When I had my first child, thirty-seven years ago, in a provincial town, times were very different. Hospitals were rigid – you did as you were told. Post-delivery time in hospital was one week, on average. There were timetables, schedules, nurseries for babies (I liked that) and very officious nurses.
We had to weigh the newborn before a feed, then after, to ensure an appropriate milk intake.
It was creating more stress than confidence and I was becoming bored and frustrated, especially with different feeding advice with every change of shift. My baby, I was told, was not doing well. I was a breastfeeding failure by day three! How appalling!
One morning, shock, horror, I forgot to do the pre-feed weigh in. Oh dear. Now I would incur the ire of the nurse! What could I do? I then spied the little plastic medication cup.
“Very carefully, I measured out the amount I was informed was an acceptable feed, substituted the 30 ml of milk with water, and threw it on the nappy.”
Very carefully, I measured out the amount I was informed was an acceptable feed, substituted the 30 ml of milk with water, and threw it on the nappy.
“Good work”, said the nurse. That is the best feed yet. You should be able to go home soon, if baby’s jaundice is improving.
I smiled sweetly.
. . .
A few years later, I was the unfortunate target of a morpheic BCC attack on my chin. (Who, me? -the kid who was always sheltering under the shade of a tree or towel at the beach when the other guys from youth group delighted in the sun!)
I was admitted to the Day Surgery Unit, once again in a provincial town, for Moh’s surgery and then plastic surgery to recreate my chin.
On awaking in recovery, chin swathed with tape and dressings, numb and immobile, an officious recovery nurse came and asked me what I would like to drink – tea, coffee or a juice. “Nothing, thank you.” I slurred. “I am having difficulty with my mouth.” Not the correct answer! Food and fluid were mandatory for discharge. One would not have to be Einstein to realise that I would request juice with a straw, please, as I could barely open my mouth, let alone cope with a hot beverage, especially with the extra padding preventing me from pursing my numb lips to accommodate a cup. Then I was presented with a plate of sandwiches and firmly told that I had to eat them, otherwise I could not be discharged. Now, that presented a challenge! Once again, Mr Einstein, please come to my rescue.
Always prepared, always equipped, I had a little basket with toothpaste, toothbrush, hand towel and plastic bag. Plastic bag joyfully received my sandwiches, crusts untidily left on plate.
“Good work!” I was told again. You can go home now that you have eaten!
I smiled sweetly. (Crookedly)
. . .
The sequel to this story is also funny.
I was a GP in a coastal town in these earlier days, so could only take a few days off to have the above-mentioned surgery. My children were still young, but had inherited their mother’s warped sense of humour, which has been so protective over the years.
The next morning, humoured by my altered chin and dressings, my tentative speech and the novelty of the event, they joyously decorated me with a Santa hat to match my white chin.
They left for school, leaving me to rest. My receptionist rang later, informing me that one of my patients had died and that a death certificate was required. Could the funeral director call past my house to allow me to complete this?
“Certainly”, I said.
“Forgetting my appearance, I answered the door with my Santa hat and white chin.”
Forgetting my appearance, I answered the door with my Santa hat and white chin.
I wondered why the man looked perplexed.
I smiled sweetly.
. . .
Many years ago, before computerisation of our notes, we had charts.
One of my colleagues had a very set way of calling his patients.
He would pick up the chart, look out to the waiting patients, call the Christian name, then the patient’s full name.
“William. William Ryan”, he would call.
One evening, when the last patient was in his room, I told the receptionists to watch.
I made up a new, fake chart.
The doctor came out of his adjoining room and called out for what he thought was his final patient, in his usual manner,
” Anna. Anna Phylaxis.”
Receptionists crack up.
Wait for a few weeks to dissipate distrust…
Doctor calls patient,
“Nick. Nick Orf.” Receptionists besides themselves.
Wait a few weeks to reduce suspicion……
“Les. Les Beyan.”
Doctor feigning furious.
Receptionists rolling on floor behind counter, laughing silently and uncontrollably.
Me in my room, door ajar, innocently typing.
I smiled sweetly.
. . .
A Greek lady, histrionic and dramatic, whom I will name Toula, had multiple somatic complaints.
On hearing her name called in the waiting room, she would laboriously arise from her seat, limp through the waiting area, face contorted with pain, drop in to the chair moaning, then proffer a platter of complaints in her very descriptive, Greek manner.
Then, in a flash, she would change character, hop up, walk over to the scales to weigh herself, walk back, then immediately adopt her previous persona.
Knowing that this was linked to childhood trauma and her personality, but admiring her courage to change country and run a business with very little English ability in the early days, I admired her and understood her nature.
One day, she was due for her pap smear. Of course, there was the very theatrical access to the examination couch, the moaning and groaning to position herself, the grabbing of my arm to steady herself. The soapies would be impressed.
“Then, she was saying ” I am allergic to da latex! You can’ta usa da latex gloves on me.””
Then, she was saying ” I am allergic to da latex! You can’ta usa da latex gloves on me.”
Then, no vinyl gloves left on my bench! Where did they go?
I raced up to the store room. None there; Nurse informing me that “the boys” had used them. As I pondered my dilemma, I looked down to spy the large 3/4 length leather gloves atop the cryotherapy cylinder.
Returning to my room, with leather gloves in hand, I said, “Toula, it’s either these or the latex!”
” I taka da latex!”, she responded, slumping back down. I explained that I would use a lubricant barrier and try hard not to expose her to much latex (she probably didn’t have an authentic allergy, which I had taken in to consideration, for those of you who are worried about the ethics).
The scene was so funny. At the end of the procedure, I helped the wounded, beached whale arise, dress and be seated.
We have been friends ever since. Her friends, over coffee, have also been party to the hilarious scenario, elaborated and embellished in the retelling. She knows that she is cared for, accepted and acknowledged.
Now, on recalling the event regularly, even many years later….
We laugh loudly.
Dr Maria Haase
Dr Maria Haase is a Queensland GP.
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