holiday destinations.

He can’t really pin-point how the change has come about. It could be his age. It could be that he has difficulty finding like-minded persons to relate to. It could be the bad experience he had encountered in the past when he had stuck his neck out and dared to be different. It could be the cynicism that he has acquired from the double standard and hypocrisy he had observed around him. It could be that he is discouraged by the futility of it all. It could be the lack of energy or courage or both. It could be the irresistible temptation of modern day consumerism. Whatever the reason, he ended up by taking the easy and popular way out – by joining the rank of the contemporary anonymous mass.

"Continue Sir," implored the doctor, "I need your invaluable advice."

"First of all you have is to stay focused and be single-minded in your pursuit of your objective and never be distracted by any plea, persuasion or exhortation from any person or organisation. Never mind what others say," the guru said.

"I’ll do that," the doctor said.

"There is no compromise, otherwise it will be a waste of time talking to you."

"Do I have a choice?" the doctor replied.

"In that case I will give you some tips. Business success depends largely on mastering the 3 I’s. The first of which is IMPRESSION. The other two are INFORMATION and INVITATION. We deal with the first today. Tell me, do people find you impressive? How do you measure up?"

The doctor did not measure up at all. People hardly recognise him and even his dog barks at him sometimes. He is the sort of person few people pay attention to and who is quickly forgotten. More often than not people to whom he was introduced to don’t believe that he is a doctor. He had been mistaken to be a mortician and a taxidermist. "Hardly," he replied truthfully.

"Please take a look in the mirror and tell me what you see," the guru said.

The doctor did as he was told. He noticed his hair was nearly all white and the bald patch at the top of his head was getting bigger and so was his belly. There weren’t any other notable features.

"Are you satisfied with what you see?" the guru asked.

"I have never thought about it before," the doctor replied, "but I am neat and tidy."

"My dear friend, neat and tidy yes, but also plain, common, undistinguished and unglamorous. What type of image is that? How can you expect to succeed professionally when you are so faceless? You are a doctor and not a secret agent you know. Your first problem is your appearance. It’s not attractive."

"But I was born with it," the doctor protested.

"Is Pamela Anderson original? Are the faces and bodies of those delicious chicks and coast guards in Baywatch real? If you don’t have it, make it up. Adorn, embellish and decorate to enhance your assets and conceal your flaws. If cosmetic is not enough, use the scalpel, you should know better, being a doctor yourself.

Take for example your top. I know of some successful botak doctors; but they are few and far between. Unless you are a Yul Brynner, a Ronaldo or a Michael Jordan, the preference generally is for people with hair. Apply some of those fertilisers which you prescribe for patients on yourself and as a interim measure use a hair-piece and dye whatever that is left.

Next go for a facial and join a health club to tone up those flabby muscles. You also have to invest in a better quality shaver. A good-looking doctor is likely to attract more patients.

One other thing, I notice that you hardly smile. Your facial expression is that of a pall-bearer’s. Discover it yourself by looking at your own photographs, including your wedding shots. Maybe you have some congenital weakness of your cheek muscles and you need physiotherapy. I am not a doctor but may I suggest that you practise saying "cheese" and "Konica" at least ten minutes a day. The only doctors who can get away looking grim, morose and unhappy are the pathologists and microbiologists but then the objects of their attention rarely bother about the appearance of the doctors.

And yes the way you talk. It is very well to be soft spoken, polite and pleasant but it is often interpreted as being lacking in confidence and conviction. You have to learn to talk like politicians, trade unionists and preachers. You will notice that very often it is not what they tell you but how they tell you that matters. There are so many outstanding examples you can choose to emulate from. Generate their charisma and very soon you will be able to "make" patients and "influence" them."

The doctor was disturbed by what he heard because the guru had asked him not only to change his appearance but also his behaviour. The guru noticed that he was shaken and put a hand on his shoulder.

"My friend, you have been living in a cocoon for too long. It may be alright if you are satisfied to remain where you are but if you want to metamorphose into something better there is really little choice. I won’t continue if it is too much for you," the guru said.

The doctor thought for a few moments, "Please continue," he sighed.

"The next concern is that of your attire. You need not be a trendsetter but you don’t have to be a sartorial nightmare either. First, look at your spectacles. Can we find another pair like this in Singapore? Please throw it away. Better still, use contact lenses or undergo surgical correction. It allows for better eye contact with your patients.

Next, donate all your shirts and trousers to the Salvation Army. I can see that the buttons are not missing and their edges are not frayed but that’s about it. My father-in-law dresses better than you. There is no law against being old-fashioned but patients may also think you are out of date in your medical knowledge. It affects their confidence in you. After this I will bring you to my tailor.

You also don’t wear ties and sometimes are without socks. Trying to cut cost or what? I will supply you some, FOC, from my new collection. And please don’t wear that awful pair of shoes again and that watch, courtesy I reckon of Readers’ Digest. Get a Rolex or at least an imitation."

The doctor had time to reflect upon his words when the guru took a breath. He conceded that the guru could be right after all. It could well be his appearance that had lead to his being ignored so frequently in departmental stores, restaurants, banks and the occasional party he is invited to etc. He decided that he had to take the guru’s advice seriously. "Is that all?" he asked.

"It’s only the beginning," the guru said, "The same applies to your family and staff. Your wife and children must carry themselves in a manner befitting that of a professional’s wife and children, not like the aunties and street kids…. I don’t mean to be disrespectful to anybody but in our status conscious society it matters and it is important. It’s show-time Singapore. If patients think you can’t even provide for your family, what sort of respect can they have for you? Do something about it urgently.

As for your staff, it is equally if not more important. Don’t stint. Employ young, pretty and smart ones. They are your front-line. And before I move on, please remember to hang your stethoscope around your neck.

And now let me test your power of observation. Doctors are supposed to be good, after all they are the ones who discovered the cocci, the spirocheates, and the retroviruses all those interesting little creatures, but sometimes I suspect they may miss the bigger things. Can you tell me what is the most impressive sight around Jhujiaou?"

The doctor thought he had this one sewn up. "Little India," he said.

"No," the guru said, "It’s that new hospital."

The doctor had to agree. The new hospital had never failed to impress. The expansive structure, décor, state of the art architecture and futuristic style, seem to tell him loudly and clearly everytime he drives pass it that this is the place where one can expect to meet the cleverest people with the brightest ideas and latest technology, and that if they can’t solve your problem, you probably had it.

"Pattern your clinic after it," the guru told the doctor.

"How?" the doctor asked.

"In a mini sort of way," the guru said, and then he advised him how he ought to renovate his clinic. The floor, the ceiling, the fixtures and fittings and the colour scheme, all did not escape his attention. He was also told to lease or buy the latest equipment and that whether he used them or not is not relevant.

Finally, the guru said, "Change your clinic name to "The Supreme Generalist." The whole exercise he explained to the doctor, is to make-over his image _ to change the ugly duckling into a beautiful swan.

The guru spent the next forty-five minutes drawing up a blue print for him. At the end of which the doctor was mentally exhausted. "I have had enough for the day," he said. "Let me buy you lunch."

"I’ll drive," the guru said and he led the doctor to his car.
"Two week old, the latest model," he said.
"Wow!" the doctor exclaimed in admiration when he saw the car. "This must cost a bomb."
"No big deal, the finance company helps pay for it."
"It IS beautiful."
"Very impressive right? The owner must be a successful somebody too, right?"
"Sure," the doctor answered instinctively.
"You have learnt your lesson well," the guru said. "Let’s go to Race Course Road for banana leaf curry. We’ll pass the hospital on our way."
He eased the car effortlessly from the car park and accelerated impressively away.