They say that being a good doctor boils down to just four things:
shut up, listen, know something, care.
When Stephen Fabes left his job as a junior doctor and set out to ride around the world, frontline medicine quickly faded from his mind. Of more pressing concern were the daily challenges of life as an underfit rider on an overloaded bike, in entirely the wrong season, trying to coax a few more miles from “Ol’ Patchy”, his most faithful inner-tube, while under the seemingly constant threat oflocal wildlife; from mangy farm dogs and Alaskan grizzlies, to Australia’s ‘common death adder’, three words he was dismayed to find exist in sequence.
But somewhere in this six-year exploration, medicine started to call him back.
In the Himalayas, an encounter with the body of a frozen monk brings to mind the intimate medical ritual of confirming death, and the emotional toll of his vocation.
Meeting a dying woman in Mongolia forces him to face up to the responsibility of a physician – even a truant one – to be honest and courageous.
In a crumbling TB clinic in the Caucasian hills, he considers whether it is true what they say, that our society can be measured by how we treat our most vulnerable.
‘Curiosity is the beginning of empathy’ is the doctor’s maxim that guides Stephen Fabes in his exploration of the social roots of illness and the dangers faced by the dispossessed and marginalised.From the cubicles of London to the wards of Afghanistan, stories emerge - of health and of suffering; of stigma and togetherness. And as Stephen learns the value of listening to lives – not just solving diagnostic puzzles – he challenges us to see care for the sick as a duty born of our humanity, and ourcompassion.