(Part one is here)
I had no luck with the locum agency, so I rang my old boss Mary, whom I had worked for two years before and had got on very well with. She was also Australian but much truer to stereotype! She listened to my sob-story and even over the phone, I could hear her eyes lifting heavenward as she admitted knowing my antagonist socially and only too well. “Poor, foolish Danny” she lamented. As it happened, she had a vacancy for a registrar at her hospital, and I was welcome to start Monday Morning. My low mood immediately started to lift. For some reason, all of the most important and helpful people in my life have been called Mary.
The thing about revisiting one’s old haunts is that everything, and most everyone has changed. The Consultants were mostly the same, with a few new faces to get used to, but the juniors were all fresh. There was the outrageously Welsh Sion, who was married to a ballerina. There was Murph, the sensible but adventurous second generation Irishman (like myself), and there was the lovely Leela who was a perfect lady. There were many other splendid young doctors too, but I forget their details. I stayed there for two to three months until a substantive replacement took over from me. Then I sampled the locum job market again.
Lo and behold, I was offered work back at the big city teaching hospital where I had spent a year before. I was taken on as an acting senior registrar this time, which was a hat-tip to my greater experience. This was where I met my second nemesis: Annie.
Annie was a very devout but joyless puritan, and I guess she won few souls for Christ by her example. She looked older than her early middle age, what with her school-ma’amish twin-set and pearls and her enormous optical glazing designed to camouflage her narrow-set eyes which blinked uncannily regularly and very fast. The lenses were steel rimmed and often reflected the glare from the ceiling lights disconcertingly.
I had form with Annie. I had accompanied her during an operating list with Mike, a senior registrar. As the morning wore on, I became increasingly tired of her continuous mithering and negativity about everything in the observable universe in general, and the clinical situation in particular. I eventually snapped, and said to her “Hey Dr Annie, I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a really good feeling about this anaesthetic!! I delivered this with my most winning and sunny forced smile. I was being facetiously facile, of course, but it worked.
Mike, who was gowned up for some sterile procedure, creased up and had to leave the room to guffaw safely elsewhere. Annie’s face meanwhile blinked a lot more than usual, and then gave the “DOES NOT COMPUTE” signal. The rest of the list proceeded as it should, with simplicity and common sense. Annie had been safely discombobulated.
On another occasion, I accompanied Annie as she visited her high risk obstetric cases who were scheduled for caesarean section the next morning. These women were all afflicted with serious cardiovascular, respiratory or endocrine conditions but were also carrying their babies to term, and needed senior medical help to survive delivery. Alas, they were all mostly of a hardy, chopsy, working-class background, and not the sort that Annie invited round to supper. Losing her patience with their cheeky obstreperousness, Annie said to one of these ladies “Listen dearie, one of us has a 50% chance of dying tomorrow, and it isn’t me!”* As bedside manners go, that struck me as a bit harsh. The patient was left speechless, and we passed on to the next.
Annie was terribly OCD. She would check through all the anaesthetic charts filled out by the juniors from the day before. Any deficiencies at all would surely get addressed. Around 2pm the day after your on-call, your bleep would always go off. We jokingly called it the “Number of the Beast”. It was Annie inviting you to your very own personal inquisition in her office. There she rejoiced in telling you that you had misspelt some drug, or missed out some or other datum. No amount of remorse seemed to satisfy her. All in all, it was a very dispiriting exercise.
I was summoned to her court after a few weeks of my locum re-visitation. As I entered the room she was busy making notes about something and she kept me waiting nervously. Then she looked up and flourished a crumpled and dog-eared piece of paper at me. “Do you recognise this?” she said. I saw the messy writing, barely improved since kindergarten, and the ink blots, and the over-minimalist sparseness of the recordings.
It was a fair cop. “That would be one of my my charts from yesterday”, I confessed, with my head held low, guessing something bad was about to happen.
“I’m sorry Dr Burrito, but this is totally unacceptable!” she began. “You are a senior registrar now, and I deem you unfit to continue working at this great institution while you practise chart-keeping at such a low standard.” I gulped.
Her eyes softened to a simulacrum of compassion. “I’m sorry BB, but I am going to have to let you go!”*
(As I only held a locum position, she was quite within her rights to terminate my employment at any moment. I just hadn’t expected it could happen so suddenly.)
Shocked and awed, I asked her if she was perhaps pulling my leg, but she confirmed that I had to get changed, collect my belongings, and leave the premises immediately, or she would have to call security. As it happened, I left so fast, you couldn’t see me for dust, but I felt quite traumatised by this unexpected change in my fortunes. I returned to my empty and soul-less flat to contemplate my options. None of my friends were answering their phones. I felt very alone, again.
A year or two later, I was awakened from my nightmares by the unmistakable dulcent whining* of dear Annie coming from my alarm-clock-radio. She was being interviewed by John Humphreys on Radio 4’s Today program. She and her team had performed serial MRI scans on pregnant women and had conclusively shown that pregnancy causes women’s brains to shrink somewhat during pregnancy. She was evidently very proud of her scientific achievement, but I remember sleepily thinking to myself that she had not won any friends amongst the feminazi sisterhood.
*The closest thing I have found on YouTube to Annie’s speaking voice is Orville the Duck singing, ahem, “Annie’s Song”: