Is there a doctor in the house?
November 28, 2012
It’s a call dreaded by virtually every doctor I know. You don’t have any equipment, drugs,or facilities and you are expected to work miracles. And risk being sued. But it has happened to me a number of times – and also I have come upon the scene of an accident or sudden illness that I can’t simply ignore.
One of the first times it happened to me I was a junior doctor returning to North Yorkshire on a Sunday evening after a very heavy weekend of partying. I was feeling rough. Very rough and decided to sit in the buffet car and nurse myself back to health with cans of lager and a packet of Rothman’s. Last night’s make up was still clinging on to my face, with the kohl eyeliner now panda-esque in its smudged state. It was the early Eighties and there was an all-female group at the time called the Belle Stars. They wore black hats which I was copying and had one not unlike a traditional Welsh hat but it also had two large scarf-like bits that you could tie around your neck. Like a big bonnet really.
I was sharing a table sitting opposite a couple. I wasn’t talking to them or making eye contact. Just nursing my beer with my eyes closed and chain smoking. Those were the days when you could smoke on trains – another good reason to be in the buffet car.
And then the call came through. “Is there a doctor on the train?” I didn’t flicker. Didn’t respond. For God’s sake this was a huge Inter City Express. There were hundreds of passengers. There must be another doctor amongst them. I was in no fit state to see anyone. The call was repeated. I still didn’t move. “Please, this is an emergency. Can a doctor make their way to the guard’s van towards the rear of the train”. Everyone started talking about what could have happened. The tannoy voice got more desperate. “Please, this is an emergency. Can any doctor make themselves known to a member of staff.”
I realised I was going to have to do something. I stood up. Put my beer down, stubbed out my cigarette and asked the couple opposite to look after my case for me . The sharp intake of incredulous breath was not only audible but palpable. “You’re a DOCTOR?” the woman opposite screeched. I nodded. Unable to articulate. All eyes in the buffet car were on me. As I started walking unsteadily towards the Guard’s van I heard a fellow buffet-car wag say “I don’t fancy his chances much” and the whole place erupted in to laughter. I hadn’t even got the wit or strength to tell them I didn’t either, but plodded on.
What surprised me at the time was when I rolled up to the Guard’s van and found the patient (a woman who thought she was having a heart attack) she didn’t have an issue with how I looked, how I smelt of beer and fags, how she had no real way of knowing if I was a real doctor, she was just grateful to have someone to take her seriously and get the train to stop to have her transported to A and E.
I returned to the buffet car after the train had made its unscheduled stop and offloaded her and got a round of applause and free beers all the way back to Northallerton. Four cans of Carlsberg – that’s what I call a perk of the trade.