How are things at home?

Thursday 11th January 1990   Morning coffee break 12.17

“I couldn’t make head or tail of that lady’s pain. What did you think it was, Dennis?”
“I’ve got no idea, Dad.”
“We have just seen Mrs Talbot, Lois. She has the most bizarre pain in her right leg. Her symptoms make no medical sense whatsoever.”
“Tiffany Talbot?”
“She’s having marital difficulties, Desmond. I think she and her husband are going to split up.”
“Actually, she did mention Mr Talbot twice during the consultation.”
“Her unhappy relationship could be the cause of the symptoms, Desmond.”
“I should think it must be, Lois. I was tempted to ask how things were at home. Thank god, I didn’t. She would probably have burst into tears and we’d still be there consoling her now.”

Mr Dennis Desmond.

Tuesday 2nd January 1990   After breakfast 08.00

It was just over a week after his heart attack and my Dad was going back to work. He felt fine. In fact, he said he felt so good that he was sure that they had made a mistake with the diagnosis. It had probably been a touch of indigestion and not a heart attack at all. There had been a patient on the ward with a similar name to my Dad, a Mr Dennis Desmond. It was very likely that my Dad’s and Mr Desmond’s results (the blood tests and electrocardiographs) had been mixed up. That sort of thing often happens in busy hospitals.

Dad has stopped taking his aspirin (it can make indigestion worse) and is being very careful about his diet. He decided to continue his blood pressure tablets (not a bad thing at his age).

Homemade crackers.

Sunday 24th December 1989   After dinner 19.41

Mum is usually in charge of most of the Christmas preparations but Dad always does the crackers.

On Christmas Eve, he carefully takes them apart, swaps the jokes for some of his own and puts them back together. He never upgrades the novelty prizes and the snappers don’t usually work after he has fiddled about with them. He sometimes forgets to put the hats back in. He says that the better jokes make up for all that.

Antibiotics for Christmas?

Friday 22nd December 1989   Morning surgery 10.50

“I wouldn’t usually come about a sore throat, Doctor Dennis, but it’s Christmas on Monday and I still have loads to do. Maybe I’m a bit run down with all the excitement. I seem to have been getting things ready for months. I bought my first present in September. I’ve still got most of them to wrap and half the cards to write. Len can’t wrap and he won’t help write the cards. He says he gets bored writing the same thing over and over again every year. Of course, the cards we’ve received still need to be displayed. We hang them on ribbons. I’ve put the lights on the tree but not the glass balls or tinsel.
I will be making mince pies, sausage rolls, pigs in blankets, stuffing and bread sauce over the weekend. I’ll need to prepare the veg. I always do enough sprouts for everyone although I know the kids won’t eat them. Len wants fresh peas this year instead of frozen and Lynn, my daughter, has asked for spiced red cabbage casserole. She had it at her works do.
All seven grandchildren are coming on Christmas Eve. Their parents are having a ‘night off’ but are expected for breakfast. I’ve got to make up the beds and I’ve volunteered to pack the stockings which reminds me that I’ve forgotten to get the apples and oranges. Len will be fast asleep by midnight so I will have to hang the stockings. It will be a late night by the time the kids are asleep. I might fall on the stairs in the dark and I’ll need an early alarm call to get me up to put the turkey in.
I am coughing so much that I am frightened I’m going to lose my voice. I have been hot and cold and my muscles are aching. As you can see, doctor, I just haven’t got a minute to be ill.”

“You have got a bad sore throat, Mrs Logan, but I am not giving you antibiotics for Christmas.”


Antibiotics for exams?

Thursday 7th December 1989   Morning surgery 10.40

We saw a schoolboy with a sore throat this morning.

“I wouldn’t normally ask for antibiotics for a sore throat,” his mum said, “but Dylan has got an important exam tomorrow.”
“I don’t usually prescribe antibiotics for sore throats,” my Dad explained, “and I have never prescribed an antibiotic for an exam. I don’t think it would help.”

It’s not sinusitis, Mrs Crosby.

Thursday 30th November 1989   Morning surgery 09.50

“It’s not sinusitis, Mrs Crosby.”
“But I’ve got horrible, thick, green catarrh.”
“That’s because you’ve got a cold.”
“My sinuses are really painful.”
“They’re uncomfortable.”
“I get excrutiating pain when I put my head down.”
“That’s not considered a particularly reliable, diagnostic feature of sinus infection.”
“I can smell burnt rubber.”
“You’ve just looked that up. You’ve been to the library, haven’t you?” My Dad looked angry.
“I need some antibiotics.”
“You have just had half a course for your cold. You don’t need any more.”

A bad dream.

Wednesday 22nd November 1989   Early morning waking 01.32

“It’s time you started seeing your own patients, Dennis.”
“I’m not ready, Dad.”
“You’ll be fine, Dennis. I’ll be sitting in the room next door. You’ll learn so much.”

 Of course, my first patient was Mrs Vaughan.

 “I need to see the skin specialist, Dennis. This rash is dreadful! It’s so itchy!”
“I can’t see a rash, Mrs Vaughan.”
“It’s all over me, Dennis. It’s everywhere. It’s driving me mad!”
“I can’t see it, Mrs Vaughan.”
“You can feel it. There are hundreds of small, prickly bumps under my skin.”
“I can’t feel it, Mrs Vaughan.”
“You’ll have to press harder, Dennis.”
“I still can’t feel it, Mrs Vaughan.”
“I’ve got to see the dermatologist, Dennis.”
“I’ll ask my dad.”
“I don’t want you to ask your dad, Dennis. I want you to phone the skin specialist now. I need to see him this afternoon.”
“You won’t be able to see him this afternoon, Mrs Vaughan. There’s a 27 week wait for a routine appointment.”
“There’s nothing routine about this, Dennis. It’s a dermatological emergency. It’s driving me mad!”

Just pop in and ask your doctor.

Thursday 16th November 1989   Morning coffee break 12.10

“Just pop in and ask your doctor?” My Dad looked puzzled and annoyed.

“Yes, Desmond, it’s a new government scheme.” Our practice manager, Mrs Andrea Jones, was reading a large, glossy brochure. “The idea is to encourage patients to come in and discuss any little worries they have. It can be the most trivial question or the tiniest concern. I suppose it’s for things that they would not usually dream of making an appointment for.”

My Dad look less puzzled and more annoyed.

“Here, they’ve got some real examples. Mrs Joan Charles had been suffering from intermittent pins and needles affecting the tip of her left little finger. She wondered if this might be the first sign of multiple sclerosis.”
“Probably not.” Dr Lois Lewis looked up from signing the prescriptions.
“I’ll read another,” Andrea continued. Three weeks ago, Mr Jack Bradbury had suffered from a morning of quite nasty diarrhoea. He had initially put this down to something he had eaten but wanted to know if it could have been one of his tablets.”
“Do we know what tablets he was on?”
“No, I’m sorry, Dr Lewis, they don’t mention that. Anyway, participating practices would be expected to make a senior doctor, that’s you Desmond, available for an hour every day. Patients don’t need an appointment: they just pop in. They suggest running the service over the lunch break to avoid interfering with normal surgeries. Of course, the scheme would attract extra remuneration: that goes without saying.”

No one spoke. Andrea continued to look through the brochure. My Dad kept taking small sips of his coffee. He does that when he is trying to work out whether the milk is sour.

“Mmm . . . listen to this . . the scheme has been successfully piloted by doctors in Oxford and Cambridge . . .” Andrea smiled dreamily. Dr Lewis looked up again with a similar expression. They both appeared very impressed by the thought of doctors in Oxford and Cambridge. “Patients are extremely satisfied with the new service,” she continued. “Little Middleton resident, Mrs Vera Vaughan, who has used it every day has only the highest praise. It has also reduced the demand for routine appointments by a third. That’s fantastic, Desmond.”

My Dad got up, marched across the staff room, tipped his coffee down the sink, dropped his cup into the bowl and left.

A new trick.

Thursday 2nd November 1989   Morning coffee break 12.00

“Dennis, I have just realised something. How long have I been working here in the practice?”
I sighed. “You keep asking me that, Dad. It’s thirty years.”
“Yes I have and, since then, I have seen hundreds of patients with arthritis of the hip.”
“Yes, Dad.”
“In all those patients, I have done the same thing. I have waited until it is exactly the right time for them to have a hip replacement, exactly the right time. Then, not a moment too soon, I send them to see the hip surgeon.”
“Yes, Dad.”
“I have never sent a patient a day too early and I have never sent a patient a day too late. For twenty nine years, that has worked perfectly well.”
“Yes, Dad.”
“This year, I have sent 12 patients to see the hip surgeons. Each time, the consultant has said; Oh! Your hip’s not quite ready to replace yet. Let’s see you again in six months. This, in itself, is slightly surprising. To cap it all, when they go back to the clinic in six months, their hips are perfectly ready to be replaced and they’re put on the waiting lists for their operations.”
“Yes, Dad.”
“So suddenly and strangely, Dennis, I have been sending everyone that needs a hip replacement exactly six months too early. It has been puzzling me a great deal.”
“Yes, Dad.”



Sunday 29th October 1989   At home 17.00

I told my dad that I didn’t know anything about hormones but, of course, I do. We’ve got hormones at home.
On a Sunday, we always try to have a relaxing, family afternoon. Mum will do a bit of housework and prepare the dinner while Dad and I watch The Big Match.
Mum likes to serve up the food as soon as the football finishes. This can be annoying if there is a lot of injury time or extended highlights.

So there we are tucking into a nice roast dinner when, suddenly, Mum snaps. It’s completely out of the blue. She usually starts on me. My room’s a mess. All my clothes have been thrown on the floor and my school books.
Dad steps in, in a supportive way: “You really should try to clear up, Dennis.”
Then, she attacks him.
“You can talk! You’re just as bad! You’ve got clothes all over the place.”
To be fair, it is true. It’s a genetic problem that Dad and I have. We regard it as an illness. It’s something that we both accept.

Then, we both catch on: Mum’s hormones have kicked in. It’s the same every time. She’s bad tempered and highly irritable. She seems to lose any logical train of thought. Of course, if we try to explain that we understand or say that there’s no offence taken, it just makes her worse. So now, when Dad and I realise what’s going on, we don’t say anything. We just sit as still and as quietly as we can.

Malignant melanoma!

Wednesday 18th October 1989   After breakfast 08.15

Malignant melanoma! I knew it. The worst kind of skin cancer. I should never have listened to my Dad.
“It’s not even a mole, Dennis. It’s just a freckle.” That’s what he had said when he looked at it at Easter.

Since then it had doubled in size. It was itching. This morning, oh my God, it was bleeding! That’s a danger sign, a red flag! To top it all, my doctor, Dr Lewis, was on holiday.
“It is exactly the same size, Dennis, 3 mm by 4 mm.”
“You should be wearing your glasses, Dad.”
“No, I can see perfectly well.”
He picked up a tissue and moistened it. He rubbed the ‘freckle’.
“That hurts.”

He looked at the tissue. “Just as I thought, Dennis. It’s not blood. It’s a tiny speck of Mum’s bolognaise sauce. She is putting too much tomato puree into it these days. I have tried to tell her.”

A stronger antibiotic.

Thursday 12th October 1989   Morning surgery 08.53

“Right, Mrs Crosby, let me sum up. You came to see Dr Lewis on Monday.”
“Yes, doctor.”
“At that stage, you had had a cough for 3 days and a bit of a cold.”
“Yes, doctor.”
“You insisted that you were given an antibiotic.”
“I wouldn’t say that, doctor.”
“Well, that is exactly what Dr Lewis has written in your notes.” My Dad picked up the record card and read: “Cough and cold 3 days. Chest clear. Patient insists on having an antibiotic.” He looked sternly at Mrs Crosby and raised his eyebrows.
Mrs Crosby did not say anything.
“As far as I can make out and, against her better judgement, Dr Lewis prescribed an antibiotic.”
Mrs Crosby nodded reluctantly.
“Today, you are here because you feel no better and you want a stronger antibiotic?”
“Yes, doctor, I told Dr Lewis that amoxycillin never . . . ”
“Mrs Crosby, It doesn’t surprise me in the least that, if you didn’t need an antibiotic in the first place, the antibiotic prescribed by Dr Lewis won’t have made you feel any better. It’s like taking a pain killer when you haven’t got a pain. It doesn’t really help. It shouldn’t surprise you, either, to be told that I am not going to give you a stronger antibiotic. In fact, not only am I not going to give you a stronger antibiotic, I am also going to take this antibiotic, the one that you placed on my desk with a barely disguised expression of annoyance, away from you. You don’t need it.”
Mrs Crosby looked very unhappy.
“My advice, Mrs Crosby, is to go away and wait patiently for your cough to get better.”

Have we run out of marmalade?

Sunday 8th October 1989   Sunday morning 09.07 

“Have we run out of marmalade?” My Dad looked bedraggled after being on call. Mum passed him some hot toast and coffee.
“I had to go to see poor Mrs Austin, last night. She was in acute, heart failure. She was very breathless.”
Mum looked concerned. “Did you send her into hospital, Desmond?”
“She refused.”
“I hope you made sure that she understood the consequences.”
“The consequences?”
“Yes, the consequences of not going into hospital.”
“At 3 o’clock in the morning?”
“Yes, of course, Desmond.”
“I explained the diagnosis to Mrs Austin and said that we ought to get her into hospital. I am not going in, Dr Dennis. Those were her exact words.”
“Well, what did you say?”
“I said, Oh!”
“That’s all?”
“Yes, that was all I said. Anyway, after that I suggested a frusemide injection to get rid of the fluid.”
“Did it work?”
“I don’t know. It takes about 30 minutes.”
“Didn’t you wait?”
“No, it was 3 o’clock. I came home.”
“What if she fell, rushing to the toilet?”
Dad took a deep, irritated breath. “She didn’t fall. I’ll phone her later . . . Daphne, have we run out of marmalade?”

Two brothers married two sisters.

Thursday 5th October 1989   Morning surgery 10.20 

Valerie Vaughan’s husband Vernon had a brother called Victor. Victor had married Valerie’s sister, Vera.
“To be completely honest, Dennis, both brothers had their eye on me. In fact, I went out with Victor first. He wasn’t half the man that Vernon was, though. Vera has always been happy to make do.”

My Dad had just popped out to get a new prescription pad and Mrs Vaughan was telling me about her planned trip to visit her sister in Little Middleton.

Tip-top condition.

Thursday 28th September 1989   Morning surgery 11.00 

“Good morning, doctor. How are you?”
“I’m fine, thank you, Mr Parry.”
“Yes, I must say that you are looking very well. Did you enjoy your holiday?”
My Dad looked slightly surprised. “Yes . . . I did.”
“I have just been on holiday, myself,” explained Mr Parry. “In fact, that’s what prompted me to come to see you.”
“It was a lovely day. I was lying on the sun bed thinking how well I felt. In fact, I don’t think I have ever felt so healthy. My wife agreed that there couldn’t be a better time to come for a check-up.”
“I mean, I hardly ever come to the doctor and, if there is nothing wrong with me, it must be much easier for you.”
My Dad did not look convinced.
“I haven’t got any symptoms at all. My appetite is excellent. My weight doesn’t vary.  I never get pain. My breathing is fine. I’ve got no dizziness. I don’t suffer from any difficulty passing urine. I open my bowels every morning without fail. I think I’m in tip-top condition.”
“Mmmm . . . ”
Mr Parry continued: “I was hoping you could listen to my heart and lungs and check my blood pressure. That’s all.”

My Dad glanced at his watch and smiled. I could sense him warming to what was turning out to be a quick and straightforward consultation. He readied his stethoscope whilst Mr Parry took off his shirt and tie.

The Department for Emergency Circumstances.

Tuesday 19th September 1989   Rethymnon 14:17

Trust Declan!
He had been rock climbing, fallen and cut his head open. His best holiday t-shirt was covered in blood. Dad said that he would stitch him up.
“I don’t want to be sitting in the hospital for 4 or 5 hours.”
But Mum put her foot down. “I am sorry, Desmond. You really should know better. Your fishing line isn’t sterile. In fact, it’s probably not clean. It has been in that tatty, old bag since last Summer.”

The waiting room for the ‘Department for Emergency Circumstances’ was bright and airy. A few people were waiting patiently on comfortable chairs.
Dad had brought a flask of coffee, two sets of sandwiches, all three of his books and a newspaper that he had picked up on the plane. He sat down grumpily and sighed. He wondered whether to eat a sandwich but decided it was too soon after lunch.

A cheerful lady with a trolley of refreshments gave Declan and I a cold drink. Mum had a cup of tea.

As soon as the receptionist had taken Declan’s details, one of the nurses took him through to the treatment room. Mum and I went with him while Dad read his paper. The nurse gave Declan a big smile and said how brave he was. She cleaned the wound gently and carefully.

Dr Emmanuel Zarifis came and introduced himself. He explained to Declan that he would need two stitches. The local anaesthetic injection hurt as expected but the stitches were painless. Dr Zarifis recommended a waterproof dressing so Declan could continue to go swimming. The nurse gave Mum a couple of spares.

Dad was still studying the front page of his paper when we came out. He didn’t notice us.

“Leave him there,” said Mum. “He’s in a bad temper and it will be an hour before the bus comes. We’ll walk down to the beach and get ice creams.”


My last family holiday.

Friday 8th September 1989   After dinner 19:30

We are off to Agia Galini tomorrow. I told Dad that this would be my last family holiday. Next year, I am going to go with my friends after we have finished our exams.

He didn’t argue which is always a bad sign.

Declan said that, if I wasn’t going with them, there was no way that he would go unless they went to Florida.

“I’m trying to check your blood pressure, Mrs Crosby!”

Thursday 7th September 1989   Morning surgery 09:20

“I’m trying to check your blood pressure, Mrs Crosby!”
“I am sorry, Doctor.”
“Well, if you talk to me while I am checking your blood pressure, I won’t concentrate properly on what you are saying or measuring your blood pressure or BOTH. It’s common sense; isn’t it?”
“I am so sorry, Doctor.”
“Yes, well it annoys me, Mrs Crosby. It really annoys me.”

A postcard from Agia Galini.

Tuesday 29th August 1989   After breakfast 07:50

Greek postcard










Dear Desmond,

We were very disappointed to find that you had changed your holiday dates at the last minute. By then, of course, it was too late for Vernon and I to do anything about our own travel arrangements. What a stroke of luck it was that the room next to ours was occupied by a Consultant Gastroenterologist! He took no time in getting to grips with my tummy troubles. He did not say anything but I got the distinct impression that he felt you had been half-hearted about my symptoms. Anyway, he is going to write to you to recommend a series of investigations and some new treatment.
Although it is not really his field, he did have some sensible suggestions to make regarding Vernon’s bladder. We will discuss these with you on our return.

 We still wish you were here!

 Val and Vern

“Don’t keep arguing with me, Mrs Crosby!”

Thursday 24th August 1989   Morning surgery 10:30

“Don’t keep arguing with me, Mrs Crosby!” Dad’s alarm had not gone off. We got up late and left home without any breakfast.
“I am not arguing, Doctor.”
“Yes, you are, Mrs Crosby. I have told you that this pain is caused by a trapped nerve and that the trapped nerve is due to a slipped disc. I think I explained that quite clearly.”
“Yes, you did, Doctor.”
“I told you it would take between two and six months to settle down.”
“Yes, that’s exactly what you said, Doctor.”  Mrs Crosby looked very apologetic.
“Since then, you have said to me twice: I don’t know why I am getting this pain. Now, you are saying: I don’t know why it’s not better.”
“It’s just a way of explaining how bad it is.”
“Well, it sounds like you are arguing to me. Either you are not listening or you don’t believe me. If you aren’t going to listen to what I’ve got to say, I can’t see any point in you coming to see me.”

Atrial fibrillation.

Thursday 17th August 1989   Morning Surgery 11:10

“How are you, Mr Lawley?”
“My back is awful, Dr Dennis.”
“I am very sorry to hear that.”
“Your’s would be too if you had spent 18 hours on a trolley in the Emergency Department.”
“I’m sure it would.”
“I told you that I didn’t want to go into hospital.” Mr Lawley glared at my Dad.
“Well, I was concerned about you. You had a rapid, irregular pulse.”
“Yes, they said that you were concerned about me in the hospital. I think that they thought you were a bit too concerned.”
“Your pulse was going at 145 beats per minute!”
“Yes, I remember you being very dramatic on the ‘phone. Anyone would have thought that it had been going at 145 miles per hour!”
“A fast pulse like that can be quite dangerous, especially in an elderly gentleman.”
“They did not seem too worried about it in the hospital. In fact, by the time the doctor saw me, it was back to normal.”
“It wasn’t due to a heart attack, then?”
“They didn’t say anything about that.”
“Did they give you any treatment for it?”
“No, they didn’t.”
“As far as I can see, Doctor, I didn’t need to be in hospital at all. I might as well have been at home, curled up in front of the television with a nice cup of tea. That’s what I have come to tell you really. Next time you see a patient with a rapid, irregular pulse, I would like you to bear that in mind.”
My Dad nodded his head.

“Oh, by the way! They would like you to arrange for me to see a cardiologist, urgently.”
“Didn’t you see a cardiologist in the hospital?”
“No, he was too busy.”


Thursday 10th August 1989   Morning surgery 11:20

Meet Max (1)










I thought Max looked really ill. He walked slowly and painfully down the corridor to Dad’s room, leaning heavily on his crutches. He wore dark glasses (even though it was a miserable day) and a soft collar to support his neck. When he sat down, his knee looked massively swollen but Dad said he was wearing a heavy duty brace.
Max sighed loudly.
“So the new tablets aren’t helping,” my Dad said.
“No, I’m no better at all. In fact, I think I feel worse.”

Fish and chips.

Friday 4th August 1989   Criccieth beach 17:12

Our discussions about waiting lists had made us all feel hungry. It was Dad’s afternoon off and he decided to take us for a walk on the beach followed by fish and chips. It was a long way to go but it was worth it.

Waiting list theory.

Thursday 3rd August 1989   At home 19:22

“I don’t understand these waiting lists, Dad.”
“It’s very straightforward, Dennis. It’s just a queue, really.”
“Yes, but you’ve been telling everybody that there is a 24 week waiting list for an orthopaedic appointment.”
“Well, why is it always 24 weeks?”
“It just is, Dennis. That’s how long it takes to get an appointment in the clinic.” It seemed perfectly obvious to my Dad.
“I don’t see why it should always be 24 weeks. Let’s say the clinic could see 20 patients every week . . .”
“So, if there were 20 new referrals a week on average or less, there wouldn’t be a waiting list.”
“But if there were 21 new referrals or more every week, the waiting list would just get longer and longer.”
My Dad looked puzzled as he thought about this.

“It’s just like the fish and chip shop in Criccieth, Dennis.” Declan piped up. He was about to bite into one of Mum’s large, fluffy Yorkshire puddings.
“Fish and chips! Don’t be stupid, Declan!”
“Actually, Dennis, he’s got a point. There is always a queue when we go for fish and chips and it always goes from the door, along the back wall and round, in front of the counter. I would guess that there are usually between 10 and 12 people in the queue. I suppose that that is the waiting list for fish and chips.”
“Yes, but that’s what I can’t understand. Why are there always 10 or 12 people waiting? Why does the queue always go round to the door?”

Declan glared at me as if I was stupid. “It’s because the fish and chips are so good, Dennis.”


Flea bites.

Thursday 27th July 1989   Morning surgery 10:13

“They’re flea bites.”
“Flea bites, doctor! They can’t be.” Mrs Vaughan looked quite upset.
“Yes, they are, Mrs Vaughan.”
“It’s not shingles, then?”
“You know I’m susceptible to shingles. I’ve had it three times before?”
My dad took a deep breath. “No, you’ve never had shingles, Mrs Vaughan.”
“How can you be sure they’re bites, Dr Dennis?”
“Well . . . you’ve got a cat, haven’t you?”
“Yes, Milly, but she hasn’t got fleas.”
“She has. That’s where the bites have come from.”
“She hasn’t. I’m sure she hasn’t.”
“Let me try to explain, Mrs Vaughan.” My Dad sounded like my chemistry teacher. “Milly rubs herself against you. When she does this, one of the fleas jumps from her back onto your leg.”
Valerie Vaughan shuddered.
“It bites you. Then, it crawls along a bit and bites you again. After four are five bites, it’s had enough blood and off it jumps, into your nice, thick carpet.”
Valerie Vaughan shuddered again.
“That’s why you’ve got four itchy bites, all in a row.”
Valerie Vaughan started scratching her leg.
“Don’t scratch. That will make them worse.”

“What treatment do I need, Doctor?”
“You don’t need any treatment, Mrs Vaughan. It’s Milly that needs treatment.”

Phil’s back!

Thursday 20th July 1989   Wart clinic 16:30

Phil's back










Phil had caught a wart from one of his girlfriends. It was on a very embarrassing part of his body.
I gave him a long blast of liquid nitrogen: 50 seconds which is twice my usual maximum dose. It brought tears to his eyes.
“I am sorry, Mr Davis,” I explained. “It is going to be very sore and blistered for a couple of weeks but I want to be completely sure that we get rid of it.”
Phil nodded sheepishly.

I can’t wait to tell Declan when I get home tonight. Dad has already explained that there are certain situations where doctors are obliged to breach confidentiality.

I hate to admit it but, at times, I get a certain sense of satisfaction from my work in the surgery.

The Coroner.

Thursday 6th July 1989   Morning surgery 10:06

“Nothing in particular! What do you mean? You can’t put nothing in particular as a cause of death. This woman must have died of something.”
My Dad held the phone away from his ear. The Coroner was shouting so loudly that I could hear every word he said.
“Which patient do you mean?” My Dad asked.
“Mrs Gwenda Lloyd, of course! I hope you haven’t got any more patients who have died of nothing in particular.”
“No, it’s just Mrs Lloyd. What I meant was that I could not find anything very specific to account for her death.”
“Well, I am afraid that neither nothing in particular nor nothing very specific are acceptable on a death certificate. You should be well aware of that.” The coroner sounded extremely irritated.
“She was 93 years old,” said my Dad. She had become gradually weaker over the last 6 months and, eventually, just faded away. I suppose you could say that she died of old age.”
“Old age! Nobody dies of old age. There is always something.”
“Do you think she should have a post-mortem, then?” My Dad enquired.
“No, I don’t. We certainly don’t need to go to the trouble and expense of a post-mortem in a 93 year old. Do you want to upset the family? All we need is a simple cause of death.”
My Dad said nothing.
“Do you think she died of a heart attack or heart failure?”
“No, there was no chest pain. She wasn’t breathless.”
“Perhaps it was a stroke?”
“I don’t think so. There were no signs of paralysis. She had no difficulty with her speech.”
“What about pneumonia?”
“No, she had no cough or fever.”
“So, it must have been cancer?”
“There was definitely no evidence of cancer. It wasn’t cancer.”
“Are you suggesting foul play?”
“Certainly not! Her family were devoted to her. The two daughters were two of the most caring that I have ever met. Perhaps it was a little bit of everything.”
“A little bit of everything?”
“Yes,” my Dad continued. “In my experience a lot of very elderly people die of nothing in particular or a little bit of everything. I imagine their various organs are all working less effectively.”
“Well, in my experience,” the coroner retorted. “The majority of patients who appear to have died from nothing in particular or a little bit of everything have actually died of pneumonia or congestive heart failure.”
My Dad said nothing.
“Which would you like me to put down?”
“I don’t think she died of pneumonia or congestive heart failure.”
There was a long pause.
“Right, I am going to put pneumonia down as the main cause of death and I am going to say that it was secondary to congestive heart failure. There you are. It’s all sorted, as simple as that.”

“Can I offer you a word of advice Dr Dennis?”
“Of course.”
 “I think it would pay you dividends to be more precise with your diagnoses. I am sure it is something all your patients would appreciate particularly those who are still alive.”

My Dad thanked the coroner and put the phone down.

Cauliflower cheese and chips.

Friday 30th June 1989   After dinner 19:40

Cauliflower cheese and chips used to be my Dad’s favourite snack when he was on-call in the hospital. He would arrange to meet Alistair, one of his colleagues from the surgical ward, in the canteen at 10 o’clock on a Saturday night. The cook would be waiting with a big plateful of food for each of them.
Both Alistair and my Dad resented the fact that, on an on-call weekend, they would be expected to work for 80 hours without a proper break and with hardly any sleep.  When they came for supper, they would turn off their bleeps for 30 or 40 minutes. That way, they could tuck in without any interruptions.

On one particular weekend, a patient on Alistair’s ward collapsed. By the time he had finished his food and switched his bleep back on, it was too late. The man had passed away.

Mum has always said that califlower cheese and chips is an unhealthy combination.

“My hairdresser sent me.”

Thursday 22nd June 1989   Morning surgery 11:00

“My hairdresser sent me.”
“Did she, now?” My Dad looked less than impressed.
“She thinks that I have got a small skin cancer on my right ear.”
My Dad laughed.” Does she, now?”
“Yes, she does.” Mrs Neville looked disdainfully down her nose at us. “It keeps bleeding.”
“Hmm . . . She’s probably just nicked you with her scissors. Anyway, how’s that cough?”
“It’s better, thank you.”
“And the breathing?” My Dad continued.
“Back to normal, now.”
“Excellent, I will check your blood pressure. Let’s have your arm.” My Dad picked up his blood pressure cuff and reached for Mrs Neville’s arm.
“Don’t you want to look at my ear?”
“Your ear?”
“Yes, that’s what I have come about. My hairdresser . . .”
“Mrs Neville, I really don’t have time for all this!”
“Well, I’m not leaving until you have had a look.”
My Dad sighed. He got up and went to have a closer look. There was a small, pink nodule on the top of Mrs Neville’s right ear. My Dad tilted his head slightly. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. His face reddened. He bent forward and peered more closely. He squeezed the nodule between his finger and thumb. He coughed uncomfortably.
“I think she’s right, Mrs Neville, I think she’s right.”
My Dad sat down. He looked thoroughly unhappy. He explained to Mrs Neville that he would refer her urgently to the Ear, Nose and Throat specialist. She smiled smugly.

As Mrs Neville went out, my Dad looked at me. “That poor woman has got an awful haircut, Dennis.”

Life is painful.

Thursday 8th June 1989   Morning surgery 10:40

Valerie Vaughan was in today with more pain. After she had told my Dad all her symptoms, he said to her: “Look, Valerie, I think we have all got to accept that life is painful. I am 59 years old. When I get up in the morning, my back is stiff.  When I try to reverse the car, my neck hurts. When I do a busy surgery, I get a headache. I don’t like using these pain rating scales but, if I did, I would rate a normal day as 3/10. I realize that your life is probably more painful than mine. I don’t think that there is any particular reason for that and I don’t think that there is much we can do about it. I think that we both have to just get on with things as best we can.”

Mrs Vaughan always tends to fear the worst and asked my Dad if he was sure that his headaches weren’t due to a brain tumour.

“No, I am quite certain about that. They are busy surgery headaches. I have been having them for years.”

Coffee and walnut cake.

Wednesday 31st May 1989   Lunchtime 13:10

Zoe and Chloe are going back to Cardiff today. They baked a big coffee and walnut cake for all the staff.

Everyone is sad to see them go. Dr Lewis came in on her day off to say goodbye. I popped in during my lunch break. Dad said that, apart from the incident with the spotty teenager, they were the best medical students that we had ever had in the practice. The receptionists hugged them and cried.

Spotty teenagers.

Thursday 25th May 1989   Morning surgery 10:20

Zoe and Chloe have been seeing their own patients. They take turns in presenting ‘each case’ to my Dad.

“Melissa Martin is 15 years old. She has had a sore throat for 3 days. She has also had a bit of a cough and cold. She is managing to eat and is drinking plenty of fluids.” Zoe paused. “On examination, her temperature is normal. Her throat is red but her tonsils are not enlarged. Her chest is clear.” Zoe looked up at my Dad.
“Does she need any treatment?” He asked.
“We would like to give her something for her spots.” Chloe said.
“Her spots?” My Dad looked shocked.
“Yes, she has awful spots. We asked her if she was concerned about them and she burst into tears.”
“I thought she had come about her throat.”
“Her throat isn’t bad at all,” Chloe continued. “We think that the real reason she came was the spots.”
“Listen,” my Dad said. “She came about her throat and that’s what we are going to deal with. We can’t go looking for all sorts of other problems.”
Chloe took a deep breath. “She is getting to the age where she is worried about her appearance. Maybe, she is thinking about boyfriends.”
“I am very sorry,” my Dad said. “If she is going to make a song and dance about her spots, she will need to make another appointment. Dr Lewis likes treating spotty teenagers.”



Wednesday 17th May 1989   After dinner 19:40

Dad and I were having beans on toast for tea because Mum was visiting Gran in the hospital. She and Declan arrived home just as we finished eating.
“Well, Gran’s had her bunions done.”
“At last,” said my Dad. “I’ve had enough of hearing about those feet of hers. How is she?”
“She is fine. In fact, she is better than fine. She loves being in the hospital.”

“You remember when she was in with the heart attack and chest infection last year?”
“Yes,” my Dad nodded.
“She realises now that she felt far too ill to appreciate her time in hospital. She didn’t make the most it. Bunion surgery has been an altogether more satisfying experience. So much so, that she has decided to get her shoulder done.”
My Dad looked surprised. “I didn’t think her shoulder was that bad.”
“It’s not, at the moment, but it will only get worse. She would like to get that out of the way before she has her new knee.”
“New knee!” My Dad looked even more surprised. “She has never complained about her knee.”
“Well, it’s been painful all day, today, Desmond.”
My Dad shook his head.

“Anyway, she’s made two new friends. Rita, in the bed opposite, has had an operation on her ankle and Phyllis, in the next bed, has had her second hip replacement. They are all going to meet up for coffee, once they have got over the worst of the surgery. She said to Phyllis: I wouldn’t be surprised, Phyllis, if I’m not back here in a few years having my own hips done. I think I will have both mine replaced at the same time.

Could this be measles?

Thursday 11th May 1989   Morning surgery 09:23

measles boy










“Let’s have a look at this rash then, Mrs Preston.” My Dad looked impatiently at his watch.
Mrs Preston was quite flustered as she hurriedly undressed Nathan. He wriggled uncooperatively.
“So far, there is only one spot, doctor.”
“Only one spot! What do you mean?”
“He has just got one spot, on his chest.”
There was a small, pink, flat spot on Nathan’s chest.
“So, what you actually meant to say was that you were worried that this was a measle.”
“I suppose so, doctor.” Mrs Preston flushed with embarrassment.

“Well, I am afraid that I cannot diagnose measles if there is only one spot.”
“I did not realize that.”
“Obviously, Mrs Preston, there has to be more than one spot.”
“I am sorry, doctor.”
“Yes, it’s a great shame that you could not have waited.”
“It was just that I thought the quicker it was diagnosed, the better. What should I do, now?”

“I think you should get Nathan dressed and take him home.”

Never forget your red flags!

Thursday 4th May 1989   Morning surgery 10:50

“Right, Zoe, was Mrs Spencer coughing up any blood?”
“I don’t know, Dr Dennis. I forgot to ask. I suppose she would have said if she was.”
“You can’t be sure, Zoe.” My Dad explained. “Coughing up blood is very worrying for patients. Some would be too frightened to tell us. It is always important to ask.”

“Coughing up blood is a red flag,” he continued. “It’s Nature’s way of telling us that something serious could be going on. In a patient of Mrs Spencer’s age, we would be most worried about lung cancer. Chloe, can you think of any other red flags?”
“Vomiting blood, Dr Dennis.”
“Excellent, Chloe! If a patient is complaining of tummy pain or gastric symptoms we should always ask about vomiting blood. What about you, Dennis?”
“Blood in the poo, Dad.” I could still vividly remember my own painful piles. They were a bright, red flag in anyone’s book.
“Very good, Dennis. I prefer to call it blood in the stools. Two other red flags are blood in the wee and having a period after your periods have stopped.”
“Postmenopausal bleeding, Dr Dennis?”
“Yes, postmenopausal bleeding, Zoe. Well done.”

“You’ll notice that all these red flags involve blood. That makes them easy to remember. There are other red flags but these are the ones I want you to concentrate on today. Whenever you see a patient, always remember to ask about the relevant red flags.” My Dad looked at the three of us. “Never forget your red flags, students!”

I don’t believe it!

Thursday 27th April 1989   Morning surgery 08:55

My Dad is furious with our local hospital. He has just spent 20 minutes trying to admit a lady with severe, acute asthma.

 The nurse who deals with all the emergencies had said that she felt quite sure that the lady didn’t need to come into hospital. She suggested that my Dad tried an injection. She was confident that this would do the trick. They ended up having a massive argument and my Dad slammed the phone down.

My Dad looked at the patient. “I don’t believe it!” he said. I have been a GP for 30 years. In my early days, after I first qualified, I had a special interest in asthma. In front of me, is a lady who can hardly breathe. Her lips are beginning to turn blue. At the other end of the phone, is a nurse who does not think the patient needs to be admitted to hospital. She cannot see the patient and she cannot listen to her chest. However, she is quite sure that the patient does not admission. I really don’t believe it!”

Take one strawberry mivvi twice a day.

Thursday 20th April 1989   Morning surgery 10:20,10:30,10:40,10:50

This morning, we had four schoolboys in: all from the same class in the same primary school and all with sore throats. Their tonsils all looked pretty similar and my Dad said the same thing to all of the mums.

“I am very pleased to say that he does not need an antibiotic but I am going to recommend that he takes one strawberry mivvi twice a day. He should find that soothing.”

The mums were quite disappointed but the boys seemed very pleased.

These tablets aren’t working.

Thursday 13th April 1989   Morning surgery 09:00

“These tablets aren’t working, Dr Dennis. The pain is a lot worse. My whole back is agony, right from the very top of my neck to the very bottom of my spine: from my atlas all the way down to my coccyx. Every single vertebra is hurting me.”

Mrs Vaughan winced, took a sharp breath in and looked expectantly at us.

Baby clinic.

Thursday 30th March 1989   Baby clinic 10:20

As Dr Lewis was on holiday, Dad had to do the baby clinic. There was no health visitor to help him.
At first, he seemed confident enough but there were 24 small children and 20 of them required vaccinations.

He gave the MMR vaccine to William Jones’ brother by mistake. To be fair, there wasn’t much of an age gap and Francis Jones was sulking: curled up in his Mum’s lap and hiding his face as if he was expecting an injection.
“A bit of extra protection won’t do him any harm, Mrs Jones. At least we can guarantee that he won’t ever get measles.”

By the end of the clinic, Dad was looking very flustered. There were cotton wool balls and empty syringes all over his desk.

He forgot to put the rest of the vaccines back into the fridge until the following day.

Tim was unconscious.

Thursday 23rd March 1989   Home visit   13:00

tim 3










Tim had deteriorated. Yesterday, he was confused. Today, he was unconscious. My Dad shouted at him and shook him. There was no response.
His breathing was irregular: quite fast at times, then slow and heavy.
His face was badly swollen. He was deeply jaundiced.

We thought that he seemed comfortable.

An interesting assignment.

Wednesday 15th March 1989   After dinner 19:20

Tim 2 (3)








Dad said that he had sent Zoe and Chloe back to see Tim. He had decided that it would be an interesting assignment for them; following Tim’s case would be a good learning opportunity.

“I don’t expect him to live for more than a couple of months. Everything should be done and dusted by the time you go back to Cardiff at the end of May.”

Of course, Dad was hardened to his ‘terminals’ but Zoe and Chloe found the idea difficult to cope with.

Tim felt pretty rough when they arrived although he tried to put on a brave face. The students did not know what to say. Mrs Chapman made them a cup of tea. They both refused a biscuit and hardly said a word. Zoe paced around the room while Chloe made notes. They didn’t stay long.


Thursday 9th March 1989   Home Visit 12:44

Tim's Friend, Fred










Tim’s friend, Fred, had come to see him. He was sitting by the bed, laughing loudly, when we arrived. Fred was holding a half empty bottle of cider and was already tipsy. He jumped up and approached Zoe and Chloe unsteadily and with an overfamiliar friendliness that made them both nervous. His speech was slurred. “Hallo, ladies.”

He turned to me and shook my hand crookedly.
“Don’t worry about my liver, Doc. It’s fine.” Fred patted his stomach to demonstrate that he was in good shape.
“Right, I better go and leave you experts to it.” He swayed slightly as he left.

Tim was feeling a little better. I think Fred had cheered him up. His Mum was very pleased to report that he had eaten half a ham sandwich for lunch.

Beer for breakfast.

Thursday 2nd March 1989   Home Visit 13:02

Tim1 remake (2)










It was another home visit with the medical students. Tim was 37 years old. My Dad said that he was dying of liver failure. His skin was yellow. He was weak. He needed to use a Zimmer frame to walk across his bedroom. Getting to the toilet was a struggle.

Tim had no appetite. He woke up feeling sick. He usually managed a few sips of beer for breakfast and, maybe, some toast later on. The alcohol stopped him shaking and seemed to settle his stomach. He wasn’t drinking much now, nowhere near as much as he used to.

My Dad said that his liver was damaged beyond repair.  It was shrunken and scarred. His spleen had been caught up in the process and was congested.  His abdomen was distended with fluid. Both his legs were swollen. There were bruises scattered all over them.

We had been called out to Tim in a hurry. He had vomited blood. His mother watched anxiously as my Dad examined him.

“You are probably bleeding from the veins in your gullet, again,” my Dad said. Tim nodded. He did not want to go into hospital and there did not seem much point in sending him back. He knew it would only buy him a few days.

They had to get the headmaster.

Thursday 23rd February 1989   Morning surgery 09:30

My Dad explained to us that tummy pain is often caused by constipation in small children.
“I am always surprised,” he said, “by the number of these children who are constipated and even more surprised by the fact that their parents hardly ever realise.”

“Right, Mrs Green, Dafydd has got this tummy pain again. Could he be constipated?”
“Not really, doctor.”

My Dad looked thoughtfully at Dafydd and rubbed his chin.

“Mmm . . . does he have to push when he goes for a poo?”
“I don’t think so, doctor.” Mrs Green shook her head.
“I do, Mum.”

“Mmm . . . is it painful when he has a poo?”
“He never complains, doctor.”
“It does hurt, Mum, and sometimes it is really painful.”

“Mmm . . . Does he pass big, hard stools?”
“Certainly not, Dr Desmond.” Mrs Green look horrified.
“I do, Mum. Last Friday, I had a massive poo in school. It blocked the toilet and they had to get the headmaster.”

A ruptured achilles tendon.

Thursday 16th February 1989   Morning surgery 10:20

My Dad was pretty pleased with himself today. He diagnosed a ruptured Achilles tendon. To top it all, they had missed it in casualty. They thought the patient had a sprained ankle. The man had only come in for a sick note but he said his ankle was still quite painful. He had been walking across the road when it happened. He felt something snap: in fact, he heard it.
My Dad turned to Zoe, Chloe and me. “I think that we better check this chap’s Achilles tendon. An Achilles rupture is a frequently missed diagnosis.”
He made the patient get up on the couch and lie down on his tummy with his feet hanging over the end. “The Achilles tendon runs from the back of the heel up into the calf muscle. It is the strongest tendon in the body.”
My Dad felt very carefully along the length of the tendon. About two inches above the heel, there was a dent that you could fit the tip of your finger in. “There,” said my Dad. “That’s where it is torn.” He made us all feel the tendon. “Now,” he continued, “we will confirm the diagnosis.”
He squeezed the man’s calf firmly to make his foot move upwards. Hardly anything happened. He compared it with the other side. There was quite a big difference.
“Well,” he said. “You will have to go back to casualty, I am afraid. This is definitely a ruptured Achilles tendon. I will write a letter for you to take with you.”

My Dad usually hated writing letters but I could see how much he enjoyed this one. He signed it with a real flourish. He handed it to the patient and gave him a congratulatory slap on the back as if they were a successful team who had got one up on the emergency department.

My best asthma attack.

Thursday 9th February 1989   At home 21:05

“Here’s another interesting story, Daphne.” Dad was reading the local paper. Mum did not look up from her magazine.
“Last Friday, 9 year old Peter Burgess was admitted to hospital with an acute attack of asthma. There were no emergency ambulances available and he had to be flown in by helicopter. When they arrived at the hospital, Peter climbed down from the cockpit with a big smile on his face. He told the nurse that he was already feeling better.” My Dad smiled.

“Peter was discharged home three days later. When he went back to school, he told all his friends that this had been his best asthma attack, ever.”

Perfect teeth.

Thursday 2nd February 1989   Morning surgery 10:59

My Dad had just finished dealing with another sore throat.
“What did you notice about Mrs Wynne, Dennis?”
“She had a normal sore throat.”
“Yes, obviously. Was there anything else?”
“Her glands were swollen?”
“Not really. I didn’t mean that.” My Dad waited for my next answer.
“I don’t remember anything else.”
“You have got to learn to be more observant, Dennis. Didn’t you notice Mrs Wynne’s teeth? She has perfect teeth. Two sets of perfect teeth. She is married to Richard Wynne, the dentist.”
I suppose she did have rather noticeable teeth but I wasn’t going to say anything.

“Dennis, I often wonder if Mr Wynne, the dentist, married Mrs Wynne because she’s got perfect teeth or if she’s got perfect teeth because she married Mr Wynne.” My Dad chuckled to himself. He seemed to think that this was very funny.

Lady doctors.

Thursday 26th January 1989   Morning coffee break 11:50

“One of the best things about lady doctors is that they can actually feel their patients’ symptoms.” Zoe, Chloe and Dr Lois pricked up their ears when they heard this.
“If a patient is describing a pain,” my Dad continued, “the lady doctor will feel exactly the same pain in exactly the same place. She will probably bite her lip or wince. You might see a tear in the corner of her eye. This means that the lady doctor can understand exactly what her patient is going through. It must be so much easier to make a diagnosis and prescribe treatment!”
My Dad paused and took a sip of his coffee.
“That’s why lady doctors are so good, Dennis.”
I couldn’t help glancing at Dr Lois when he said this.

“The fact is,” my Dad continued, “if a patient is describing a pain to me, I might be thinking about something completely different.”

Bread from the supermarket.

Saturday 14th January 1989   09:03

On a Saturday morning, Dad likes to go to the baker’s for fresh bread. If we get there at about 9 o’clock, the loaves are still warm.
He used to send me into the shop while he waited in the car, otherwise it meant at least one consultation. Mrs Brenda Evans, who worked behind the counter, always had something wrong with her although, as she pointed out, she never actually went to the doctor. Any customers waiting to be served usually remembered that they had a terrible symptom that needed urgent discussion as soon as they saw my Dad.
Of course, now I was working in the surgery, I couldn’t go in so we had had to start taking Declan. He complained all the way there and insisted on having an iced bun, a custard slice or a cream doughnut as compensation. Occasionally, if he was in a savoury mood, he would have a sausage roll.
Despite Declan’s protestations, our strategy worked well until this morning when Miss Nellie Jones (a customer in the queue) showed him her varicose veins. He is at that sensitive age where he does not like old, bare flesh and he rushed out immediately.

That’s why we had to go and buy our bread from the supermarket.


Thursday 12th January 1989  Morning surgery 10:20

“Hang on, Mrs Vaughan! Can I stop you, there?”
Mrs Vaughan gave my Dad a stern look.
“I would like to bring the medical students in.” He turned to Zoe and Chloe. “Here, we have a 73 year old lady who noticed a shower of floaters affecting her left eye. She’s never had anything similar previously. Now, what would be your main worry in a patient with these symptoms?”
“A detach . . .”
“Mrs Vaughan! Give Zoe and Chloe a chance.”
“A detached retina, Dr Dennis.” Zoe and Chloe answered simultaneously. Mrs Vaughan raised her eyebrows disdainfully.
“Excellent! Excellent! Now, in a situation like this, there are three questions that I usually like to ask the patient. We will go through them one at a time. Let’s see if we can get them all. Zoe, what would you like to ask Mrs Vaughan?”
“Have you had a knock on the head, Mrs Vaughan?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Excellent, Zoe! Excellent!” My Dad nodded enthusiastically. “ What about you, Chloe? What would you like to ask?”
“Were there flashing lights when you had the floaters, Mrs Vaughan?”
“No, there weren’t.”
“Excellent, Chloe! Excellent! That’s very good. What about you, Dennis? What question would you like to ask?”
“Errm . . .  errm . . .  did you see . . . like a shadow . . . something like a grey shadow or a curtain across your eyes, Mrs Vaughan?”
“No, Dennis, that’s very, very good but I didn’t see anything like that.”
“Well done, Dennis. What about you, Mrs Vaughan?” My Dad continued. “What would you like to know? Are there any supplementary questions that you would like to ask our patient?”
“Yes, Dr Dennis, yes, there are. I would want to know if the patient was extremely short sighted or if she was suffering from diabetes.”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I would have asked, Mrs Vaughan. And are you?”
“Am I what, doctor?”
“Are you very short sighted or are you suffering from diabetes?”
“No . . .  No . . .  of course not, Dr Dennis. You know that.”

“Right . . . to sum up then,” my Dad took a deep breath. “A retinal detachment can be caused by a knock on the head. The patient’s symptoms usually consist of flashing lights, floaters and, sometimes, the appearance of a grey curtain. Retinal detachment is, as Mrs Vaughan has pointed out, more common in patients with severe short sight or diabetes.

Now, we need to look into Mrs Vaughan’s eyes with the ophthalmoscope. I am afraid this is a tricky business, even for a GP like myself with years of experience. The detachment usually occurs at the edge of the retina. Where the retina has been lifted up it is usually a pale grey rather than a nice pink colour which is why we see Dennis’ grey curtain.

Trying to look into the back of Mrs Vaughan’s eyes was a difficult and time consuming process. By the time all four of us had attempted to do this, she was in a distressed and dazzled state. Fortunately, she did not have a detached retina.

Side effects.

Thursday 5th January 1989  Morning surgery 11:17

“Doctor, I’ve got terrible side effects with these new tablets! I am itching all over. My lips feel swollen and my throat. My husband says my eyes are puffy. I feel sick. I could hardly eat my breakfast and I am sure I am going to have terrible diarrhoea.”
My Dad nodded his head and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “To be honest, Mrs Wallis, I would be more concerned if you weren’t having side effects. At least you know that I have given you a good, strong tablet and that it is doing it’s job.”


A hopeless match.

Tuesday 27th December 1988  Portmere vs. Flint Town 16:15

It should have been an easy win. It was a home game against Flint Town who were second from bottom in the league.

Declan and I wanted to relax but Dad decided to come and help us watch the match from a medical perspective.

Because it was just two days after Christmas, our players were a bit thin on the ground. Half the squad had not turned up and those that had looked under the weather. We did not even have a sub. By the time our Portmere players limped off at half-time, they were losing 1:0.

Without moving from his seat in the stand, Dad had cleverly diagnosed a tweaked hamstring, two torn cartilages, a mild case of concussion and a fractured metatarsal.

The second half was as uninspiring as the first. There wasn’t a single shot on target and no more injuries. We sat dejectedly in the rain until the final whistle.

“If you ask me they are all depressed,” said Declan as the Portmere players shuffled despondently back to the changing room.
I think he was right.

Compression hoisery.

Saturday 24th December 1988  Christmas Eve 23.00

Mum doesn’t like stockings and she refuses to cut a good pair of tights in half. Every year, Dad brings home some compression hosiery for Declan and I to use. Usually, we each get a medium, class 3, thigh length stocking with a standard sock and open toes.

Class 3 compression stockings seem to suit our Santa. They are so tight that you can’t get much into them and certainly no large items. Unfortunately, the open toes mean that the apple and the orange always end up on the floor.

Odd socks.

Thursday 22nd December 1988  Morning surgery 10.00.

My Dad had always expected to marry a woman who darned socks.  Dad’s Mum, my grandmother, darned socks. Dad’s own grandmother darned socks. Mum never darns socks. If Dad’s socks are beginning to fall apart, she throws them away and buys a new pack from the market. If she is in a bad mood, she makes Dad buy his own. Dad is quite philosophical about it.

“I suppose it comes as part of a thoroughly modern marriage,” he said to Mrs Vaughan. She had noticed he was wearing odd socks. He hadn’t had time to go to the market and had done the best he could with two old pairs.

An enlarged prostate.

Thursday 15th December 1988  Morning surgery 09.38.

We saw a man who couldn’t have a wee. He had struggled to go on Monday and Tuesday. Since Wednesday night, he hadn’t managed to pass a single drop. He was bursting. He said it was agony. He couldn’t keep still. He was pacing around and sweating.
My Dad explained that he had an enlarged prostate. This was blocking his bladder. He would have to go into hospital for a catheter.
A catheter is a small tube. It is passed through your penis (willy) into your bladder. It helps empty the bladder. My Dad said he would feel better as soon as it was done.

Imagine having an enlarged prostate and having to have a catheter. I couldn’t bear it.


Thursday 8th December 1988  Home visit 12.36.

Zoe, Chloe, my Dad and I were called to see a woman with severe vertigo. When we arrived at the house we found her lying face down in the hall. If she moved her head, even a few millimetres, the room would whirl and she would feel really sick. She had already vomited five times.
Her right ear felt blocked and was buzzing loudly.
Every so often, she groaned and said she wanted to die.
My Dad could not examine her properly. He looked into her right ear and checked her blood pressure.
He gave her an injection into her leg, promised that she would feel a lot better in an hour and off we went.

Laughing gas.

Thursday 1st December 1988  Wart clinic 16.15.

Mrs Vaughan had a large wart on her arm. As I started to freeze it, she began to giggle.
“Are you alright, Mrs Vaughan?”
“Of course, Dennis.” She laughed.
The more I continued the treatment, the more she laughed.
“Are you sure that you’re alright?”
“Yes, it’s that laughing gas.”
My Dad groaned. “This isn’t laughing gas, Mrs Vaughan. It’s liquid nitrogen. Laughing gas is nitrous oxide. They are both completely different.”
“Well, it’s exactly the same as the laughing gas I had in hospital when I had the boys. I had it both times that I was in labour.”
“It’s not the same. Liquid nitrogen would not make you laugh. In fact, it hurts.”
“Some of it must be being oxidised. It’s probably the way young Dennis is spraying it around.”  Mrs Vaughan started giggling again. “I wouldn’t be laughing for no reason.”

It’s just a normal sore throat.

Thursday 24th November 1988  Morning surgery 09.30.

“It’s just a normal sore throat.” My Dad, Zoe, Chloe and I had all had a look at Michael’s tonsils.
“What do you mean? A normal sore throat?”
“Well, Mrs Morris. It is just a normal sore throat. It’s not tonsillitis. It will get better on it’s own.”
“Last time I brought Michael, you said that tonsillitis would get better on it’s own.”
“Yes, it usually does. A normal sore throat and tonsillitis usually get better on their own.”
“Does that mean a normal sore throat and tonsillitis are the same thing.”
“Mmm . . . no, it doesn’t. Tonsillitis is worse than a normal sore throat.”
Mrs Morris looked perturbed. “Is the sore throat you’ve got now worse than the tonsillitis you had last time, Michael?”
“Yes, definitely.”
“I thought so.” Mrs Morris looked scornfully at my Dad. “There you are, Dr Dennis. Michael says that this sore throat is worse and you said that the last sore throat was tonsillitis. This sore throat is worse than tonsillitis.”
My Dad rubbed his chin as he considered Mrs Morris’s conclusions. He turned to Michael. “How long ago was the tonsillitis, Michael.”
“ Err . . . “
“3 months,” Mrs Morris interrupted. “It was on 15th August. We saw you at 10.37. You were running 7 minutes late.”
“I am surprised that you can remember how bad that sore throat was, Michael, if it was in August.”
“I remember it exactly, Dr Dennis.” Mrs Morris beamed at her son.”
My Dad nodded. “If you can still remember the sore throat that you had in August, it must be worse  than the sore throat you’ve  got now. I am quite sure that you won’t remember this sore throat in 3 months time, Michael.”
“Well, I think he needs antibiotics, again.” Mrs Morris felt compelled to step in.
“I am not prescribing antibiotics for a normal sore throat, Mrs Morris. I have told you that before. In a couple of weeks, Michael will have forgotten all about it.”

Zoe and Chloe.

Thursday 17th November 1988  Morning surgery 08.58.











Two medical students, Zoe and Chloe, were starting in the practice today. My Dad had obviously forgotten that they were coming. He was quite put out when he found them waiting in his consulting room.
“Hmm . . .” he snorted. “What an inconvenient surprise! I am afraid that it is extremely busy today and I won’t have time for official teaching. I suggest that you both sit quietly, watch and learn. Yes, watch and learn. If you have any questions, you can ask Dennis. He has been working here for nearly a year.”

Zoe and Chloe smiled admiringly at me. They obviously thought that I was a small but highly qualified and experienced doctor.

Diabetes in a nutshell.

Thursday 10th November 1988  Morning coffee break 11.45.

“I think that I might write a patient information leaflet, Dennis. I thought I would do one on diabetes.”
Don’t, Dad.
“They recommended it on the communications course.”
Don’t, Dad.
“It takes quite a long time to explain what diabetes is. A leaflet would be more efficient. I will call it diabetes in a nutshell.”
Don’t, Dad.

An ethical dilemma!

Thursday 3rd November 1988  Morning surgery 09.50.

We saw a Liverpool supporter today with a really bad chest infection. My Dad thought that it might even be pneumonia. I knew that he was a Liverpool supporter because he was wearing last season’s shirt and he had a bit of an annoying swagger.

I know this is unethical but I really didn’t want my Dad to give him antibiotics.

I don’t want the pink medicine.

Thursday 20th October 1988  Morning surgery 11.00.

“I don’t want the pink one. I don’t want the pink one.” My Dad’s consulting room door flew open and little Terry Turner charged in. He saw my Dad and me, stopped dead in his tracks and burst into tears.
“I don’t want the pink one, Dr Dennis.”
Mrs Turner appeared. She struggled in holding a baby, two large carrier bags of shopping, Terry’s coat, the baby’s bottle, a plastic fire engine and an umbrella. She sat down and sighed with relief.
“I’m sorry, doctor. He doesn’t want the pink antibiotic medicine. He will only take the yellow one.”
“He doesn’t look as if he needs an antibiotic to me,” my Dad said. Terry peered at him through clenched fists.
“I think he does, doctor. He is very chesty again.”
After Terry had stopped crying, my Dad and I both listened to his chest.
“Sounds crystal clear to me, Dennis?”
I nodded. My Dad thought using me for a second opinion was very clever.
“I am very glad to say you don’t need any medicine at all, Terry.”
Terry howled again. “I want the yellow medicine. Mum promised.”
“I did say that, if he was a good boy, you would give him the yellow medicine. Maybe there is a yellow cough medicine he could have.”
“I am afraid all the cough medicines are pink, Mrs Turner.”
“I don’t want the pink one. I don’t want the pink one.”

Compulsory, military style training for all those junior doctors.

Sunday 16th October 1988  After breakfast 10.12.

On a Sunday morning, after breakfast, my Dad likes to look through the papers. He reads out interesting stories to Mum. Of course, she finds this annoying.
“Listen to this, Daphne. The health minister is going to introduce compulsory, military style training for all those junior doctors. He thinks that they need to toughen up. Apparently, large numbers are going off sick with anxiety and depression. They are having panic attacks at work and waking up in the middle of the night in their on-call rooms after terrible nightmares. Several have been found locked in the ward toilets with their bleeps switched off.”
Mum frowned. She glanced back down at her Sunday supplement.
“On Saturday 6th August at 03:00 hours, Dr Adam Allen, deserted his post and left the emergency department of Kings College Hospital without any medical cover.”
“Without any medical cover, Desmond?” Do you mean that he was the only doctor working in the department?” Mum was horrified.
“It looks like it.”
“But, that’s one of the busiest emergency departments in the country!”
“Yes, it does seem surprising. Maybe, the reporter has got his facts wrong. Anyway, Dr Allen was found, three days later, hiding in his parents’ coal bunker. He was still shaking uncontrollably when they dragged him out. They could not get any sense out of him. He just kept repeating the name of one of his patients: someone who had died after a motorcycle crash.”

“The problem, Desmond, is that, these days, the medical schools select applicants who are too sensitive and caring. I have always said that that was wrong.”
“When I applied to medical school, you just had to be good at rugby.”
“Well, you weren’t any good at any sports, Desmond.”
“No, but my Dad was a doctor.”
“He wasn’t a medical doctor.”
“No, I never said he was. I wrote in my personal statement: Dr Deiniol Dennis has a special interest in the development of the human nervous system. No one ever checked up on what sort of doctor he was.”

“Anyway, the health minister has severely criticised Dr Allen. He said that he put a great number of patients’ lives at risk and that he was very fortunate that nobody died. They are planning to take further action against him. He may be struck off.”
“Perhaps he should be court martialled and face a firing squad,” said my Mum. She got up and started clearing the breakfast things.

A recliner armchair with thick, spongy cushions.

Thursday 13th October 1988  Home visit 13.08.

“I am sorry, Sister, that is completely unacceptable. Mrs Anderson is 93 years old. She spent two days on one of your trolleys last time she came into hospital. Her back was awfully painful and she developed a small pressure sore on her heel.” My Dad was trying his best not to lose his temper.

Eventually, Sister Salter rang back. My Dad spoke to her briefly.

“Right, Mrs Anderson, one of the nurses has managed to find a recliner armchair for you. It is very comfortable with thick, spongy cushions and can be tilted back at night. The only alternative is four of those orange, plastic seats: the ones that are stuck together in a row. They use them in the outpatient clinics. They thought that, if they put some blankets across them, you could stretch out. I did not think that they would be suitable so I have accepted the armchair. They are going to squeeze you into a room with a lady who is suffering from dementia. She has been a bit noisy at night but Sister Salter will ask one of the doctors to give her a sleeping tablet.”
“That will be fine, doctor. I suppose I have got to go in, again, with this chest trouble of mine.”
“I think so,” Mrs Anderson. You are going to need the oxygen again and a drip. Mind you, it sounds to me as if you will be a lot more comfortable than last time.”

Lub dup . . lub dup.

Thursday 6th October 1988  Morning surgery 09.40.

“I can hear Mrs Pryce’s heart, Dad. Lub dup . . Lub dup . .”
“Excellent, Dennis, at last. I was beginning to think that young Dennis was going to have to give up Medicine, Mrs Pryce.”
“He will be fine. He’ll be an excellent doctor, like his Dad.”
Mrs Pryce giggled and Dad smiled smugly.
My Dad took the stethoscope and listened to Mrs Pryce’s heart, himself.
“Well, Mrs Pryce,” he said, “You have the clearest, crispest heart sounds that I have heard for a long time. You must be in tip top condition.”
Mrs Pryce purred.
“Would you mind if I ask you to come in from time to time, to let the medical students have a listen.”
“Of course not, Desmond. I would love to help out.”

Very high blood pressure.

Thursday 29th September 1988  Morning surgery 11.20.

I am glad to say that my Dad seems to have forgotten that he ever went on the communication course. He is back working on his usual need to know basis.

“Look, Mr Hutton, this blood pressure of yours is really very high. I have written a prescription for you. If you don’t take these tablets, you are going to have a stroke.”

High blood pressure.

Thursday 29th September 1988  Morning surgery 10.20.

My Dad has just been on a communication course and decided he was going to try to explain the meaning of high blood pressure to one of his patients. “If someone’s understands exactly what their medical condition is, Dennis, they are much more likely to follow our advice.”
“Yes, Dad.”
He used his ‘central heating analogy’ and got into a right muddle. He was going on about leaky radiators, burst pipes and irreversible pump damage. By the time he had finished, Mrs Wisley seemed completely confused. I was squirming with embarrassment.

Mum always sets our central heating timer, anyway.

Packed full of hard, greenish-brown wax.

Thursday 22nd September 1988  Morning coffee break 11.45.

Dr Lois Lewis










It was Dr Lois Lewis who discovered what was wrong with Dad’s stethoscope. Both earpieces were packed full of hard, greenish-brown wax.
“It must have been here for 2 or 3 years, Dennis. I am surprised your Dad could hear anything.”
It took her 20 minutes to dig it all out.
“There we are. It should be fine, now.”


Thursday 15th September 1988  Morning surgery 11.20.

We had a really awkward consultation today. A woman came in and started telling us about her periods. I went bright red and felt sick. I thought that my Dad handled it really well.
“Stop right there!” he said. “I am afraid that this is not really my area of expertise. I want you to make an appointment to see Dr Lois Lewis tomorrow. She has been having periods since she was 12 or 13 years old. She knows everything there is to know about them.”


Tuesday 30th August 1988  Breakfast 10.00.

Mrs V's holiday








Dad always makes the most of his Greek, buffet breakfast. Today, he has chosen Greek yogurt with honey, a peach, slices of salami and ham, soft goat’s cheese, two gherkins, some very crisp bacon, two saveloys, a rectangle of scrambled egg, a mini Danish pastry and a slice of fruit cake.

As usual, he is the last to come down. Mum is already halfway through her cereal. “They are bringing a fresh jug of coffee, Desmond.”
Declan has six pancakes on his plate with chocolate sauce and syrup. “Kostas was looking for you, Dad.”
“Yes,” Mum continues. “He is asking if you can see a patient after breakfast. They think she has severe sunstroke. Apparently, she has asked for you personally.”

30,000 feet.

Saturday 20th August 1988  German air space 13.31

Is there a doctor on board?
“Go on, Dennis. You go.” Declan sniggered and I elbowed him firmly in the ribs.
Dad did not react. He seemed completely absorbed in his book.
Is there a doctor on board?
Mum looked over at Dad and sighed. She folded her tray and started to get up. After all, Mum deals with most of our domestic emergencies.
“Stand clear, please, stand clear.” There was a commotion behind us and a young man came rushing down the aisle.
“Let me get through, please! Let me get through!”
He arrived breathlessly at the front of the plane and announced himself to the steward. “Dr Colin Morgan MBBCh (Cardiff) MRCP (London) . . .  consultant at St George’s Hospital . . . it looks like a heart attack?”
Mum was fascinated by this handsome, dashing, dynamic doctor. Dad groaned.
“Has anyone got an aspirin . . . we need 300mg . . . that’s one adult tablet . . .  what about oxygen . . . where’s the oxygen . . . let’s clear these seats . . . we need some space . . . someone must have a GTN spray . . . there must be a passenger here who suffers from angina . . . get me an angina spray . . .”
An angina spray arrived from a man near us. Dr Morgan took a deep breath, opened his mouth and sprayed a dose onto his tongue.
“Right, that’s better . . . where’s that oxygen . . . let’s get the oxygen . . . we don’t want this gentleman to die on us .. . . just relax, Sir . . . we will need to land the plane . . we must get him to hospital  . . . we need to divert the flight  . . . get the pilot to make an emergency landing . . . a crash landing, if he has to . . . “

Dad groaned again. He put down his book and shut his eyes. There was going to be a long delay before we got to Greece. He would probably have to miss his late afternoon swim.

My last post?

Wednesday 17th August 1988  Morning coffee break 11.45

This will probably be my last day of work experience. On Saturday, we are all going on holiday to Greece. Mum says it will do me and Dad good to have two whole weeks where we don’t have to worry about our patients.

Then, of course, I need to pick the right moment. I suppose it should be a day when Dad has spent the afternoon relaxing on his sunbed by the pool. I will offer to go and get him his usual bottle of Mythos.
I will tell him how much I have enjoyed being in the practice. I have seen a lot. There is no doubt about that. It has been far more interesting than I thought.
I will explain that I need to concentrate on my schoolwork. I have got exams before Christmas. I will need to do course work and revise on Wednesday mornings. I would have preferred to come in for a few more weeks but . . .

Hay fever.

Wednesday 10th August 1988  Morning surgery 10.35.

“Dr Dennis, this hay fever is unbearable!”
“Come on, Melvyn. I would never describe hay fever as unbearable. In fact, I am not sure why you have come to see me. Most of my colleagues in the profession don’t consider hay fever an illness. I suppose we would regard it more as an inconvenience.”
“Well, this hay fever is unbearable! I can’t stop sneezing. My nose keeps running. My eyes won’t stop watering. My throat is itching. I am on double doses of antihistamines. I am using my nasal spray six times a day and my eye drops every hour.” Melvyn looked thoroughly miserable.
“Look!” He held up a carrier bag full of paper tissues. “I have used all of these in the last two hours.”
Melvyn’s hay fever did look unbearable to me. His nose was red and sore. His eyes were swollen.
“Listen, Melvyn,” said my Dad, “I will admit that it is a very bad case but I cannot use the word unbearable, not where hay fever is concerned.”
Melvyn shook his head. He took a wet tissue out of his bag. “I’m having to reuse my paper hankies. I haven’t got any dry ones left. This is intolerable, Dr Dennis!”
“It is very bad,” said my Dad reluctantly.
Melvyn sneezed, missed his hankie and sprayed us both with mucous.
“Well, I think it is intolerable,” I said, wiping my eyes.
My Dad nodded his head. “Alright Melvyn, you have convinced me. We will give you the hay fever injection again, this year.”

My sprained ankle.

Monday 1st August 1988  Morning surgery 09.55.

I really like Dr Lois Lewis.
My dad had asked her to look at my ankle. I had sprained it playing football.
To start with, she was shocked at how bruised it was. She said that I was very brave. She was surprised to hear that I was still planning to come to work on Wednesday. I had hoped she would offer to give me a sick note but she bandaged it so enthusiastically and was so reassuring that I didn’t like to ask for one.

Aortic stenosis.

Wednesday 27th July 1988  Morning surgery 11.10.

“Dennis, it is a classic case of aortic stenosis.”
“I can’t hear it, Dad.”
My Dad took a deep breath and raised his eyebrows. “It is one of the easiest heart murmurs to hear, Dennis. This one is very loud . . . Oh! Don’t worry, Mr Turnbull. A loud murmur does not mean that it’s worse: not usually.”

My Dad cocked his head to one side, concentrating. “There, I can just make it out without my stethoscope. Try again.” Mr Turnbull looked really worried, now.
I still couldn’t hear anything.
My Dad smiled at Mr Turnbull. “These youngsters listen to too much loud music. It affects their hearing.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my hearing, Dad!” I passed the stethoscope angrily back to him and stuck my hands in my pockets.

By the way, aortic stenosis means that one of the most important heart valves is damaged. It is narrowed and just lets a squirt of blood through each time the heart pumps. A heart murmur is the sound made by a damaged heart valve. You can usually hear it with the stethoscope.

Housemaid’s knee.

Wednesday 20th July 1988  Morning surgery 10.30.

Mrs Vaughan knee (1)










“I don’t think that you should keep looking these things up, Mrs Vaughan.” My Dad had just finished examining Mrs Vaughan’s knee.
“Why not, doctor? It must be a help for you if I have already done half the work. I know the latest treatment for a torn cartilage.” She looked at me and smiled, suspecting correctly that I didn’t know much about torn cartilages.
“You haven’t got a torn cartilage. You’ve got housemaid’s knee. But it isn’t that. You know that you’ll only worry. You’ll pick out the worst possible cause for your symptoms.”
“I can always come to you for reassurance.”
“But you never believe me.”
“Only if my book says something different. Housemaid’s knee, for instance, is quite red and hot. My knee isn’t at all hot or red. I think it’s a torn cartilage: swollen but not hot or red.”

A weekend on call.

Saturday 9th July 1988   Lunchtime 13.00.
My Dad hates weekends on call. Once a month he works all day Friday, all day Saturday and all day Sunday. My Mum says it makes him bad tempered. He is alright during the day but he gets very annoyed if he is woken up at night. Once he has finished speaking to the patient on the ‘phone, he starts to swear under his breath: quite rude things. He will swear repeatedly while he gets dressed and continue as he goes downstairs. He swears in the car, all the way to the patient’s house. Once he gets there he is, apparently, a bit calmer and usually manages to avoid being nasty.

On the way home, he has a bit of an adrenaline buzz. He will play one of his CDs very loudly and swerve the car from side to side.

The adrenaline keeps him awake after he gets back into bed.

A job in Ashbury Lodge?

Wednesday 6th July 1988   Morning coffee break 11:45.
“You must apply for a job in Ashbury Lodge, Dennis.”
“Dad, I am not going to work in a nursing home.”
“You’ve got to do some voluntary work if you want to get into medical school.”
“I wouldn’t work there if you paid me. I am certainly not going to do voluntary work.”
“Dennis, everyone does it. It is to show that you are a caring person.”
“Mum is a caring person. She wouldn’t work if she didn’t get paid.”
“Mum is a qualified nurse, Dennis. That’s different.”
“What about Johnny Johnson? He couldn’t care less about anyone. In fact, he is always laughing about that old, disabled supply teacher in school. He leaves his bag in the corridor to trip her up. He is just working in Ashbury Lodge so he can get into medical school. That’s the only reason. I am not going to do that.”

A healthy plate.

Wednesday 29th June 1988   Practice nurse clinic 10:00.
I am sitting in with Janet, the practice nurse, today. Our first patient is a very overweight lady. Janet shows her a picture of a healthy plate; a neatly arranged plate of wholesome foods with plenty of even healthier empty space. Whilst Janet is explaining how tasty cucumber and tomatoes can be, the patient winks at me. We have both realised that there is more than enough room for two large handfuls of chunky chips and a dollop of cheesy mayonnaise.

He had forgotten his wife’s cousin’s birthday.

Wednesday 22nd June 1988   Morning surgery 10:40.
Today, we saw a man who was worried about his memory. He spent 10 minutes (a whole appointment) telling us everything he had forgotten in the last 3 days. He had started by forgetting to hang his towel on the radiator after his shower. He had left it on the floor by his bed. I didn’t mention that I often do the same because my Dad prefers me to sit quietly when I am in surgery. He couldn’t remember if he was on page 235 or page 238 of ‘Great Expectations’. He said he was one of those people who won’t turn the page corners down. He had forgotten that his wife’s cousin’s birthday was on 23rd of May. He had bought her an expensive, silver brooch last year so he was very surprised that it had slipped his mind this year. Then, he had been trying so hard to remember whether his wife wanted porridge, as usual, for breakfast or tropical muesli, that he had burnt his own toast.
Anyway, those are just a few examples of what we had to listen to. I could sense that my Dad was getting more and more impatient.
At last, he finished. My Dad shook his head, and then made a show of looking at his watch.
“Look, Mr Wilson,” he said, “I don’t think that you’ve got too much to worry about. Come and see me again when you can’t remember what you have forgotten.”

I find it very irritating.

Wednesday 15th June 1988   Morning surgery 09:40.
“My name is not Dr Desmond, Mrs Parry. It’s Dr Dennis, Dr Desmond Dennis.”
“I am sorry, doctor.”
“Yes, people often call me Dr Desmond and I find it very irritating. It’s because I have got two first names, of course, and no proper surname.”
“Of course, doctor.”
“That’s why we decided to call Dennis, Dennis Dennis. We wanted to make sure that he never had the same problem.”

Happy birthday, Dennis!

Tuesday 14th June 1988   After dinner 20:15.










Today is my fourteenth birthday. I had asked my Dad for a typewriter but he bought me an auriscope. Declan got me a box of wooden tongue depressors!! Mum gave me a shirt and tie.
“You need to look smart for your patients, Dennis.”
At least I had a black, moleskin journal from Dr Lois Lewis, and a pen.

I really don’t like piles.

Sunday 12th June 1988   After dinner 19:30.
I told my Dad that I thought I had piles. He just laughed.
“Dennis,” he said. “Doctors in training always think that they have got terrible illnesses. I thought that I had had a stroke on my very first day in medical school. In fact, it was just a bad migraine. I sent myself into hospital three times during the first term with suspected appendicitis. Then, at the end of the year, I had a full blown heart attack only it didn’t show up on any of the tests. I am afraid to say that, at one point, I even thought I had a twisted ovarian cyst. That shows you how stupid I was.”

I don’t like piles.

Wednesday 8th June 1988   Morning surgery 10:25.
I don’t like piles. One of my teachers came in today and, as it turned out, he was suffering from piles. After my Dad examined him, he insisted that I had a look. He said it would be good experience for me. I don’t think that it was a good experience for me or my teacher. I won’t be able to look him in the eye when we have our next chemistry lesson.

Confidentiality is pretty important as far as piles are concerned.

Another case of indigestion.

Wednesday 1st June 1988   Morning coffee break 11:45.
My Dad has just seen another man with indigestion. We were all very concerned. The practice manager rang up halfway through the consultation to check that everything was alright. The nurse popped in at the end and insisted on doing an ECG. My Dad tried to resist this but the nurse was adamant.
This time, I don’t think that there was any doubt that the diagnosis was indigestion. It was obvious; even to me.

The nurse rang the patient later that evening. Everyone was relieved when she reported that he was fine.

They wouldn’t let anything like that happen.

Wednesday 25th May 1988   Morning surgery 09:50.
“Hallo, Mr Rhys. How are you?”
“I’m fine, Doctor. You wanted to check my blood pressure.”
“Yes, I did, didn’t I? How is Mrs Rhys?”
“She is improving. She’s not bad at all. The ambulance is very comfortable.”
“The ambulance! What do you mean?” My Dad picked up his mug and took a sip of his tea.
“She’s still in the ambulance.”
“She is still in the ambulance?” My Dad coughed and spluttered. “Has she been there since I sent her in on Friday?”
“Steady on, Dr Dennis. She is alright. It’s a new thing they are trying. You said yourself how short of beds they are.”
My Dad put his tea down.
“They’ve got five patients parked outside Casualty. They have all got their own ambulance. Mr Bacon has been there for over a week. I pop in to see him. He’s got no family.”
My Dad smiled grimly.
“Mrs Rhys is very well looked after,” Mr Rhys continued. “Of course, the two ambulance men are there all the time.”
“Of course.” My Dad repeated quietly.
“One of the nurses from Casualty usually visits twice a day. The consultant is coming tomorrow. He is going around all the ambulances.”
My Dad nodded. His face was beginning to go red.
“They have said that, if she continues to improve, they will take her for a little drive on Friday. She is really looking forward to that. Obviously, it’s ideal when she wants to go home.”
“Ideal?” I don’t think my Dad was concentrating. His face had gone from red to crimson. He had picked up a wooden tongue depressor  and was tapping it irritably on his desk.
“Well, yes, she is already in the ambulance.”
“Of course,” said my Dad.
“The only problem,” said Mr Rhys, “is when they need another ambulance.”
“What do they do then?”
Mr Rhys looked embarrassed. His face flushed but not as much as my Dad’s. “I don’t know. I didn’t like to ask, really. I hope no one’s died because of my wife.”
“Of course not, Robert,” my Dad snapped. “They wouldn’t let anything like that happen.” He broke the tongue depressor in half and threw it at the bin.
“No, anyway, she’s doing well. Apparently, it was just a minor heart attack.”

My Dad forgot to check Mr Rhys’ blood pressure and Mr Rhys forgot to remind him.

A huge, angry boil.

Saturday 21st May 1988   Portmere vs. Welshpool 14:30.

Portmere vs Welshpool










It was Portmere’s final game of the season. A tough home fixture against Welshpool. Declan and I settled into our seats. I always enjoyed those last few moments before the match started.

In front of me were two bald men. One had the name, Phil, tattooed on his neck. He turned towards me, stared and then snarled. “Here, Alun. I thought it was him. It’s that new doctor I told you about.”
Alun gave me an equally unfriendly look.
“I had to see him with the nurse on Wednesday. He wouldn’t give me antibiotics. He said a cream would do.” Phil turned right round. On the left side of his nose was a huge, angry boil. It had a glistening, yellow top that looked ready to explode.
“You made a bit of a mistake there, didn’t you Doc? Can you see how big it is, now? I told you I needed antibiotics.”
I went bright red. Declan sniggered.
“You can watch yourself too, my little mate. I don’t suppose the Doc’s got any idea how to treat a black eye, either.”
As soon as the two men turned away, Declan disappeared.

Portmere won 3:1 but I did not really enjoy the game.


Is he dead, Dennis?

Sunday 15th May 1988   After dinner 19:00.
“Is he dead, Dennis?” My Dad was getting impatient.
Declan frowned.
“Of course not, Dad. He’s fine.” I pressed the stethoscope more firmly against Declan’s chest.
“Well, if he’s not dead, you must be able to hear his heart.”
“I can’t.”
“Listen carefully, Dennis. Lub dup . . Lub dup . . Lub dup . .”
“I can’t hear it, Dad.”
“Hold your breath, Declan. Is that any better? Lub dup . . Lub dup . . Lub dup . .”
“No. Maybe, it’s this old stethoscope of yours, Dad.”
“My stethoscope is fine, Dennis. I have been using it for years. It was one of the best stethoscopes that you could buy. The fact is, some young doctors struggle with auscultation. We will just have to keep trying.”

My Dad looked at my brother and sighed. “You can breathe now, Declan.”
I am not sure whether Declan will ever learn to use his own initiative.

Dr Lois Lewis.

Wednesday 11th May 1988   Morning surgery.
I had been hoping for a day off. My Dad was going to a conference in Cardiff.
“I have arranged for you to sit in with Dr Lewis, this morning, Dennis. It will be good for you to observe the methods of a recently qualified general practitioner. You will probably find that she does things very differently from me.”

What a morning!
Dr Lois Lewis is fantastic. All the patients love her. She is so caring. She greets each patient with a bright, cheerful smile. My Dad does that occasionally but it’s a real effort.
Dr Lewis seems to understand exactly what’s wrong and she always prescribes the best treatment. She even asked one little boy which flavour medicine he preferred and rang the chemist to see what was available in ‘cherry’.


Wednesday 20th April 1988   Morning surgery 09:05.
Croup is a completely different kettle of fish.

Imagine that you are 4 years old. You have had a slight sore throat and a cough. Your voice is a bit croaky. Apart from that, you feel fine. You go to bed as usual on Tuesday night.

You wake up in the middle of the night, terrified. You can’t breathe. You sit bolt upright. You want to call your Mum but you daren’t. You cough and then you manage to suck in a gasp of air that whistles through your swollen throat. You breathe quickly. Every breath in is a concentrated effort. Breathing out is easier.

Your Mum comes running in. She must have heard something. She looks as frightened as you. She sits on the bed next to you. She tries to reassure you but you can see her tremble.
“Trefor!” Your Mum shouts.
Your Dad looks half asleep. Your Mum suggests steam and he carries you to the bathroom and runs the hot tap. It does help. Gradually your breathing settles. When you get back to bed, you manage to rest back on a couple of pillows and relax. Eventually, you drop off to sleep.

Your Mum phones the surgery first thing in the morning and insists on an emergency appointment. She packs an overnight bag for you: a pair of pyjamas, two sets of underwear and a toothbrush.

Dr Dennis chuckles as he examines your chest. “It is just a touch of croup.” He turns to your Mum. “It always seems worse than it really is. He will be better in a few days.”
“He doesn’t need to go to hospital, doctor.”
“No, he will be fine. Tonight won’t be quite as bad as last night.”
Your Mum grips the handle of your overnight bag so tightly that her fingers turn blue. You feel sick.

A happy wheezer.

Wednesday 20th April 1988   Morning surgery 09:00.
Happy wheezers are great. They are usually about 2 years old. They’re coughing. They’re puffing away. Their noses are blocked or full of mucous. Their Mums are in a panic but they sit there, smiling, as if nothing’s wrong with them. That’s why they’re called happy wheezers.

My Dad wishes all his patients could be like happy wheezers: bravely smiling through times of considerable difficulty.

How do you know it’s not sciatica?

Wednesday 13th April 1988   Morning surgery 11:45.
“How do you know it’s not sciatica, Dr Dennis, if you haven’t checked my reflexes?”
“The pain sounds muscular, Mrs Vaughan. It does not sound anything like sciatica.”
Mrs Vaughan smiled at me. “Well, let’s say I saw an enthusiastic, young doctor like Dennis and he checked my reflexes. Let’s say my right knee reflex was normal and both my ankle reflexes.”
“Yes,” said my Dad after a long pause.
“But my left knee reflex was missing. That is the same leg that I am getting this awful pain in. Would you consider sciatica, then?”
“I hope that you haven’t tried to check your own reflexes, Mrs Vaughan, or made your husband check them.”
“No, I am just speculating.”
“An absent knee reflex doesn’t necessarily mean you have sciatica. Lots of people have missing reflexes.” My Dad tried to be reassuring.
“Anyway, I thought you could check my pulses at the same time.”
“Your pulses!” My Dad looked surprised. “This pain certainly isn’t due to bad circulation.”
“No, I don’t suspect claudication, doctor, but I would like to check.”

My Dad stood up and looked at his watch. “Right, Mrs Vaughan, you get up on the couch. Dennis can check your reflexes and your pulses. It will be good practice for him. I am going for my coffee.”
“Reflexes? Pulses? Me?” I started to protest but my Dad had already gone and Mrs Vaughan was taking her shoes off.

A painful toenail.

Thursday 7th April 1988   Minor surgery 15:15.
Of course, the excision of the sebaceous cyst made my Dad late for the toenail resection. He hates being late and didn’t wait for the local anaesthetic to work properly!

By the way, excision means removal and resection means removal.

A difficult sebaceous cyst.

Thursday 7th April 1988   Minor surgery 14:00.
My Dad was performing minor operations this afternoon. He had a sebaceous cyst to excise from the top of someone’s head. It was about the size of a malteser. It took him an hour. A proper surgeon could have done a total hip replacement by then or made a good start on a coronary artery bypass graft.


Sunday 3rd April 1988   After dinner 19:00.
My dad has always had this big thing about confidentiality. You would think he was some sort of secret agent. He would never tell me who he had seen in the surgery, even if it was one of my best mates. He would never tell me what was wrong with anybody.
If I saw somebody limping around town and asked if they had a bad hip, he would get really annoyed. “I could lose my job if I told you that.”

Now, of course, I am on work experience and it’s all changed. He tells me everything. We usually discuss one or two patients on a Sunday evening after dinner.

An unexpected death.

Wednesday 23rd March 1988   Morning coffee break 11.45.
Yesterday, we had an unexpected death. Brian Blackwell was only 39 years old. All the staff at the surgery were very upset which is why we discussed it over coffee. My Dad had seen him on Tuesday morning and diagnosed indigestion. Mr Blackwell collapsed and died at 2 o’clock that afternoon. Dr Lewis and I thought that maybe my Dad had made a mistake, but he insisted it was indigestion. He said it was a very bad case: one of the worst he had ever seen.

I didn’t realise you could die from indigestion. My Dad reassured me that you could. He said that quite a few patients of his patients had died of indigestion over the years.

After that, every time I burped I checked my pulse.


A cough for two hours!

Wednesday 9th March 1988   Morning surgery 09.40.
My Dad is furious. He saw a patient this morning who had had a cough for two hours. He couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t a particularly bad cough. The man seemed quite put out when my Dad said he couldn’t make a diagnosis. But, he didn’t have any other symptoms to go on. The man’s nose hadn’t started running, his temperature hadn’t gone up and he wasn’t out of breath.

He coughed whilst my Dad was examining him. It sounded like a very ordinary cough.

The man had come in saying that he had a cough and, at the end of the appointment, my Dad agreed with him completely. “That’s all I can say,” he said. “You’ve got a cough.”


Wednesday 2nd March 1988   Morning surgery 10.20.
My dad is always asking people stupid questions about diarrhoea. How many times did you go today? How many times did you go yesterday? Was there much each time? Was it like water? What colour was it?

As far as I am concerned, if you have got diarrhoea you’ve got diarrhoea. That’s all I need to know.


Wednesday 24th February 1988   Morning surgery 09:40.

We saw a lady this morning with one of those small children who can’t keep still. He sat on the chair by his Mum for about 30 seconds. My Dad smiled and said Hi! The boy got off the chair and climbed up on the examination couch. He lied there and laughed, rolled off and started pumping up the blood pressure machine. He spotted the scales by the sink and jumped on those twice before turning the cold tap on and off. He came over to my Dad’s desk, picked up the telephone and started dialing. Then he was back on the chair, grabbing his Mum’s arm. She was trying to tell us about her headaches but she couldn’t concentrate and nor could we. That did not really matter as it was obvious that the cause of her headaches was running around the room and that no amount of medication was going to help them.

A bit more than a normal bladder infection.

Wednesday 10th February 1988  Morning Surgery 10:30.


Mrs Valerie Vaughan was on pins. She had just come in and was standing in front of the door which she had not closed properly.
“Take a seat, Mrs Vaughan.”
“I can’t, doctor.” Mrs Vaughan glanced at me, then turned to my Dad and whispered. “I might have to run to the toilet. I am passing water every 5 minutes. It’s really stinging.”
“Mmmm . . .”
“It’s acute cystitis,” she continued.
“A bladder infection?” I asked.
Mrs Vaughn frowned at me. “It is a bit more than a normal bladder infection, young man.”
“It is the same thing, Mrs Vaughan.” My Dad was looking at her records. “Right, last time you came to see me you had terrible headaches. How are they?”
“Fine, doctor.”
“And your heartburn?”
“Fine.” Mrs Vaughan was tapping one foot impatiently. She looked at her watch.
“Oh, and how’s that back of yours?”
“It’s fine. Look, doctor, everything is fine. Can I just have a prescription for this acute, severe cystitis?”
“Of course, Mrs Vaughan. I just wanted to check on how some of your other, recent symptoms were.” My Dad turned to me. “I always try to tie up any loose ends, Dennis.”

My Dad wrote a prescription and Mrs Vaughan hurried away, towards the toilet.

Wart clinic.

Thursday 4th February 1988   Wart clinic 15:00.
We spent the afternoon freezing warts. I love doing that. I tested the stuff out on my own hand first. A small circle of skin went white, like ice. It stung. My dad said it would probably blister tomorrow.

We treated loads of kids. My dad would hold them down while I sprayed the liquid nitrogen. Some of them cried. Some sat quietly and stared moodily at me. If they made a big fuss, my dad would explain that we didn’t need to carry on. He said that the warts would eventually disappear on their own but the mums always insisted on continuing the treatment, even if the kids were screaming.

Big white spots on her tonsils.

Wednesday 20th January 1988   Morning surgery 10:10.
A lady that we saw this morning had not really had much of a sore throat but, after she had cleaned her teeth, noticed big white spots on her tonsils. Of course, she came straight down.
My Dad and I examined her throat. It looked normal.
The patient wasn’t happy about this. My Dad pointed out that it is not easy to examine your own tonsils properly. It is almost as difficult as trying to look into your own ear. The patient did not appreciate his little joke.
In the end, we both had to examine her throat again before she would go away.

Waiting room 3.

Wednesday 13th January 1988   Waiting room 10:00.
The receptionist announced that my Dad was running late. She apologised and explained that he had been dealing with a serious emergency. She wasn’t quite sure when he would finish.
The elderly lady waved one of her sticks in the air. “I am happy to rebook tomorrow, my dear. It’s no good seeing Dr Dennis when he is running late. It will put him in a foul mood and he won’t want to listen to my problems.”
The small, pale boy with tummy ache obviously needed to see my Dad. His Mum explained this to the receptionist.
The thin, fidgety girl with long dark hair looked at her watch again. She muttered under her breath and walked out.


Waiting room 2.

Wednesday 13th January 1988   Waiting room 09:40.
The nurse appeared to be the only person working efficiently this morning. She was taking bloods, calling patients through, one after another, and greeting each with a cheerful ‘Hallo!’
My Dad’s young assistant, Dr Lois Lewis, had been seeing her first patient for over half an hour. She still hadn’t finished.
My Dad had not started surgery yet. He had three patients waiting. His 9 o’clock, the first, was an elderly lady; she had struggled slowly and unsteadily across the waiting room, leaning heavily on her two walking sticks. His second was a small, pale boy with tummy ache, sitting quietly beside his Mum. The third was a thin, fidgety lady with long dark hair who played continuously with her buttons and kept checking her watch.

Hot little children.

Wednesday 6th January 1988   Morning surgery 11:00.
“The whole population seems to think that every child needs to see a doctor every time they get a temperature. I have had enough of seeing hot, little children this week.” My Dad was looking quite hot and bothered himself. It had been a busy week.
“The parents are just worried about meningitis, Dad.”
“Your mother and I never took you or your brother to the doctor when you had a temperature, Dennis.”
“Yes but you’re a doctor, Dad, and Mum’s a nurse.”
“Well I never examined you and, in fact, your mother never actually checked your temperature.”
“You didn’t examine me, even if I was really ill?”
“I don’t think you were ever really ill, Dennis.”
“What about Declan? Is that why he had a burst appendix? Was it because you didn’t examine him?”
“No, Dennis. I have told you and your brother this lots of times. Declan had typical symptoms of food poisoning. No one would have suspected appendicitis.”

Happy New Year!

Friday 1st January 1988 13:00.
My name is Dennis Dennis. I am 13 years old. My dad is Dr Desmond Dennis. He is a family doctor. He wants me to follow in his footsteps. He says that his job is very satisfying.
I don’t really fancy becoming a doctor. I have tried to tell him, but he doesn’t listen. In fact, the more I resist, the more persuasive he becomes.
The other day, I told him that I was thinking of becoming a sports journalist and he said that he had arranged for me to spend some time in the surgery: a bit of work experience.