Medical Matters: Three heads bowed around a baby with a special present
‘Is that you, Dr Pat? This is Angela. Look, I’m really sorry to disturb you on Christmas morning, but I wonder could you have a look at Tadgh?”
It was 10.30am, which wasn’t bad going. This was my first Christmas Day on call in a Donegal village. I had been told that on Christmas Day, you might get one call or you might get none, but at least it was a reasonable hour and a cute little baby.
“That’s no bother, Angela. What’s wrong with him?”
“He hasn’t done anything.”
For a moment I was lost in thought. What was an eight-week- old baby supposed to do?
“Wees or poos?”
“Poos. Three days now. I think he’s not too comfortable.”
We arranged to meet at the health centre in half an hour. I put down the phone and it rang again.
“You’re to come out to Séamus Magee.” She had a strident voice and sounded bossy.
“Séamus Magee? I don’t think I know him.”
“You never saw him before .You’re to come out.”
Several questions jostled in my mind. What was the problem? Why couldn’t he come to the phone himself? Why the house call?
“What’s wrong with him?”
“He’s been constipated for six hours.”
New questionsA host of new questions jostled, clamouring for an outing. I could see why he sent somebody else to the phone.
“How old is he?”
“Is he usually in good health?”
“No,” she snapped. Then she added triumphantly, “He’s on tablets for blood pressure.”
There was no arguing.
“Can he come down to the health centre in about 45 minutes?
The silence down the line was icy.
“You mean you can’t come here. Don’t you know it’s Christmas? We’ve a lot to be doing, you know.”
I held the receiver away from my ear and breathed hard. All the things I could have done. But I had to pick a job where I was arguing with the wife from hell about constipation. And there were two of them to see. Constipation squared. What were the odds of that happening?
“Now,” I said, in my most businesslike manner, “I really can’t do much for him in the house, and all the other sick people are going down to the surgery, so I can see you in 40 minutes .Thirty-five actually.”
There followed another glacial pause. Then she attacked again: “Have you much experience of this?”
“Lots,” I lied.
Ten minutes later I was driving to the health centre. It was a lovely frosty morning, with a clear blue sky and the sun twinkling off the sea. A cheerful crowd was coming from the church and some hardy souls were making their way down to the beach for the Christmas swim. I felt like the only person in the world working.
Angela arrived with baby Tadgh and daddy James .They were nice hippyish Donegal people, first-time parents, and their worry was obvious. Tadgh smiled at me trustingly.
“We didn’t want to ring you, Dr Pat, but we were so worried about it.”
Then, as she lifted Tadgh from the baby seat, we got it. An unmistakable whiff. Angela undid the clothes and then the nappy as our three heads bowed about the baby. There in the nappy lay the first Christmas present Tadgh ever gave his grateful parents. It was a nice present for me too, and Tadgh smiled and wriggled contentedly, obviously enormously pleased with himself. We laughed, shook hands, fixed him up, bundled him up, wished each other a happy Christmas, and off they went.
Now where was Mr Six Hours? I wondered if they were the sort of people who would call me if they got delayed and decided that they were not. So I found his number in the book and rang him. And got her.
“This is the doctor. Is there a problem?”
“No,” she snapped. “We don’t need you. He’s all right now. No thanks to you.”
“Well,” I said, as sweetly as I could, “In my experience these things often resolve themselves.” She hung up.
When I got to the car I found that somebody had left a bottle of whiskey on the seat. I breathed in the fresh sea air. So that made three presents altogether. It wasn’t such a bad job after all.
Dr Pat Harrold is a GP in Co Tipperary