Doctor Basu

“He’s at it again!”   Muriel Hornbellows announced angrily.  “Half past seven on Sunday morning!  There’s no peace!”

Burton Hornbellows groaned and pulled a pillow over his head.  His wife’s obsession with their neighbour’s DIY activities was more irksome to him than the sound of hammering that vibrated through his bed frame.

True, since Doctor Basu had moved into their quiet Plushbrough street peace had been a much rarer commodity.  The Doctor’s neighbor concluded that his complete makeover of the little terraced house had to end eventually, so they tolerated the sawing, the grinding, and endless deliveries from lorries, even the ones that disgorged complete wagons-full of concrete through the good doctor’s front door.  From the evidence of splintered floorboards in his backyard they deduced that he had filled his old cellar and laid the ground floor to concrete.  This despite publican Harry Bugle’s observation that, if the four lorry loads of soil leaving the property were anything to go by, the depth of the cellar must have been increased rather than filled.  There was the ironwork – a substantial load of steel joist – after delivery of which Basu’s windows flashed with sparks from acetylene cutters for a month and a half.  Then, finally, the roof.

The original roof had been veiled by scaffolding and green tarpaulins from the day the doctor arrived, and everyone assumed that the old one had been beyond redemption, in keeping with their own experience because every roof in the terraced road was composed of old slates, and almost all of them leaked.    So that was the explanation, wasn’t it?

Muriel Hornbellows was unconvinced.   “Why don’t t’ Planning Department do nothing?”  She complained.  “He must be doin’ thousands of illegal fings in there, as we can’t see!”

In fact, the Planning Department had done something, in the person of their local officer, Barry Muntjac, who performed one of his surprise visits to the house one May morning.  Doctor Basu answered his knock.  “Make an appointment,”  The doctor advised him.

“I don’t have to make appointments,”  Barry retorted.

“Talk to your superior,”  Said the doctor.  The door slammed shut.

To be fair to Mr Muntjac, he did approach the County Planning Officer, but the result gave him little satisfaction.   Resources, his superior told him, were scarce at the moment, and a small matter of a purely internal property renovation, which was obviously desperately required, was of little concern.

There were reasons for the doctor’s neighbours to bite their tongues, not least of which was grudging admiration, for he was working alone at what everyone supposed was a major building project behind those closed green curtains.  Also, as their local medical practitioner, Doctor Basu had a certain power over them.  Should they be too vocal in their complaints, they feared repercussions.  He ran a National Health Service surgery; dissenters could be struck off.  

And anyway, it had to end soon, didn’t it?

After four years, it hadn’t. 

“Look at ‘im!”  Muriel Hornbellows muttered as an aside to her neighbour Clara Gusset as the slightly built, bespectacled doctor shuffled deferentially past them on the far side of the street.  “I don’t know where he gets the energy!”

“Well, he do save a lot in prescriptions what he don’t write.”   Clara opined.  “An’ there’s a powerful lot as were regular customers for ‘un afore he came, who’s on no bugger’s list but St. Peter’s now.” 

“That’s true.”  Muriel acknowledged.   “He’s lost another one.  Susan Garflute passed on t’other night.”

“No!”

“I’m tellin’ you.  One day, like that..”  Muriel made a vertical gesture with her hand.  “Next day…”

“No!”

“She only went to see him for a boil on her neck.”

In spite of its small population, Plushbrough had become a Klondike for the undertaking profession, and three new parlours had opened since the benevolently smiling Doctor Basu had taken over medical practice in the town.   His snap diagnoses were the stuff of legend – invariably inspired, and frequently wrong.   His keen diagnostic eye identified the only epidemic of Dengue Fever ever to strike an English country town, though he had to stoutly resist a visiting second opinion’s verdict, that of common influenza.   When Albert Sloopwater developed sickness and a cough the local water company had to counter Basu’s diagnosis of cholera, an exercise that cost them several hundreds of thousands of pounds.  

The wheels that rolled towards Basu’s nemesis may have ground slowly, but their destination was obvious.  At the time of Muriel Hornbellows’ Sunday morning observation a public enquiry into Basu’s competence had been in progress for some time.  There was an inevitability about the verdict it would reach, and everyone felt sure his days were soon to be numbered.  Yet there were sympathetic voices: his gentle charisma had built him a substantial vote of support and public sympathy.

“Yer house must be coming on, Doctor dear!”  Hettie Boosey challenged him, as he eyed a large television in the window of TV World speculatively.  

“Nearly finished!”  Was Basu’s smiling response.

“I expect it’ll look marvellous when it’s done.”  Hettie was never shy of an opportunity.  “You’ll have to invite me round, dear.  I’m good with wallpaper, you know.”

Speculation was rife.  Whenever the doctor was known to be in surgery, a small gathering would form outside his home, probing for a peek between those thick green curtains.

“It’ll be minimalist, certainly;”   Gwen Hawkes opined.  “He’s a minimalist man, you can see that, can’t you?”

Jack Spencer was of a different opinion:  “More of a brutalist approach, I’d say.  And industrial – yes, industrialist!”  Jack saw himself as a man with a superior artistic sense.  “All that concrete, you know.  And a lot of sheet metal he had delivered the other day, didn’t he?”

While the British Medical Association minutely scrutinised Doctor Basu’s unusual record, his neighbours watched his remodelling efforts with equal intensity.  But everyone missed the two large lorries that slipped quietly up to his house at three-thirty one morning.  They made their deliveries silently, they departed unnoticed. 

The next morning Doctor Basu found two visitors waiting at his surgery.   One wore a police uniform.

“We’ve been looking into your past, Doctor.”  The suited man from the BMA told him severely.  “And you haven’t got one, have you?  No medical training, no qualifications, and no previous experience as a general practitioner; although we suspect you are the Mr. Banarjee who passed himself off as a consultant cardiologist at St. Bretts in 1998.  Anything to say?”

Doctor Basu had nothing to say.  His patients were sent home and so, after lengthy questioning and a successful application for bail, was he.   It had been a momentous day – not least because the scaffolding that hid his house’s new roof had been peeled away that very morning, and the roof it revealed, an apex of gleaming steel, was spectacular!  But events had moved on, and the eyes that now accused him with such determination barely glanced at it.  Instead, they were focussed entirely upon Doctor Basu.  They watched him disdainfully as he entered his front door, locking it behind him.

“I told you so!”   Hettie Boosey said triumphantly.

“I knew right from the start!”  Said Clara Gusset.  “He’s a wrong  ‘un, that ‘un, and no mistake!”

“Maybe us’ll get some peace now!”  Muriel Hornbellows said, gratefully.

She was mistaken.   Enjoying the midnight silence and wrapped in sleep Muriel did not witness the opening of that steel roof – no-one did.  No-one saw as it spread its steel sections like the petals of a gigantic flower.

The rumble began at two o’clock.   Merely a threat at first, like distant thunder, it grew to an earth-shattering, ear-splitting crescendo.   What at first was a familiar vibration in Burton’s bed frame became a shaking of epic proportions, so violent Muriel could not keep her feet to get to her window – and this alone was fortunate because had she done so the white light would surely have blinded her.

Mortar loosened, glass splintered, chimney stacks tottered.  The parked cars in the street were tossed into the air.  From the eye of the cataclysm in a final orgy of quaking noise the rocket, with Doctor Basu seated in a capsule at its head,  rose; slowly at first, but with ever-increasing velocity.  The little houses that had flanked the residence of the doctor were flattened like a procession of dominoes, and Muriel, along with Hettie, Clara, Jack, Gwen and many others did finally find the peace they had been seeking.

So the undertakers of Plushbrough rubbed their hands together, ready to reap the good doctor’s final harvest, and alone of all in his street, Burton Hornbellows – saved by his iron bedstead – stood gazing dumbly at the vast crater that was all that remained of Doctor Basu’s house.  It took him a while, shocked as he was, to understand the meaning of the concrete pit within that crater, but at last he found an answer.  He raised his eyes to the heavens and he almost laughed.

No-one else would attest to the logical explanation for that huge explosion,and no expert eyes were present to watch the trace of Basu’s rocket as it ascended through the night sky.  The catastrophe was identified instead as a bomb that had exploded prematurely, and Basu, though his remains were never found, dismissed as a fanatic.

A strange radar signal remained on screens at several tracking stations in the northern hemisphere for some days, but it was slowly fading and, with other more important projects to pursue, was soon forgotten by the scientific community.

As for Basu, I cannot tell you – I simply don’t know.  Fanatic he was, of a kind, whose whole life had led him towards one moment of glory between Earth and the stars.   That his crude, almost comic home-built launch platform actually worked is beyond doubt.  Did he survive?  If he did, for how long?  Is his new surgery on Mars diagnosing Dengue Fever among a new list of little green patients there?  We’ll probably never find out.  But, sorry as I am for those whom his extreme focus destroyed, I sort of like to think of him in his module among the panoply of the stars, polishing steam from his glasses so he might better see Jupiter or Neptune, with his face set in that gentle, respectful smile.

© Frederick Anderson 2021.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content

Image Credits:  Features Image:  Muhammed Hassan from Pixabay

Milky way:  Free Photos from Pixabay

My Mug Runneth Over…

This post contains rather more personal detail than I am accustomed to disclose.   If you are uncomfortable with this, or if you’re having breakfast, you might want to move on.   So why am I writing it?  I’ll take the peripheral issue first, to give you a flavour of what follows:  I have been diagnosed as having COVID-19.   

How did it happen?  Good question: was I looking the other way?

 This is the story so far, but first, this recommendation to all ye of advancing years.  Before you go to bed each night, be sure you have two empty coffee mugs on your bedside table..

Without being too specific, at a very inconvenient 3:30am the other morning.  I began losing blood.  Not a little blood, you understand – no, not ‘little’ at all.  When I had committed an estimated leg-full to the drainage system Family Team (self and wife – you’ll encounter a few ‘teams’ in this post) called for an ambulance.

“How much blood?”  The call centre operator was very polite.  “Two mugs full?”

“A lot!”

“Yes, but would you say two mugs full?”

Now, I’ve had similar conversations before and they don’t end well.  “A considerable amount,” I repeat.

“Two mugs full?”

“Shall we say  two pints?”

“Is that two mugs full?”

The ambulance guys were great.  They whisked me briskly to A & E with lots of salty water filling the vacant leg and left me there, gurneyed but unafraid.  I should have been afraid.  I should have been very…well, you get the point.

At this juncture I was given a COVID-19 test.  There was no subterfuge, I was told the elongated cotton bud that was thrust into the back of my throat was a COVID test.  It lasted less than two seconds, during which it induced a gag reflex. 

I was examined.  It was agreed I should be examined more, so, with that in mind, the Admissions Team transferred me to the Surgical Team, and treatment took its course.   A 200ml bargain bag of blood later I was told I had tested ‘positive for COVID’.

I cannot begin to tell you how my day was brightened at that point.  When, at 74 years old with a heart condition and in the lea of an abdominal hemorrhage you are informed that you have a serious virus, one that is particularly dangerous to the elderly with underlying medical conditions, your smile becomes somewhat forced.  In practical terms it meant I was to be instantly transferred to the COVID Team in their Isolation Pod, where I would languish for a subsequent 18 hours ‘under observation’.

My treatment in the hands of the hospital staff was excellent.  They were courteous even when I was being difficult. I did not expect them to understand me.  I am (I will be kind to myself) of a somewhat ‘driven’ nature.

It wasn’t their fault.  They had to leave me, initially in one of two occupied beds in a six-bed ‘ward’, then later in a very cleanable suite of my own, to have that kind of ‘silent fun’ that goes with being a writer, watching and listening as the stories came pouring around me like flooding metaphors, made all the more glorious by the media hype that surrounds COVID.

So, moving seamlessly (almost) to the present tense…

The atmosphere is, shall we say, convivial?    Lengthy social gatherings in the corridors, with conversational meat as diverse as last night’s party, or the junior doctor’s forthcoming birthday, interspersed with visitors from the outside, such as the bagman for Pathology, who complains of his twelve and a half hour working day.  

Then there is the Corridor Evangelist, upon whose approach all talk is respectfully muted:

“Hast thou tested for haemoglobin, child?”

“Yeth, Doctor, I have.”

“Then blessed be.  And his BP, was it worthy?”

“Yeth, Doctor.”

“Blessed be.  Go thou, and attend the sluice as it has been instructed to you.”

“Yeth, doctor.”

The ‘Loud Nurse’, of whose qualifications I am unsure, fills in those gaps when other activity drops.   She is the information database for her ward and a precious component of the entertainment spectrum.

Echoing through the corridor:  “She needs the lavatory.  Shall we use a commode?”

“You just go in there, dear.  I’ll wait outside.”

“Alice, you’d better not use those.  No.  Alice?  NO, ALICE!!”

“His sister’s in Australia, apparently.  That’s his wife, she was married to…”

Any unwelcome cessation of noise is filled by bleeps.  Machines are everywhere, and they all bleep.  The corridors bristle with them so pilotinging a gurney from room to room is a special skill.  The porters are clearly ex stunt-drivers.  In the silence of the night shift I’ve heard rumours the machines (which are all mobile) slip quietly away to practice formation dance routines in the car park – I don’t know if that’s true.

What about the food?  No, I’m not going to be uncomplimentary about the food!  It was very good, with the exception of the ‘mushroom soup’ – a form of plasma with harder bits which spoke to me of a past generation:  “Darling, if you’d only tasted me in my glory years!”   Then a couple of little whimsies, which might be true of any dining situation:  who decreed that soft toast should be accompanied by pre-wrapped pats of butter that have been cooled to -80 degrees, at which temperature they become as spreadable as a house brick.   And when does a dessert cease to be a dessert?  When it’s served in a stupid little plastic container with a rip-off lid!

I’d like to close with an observation that will be offensive to some – although, let’s face it, if I haven’t offended you yet, I probably never can.  Four doctors looked after me: in Admissions, a compact, very precise Asian guy, on the wards a doctor from the Sub-Continent, another from the UK, and a Consultant, who was also British.  Each had their own distinctive approach, but they had this in common: they were thorough and professional, and what struck me, overwhelmingly, was the way their national differences and characteristics dovetailed, with distinct unique advantages.  A true ‘Team‘. We are really very privileged to have them with us.

So here I am.  COVID-19 tested and found to be positive.  I remain in self-isolation for another five days, and do I feel different?  A little headachey, maybe, and a little sore of throat, but there are other issues, too, aren’t there?  I’ll try to keep you posted as the week proceeds.

“Do you believe in the sacred supremacy of the COVID, brother?”

“Yeth, Doctor.”

“Blessed be.”

If you have any questions concerning this post, please use the ‘Comments’. I’ll do my best to answer.

Oh, Doctor!

Brothers and Sisters!

Today’s moment for thought is dedicated to our wonderful British National Health Service.  The envy of the world, it performs a sterling function in the community, for which I do not feel sufficient appreciation is given.  As you know, illness is generally suffered by old people, and old people can be notoriously difficult to deal with, especially in times of stress, so I think doctors generally, and nurses especially, show incredible patience.

But…

Doctor – dear nameless doctor ( because I never get to see the same one twice) – why do you need to know what’s wrong with me before you see me?   Why, when I call to make an appointment, do I get fed this line:

“For what reason do you want to see a doctor?  The doctors have requested that I ask you this.”

“Er…why?”   I presume my answer – this information, if I give it, will be passed on to the medical practitioner I am booked to see.  Does this person have special treatment kits they need to remember to bring for my particular complaint?  Or is it a matter of fine tuning?  The length of the consultation might be pertinent:  five minutes for anything above the waist, seven or eight minutes for anything involving removal of trousers.   Three minutes for a sick note, four minutes for flu, twelve minutes for a liver, and so on.

This is a receptionist.  She is not a doctor, she is not qualified.  I may have met her before, or not. She may have the phone on speaker, I don’t know.  Is my confidentiality being respected; are my details being broadcast for the amusement of the office, kept for blackmail purposes, for transmission to insurance companies, drug suppliers, the Russians?  There are certain things I would rather not discuss with anyone other than a qualified practitioner, and why should I?

However, not wishing to seem obstructive, I have come up with a solution that should be agreeable to all.

I have made a list of medical conditions I am at all likely to suffer and given each an easy to remember code.  I have used as my key Stations on the East Coast Main Line railway timetable.   I am ready to distribute this list to every doctor in the practice, so that, for example, when I tell the receptionist:

  • London King’s Cross is throbbing a bit
  •  I am failing to stop at Newark North Gate (or occasionally missing the end of the platform)
  • I’m still at Peterborough
  • Edinburgh Waverley hasn’t worked for three weeks now, or
  • The very thought of Berwick Upon Tweed is agony –

she will be able to relay this information in a form that respects my privacy and is at once easy for the doctor to understand.

The National Health Service is very good, but it tends to be a bit mercenary.  For example, apparently the last time our local surgery advertised for a new doctor they got a zero response.  Nobody wanted to sample the pleasant coolness and invigorating rain of County Durham.   The standard NHS explanation for such difficulties is always centred around money.  “We are under-funded”, they say, “which is why our doctors migrate to other countries where they can earn more.”   Could it be that these brave  doctors want to surf, and swim – to bathe themselves in a balmy sunlit glade somewhere?  Is it possible they simply want to get warm?

There are, however, a few – a very few – areas where, in my personal experience, financial improvements might help to oil the wheels, so to speak.

Dear Jeremy Hunt (Minister for Health), please give these matters some consideration:

  1. In a hospital with ten lifts (elevators), it would be preferable if more than two were working, especially if one of those is being used to transport patients to and from the operating theatres.  If there are times when an elderly person feels disadvantaged – or even, dare I say, humiliated – lying on a gurney in an inadequate hospital gown must surely be one.  Sharing a lift with a full load of ward visitors and their children is, for some less exhibitionist types, a very good reason to choose euthanasia.
  1. If the NHS is truly a seven-days-a-week service, why are almost all procedures booked for Monday to Friday and in ‘office hours’?
  1. Allowing people to sit or lie about in corridors is untidy and generally bad for your image. I thought at first these individuals were homeless persons, but it turned out they were just waiting for a free lift (elevator).
  1. In the above stated negative lift (elevator) situation, installing the cardiac ward on the fifth floor might be regarded as:   a.  an ingenious solution to patient overload, or b.  a sick joke.
  1. Adequate signage is essential. In hospitals please reconsider the seemingly ingenious method of direction which instructs visitors to follow coloured lines painted on the floor when searching for their appropriate department.  Allocating a green line to STI Clinic and a blue line to Maternity can cause real difficulties for colour blind patients.

Dear patient, dear (dare I say?) geriatric patient, be – well – patient, I suppose.  You may feel the NHS’s constant bleating about inadequate resources is inconsistent with your consultant’s Aston Martin in the hospital car park; you may feel victimised as your buttocks numb to their fourth hour on that plastic waiting room chair, or slightly patronised when a young intern tells you that persons of your weight and sedentary habits must expect to start bleeding out every now and then.

Remember he is overworked, and in the front line of a battle with an increasing army of the aged and the drunk.

What would we do without these selfless people?  More seriously, what will we do when they are gone?   For bad as it is, the NHS is under threat from rampant private interests who would have us all pay the real price for our medical care.

And who, in creaking austerity Britain, could afford THAT?