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

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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’

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HAPPY FORTHCOMING HANUKAH EVERYONE

Large Menorah at the Jewish Museum Camden

As we lit the Hanukah candles we sang

מָעוֹז צוּר יְשׁוּעָתִי

Maoz tzur y’shuati

But instead of

לְךָ נָאֶה לְשַׁבֵּחַ
תִּכּוֹן בֵּית תְּפִלָּתִי

l’cha naeh l’shabeach
Tikon beit t’filati

under our breaths Hannah and I sang

The cat’s in the cupboard

And it can’t catch me

What did you sing?  (No rude versions please)

Many thanks to all those lovely people who bought my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ as a Hanukah present

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

Woman in a White Coat paperback

and making good.

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

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_White_Coat

 

ME AND MY TONSILS

Hannah was the prettiest of the three of us

It was still dark when my mother shook me awake and whispered, ‘Get up and don’t wake your sister.’

Since my grandmother died, I had shared the big double bed with my middle sister, Hannah. I crept to the bottom of the bed past her feet and crawled out.

When I reached for the Cornflakes my mother smacked my hand away.

‘You know you mustn’t eat before an operation.’

I would have liked to ask what an operation was but I could tell that my mother was already cross, especially when I couldn’t find my shoes. Somehow they’d got right under the bed and I had to crawl in amongst the dust bunnies to get them.

She marched me up Wentworth Street to Commercial, Street where we caught a tram to Grays Inn Road and the old Royal Free Hospital.

I was quickly admitted, and my mother left. I had my tonsils out that day and I remember waking up with an awful sore throat, helped a bit by a scoop each of vanilla and strawberry ice cream.

Once my throat eased a bit, I had a great time playing with the other children. We had Ludo and Snakes and Ladders to play with, but the very best was chasing over and under the beds – at least, until the nurses told us off.

I was almost sorry when the nurse said we would be going home. My mother was always late for everything and I was left all alone in the waiting room as the others were collected one by one. She finally came, only to tell me off because I’d spilled something down my jumper.

In those days it was just a couple of bad sore throats and out came your tonsils. Now we realise that the tonsils are large lymphatic glands that have an important role to play in our immune system.

Fortunately, there were still a few indications for tonsillectomy when I was a young Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) house surgeon in 1959. Because I had already qualified as a dentist as well as a doctor, and I suppose seemed steady and sensible, my consultant allowed me to have my own operating list, removing tonsils and adenoids. We took out tonsils by grabbing them in a steel snare and nipping them off. Usually we removed the adenoids as well by scraping them out. I loved it all.

By that time, Josh and I were married and, though I would have loved to have trained as a surgeon, I felt that as a married woman I was unlikely to get very far. In my hospital, there was only one woman consultant surgeon (unmarried, of course) and that was the usual state of affairs.

Woman in a White Coat paperback

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

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A DREIDEL FOR HANUKAH

Wooden Dreidel

Until I was about eight years old, and my Aunt Jennie bought me a china doll with eyes that opened and closed, the only bought toy I had was a dreidel, a little four-sided wooden spinning top. It was kept in a glass-fronted cupboard with other precious things like the Kiddush cups and Menorah, and brought out for Hanukah, year after year.

Each side of the dreidel bears a letter of the Hebrew alphabet: נ (nun), ג (gimel), ה (hei), ש (shin) – shorthand for the rules of a gambling game: Nun stands for the Yiddish word nisht (“nothing”), Hei stands for halb (“half”), Gimel for gants (“all”), and Shin for shtel ayn (“put in”). Nowadays they are often regarded as representing nes gadol hayah sham (“a great miracle happened there”) Wikipedia

Anything else we played with was picked up from Petticoat Lane market refuse, begged or nicked. Before the dustmen cleared them all away, we rescued clean orange boxes from the fruiterer’s rubbish to make a wicket and bat for the cricket we played in Wentworth Street. We’d wash a tinned fruit can for ‘Tin Can Tommy’, while chalk for hopscotch, and for cryptic messages about who loved whom, was nicked from school. We wheedled cigarette cards from adults as soon as we saw them lighting up, while lengths of string dropped in the street were precious finds for playing ever more intricate cats’ cradle.

In our present more affluent time, it’s hard to imagine what it was like for the poor like us who had absolutely no discretionary income. There was no spare money for frivolities like toys – unless you counted the fragile little celluloid dolls the Rag and Bone man gave you in exchange for whatever secondhand goodies you could bring him.

But if you are poor, and all your friends and neighbours are as poor or poorer, you don’t know what you’re missing and even a well-used Dreidel is fun.

My memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ a special present for Hanukah

Woman in a White Coat paperback

or Christmas

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

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_White_Coat

 

MY TWOPENNY CLUB ROW FORTUNE

Simon before Babygros and Onesies

If I had been good and not been cheeky, on Sunday my dad would take me to Club Row to see the animals. That week I asked if I could buy a twopenny fortune. The fortune seller had a yellow budgerigar perched on his shoulder and a tray stuffed with rows of little envelopes suspended around his neck. When you handed over your two pennies, the budgie would fly down, pick out one of the envelopes with its beak and hand it to you. The bystanders watched in silence as I opened the envelope.

‘You will win the football pools, get married and have four children,’ I read out to a round of applause.

I managed two of the three, but winning the football pools wasn’t one of them!!

I had qualified in dentistry and was half way through my medical training when we got married in 1956. By the time I completed my second post as a house physician, and was now able to work outside a hospital, I was five months pregnant with Simon.

Unfortunately, I developed raised blood pressure and fluid retention towards the end of my pregnancy and was prescribed strict rest. I was bored out of my mind. Two weeks before Simon was due, I was delighted when Josh’s cousins invited us for dinner. Both of them were great cooks and bon viveurs.

In 1960 we weren’t generally aware of the dangers of alcohol in pregnancy so when we arrived, we were greeted with a glass of dry sherry, as was the custom. I had two glasses of a very good Hungarian red wine with the delicious meal and a snifter of brandy with my after-dinner coffee.

Then my waters broke and Josh drove to the hospital in our old Morris 8 banger as fast as it would go.

When I arrived at the hospital where I’d trained, the midwife settled me in and sent Josh back for the case I kept ready for such an emergency.

‘Nothing’s happening at the moment,’ she said. ‘Just take this Seconal. It will help you to sleep. As it’s your first baby it could be ages yet.’

‘I really don’t need it. I’m more like a dormouse than anything. I’ll be asleep in no time.’

‘Be good now, Dr Waterman,’ she said. So I swallowed the capsule.

But soon my contractions started.

‘I’ll just give you something for the pain,’ the midwife said.

‘It’s not really hurting,’ I said.

‘Be good,’ she said, and gave me an injection of Pethidine.

By now, I’d had a glass of sherry, two large glasses of wine, a brandy, a capsule of Seconal and an injection of Pethidine. I was as high as a kite!!

I knew a few dirty songs and sang them at the top of my voice, but I knew a lot more hymns and started to sing them while the midwife exhorted me to push.

Finally, her instructions got through to me and my gorgeous baby boy was born. Amazingly, the moment I held Simon in my arms, I was stone cold sober. What incredible beings we are!!

Many thanks to those who’ve contacted me to say they are going to give my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ as a Hanukah or

Woman in a White Coat paperback

Christmas present

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

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

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_White_Coat

WW2 – THE BLITZ. EVACUATED TO DAWLISH 1940-42

In Dawlish aged 8

I was the youngest and smallest of the 40 children evacuated to the hostel in Dawlish. The Blitz had started on September 7th 1940 and the Luftwaffe systematically bombed London for 56 of the following 57 days and nights. Many children, unhappy at being evacuated, had come back to London. Posters appeared everywhere urging parents to send their children back to the safety of the countryside.

After my awful experience evacuated to Ely, I said I wouldn’t go away again, but at not quite eight years old I had no choice. I was sent off to the hostel for Jewish children in Dawlish run by Habonim. A distant cousin, who worked in a similar hostel in Teignmouth, took me there.

For the first time ever, I was petted and made much of, though I found my chores tough, especially in the depths of winter. There were several dormitories and my job was to clean the basins in each of the bedrooms before leaving for school. It wasn’t too bad in the summer, but in the winter, when the water was icy and the patterns of Jack Frost covered the windows, I got chilblains on my fingers, as well as on my toes.

I had just been in trouble for refusing to comb my hair or wash on Saturdays. I had decided it was work and so forbidden on the Sabbath. The matron wrote to ask my parents whether this was their choice. They wrote back saying it was all nonsense and I had been thoroughly told off.

Then, to my surprise, my parents agreed to pay for me to have piano lessons. Mr Lawson was the organist at the local church and also taught the piano. A short tubby man, I would sit next to him entranced as he played for me. He smoked continuously, even while he was playing, the ash dropping unheeded onto his waistcoat. I expected a pianist to have long slender hands, but his nicotine-stained fingers were short and stubby, with coarse dark hair on the backs. But he made magic with them.

He invited me to come to the local church to hear him play the organ on Sunday, but I knew my Orthodox parents would be horrified so I never did, though the love of music was with me forever. I have had several piano teachers since, but none will ever compare with my first teacher, Mr Lawson.

Many thanks to all those who’ve contacted me to say they are going to buy my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ for Hanukah or Christmas presents

Woman in a White Coat paperback

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

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

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_White_Coat