Medical vignettes 2: Acceptance

youngsandyMy father arrived in the Wychwoods as the new doctor in 1936. Over the next four decades, he laid the foundations and slowly built a Medical Practice to be proud of.  Throughout, apart from a few trainees after the war, he remained single-handed until September 1971 when I joined him with a view to take over when he retired in the next year.

Medicine in those days was based around experience, clinical acumen, a knowledge of ones patients and a large presence, large enough so that when gaps in knowledge presented, a dose of bullshit uttered with enough conviction and gravitas would carry the day! There were many such gaps then as medicine was still partially an art form rather than the totally science-based precise speciality that it is today.

My father had all these qualities in spades. He knew everybody and they knew him.  He was forthright and didn’t suffer fools gladly but for those in trouble he had endless time and patience.  He had birthed many of them and commanded great respect from the majority.

For me, a gauche newly qualified doctor with little skill or knowledge of General Practice, the prospect of entering this environment and taking over the reins within a year was, to say the least, daunting.  Trust and respect must be earned and after 35 years of my father’s tenure it was going to be a very hard act to follow. Acceptance by the patients to a young doctor like me was a large mountain to climb and, for me, a very steep learning curve.

At that time I was living with my young wife in a small flat in the Old Vicarage in Milton.  One evening in July 1972, my mother still living in the family home in Shipton rang to say that a father from one of the outlying villages had arrived on the doorstep with his seriously ill child and would I attend immediately. Reluctantly leaving my strawberries and cream I raced to the surgery in Shipton.

The story was that the six year old boy had found a bottle of what looked like blackcurrant juice on his doorstep and had taken a swallow.  His father was a farm worker and the liquid, the organo-phospate weed killer Paraquat.

By the time that I arrived, he had lapsed into unconsciousness in his father’s arms, his face ashen, his lips blue and his breathing both shallow and laboured. To get an ambulance, then as now, would take an hour and we obviously had little time to spare.  Earlier in the year, in a moment of madness, I had bought a daffodil yellow Morgan Tourer with no hood and not much room. Placing the father in the passenger seat with his moribund son on his knee, we set sail for Oxford.

Just before Burford, he appeared to stop breathing, so his father improvised  CPR by holding his head above the window screen every few seconds. The speed at which we were travelling forced some air into his lungs but I don’t think that the procedure will ever be adopted by the purists. We tore into Witney – there was no bypass in those days, and headed for the ambulance station. Halting the car on the verge, I pounded on the door and was rewarded to find a crew within. Recognising the emergency, they transferred the patient to their vehicle and we set off again. With a crew member and room to work, we resorted to the accepted form of CPR and just before Oxford were rewarded with a suggestion of shallow breathing.

Hospital in those days was the Old Radcliffe Infirmary in the Woodstock Road where we arrived with a screech of brakes, the smell of rubber and the siren still wailing.  The lad, still unconscious, was admitted, intubated, further resuscitated and despatched to the ICU. An antidote was rushed through the night in a police car from Cambridge and duly administered.

For our part, drained, relieved and not a little proud, the ambulance crew and I drove back to base.  Arriving back at the station at 2 am there stood my Morgan, hood down and keys still in the ignition and all four wheels still in place! It is a changed world we live in now.

As for the patient, at 7 am next morning his eyes opened, he sat up and was soon consuming his breakfast totally unaware of all the excitement and none the worse for his ordeal. At 9 am he developed a rash, diagnosed as measles and was hastily removed from ICU to a side ward.

His recovery was rapid and full. Word slowly filtered out into the valley that the new doctor, while not a patch on the old one and in spite of his kipper ties and Cuban heels, was not all bad.  The road to acceptance had begun. Respect and trust had still to be earned.

As for the marvellous responsive ambulance crew, they were severely reprimanded for taking a vehicle and making a journey without authorisation from headquarters. It’s a funny old world!

Sandy Scott

August-September 2019