Everybody should work in the casualty department of their local hospital, if only for one night. All of life is there, red in tooth and craw.
I was a casualty officer for just six months away back in the day. It was my first job as an SHO after my year as a house-officer/intern. Like an infant I learnt more during this period than at any other time subsequently. Firstly, I gained the superpower of being able to send patients home whose treatment episode was concluded. Picture someone with a gashed hand whose gash was now stitched up. Only the most paranoid of doctors would admit such a patient for observation.
On the night of 15th October 1987, when the great gale struck the UK, I was fielding the night duty. There were remarkably few customers that night. As a result, conversation flourished amongst the imprisoned crew. The charge-nurse told me a an awful joke, which has stayed with me ever since:
Q. What is the difference between an oral thermometer and a rectal one?
I had to confess, I didn’t know the answer. With relish he delivered the punchline:
A. It’s the taste!
An interesting case was when I attended to a man of late middle-age who had been beaten up and robbed upon his own doorstep, as he returned from work one evening. He was thankfully only badly bruised and shaken up. He told me that one of his attackers had lobbed a punch at him, had missed, and his punch had broken the glass panel on his front door. The assailant’s hand had been injured by this. I wrote all this down, and prescribed a treatment plan for him, and then proceeded to the next patient.
This young fellow, who was accompanied by a bevy of his mates in leather jackets, had a nasty injury to his right fist. Like all such patients, he claimed to have punched a wall, in a state of frustration. His story did not ring true however as his hand was clearly lacerated by some razor sharp mechanism, rather than contused by blunt injury. I sent him off for an x-ray and went to the office to write stuff up.
While there, I noticed a couple of policemen loitering near reception. They were attending to interview the attack victim when he was fit to go. I motioned them over and whispered my suspicions about the possible identity of the perp’ to them. They nodded sagely.
The young man was back from the radiology department and waiting in his cubicle with his chums. The film showed no glass fragments in his mit, so I was all clear to stitch up his wounds. Messrs Plod assembled just outside the cubicle’s curtain, careful not to betray their presence. Given the number of accomplices, backup had been summoned.
As I tied and cut the last suture, I informed him that there were some people who needed to see him, urgently.
The curtains opened and all in all. it was a very ‘fair cop’, as they say in old British gangster movies.