All posts by Abby Waterman

THE TURKEY BONE LADY

TurTurkey bone

My first post after qualifying as a doctor was as a house surgeon in the Ear, Nose and Throat department. During the week I was on 24/7 but, as there were two ENT housemen, we had alternate weekends off.

It was the day after Boxing Day 1958 and we were all feeling rather fragile after the party the night before. My bleep went. It was Sister in Casualty.

‘I think you’re on call for ENT, Dr Waterman. Could you come down? We have a patient for you.’

I walked through the tunnel to Casualty and was greeted by Sister wearing a red paper hat.

‘It’s the large lady over there,’ she said.

I looked across. She was enormous. She dwarfed her tiny husband.

I grinned and pointed to Sister’s hat.

‘My God,’ she said, pulling it off. ‘I’ve been wearing this all morning. Haven’t been to bed yet. I’m off in an hour.’

‘It’s something I’ve swallowed,’ my patient said. ‘It’s because of my daughter-in -law, Doris. She’s a bit sloppy with her cooking.’

Her husband patted her fat little hand.

‘She tries her best, love.’

‘It was the turkey stew. My new teeth still hurt when I chew and as it was just stew I took them out to eat. Next thing there was something sticking in my throat. I tried gargling and eating dry bread but it’s still there this morning.’

‘Do you think you could walk over with me to the ENT department. I think you’re going to need an anaesthetic for us to see what it is. It’s good you haven’t eaten anything this morning.’

My registrar was sitting in the surgeon’s lounge looking pitiful.

‘Speak very quietly,’ he said. ‘I think my head is going to explode. I thought we’d have a quiet day. Can you book a theatre and bleep the anaesthetist on call. I hope he’s not feeling as bad as I am.’

The registrar got the turkey vertebra out easily and I took it round to recovery to show my patient.

I was off the next weekend and went shopping in the local market. I heard a voice calling ‘Miss, Miss. Doctor.’

It was the turkey bone lady. I thought I had recognised her in Casualty but I hadn’t been sure. She had quite the best fruit and vegetable stall in the market. I chose some apples and a bunch of bananas and held out a £1 note.

‘That’s all right, love. I owe you. You were so kind to me.’

I tried to insist but she wasn’t having any. It wasn’t very much so I said thank you and backed off fast when she looked as if she was going to kiss me.

The trouble was she tried not to charge me the next time I went shopping. I couldn’t have that, so I had to shop at one of the other stalls.

One day she stopped me.

‘I’ve seen you going to her opposite. Nothing like the quality on our barrow. OK. I’ll charge you then but I’ll see you right. You’ll have the best stuff you’ve ever seen.’

It wasn’t fair really. All I’d done was book her in. My registrar was nursing a sore head and he was so grumpy he upset her.

It shows we all want a bit of Tender Loving Care.

A Fruit and Vegetable stall in San Sebastian

Lots more stories like this in my memoir ‘‘Woman in White Coat’. Buy it on Kindle at £2.99 or as a paperback on Amazon at £9.99

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_White_Coat

Woman in a White Coat paperback

ALL 6s AND 7s – ACCORDING TO WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

Age 6 from Rachel Mulligan’s sequence ‘Seven Ages of Man’ stained glass roundels illustrating the life of her father Jim Mulligan, Stained Glass Museum, Ely Cathedral

On my way home from seeing the audiologist about my hearing aids, I thought about all the ‘falsies’ now available to us. I don’t have those we usually associate with the term – when I had surgery for breast cancer immediate reconstruction wasn’t on offer, but I have been fitted with some of the other prosthetic replacements hardly dreamt of when Jacques in Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’ spoke of the Seven Ages of Man.

In the UK by 2018 the expectation of life for men was 79.6 and for women 83.2. In Shakespeare’s time, in the 16th century, the expectation of life for both was just under 40, given the high mortality during infancy and childbirth. At 40, I’d have thought myself in the prime of life and was just about to start my specialist training as a consultant pathologist. My final career was just about to begin.

‘The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose’

‘Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.’

I used to be lean and wish I were again. I’ve more ‘the fair round belly’ of the Justice and I only wear slippers at home – haven’t yet descended into going out in them, nor in curlers. I’ve most of my own teeth with only one false tooth – a bridge supported by a tooth on either side, and since having my cataracts removed and false lenses inserted, I no longer wear spectacles,. Also, I have a false hip after fracturing the neck of my right femur in Spain in 2000.
I’m not sure about the ‘second childishness’, though every now again, when I try to remember a word or a name, I experience the ‘mere oblivion’. But so at times so do my children and grandchildren. Immediately after my heart attack I virtually lost my sense of taste and some manual dexterity, but they’re mostly back now.
Lucky we didn’t live in Shakespeare’s time, when ‘sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything’ meant literally that!!

Lots more like this in my memoir ‘‘Woman in White Coat’. Buy it on Kindle at £2.99 or as a paperback on Amazon at £9.99

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_White_Coat

Woman in a White Coat paperback

IT TAKES A NERVE TO CATCH YOURSELF A HUSBAND

As soon as I turned seventeen, the pressure was on. This was long before Computers or Internet Dating, and my mother started to worry that she’d have to find a Shadchen (a matchmaker) if, like a nice Jewish girl, I was to get married and have a big family. But despite my mother’s fears, all I needed was the nerve.

In my early teens, eager to meet handsome young men, I got myself booked into Guy’s Hospital Dental School to have my teeth seen to. I never actually got off with any of them, and I certainly never knew why I had the professor and a crowd of students around me when a new junior student took over my treatment.

I was now a senior dental student myself and treating my favourite patient. He was an elderly man who had a fund of brilliant stories of Times Gone By. He kept me in gales of laughter – in between me trying to get on with filling the many cavities in his teeth.

I’d had odd twinges of toothache in a lower premolar, but when I consulted our very misogynistic professor, he said he could find no cause for my pain and that I was just another hysterical young woman student. But now I had a throbbing pain in my tooth that seemed to be bursting out of my head. I’d never experienced anything like it. If you’ve ever had really bad toothache you will know what I mean. It was almost unbearable.

I apologised to my patient and said I’d have to put in a temporary filling. I just couldn’t go on.

He tried hard, but he couldn’t help grinning.

‘Don’t worry, my dear,’ he said. ‘You get yourself seen to. Good to have an excuse to come and see you again.’

The pain had subsided a little and I was able to bid him goodbye.

I didn’t know the on duty house surgeon very well, but I knew he had the reputation of being very skilful but with a sharp tongue. I expected him to be as scathing as my professor.

By now the pain had simmered down a bit. I went up to him and asked him to look at my tooth, explaining that the prof had been unable to find the source of my fleeting pain.

In very little time, he established that a right lower premolar, which had a small filling in it, was the source of my raging toothache. The very junior student at Guy’s Hospital, who’d treated me all those years ago, had drilled too deep and exposed the nerve in the centre of the tooth – hence the crowd around me, watching the exposed nerve being capped off. It had lain dormant for years and was now finally giving trouble.

The house surgeon gave me an injection, removed the inflamed nerve and arranged to complete the root filling when it had settled down.

Having made a further appointment, he asked me if I’d like to come to the cinema that weekend to see ‘Les Enfants du Paradis.’

The rest is history. Now, four children and four grandchildren later, Josh and I have been married the best part of 64 years.

Josh as a very handsome young dental student (not me – another student in his dental chair)

Josh as a very handsome young dental student (not me – another student in his dental chair)

I thank all you lovely people who wrote and commented on my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat.’

‘Woman in White Coat – the memoir of girl growing up the East End making good.

I thank all you lovely people who wrote and commented on my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat.’

About ‘Woman in a White Coat’

Buy it on Kindle at £2.99 or as a paperback on Amazon at £9.99

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_White_Coat

OUR FIRST JOHN DOBBIE TOYSHOP

Simon aged 3 and me looking in at our first bow-fronted toyshop.

It was 1962. Simon was 2½ and Bernard was 4 months old. Josh was working full time in our dental practice up in town and I was working part time in the dental practice I had set up in our small terrace house in Wimbledon.

Despite the fact that we were both working, we were overdrawn, having taken on too big a mortgage. We cast about for ways of making some extra money and finally decided to open an educational toyshop. It was such an ordeal getting two small boys ready to go up to town to find some toys that didn’t fall to pieces almost straightaway. The word you thought of then when someone said ‘toys’ was ‘broken’!! There was a very good toyshop owned by Paul and Marjorie Abbatt in Wimpole Street and Heal’s had some good toys, particularly at Christmas, but it wasn’t easy dragging the boys up to town.

We approached local agents in Wimbledon village only to be told none of the shops ever changed hands. All of them had been there for ages. Then, just before Christmas, one of the agents rang to say a small shop had come on the market.

It was ideal. A reasonable rent for a small bow-fronted shop – just one’s image of ‘Ye Olde Toy Shoppe.’ Winter 1962-3 was the coldest for years and we almost said ‘no’. I remember inspecting the premises, still with a post-pregnancy weak bladder, and finding the loo frozen solid.

Having managed to borrow £500 between the bank and a friend of my sister’s, we spent £250 on fitting it out and £250 on stock. If we visited any shop that stocked attractive sturdy toys, we turned them over to look at the labels to find the suppliers. We also managed to find some craftworkers making beautiful toys to order, as well as sturdy wooden toys imported from Scandinavia.

I wrote to all the Sunday glossies to tell them our shop would be opening at Easter and to our great good fortune the Woman’s Page editor, the wonderful late Moira Keenan, wrote about us on the Sunday before Easter. Fantastic!!

That Wimbledon shop later moved to a larger shop in the High Street and we opened a second shop in Putney. We never made much money out of them though it was a wonderful experience. Finally, having had enough of running John Dobbie, we sold the Putney shop in a property deal, and the Wimbledon shop to a couple who had opened a shop like ours elsewhere.

I decided to return to medicine, hoping to specialise in dental pathology. The professor who’d invited me to come and see him, if and when I was ready, had retired and when I approached his replacement for a job, he turned me down saying ‘A married woman with four children and no expertise – you’ve nothing to offer.’

Five years later I was a consultant pathologist with an international reputation. When we met later he swore he’d never said anything of the kind – but he had!!

‘Woman in a White Coat                      paperback

Lots more stories like this in my memoir ‘‘Woman in White Coat’. Buy it on Kindle at £2.99 or as a paperback on Amazon at £9.99

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_White_Coat

FROM SHMEAR TO ETERNITY – MY LOVELY NEW (2ND HAND) YIDDISCHE DICTIONARY

My new secondhand Yiddische dictionary

I saw Fred Kogos’s dictionary online some time ago but none of the UK online booksellers I tried had a new copy at the list price of £10.99. Not only a new copy but secondhand copies were all at silly prices starting at £54. Finally, I found some secondhand copies from three USA bookstores but none of them would ship to the UK. Then, just before Christmas, a secondhand copy was listed on Amazon US. Not cheap at £23.54 including nearly £4 postage, but so well worth it. It’s in very good condition, the paper slightly foxed but no underlines or highlighting.

It is all in Roman script not Hebrew – much easier for me. Yiddish-> English then English -> Yiddish and then pages of Yiddish proverbs.

It made me quite weepy, reading the proverbs my late mother used to encourage or berate me with. Never thought a dictionary would make tears come to my eyes.

I thank all the lovely people who contacted me and commented on my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat.’

Lots more stories like this in my memoir ‘‘Woman in White Coat’.

Buy it on Kindle at £2.99 or as a paperback on Amazon at £9.99

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_White_Coat 

Woman in a White Coat paperback

 

ON BEING A GOURMET COOK – OR NOT

When Josh and I got married in 1956, I had two dishes in my repertoire – a simple omelette and minestrone soup. My mother was a plain cook, with a very limited range of dishes – cold fried fish on Friday night, cholent on Saturday and braised or roast beef or boiled chicken on other days. Our main meal was at lunchtime – our dinner –-always a rushed meal, because my father and older sisters had only half an hour for lunch and I had to get back to school. For supper we had egg on toast or sardines on toast so I should add those to my range of expertise and of course from my student days baked beans on toast. Josh on the other hand came from a family of good cooks – his paternal grandfather had been a baker in Poland – and so Josh was a much better cook than I.

I gradually extended my range with the help of recipes in newspapers and magazines but then, when I finished my second post as a house physician and was five months pregnant with Simon, I decided to take a 6 week full time Good Housekeeping Cookery Course held in basement kitchens in Mayfair. It was an excellent course ranging from the simplest dishes – how to boil an egg or mash a potato – to Black Forest Gateaux and a range. of various loaves of bread.

When you have four children, and two of them are ravenous boys, you go more for quantity than variety. I got used to serving a three course meal and then having the boys ask for a ‘sarnie’ – or two. They were still ‘starving’.

After I retired in 1991, I took a wide range of courses at Further Education Colleges including cooking. The very best was Joyce’s course (sadly she’s no longer with us) at Morley College. It was a ‘Cook and Eat’ course. You paid a modest sum for the ingredients that Joyce lugged in each week, and then you paired off to cook a three course meal. I think I took the course three times – Joyce had a huge variety of tried and tested recipes.

I only remember one absolute disaster.

We had one student who was always ahead of herself. Her task was to whip the cream for our Blackberry and Apple crumble and she’d got the cream prepared long before we were ready to sit down for our meal. I had to rush off for my Spanish lesson at the Mary Ward Centre in Queens Square and so was the first to be served with my desert.

I took a spoonful and spat it out. I was sure it was poisoned. The salt and sugar – both white granules – were kept in glass jars and she hadn’t bothered to check the labels. She’d used salt instead of sugar and in that concentration the salted cream tasted vile. Probably a very primitive response to ingredients that – certainly in that quantity – are bad tor us.

I thank all those lovely people who wrote and commented on my memoir ‘Woman in White Coat’

‘Woman in White Coat – the memoir of girl growing up the East End making good.

Woman in a White Coat paperback

Buy it on Kindle at £2.99 or as a paperback on Amazon at £9.99

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_White_Coat

 

 

Recipe for my favourite fruit cake

Note how the fruit has remained evenly distributed

Grease and line the bottom of a large loaf tin Continue reading ON BEING A GOURMET COOK – OR NOT

HURRAH! WE MADE IT TO 2020

Fireworks on the London Eye from our balcony

I was born in 1931. Had I been born 30 years earlier, would I have survived breast cancer, a fractured hip, wrist and ankle and, in 2016, a near-fatal heart attack, when my notes were labelled ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ if the second attempt to wean me off a ventilator failed?

I remember in 1999 thinking ‘Well I’m 69, very nearly three score and ten, will I make it to the Millennium – and all the predicted computer crashes that never happened?’

And now here we are in 2020 and I’m still hanging on age 88 thanks to the amazing advances in medicine. We take x-rays, radiotherapy and antibiotics for granted as well as the even more amazing robotics. My heart has two metal stents keeping my blocked coronary arteries open and powerful drugs are helping my heart to remodel itself. All unimaginable in my parents’ youth.

I’m afraid I’m very superstitious, although 13 is my lucky number. I never walk under ladders and there was no way I would even think about what I was going to post about the New Year before the very last stroke of midnight – just in case I didn’t make it!!

Lovely watching the fireworks on the London Eye with our daughter and son-in-law. Shame this year, the grandchildren couldn’t make it.

I thank all those lovely people who contacted me to say they enjoyed my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’

‘Woman in White Coat – the memoir of girl growing up the East End making good.

Buy it on Kindle at £2.99 or as a paperback on Amazon at £9.99

Woman in a White Coat paperback

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_White_Coat

 

 

 

THE PHANTOM HEAD – OR HOW I BECAME A DENTIST

As a student in 1951, removing decay in a tooth embedded in a Phantom Head

I was 17, almost 18, when I started my dental training in October 1949. In our first year, like the medical students, we studied Anatomy, Physiology and Biochemistry with, for us, the addition of Dental Anatomy – the structure and function of the teeth and jaws. The second year was spent learning to make and fit Partial and Full dentures (Prosthetics). We spent  our two final years in the Conservation Department learning how to do fillings, gold inlays and bridges and how to pull teeth either in the General Anaesthetics room (always called the Gas Room because we used nitrous oxide gas as an anaesthetic) or under Local Anaesthetic injection in the Locals Room. We also carried out some minor oral surgery like removing redundant gum flaps or trimming the gum around the teeth – Gingivectomy – and learned how to Scale and Polish teeth – these were the days before this was delegated to Oral Hygienists.

We learned how to remove decay (caries), trim the cavity so a filling would hold – in those days often mercury amalgam – and also how to cast and fit gold fillings when they were more suitable.

All this was carried out using a Phantom Head – not a Virtual Head (hardly even dreamt of in 1951) – but a solid one made of metal with a jaw that opened and closed.

Teeth that weren’t too broken down – perhaps had been removed for overcrowding or because they were loose – were collected in the extraction rooms and stored in antiseptic solution. Our first task when we joined the Conservation Department was to fish out a set of 28 teeth – 4 upper and 4 lower incisors; 4 upper and lower premolars and 4 upper and lower molars. We didn’t bother with third molars – wisdom teeth – not everybody had them anyhow.

I developed enough skill to get a Distinction in my Dental Surgery Finals but for me it was always a question of thinking ‘right a bit’ and ‘left a bit’. I wasn’t a natural and had to plan very carefully how to go about any task, though I learned to be competent.

But during our course we had lectures on Medicine, Surgery and Pathology and I fell in love with the whodunit of Pathology – but that’s another story.

I thank all those lovely people who wrote to say they had read and enjoyed my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat.’

‘Woman in White Coat – the memoir of girl growing up the East End making good.

Buy it on Kindle at £2.99 or as a paperback on Amazon at £9.99

Woman in a White Coat paperback

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_White_Coat

MY DAUGHTER THE PHYSICS PROFESSOR

Jane with one of the hand-embroidered balls we sold in our John Dobbie educational toyshop.

We’ve all heard the very un-PC Jewish Mother jokes, including those about her calling out to rescue her drowning children ‘Save my son, the doctor’ or ‘Save my grandson, the psychiatrist!!’ Well, my eldest son is a doctor, a Professor, and our youngest is a Professor of Physics.

She nearly didn’t make it though. I was 34 weeks pregnant and we had just been to visit our elder son after his ear operation. A trickle of liquid down my legs indicated that my membranes had broken six weeks early. At the maternity department, just across the road, the obstetrics registrar advised me to rest.

‘See if you can get this little one a bit more mature, Abby,’ he said. ‘Safer at home, though. Less chance of picking up a hospital infection.’

After about a week, mostly in bed, my contractions started. I was disappointed that the ambulance man wouldn’t put on the bell.

‘It’s only for emergencies,’ he said. ‘Looks as if it will be some time yet.’

Josh met me at the labour ward and almost as soon as I arrived my contractions started in earnest. As my baby was premature I couldn’t have a painkilling injection and had to push very carefully. Premature babies need to be delivered very gently to avoid damage to their brains.

Jane came out bright pink and crying loudly. She weighed 4½ pounds, which was a good weight for a premature baby. After letting us have a quick look at her, she was whisked off to the prem baby unit and I was deposited in a side room in the post-natal ward. I quickly fell asleep. When I awoke, I asked several times when I could see my baby, but was always told they were busy in the prem unit.

Finally, the Professor of Paediatrics came to see me.

‘I would get your husband to come back, Abby,’ he said. ‘I’m afraid your baby’s not doing well. She’s developed Respiratory Disease of the Newborn. She may not make the night.’

I begged to go down and see her, but he said there was a lot going on in the prem unit.

‘Better not,’ he replied.

They made me take a sleeping pill and I dozed off, waking several times in the night.

Finally, night sister came in, finishing her rounds. I was almost too scared to ask how my baby was doing, was she still alive, but she said she’d pop down to the prem unit and see. She was back in a few minutes that seemed like hours as I waited to hear the worst.

‘She’s holding her own,’ she said. ‘You can pop down for a few minutes.’

My little girl was in an incubator, panting away, trying to take in enough oxygen, tubes coming out of everywhere.

‘You’re so lucky you had her here, Dr Waterman,’ the prem unit sister said. ‘RDN is prof’s speciality and her distress was picked up really early.’

I knew Respiratory Disease of the Newborn was a condition in which the lungs didn’t expand properly at birth and at that time was often fatal.

When Josh brought our other three children in to see her, they looked like giants compared with her.

Jane pulled through, became a competent flautist, so her lungs were obviously not permanently damaged, was as bright as a button and is now an internationally known Professor of Physics.

Just shows that where there’s life there’s hope!!

 

I wish you all a Fantastic New Year. Many thanks to those who’ve contacted me to say they have enjoyed my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’.

‘Woman in White Coat – the memoir of girl growing up the East End making good.

Buy it on Kindle at £2.99 or as a paperback on Amazon at £9.99

Woman in a White Coat paperback

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_White_Coat

IT’S FANTASTIC HAVING A DAUGHTER

Louise fulfilling her promise as a pretty baby

Of course, I loved my two sons. Still do, even though they’re both now bald and getting on for 60, but daughters are extra special.

When I was pregnant with Louise in 1966, ultrasounds were not yet in general use so I was prepared for a third son or a daughter. As babies, the boys had slept in carrycots until they were old enough for a proper cot but one of the craft workers, who made wicker rattles and balls for our John Dobbie toyshop, made me a gorgeous wicker cradle. I spent ages lining and trimming it with a delicate pale turquoise checked fabric – the colour would do for either sex.

My labour started in the small hours and Josh took me and the boys – then six and four – to the nursing home. I hadn’t been able to book in to have another baby at the hospital where I qualified, as I was outside their catchment area and it was a normal pregnancy. The local maternity hospital was fully booked around the time I was due.

The boys were complaining that they were hungry when Josh left me tucked into a pleasant room with a lovely coal fire. He decided to take them to Covent Garden, then still a busy Fruit, Vegetable and Flower Market, and where there were cafes open all-night for the market porters.

Josh ordered sandwiches and hot milk for the boys. The counter assistant poured hot water over a couple of teaspoons.

‘Better to sterilise them for the little boys,’ she said.

Louise finally made her appearance in the evening after Josh had been up to see me and then taken the boys home to bed. It was love at first sight with this adorable little 6½ pound dark-haired little scrap. I’d fed the boys myself and she was as easy as they had been.

The only trouble was that I’d not eaten all day in case a problem would have arisen and I’d needed an emergency C-section. I was starving. I asked the nurse for something to eat but, believe it or not, being a private facility, the senior nurse had locked the fridges and food stores when she left at night. Luckily I was so tired that I fell asleep.

It was a nice comfortable room with pleasant friendly nurses but a bit slap-dash. On the few days I stayed there, after dinner I tucked my little one under the bedclothes with just her nose out so she could breathe. To my delight the nurses forgot to take her to the nursery. When she cried I fed her and she soon went back to sleep. Bliss.

I loved dressing her in pretty clothes and now she chooses pretty things for her daughter – and for me.

We mothers of daughters are the luckiest in the world.

Many thanks to those who wrote to say they enjoyed reading my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’. Have finally started on the sequel.

‘Woman in White Coat – the memoir of girl growing up the East End making good.

Buy it on Kindle at £2.99 or as a paperback on Amazon at £9.99

About ‘Woman in a White Coat’

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_Whitee_Coat