Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The ghost of Christmas Past

The year before I moved to Ambridge to take up my present lofty post, I was working in the Second City General Hospital on the wards as a jobbing paediatric SHO. As such I was on call for Casualty for any potential paediatric emergencies. This was the tail end of the eighties, when you could tell the paediatric docs by the brightness and eccentricity of their knitwear, white coats being strictly off limits on the kids wards.

For domestic reasons I liked working Christmas back then, so that Christmas Eve found me resplendent in the jazziest of woolly jumpers prowling the ward and tending the on call bleep. It’s not such a bad time to be working in hospital. The wards were awash with choc’s and biccies donated by grateful parents, and nearly empty of patients- nobody wanting to trust that Santa could seek them out down the overlarge Victorian chimneys of SCGH that looked distinctly uninviting. Especially since this was in the pre-Air-Ambulance era so there was no convenient helipad for the landing of reindeer powered sleighs and such.

We had out fair share of victims of Tinsellitis* in through casualty, but all had been treatable and fit for home, and everything was looking rosy. The only crimp in the arrangements for the festive season was an ambulance strike, which saw the Army out on the streets providing cover using their converted Landrover ambulances. As it happened this may well have turned out a boon since it had, for the first time in years, deigned to snow and then freeze hard all through Christmas week.

And so it came to pass that late that evening the pager went off and I trotted into A&E only slightly redder in the face than in the jersey. A woman had arrived in labour, and the Squaddies hadn't realized the SCGH delivery suite was a couple of miles up the road in an NHS run nursing home staffed by nuns (if you've seen the excellent “Call the Midwife” on the Beeb, you know the sort of place I mean). The poor woman had no transport and had already slipped on the ice earlier in the week breaking a wrist, so she had trudged from her flat in the advanced stages of labour and called the ambulance from a payphone, only to have the Field Ambulance of the 477th turn up to collect her instead.

The delivery went without incident and without a whimper from mum, and barely any from her newborn infant, and all we were missing were a few animals, shepherds, wise men and guiding stars, but still somehow this particular birth felt special. But then so do they all.


* A seasonal upper respiratory illness occurring in the week leading up to Christmas which, as any parent will confidently assert, is uniquely sensitive to antibiotics.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Hercule, Hastings and “the little blue pills”.

A short time ago a commenter left a request to get in touch about a publication they were planning. It's to be entitled "In Rude Health" and was looking for tales of a slightly risque (yes I know but my HTML isn't up to accents) nature form the NHS. It's hoped it will be out for Christmas and I'd encourage you all to go look for it (though possibly with some caveats as to the content being intended for the adult audience). What follows was going to be a putative entry, but it took far too long to put together and so won't be. Still having made the effort, I thought why not go mad and double my output for the year anyhow. 

So gentle reader, with the same caveats, read on, or look away as befits your own personal circumstance.



Hercule was a dapper gentleman in his mid seventies. He had become accustomed to living alone after the passing of Mme H some years previously after a difficult final illness with disseminated cancer. It came time to “downsize” and so he chose to move in to a local retirement community of sheltered flats overseen by a warden. As is often the case in such communities, Hercule was in something of a minority, living surrounded by ladies of similar age and circumstance, but very few other men. Like some latter day Mr Darcy, this led to him receiving numerous invitations to call on his new neighbours for afternoon tea and canasta. Being well brought up he was happy to oblige and soon developed a wide circle of lady friends. One thing led inevitably to another and soon it was afternoons out to Th├ęs Dansant.

After a few months of this new lifestyle Hercule came in for a check up, and after a routine review of medications he bashfully raised the subject of the little blue pills. He’d heard that such were available for gentlemen afflicted by “performance problems” and wondered if they might be suitable for him. A glance at his record showed no contraindications so we agreed he might give them a try, and he took away his first script for Viagra with the usual warnings about not taking them too often and not to exceed the written dose. It seems Hercule had, in modern parlance, a new partner.

Some weeks later he was back to report a happy outcome. The little blue pills were working a treat and he wondered if he might have some more. Well actually quite a few more. It transpired that Hercule had become something of a celebrity in his small group, and was in high demand with a number of his dance partners. It took some persuasion on my part to limit both the frequency and quantity of his prescriptions.




Captain Hastings was a bluff matter of fact ex Colonial type. He and Mrs Hastings had met in the Raj, and after a lifetime of service in the tropics had retired to live in our neck of the woods. The Captain’s blood pressure was not too good, and his arteries were none the better for a hearty diet of kedgeree and curries. This deadly combination had given him problems “in the bedchamber” much to the chagrin of the Memsahib. So we agreed a cautious trial of the wonder pills, all the more so because of his likely circulation problems, He understood he was taking a risk, but Mrs Hastings was his Queen-Empress and he was not about to disappoint her.

As it happened all went well and the Captain was back to request a regular, but entirely reasonable repeat prescription. Years passed and Mrs Hastings suffered a slight stroke and became confused and prone to agitation, but the one thing that calmed her was the easy intimacy she and the Captain still shared. Shortly after this he developed atrial fibrillation, and I had to tell him we really ought to revisit the suitability of the little blue pills.

The Captain would have none of it. Mrs H would be so disappointed if this one thing left her was taken away. He understood he might be taking a risk, but his son would be there to provide for her in the event that his ticker gave out and for the pair of them it was quality not quantity that mattered for the time they would have left. In the end he persuaded me to continue prescribing. Some time later Mrs H suffered a second and sadly fatal stroke, and from that point on the Captain allowed his prescription to lapse, living on for another few years, content that he had “done his bit” for Queen and Country.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Life and art.

So, it’s been a while. All sorts of reasons why, but none to trouble the dear readers with I’m thinking. Today though, life and art have juxtaposed and that serendipitous event demands to be shared, so here I am, back again.

Les isn’t feeling too grand. The gout he had in the spring looks like it’s left a longer term arthritis which is affecting his thumb, making it hard to do stuff like cook, clean and so forth. He’s also had a cough for ages and is fed up with it. It sounds entirely innocuous but deserves some treatment so we opt for an antibiotic to go with some painkillers.

Then he mentions a bit of trouble with the waterworks, and being a gentleman of a certain age, wonders if he needs to worry about his prostate. In fact he had a test just a few months ago, requested by that nice Dr Neighbour, that he had quite forgotten, and never sought the result for, an it was normal so no real worries, but since he’d also brought “a sample” we do a dip stick test, and the only thing that shows is a bit of glucose.

“ I knew that would be up doc,” he chips in, “only the wife’s just left me and I’m fending for myself now….”

Given that catering isn’t his strong point, and he’s had a bad hand anyway I think I get the picture, but I say how sorry I am to hear it. He looks a bit teary so I ask him if he wants to talk about it. And then it happens. I’m not quite sure if I’m whisked away to a steamy bayou and the insistent strum of a blues guitar, or a gritty northern working men’s club, but life has definitely begun to swerve into lyric, or comedy as he replies,


“Oh no doc, I’m alright with it, just not used to living alone quite yet, but the thing that’s really upset me is that the dog died last week. I really miss that dog!”