Medical vignettes 1

sandyscottDr Sandy Scott, long-time GP in the Wychwoods, begins a series of articles on some of his more memorable experiences during many years of medical practice in our villages.

Browsing through an old copy of The Wychwood Magazine recently, I came across the informative article by John Miskin outlining the vagaries and extremes of weather in the Wychwoods over the last four decades (Vol 38 No 6.) This reminded me of a ‘medical excitement’ that occurred during that awful long, cold, snowy winter of 1981-2.

It was, as usual, a cold grey Saturday morning with threatening clouds of yet more snowfall in January when a patient in Ascott, pregnant, overdue, and booked for a home confinement decided to go into labour. Grace Rawlins, for so long and so often our erstwhile saviour as both our District Nurse and latterly Midwife, attended and throughout the day she and I took turns to pop in to monitor our patient’s progress.

The road from Shipton and Milton to Ascott was ploughed and passable but the valley was otherwise almost cut off with no through traffic at all on the main road. Six to eight-foot drifts blocked all but a narrow single track up the hill towards Burford, navigable at times by only the most intrepid or foolhardy of souls in a four wheel drive vehicle.

By six that evening, progress in labour had ground to a halt and an exhausted patient was in need of delivery which we could not provide. Grace decided that a transfer to Oxford was urgently required, but how?

No ambulance could get closer to the valley than the roundabout on the A 40 above Burford and helicopters for such purpose were not yet available. I contacted my friend Chris Badger from nearby Crown Farm to seek his help and to hatch a plan. A tractor and trailer were deemed perilous, uncomfortable, exposed and undignified but neither could we fit a pregnant labouring patient, the midwife and her equipment into the cab of his large tractor.

We decided that I would try and tackle the Burford Hill in my wife’s tiny Peugeot Estate which, with its skinny tyres,was allowing me to get around the practice – just. Chris would follow behind with his monster tractor to push, pull or generally wrestle me to the top if required.

The Dower House Shipton in 1960s showing old Walnut tree before it died

The Dower House Shipton in 1960s showing old Walnut tree before it died

We loaded our patient into a makeshift bed in the back of the Estate and set off into the night. Attacking the hill with as much speed as I could muster, we bounced up past the protection of Blenheim Cottages and into the deep tunnel leading to the top of the hill like a bobsleigh in reverse, clattering the drift walls frequently, the loose road ice noisily battering the underside of the car but slithering ever upwards, at all times totally out of control. From the back, full of fortitude and baby there was never uttered a word of complaint from my patient.

Over the brow, past the Clump, and with a deep sigh, I stopped the car and got out. The night was black with only a few twinkling lights and a luminescent reflection from the snow. The wind had dropped and there was a total stillness and silence over the whole valley below – apart from the reassuring throb of a large diesel engine, itself muffled by the snow as it breasted the hill, light bar ablaze, to join me.

The rest of the journey was largely uneventful but interesting, particularly the icy slalom-like descent into Fulbrook. Once again, we attacked the hill of Burford High Street, skidding and fishtailing our way to the top. There the ambulance awaited us at the roundabout and the patient was transferred for her onward journey to Oxford. The babe, a girl, was safely delivered later that night and all was well.

Our return journey together was accomplished without too much drama or incident but the roar of the tractor close behind provided great comfort and reassurance. A wee dram or three were taken upon our safe return!

I often wondered whether that infant, now nearly forty years old, was ever told by his mother how difficult it had been to bring her into this world that freezing night back in 1982.

June-July 2019