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.