Recently the NHS Trust of Dumfries and Galloway saw the departure of its greatest ambassador ever.
When I first arrived in Dumfries in August 2000 I thought I was going to the end of the earth. I had driven through fields of greenery and seen more sheep, cows and land than my native country. I was briefed on arrival by Colin Rodin and Fiona Patterson to report to Mrs Mcvittie the residences officer. Having lived in several NHS residences in England I was already in fear of the staunch matriarchal and regimented residences officers who were very territorial and authoritarian and had very little conversation with anyone. I shuddered once more at the thought that I was going to be housed in a military barrack and be greeted by yet another person of the same making who gave me the impression that they were merely facilitating my refuge in this country and that I ought to be on my best behavior and conform to UK norms and standards.
When I met Mrs Mcvittie for the first time that fear and reservation vanished immediately. Behind the desk sat a lady with a most welcoming smile. She greeted me in a most alluring and delightful way and informed me that she had already met my country fellow Dr Camille Nicholls who was another “cold tatty” like myself. Camille had to be provided with extra blankets to survive her winters. Her first concern then was whether I was managing in the cold. I could not be compared with Camille Nicholls, because apart from being an excellent physician, she was a stunning five foot eight beauty who made heads turn when she walked into a room. All the men held their breath to the point of collapse not wishing to exhibit their customary abdominal protuberance. She enquired about Camille’s’ well being. From her conversation I could sense that she had a very good rapport with Camille as she appeared well versed about the geography of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, its pristine volcanic black sand beaches, the turquoise blue Caribbean waters ideal for sailing and the splendid golden sands on which Kiera Knightly was marooned with Johnny Depp on the Tobago keys in that ever so famous scene form pirates of the Caribbean.
Mrs. Mcvittie possesses a radiant personality which placed one immediately at ease and made a very cold September very warm. After I moved into the house at C3 Mayfield terrace there were several calls to find out if I was comfortable enough and if the accommodations had fallen short of anything I wished. I had no complaints the residences despite not being plush and ultramodern were very clean and some of the best kept and habitable ones that I had lived in thus far in the UK. I had very little need for further embellishments. The psychological and the emotional support and welcoming embrace made one forget about any adversity if there was any. As a non EU resident as MTAS and the EWTD took effect I went from being employable to non employable. Locum trainee to non trainee and therefore was set adrift. One day I was working in Dumfries doing a locum replacement for Heather Currie and the next day I had no job and could not be given a job. Over the subsequent years my sojourn took me to many hospitals and regions of the UK looking for work. Strange but true despite having an excellent command of English and having worked in the system for your years I was no longer required. I almost fell victim to the massive Exodus of trained non European doctors who had to leave the NHS and the UK. I did eventually leave for a brief period and then was given employment in England when the job advertised for on several occasions was not taken up by a European. That short respite allowed me to gain indefinite leave to remain in the UK. My next step was to wind my way back to Dumfries and guess who was there to greet me as a prodigal son or sheep that had been lost? The delightful Mrs. Mcvittie.
I was welcomed like a long lost friend who had returned home once more and the feeling was reciprocal amongst the affable Scots. Mrs. Mcvittie is the “hands on” type of boss who looked after everyone and made sure they were well. If you infringed the residency rules you received a little note placed under the door asking you in a rather polite and diplomatic way to conform and be considerate to others. When you looked through the windows in the early morning you could see her approaching and before going to her office she would set about doing little errands around the compound. She was never afraid to muck in and get her hands dirty. She was an ambassador extra ordinaire I am yet to meet anyone in her capacity that can fit in to her shoes. She it was that gave the trust in Dumfries a face and a persona that foreign doctors like me could hold on to as being welcomed and appreciated. I was delighted to nominate her for the excellence award a few years ago and was rather disappointed that her work and that of her staff were not recognised as being equally important to the function of the NHS as a heart bypass surgeon. I was devastated that she did not get that award and even more so that someone revealed to her that I had nominated her and so my secret was blown and I embarrassingly and to admit to her rather coyly that she was doing a herculean job that few could manage equally as well.
So it was that with much sadness and personal grief that I attended her small farewell gathering at the Margaret Barty room. I thought many more would have been there to give her the fond farewell she deserved. I sincerely hope we can use her as an occasional resource person in teaching hands on human relations for which she has a natural knack. I wish her well in her retirement and hope that she will be around for many years to come. She is a truly remarkable daughter of the soil of Dumfries.
Dr Alwayn Leacock is a Specialty Doctor Obstetrics and Gynaecology at NHS Dumfries and Galloway