Tag Archives: House surgeon

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

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Woman in a White Coat paperback

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’.

Buy Woman in a White Coat on Kindle at £2.99 or as a paperback on Amazon at £9.99

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_White_Coat