The high street was deserted. It was cold and dark. Bernice, Brian and Barry Barrat waited in the bus shelter. The wind blew in, around the glass panel, and sprayed them with rain. Bernice huddled up next to her husband, Brian, trying to keep warm. Barry stood opposite them.
“He seems so hot, Brian.” Bernice Barrat stared anxiously at her son. Despite the cold weather, Barry did look hot and flushed. His hands were trembling.
“The doctor seemed very good.” Brian tried to reassure his wife.
“She was so young. I wish they had kept him in hospital.”
“She explained everything very clearly.” Brian continued. “I’m sure she is right. He has one of those flu viruses. He’ll soon be better. He is a strong lad.”
But Bernice wasn’t convinced. She knew her own son, after all. This was definitely worse than flu.
“Look, I could not help overhearing you.” A tall, heavily built man approached them.
Bernice looked around, startled. She hadn’t noticed anyone else nearby. The man walked with a slight limp and supported himself with a wooden stick. He had a large, flat forehead topped with a few strands of wet hair. He had a pale, greyish-blue complexion, but smiled kindly.
“My name is Dr Huw Davies. I am a family doctor here, in the town.” Dr Davies rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I can see you are worried about Barry. He doesn’t look well.”
“Yes, I am very worried.” Bernice Barrat nodded her head anxiously as she spoke. “He is not himself, at all. He has been like this for days.”
“I would be more than happy to have a look at him, if you like; for a second opinion.” The doctor had an air of confidence that Barry’s parents immediately felt at ease with.
“Are you sure you don’t mind?” Bernice was clearly very pleased by his suggestion.
“Not at all! Not at all! Follow me. My surgery is just around the corner. It’s five minutes from here.”
* * *
The surgery was on the ground floor of a narrow, terrace house. The blue paint on the front door was blistered and peeling. Dr Davies had to push the door firmly with his
shoulder to get in. They walked along a short hallway into an old fashioned, dilapidated waiting room. Some wooden chairs were positioned untidily around the edge of the room. Two were lying on their backs. A lopsided coffee table held a pile of tattered magazines and some broken toys. A single, stained light bulb hung in the middle of the room and illuminated it with a dull, yellow glow.
“Come straight through.”
The small, dark consulting room did not look as if it had been used for some time. The curtains were drawn halfway across the grimy window. A reflex hammer lay on the floor. Two rubber tubes hung from Dr Davies’ blood pressure machine, their connections missing.
“I am sorry we are a little disorganised,” said Dr Davies. “I have not been to work for a while. Still, I think we have everything we need.” He found a thermometer on his desk, picked it up, wiped the dust off and shook it twice.
“Let’s sit you up here, Barry.” Doctor Davies lifted the boy up onto the edge of his examination couch. He popped the thermometer into Barry’s mouth. “He looks very hot, doesn’t he?” he continued, looking at Mr and Mrs Barrat. “Has he been shivering?”
Barry’s worried parents both nodded.
“Is he off his food?”
“He has hardly eaten for three days. It’s not like him at all.” Bernice Barrat felt that Dr Davies ought to know what a good appetite Barry usually had.
Doctor Davies took the thermometer from Barry and held it up into the light from the window. He squinted as he tried to read the temperature.
“Mmm . . . quite high, quite high indeed.” He stood and watched Barry carefully.
“You will notice that he is breathing slightly quicker than normal.” The doctor explained. “He’s not taking much notice of what’s going on,” he continued. “That’s because he’s concentrating on his breathing.”
Mrs Barrat smiled.
“Has he had a cough?”
“Yes, he’s had a cough, doctor.” Mrs Barrat answered. “Not a bad one, though.”
“A cough can be quite deceiving, Mrs Barrat. Those awful coughs, where you cough and cough and cough day after day, will often get better on their own. On the other hand, one of those quiet coughs that hardly troubles you can be a sign of something much more serious.”
Mrs Barrat looked horrified.
“Hang on! Hang on, Bernice!” Brian Barrat stepped in. “Dr Davies is just giving you an
example. I don’t think he is suggesting that Barry has anything like that wrong with him.”
“Right, let’s listen to your chest, Barry.” As Barry undid his shirt, Dr Davies rummaged through his worn, leather medical bag to find his stethoscope. He muttered to himself as he brought it out. One of the earpieces had fallen off.
He chuckled. “My left ear is not too good these days anyway.”
Mr and Mrs Barrat smiled nervously at each other.
Dr Davies watched Barry’s chest closely as he breathed.
“Now that Barry’s shirt is off, you can see that, when he breathes in and out, the right side of his chest is not moving as much as the left.” Mr and Mrs Barrat looked puzzled. “It is a very slight difference,” the doctor continued. “It’s not easy to see.” He nodded his head as he thought.
Dr Davies listened to Barry’s breathing, moving his stethoscope slowly over the back and front of the boy’s chest. He paused, straightened up, thought for a moment and listened to Barry’s right lung again.
“There we are . . . just as I thought.” Dr Davies turned towards Mr and Mrs Barrat. “I am afraid that this young man has pneumonia.”
Bernice gasped. She looked terrified. Brian Barrat put his hand on his wife’s shoulder. He swallowed uncomfortably.
“Pnuemonia?” They both asked, simultaneously.
“I am sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you.” Dr Davies calmly reassured them. “Pneumonia is just a scientific word that we doctors use for a chest infection. It sounds worse than it is. Pneumonia can be easily treated, in most cases, once the diagnosis is made.” He smiled. “Barry should be as right as rain in no time.”
Mr and Mrs Barrat looked relieved.
“He will need to go into hospital, though.” He needs antibiotic injections, and I think he will need oxygen.”
“We have just come from the hospital.”
“Don’t worry. I will write a letter to take back to them. It will explain everything.”
* * *
Bernice, Brian and Barry Barrat found themselves standing on the pavement again, in
the cold. Brian looked around. There was no sign of Dr Davies. The surgery was dark. The front door was firmly closed. The street was completely empty. Bernice trembled. In her hand, she clutched a white envelope.
“Come on, Brian,” she said. “Let’s get Barry back to the hospital as soon as possible.”
* * *
“I am sure that this is the place.” Brian Barrat stood in front of the blue door. He peered through a small, glass window. “Yes, I can see the waiting room.”
“It’s very old,” said Bernice. “I don’t remember it being like this.”
“It’s definitely the surgery,” continued Brian Barrat. “There is a sign in the hallway – Dr Huw Davies. Let’s see if anyone is in.” He knocked loudly on the door.
“I don’t think anyone is here, Brian. All the lights are off.”
Brian ignored his wife and knocked again. He waited.
He stepped backwards and looked at the upper floor of the building. All the windows were dark. There was no sign of any movement.
He shouted out: “Hallo! Hallo!”
He knocked on the door once more.
“Can I help you?” A thin, elderly lady appeared from the gate of the house next door. She was wore a flowery dress and a crisp, white apron. Her silver hair was short and precisely set.
“We are looking for Dr Huw Davies.” Brian explained.
“No one’s worked in the surgery for years.”
“That can’t be right!” Bernice Barrat looked perturbed. “We saw Dr Davies a few weeks ago.”
“It couldn’t have been Dr Davies.”
“Yes, it was here: in this very building. It was a Monday evening. He examined our son, Barry. He saved his life.” Bernice Barrat’s voice had become quite emotional as she remembered that night.
“We wanted to thank him,” Brian Barrat added.
“It couldn’t have been him.” The lady repeated. “Dr Davies died five years ago.”
“That’s impossible!” said Brian Barrat. “I spoke to him, myself. I shook his hand.”
“He arranged for Barry to go into hospital.” Bernice added.
“He introduced himself to us,” said Brian Barrat. “Is there another Dr Huw Davies here, in the town?”
“No,” replied the lady. “There has only ever been one Dr Davies here. Listen . . . why don’t you come next door, to my house? I will make you both a cup of tea.”
* * *
“I am Mrs Coleman, Connie Coleman. I used to clean the surgery for Dr Davies.” Mrs
Coleman switched the kettle on. She picked up a photograph from the sideboard and handed it to Bernice Barrat. “This is Dr Davies. It was taken about ten years ago.”
Bernice’s face turned bright red. She spoke very quietly. “Look Brian, it’s the same
man who saw Barry. He can’t be dead. We both saw him. We both spoke to him.” Brian Barrat looked at the picture. He did not know what to say.
“It was a terrible, terrible tragedy.” Mrs Coleman said as she poured hot water into the
teapot and put it down in the middle of the table. She got some cups and saucers out. “Come on, sit down.”
“Dr Davies was a very hardworking man,” she continued. “Like the majority of doctors,
he worked too hard. That was his problem, really. I usually arrived at the surgery early, to get my work done before they opened. He was always there before me. He worked right through, until late in the evening. He hardly ever stopped for food. Now and again, but not often, he would pop upstairs for a quick bit of lunch.”
“I don’t think our doctor works as hard as that.” Mrs Barrat looked over at her husband.
“No, he certainly doesn’t.” Brian Barrat confirmed his wife’s suggestion. “Dr Dennis
always makes sure he gets a good, long lunch break. I should think it helps him concentrate.” Mrs Coleman raised her eyebrows. She stirred the tea and poured it into the cups. She got out a packet of biscuits.
“Dr Davies worked every weekend. Weekends were supposed to be for emergencies
only.” Mrs Coleman laughed. “Emergencies! Our patients had some funny ideas about emergencies, but Dr Davies never complained.”
“We have never called the doctor out at the weekend.” Bernice Barrat looked pleased
to be able to say this.
“We did, Bernice, in 1968. It was for my lumbago. It was a Sunday.”
“Oh, yes.” Bernice continued. “Didn’t Dr Parry come? She told you to lie on a hard
floor for a week and not to call her out for a bad back again.”
“Yes, she upset me,” said Brian Barrat. “It was the first time I had seen a doctor since I
had had my appendix out when I was 15 years old.”
“I thought she was quite rude, Brian.”
“Dr Davies was never rude to his patients. Never!” Mrs Coleman sat down and took a
sip of tea. Bernice and Brian Barrat picked their cups up.
“He hardly saw his family,” she continued. “He had a devoted wife and one son, Rhodri. Rhodri was a well behaved boy. He was quiet and polite. If his Mum went out, he would sit in the waiting room and read.” Mrs Coleman took another sip of her tea and picked up a biscuit. Brian Barrat took a biscuit. Bernice did not feel like eating.
“I don’t know if you remember the influenza outbreak five years ago. It swept the country. All our patients seemed to catch it. Dr Davies was busier than ever.”
“Yes, we both had it. Didn’t we, Bernice? You were very ill.” Brian Barrat reached over and squeezed his wife’s hand. An involuntary shiver ran through her as she remembered that dreadful winter.
“I didn’t catch it, of course,” continued Mrs Coleman. “I had had the Spanish Flu in 1919 and was immune. Dr Davies caught it. He was very poorly, but carried on working. Mrs Davies spent a week in bed. After that, she was called away to look after her sister in London.” Mrs Coleman paused and looked at them both. “Rhodri got an awful cough. He coughed and coughed, day after day. It sounded to me as if he had whooping cough.” Mr and Mrs Barrat looked anxiously at each other.
“Dr Davies was so busy! He was having to work until 10 o’clock most nights. He would come in, eat a sandwich, drink half a cup of tea and go straight to bed. He hardly saw Rhodri.”
“Rhodri was coming round to me for his tea every evening. He wasn’t eating much. He was tired. I think that that cough was keeping him awake. He started to lose weight. I could see him getting weaker. Dr Davies was tired too. He was often called out in the middle of the night. He was impatient and quick tempered. I think he missed his wife.” Mrs Coleman sighed.
* * *
“The ambulance arrived at 3 o’clock in the morning. The siren woke me. The light was
flashing, right outside my window. The ambulance men had gone into Dr Davies’ house. I had known that something would happen, the way he was working. It had to be a heart attack or a stroke. His blood pressure must have been through the roof.” Mrs Coleman took a deep breath. Mr and Mrs Barrat watched her intently. They had put their cups down.
“I ran over, just as they brought him out on the stretcher. But, it wasn’t Dr Davies, it was Rhodri. He was unconscious. He looked so small and weak. His father followed. He was an exhausted, broken man. I wanted to go to the hospital with them, but Dr Davies wouldn’t let me.” Mrs Coleman wiped away a tear that ran down her cheek. “I felt awful, after. I felt so guilty. If only Mrs Davies had stayed at home. If only her sister hadn’t been ill.”
Mrs Barrat felt sick. She couldn’t help thinking about Barry’s first day in hospital. He had looked so fragile.
“Rhodri died the following afternoon.” Mrs Coleman continued. “They tried everything. They said it was too late. He had pneumonia, and it was too far advanced. I couldn’t believe it. When I arrived on the ward, a sheet had been drawn up over his face. His father sat next to him on the bed. His head hung down in despair. He was devastated.” Connie Coleman blushed and tears welled up in her eyes. Bernice Barrat started to cry. Even Brian’s eyes were moist.
“Dr Davies was severely criticised. The coroner acknowledged the difficult
circumstances, but said that he should have taken Rhodri to a doctor or, at the very least,
examined him himself.” Connie Coleman shook her head as she spoke. “Can you believe it? He did not even have time to listen to his own son’s chest. I don’t know how many patients he examined in those few weeks. Surely, one more would not have been too much.” Mr and Mrs Barrat shook their heads.
“The coroner did not punish Dr Davies. He said that the loss of his son was punishment
“Dr Davies hardly spoke during the inquest. He said nothing to excuse or defend
himself. His wife stood quietly beside him. They held hands.”
Mrs Barrat glanced at her husband.
“Then,” Connie Coleman continued, “three days after the inquest Dr Davies was found dead in his surgery. He had hung himself.”
Brian and Bernice Barratt stared at Connie Coleman.
“So, it could not have been Dr Davies that examined your son. It must have been someone else.”