What’s up, Docs?…

It was just another shop in a row of shops, except there was no merchandise on display. A special light grey film, etched with the word ‘SURGERY’ and times of opening, covered the window almost to the top, screening the inside from passers by. On entering, the waiting room presented with seating arranged around its perimeter. There was no other furniture. Someone would raise their hand to indicate a space, if there was one, someone else to say, ‘You’re after me….’ and so you would sit and wait your turn to see the doctor. What I remember best about the actual surgery was the coal fire burning brightly and the scuttle of coal with brass tongs glinting on the hearth. On one wall was a tall cupboard with glass doors and behind a screen, an examination couch. By the door was a coat stand where the doctor had hung his dark grey Crombie overcoat and black Homburg hat.  Two chairs were arranged in front of a polished desk behind which sat the doctor. Doctor Kaye was a tall, rangy man with a long slim bespectacled face, distinguished grey hair and beautifully manicured hands. Black jacket, waistcoat and pin- striped trousers set off an impeccably laundered shirt and sober tie with matching tie pin and cuff links.  He always rose slightly from his chair to greet his patient. If the black telephone on the desk rang, it could signal an urgent call out which meant you had to repair to the waiting room until the doctor returned. Nobody liked this happening but return he did and would continue with his consultations until his waiting room was empty.  

I was in awe of him for he could syringe ears, lance boils, burst blisters, take blood, test urine, clean and dress minor wounds and diagnose all sorts using his magical stethoscope. I remember, as a child he would, as a matter of routine, take your pulse, look inside your lower eyelids and examine fingernails to check for signs of anaemia, press on your tongue with a ‘lollipop stick’ to examine your throat (say ‘AaaaH!) feel the glands around your neck, ‘sound’ you back and front and perhaps even check your height, weight and appetite before the crucial question: ‘…… and how are your bowels?’ Instructions, advice and a prescription(if necessary) would be given to mum  before enquiries would be made about herself and other family members, on our departure. I do not know how many patients Doctor Kaye had on his books and no doubt others’ memories are quite different to mine but in my opinion he was a real family doctor.

As a young mum, I had anxious times when the children became unwell. We lived in Dumbarton at the time and belonged to a practice which boasted three doctors and a receptionist – this was progress. On one occasion I phoned to speak with the lovely Doctor Maclean regarding two of the children. This I was allowed to do with the new fangled receptionist’s permission (!)’ It’s about the children, Doctor,’ I began ‘ I  think they’re very listless and….

‘ Mrs McAlinden,’ she interrupted, ‘don’t tell me any more symptoms over the ‘phone. I need to see the children for myself so I’ll come to you as soon as I can – if mum is concerned enough about her child to call the doctor, that’s good enough for me….’ That was about forty five years ago. I was appalled when I heard in the news about the child who had died from sepsis – hence this blog. We all have stories about wonderful, caring medical professionals but we also have tales of horror.

Have we really progressed? Don’t they treat the whole person any more? We have notices in surgeries telling patients that one complaint means one single appointment so –  get to the point and get out – another box ticked. Some doctors seem to be little more than triage nurses. Sore eyes? -You should have gone to your optician. But I have this blinding headache ….. See your optician first. I’m feeling desperately tired. We’ll need to get bloods taken – put an appointment on with the nurse. ‘Couldn’t I go round to the nurses’ station while I’m here? – I’ll wait.’ ‘No, you’ll need to make  an appointment…. ‘!!!  A family friend had waited for some time to see a consultant with regards to severe arthritis in his knees. He mentioned the fact that he was experiencing some pain in his elbows and shoulders as well. Oh, said the consultant you will have to see an Upper Body Specialist about that so you’ll need another appointment.’ I could go on……. and I will…… After a minor operation, my friend had to attend her local surgery (out East) to have a wound dressed by the nurse. She had a daily appointment for 0815 hours. On arrival at 0810hrs she approached the reception desk intending to book a slot to see the doctor about a different concern.

‘You are supposed to phone in after half past eight,’ she was reminded

‘ Yes but I will be with the nurse from 0815 and could miss my chance of phoning in time.’

‘Sorry, you’ll have to phone after half eight – there’s a phone for public use over there on the wall.’….. my friend was, by this time slightly late for the nurse. It was 0845hrs when she left the nurse’s station. She made her way to the carpark and phoned from her car. Guess what..!…… her doctor of choice had no appointments left……… could she prebook an appointment perhaps? Could she dooky!! Try again tomorrow……. (Same friend was instructed by the nurse ( don’t blame the messenger) to obtain a prescription from her doctor for the dressings being used by the nurse for her treatment, as she was depleting the surgery’s stock)…….

Clinics for specialist care have been moved all round the country which has huge implications for the patients as well as for the efficient transfer of essential patient information…. ( I’m sorry but our computers are down at the moment….. or…… didn’t you get notification that your consultation has been postponed?……or…..Oh I am sorry but you’re booked in to see Dr.B not Dr. A…… but I just phoned this morning and was given this time to see Dr.A who I specifically asked for…!!!!.) etcetera, etcetera and so on……… and don’t get me started about the newest ‘airport terminal’of a hospital in Glasgow or the ludicrous access to it…… and podiatrists who ‘don’t cut toenails’ any more…….and hospital entrances where you can shop for your fruit and vegetables and lots more besides…… last comment on the subject for the time being: My daughter has to phone in (but NOT before 0830 hrs) to make a doctor’s appointment. Last week she called in (for the third morning) and rang ninety seven times before she got through…….. engaged tone the whole time.

That’s an exaggeration surely, I hear you scoff! Well, no, it’s not.

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The Optician’s waiting room was crowded when in walked a well dressed fellow carrying a chamber pot discretely covered with kitchen roll. The accompanying odour permeated the premises. There was much coughing and gagging and scrambling for nose coverings. The general chaos caused an optician to appear from the back shop. ‘Sir, sir, what on earth do you think you are doing…?’he demanded, choking with rage and pong,’You can’t bring that in here – this is an optician’s……!!!’

‘I am well aware of that, my good man, but it is an optician to whom I need to show this sample,’ ……. and with that he revealed  the chamber pot’s contents. ‘You see, every time I do one of those ………. my eyes water.’……

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