Hamish, for all his deficiencies, was an immensely wise man who taught me a great deal, not only about medicine but also about human nature. There was a time as a young GP when I loved nothing better than to diagnose an acute lobar pneumonia or a pernicious anaemia. Then I could exhibit the magic effects of penicillin or vitamin B12 and feel eight feet tall because I had cured a patient and probably saved a life. Such occasions come rarely and if one is to rely on them for job satisfaction there will be huge deserts of disappointment. The truth is, one rarely if ever saves life.
The nearest I may have come to saving a life was with Hamish himself. As one of his many interests, Old Squarebottle kept bees. One off-duty afternoon I was pottering about the garden of Castle Chalmers when the phone rang and a voice I barely recognised said: 'Bee stings ... surgery.'
At the surgery, I found Hamish slumped unconscious on the floor of the office, by the phone that he must have used to call for help. He had been badly stung while working with his bees and had developed acute anaphylaxis.
My first thought was that he was dead. He was cold and sweaty, looking as if he had suffered a major heart attack and was in cardiogenic shock. Round his neck was a weal of red in which I could see a number of bee stings held in the skin by their minute barbs. Then I managed just to detect the weakest of pulses. Although my relationship with Hamish had swung between extremes of love and hate, now, while his life hung in balance, I suddenly felt a deep affection for the dying man and was desperate to save him. For what seemed an age, I laboured with adrenaline, hydrocortisone and a great deal of prayer. As soon as I could, I telephoned the hospital for help. He was not fit to move but more than anything else I wanted support. It is very frightening being alone with a friend and colleague who is desperately ill and knocking on the gates of heaven.