It was a lovely balmy summer evening in 1976 (remember, dear reader, that I qualified as a doctor in June 1975). The air was scented with the sweet odour of traffic fumes from the adjacent A3 and A23. The occasional subterranean rumble signalled a passing Northern line tube. Passers-by gaily shouted greetings to one another as they merrily made their way to the Skinner’s Arms on Camberwell New Road for an evening’s intellectual exchange over a pint of golden nectar. [Sorry to intrude here, but I’ve another story about the Skinner’s Arms that could be told. It involved a performing lady and her abdominal scar. Maybe another time. Back to the plot]. The day was ended, ward rounds, theatre sessions, drips inserted, consultants humoured, parents talked to, emotion drained. I was the only doctor in the hospital, and I’d gone to bed.
In about the 40th hour of a continuous shift lasting three working days and the two intervening nights, the phone rings about 11.30 pm. It was the night porter.
Go to A and E, there’s a child in distress.
Indeed there was: a boy about 8 years old. He’d been stung by a bee (maybe a wasp, but the blog title wouldn’t be as good) that morning, and the resulting inflammation was bothering him. I tended the child as best I could. Painkillers, emollient cream and so on. Then I made my big mistake. I said to mama:
I’d gone to bed. I’ve been on duty for over 36 hours. Why have you waited till now to bring your little darling [well, I didn’t say that, quite] to hospital?
The mother, who worked as a nurse in St Olave’s Hospital, elsewhere in London, was outraged. She blustered:
I won’t be spoken to like that.
She obviously felt guilty and was embarrassed. She continued:
I wouldn’t be spoken to like that at St Olave’s.
My turn now.
Then you’d better go there next time.
And off she and the heir apparent stomp.
The moral of the story? There are several. They include (1) take your complaint to the doctor before the crepuscular fall in endogenous corticosteroids makes it worse; (2) remember that doctors are human too; (3) choose a hospital that is properly staffed by doctors rather than administrators. If you can find one.