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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