This story, first published in “The People’s Friend” in 1913, was subtitled “His Queer Patients And Their Ways”.
It was attributed to someone named “A.M.”, which could either mean they were an author so well known that only their initials were required, or that they were a member of staff. The truth is we’re really not sure!
It contains a lot more Scots dialect than we would probably publish in the magazine today, and the story seems to end rather abruptly . . . but we’re big fans!
My university days being finished, it was my lot to become assistant to an old practitioner in a rural part of Scotland, and I would herewith give the reader a glimpse of the country doctor’s life and experiences.
I, the new assistant, on the morning of my arrival, set off with my new “chief” to be formally introduced to the people and have a look round the locality.
We got into the doctor’s little car, which was a source of much interest to the children, who always gathered round it and gazed in open-mouthed wonder. ‘Midst their very audible whispers of “Oh, there’s the new doctor; see whit a funny hat he’s got,” we drove off.
Our first call was at old Mistress Sharp’s, whose son had been ailing.
We entered the kitchen and found that worthy lady in the midst of her household duties, being busily engaged cleaning the fire-irons.
“Lord, doctor, it’s you,” she exclaimed on seeing us; “I wisna’ expectin’ ye sae early. But wha’s this ye’ve got wi’ ye the day?”
“Oh, this gentleman, Mrs Sharp, is my new assistant.”
“Whit! Anither new yin. Ma certy, bit ye gang through a wheen o’ them. However,” addressing me, “I’m rale pleased to hae met ye.”
“And how is John getting on?” interposed the doctor.
“Oh, deed, he’s no getting on very weel ava. Thae pains in his jints are aye troubling him. Bit I wis gie bad masel’, doctor, an’ I took some o’ the bottle and I’m a rale heap the better o’t.”
“Well, I’m very pleased to hear that,” said the doctor. “Remember to be good to John. Give him plenty of good nourishing food; eggs and such things.”
“Guidness gracious me, doctor, an’ whar dae ye think I’m gaun get eggs at this time o’ the year?”
“What do you keep all those hens for, if you can’t get eggs?” queried the doctor.
“But the hens are stoppit layin’ noo, an’ I canna’ complain, for they’ve din awfa weel this year.”
“Well, you’ll be as good to John as you can, Mrs Sharp.”
“I will, doctor, I will.”
We now proceeded on our way over roads which did not strike me as being altogether idea for motoring.
We passed a farm with its usual crowd of hens feeding in the middle of the road. One of these, in a vain endeavour to get out of the way, managed to get its neck under the wheel, and when I looked back it was making a few last giddy but futile attempts to regain its equilibrium, whilst the other hens were running in all directions and making a fearful noise.
The unusual disturbance amongst the poultry brought out the mistress of the farm, who when she saw her dead pullet, shook her first after the fast disappearing car, but what she said was lost in space.
The incident, however, did not seem to annoy the doctor, who seemed to take the matter as an everyday occurrence, and smilingly remarked that he would probably get the chicken sent on and the account enclosed.
Our next stop was at a farm called “The Rig”.
As we approached the house, the farmer’s wife, not being used to the unusual noise of a car, came to the door busily engaged drying her hands and with rather a startled look on her face.
When she recognised the occupant she seemed more at ease, but called out as we stopped, “Guid save us, doctor, ye nearly frichtit me oot o’ a year’s grouth wi’ that engine o’ yours.
“I’m shair a nice bit pownie is faur mair like an auld man like yersel’.”
“Perhaps you are right, Mistress Baxter, but how is Jean to-day?”
“Oh, she’s rale weel noo, thenk ye, an’ I think she’s in the betterin’ wey. I’m juist gaein’ her whitever’s gaun noo, an’ she seems to be thrivin’ better than ever.”
“That’s good news, and I hope she continues to improve. You’ll just go on with the medicine she’s been having.”
“A’richt, doctor. I’m thinkin’ we’re gaun to hae a chinge in the weather. Dae ye see hoo the craws are a’ croodin’ thegither. It’s a warnin’! I never see craws dae that but I prepare for a chinge, an’ oftener than not it comes.
“They’re unco wise birds the craws, and as auld-fashioned as you or me.”
After leaving the farm, we stopped at a thatched cottage by the roadside and went in to see a little invalid who had been seriously ill for several weeks.
The mother had a care-worn look as she welcomed us, and no wonder, I thought, on seeing the poor little invalid in bed.
He was emaciated to a degree, and it was only too evident he hadn’t much longer to live.
He didn’t seem to enjoy our coming very much, and fretted a bit at sight of us. The least thing annoyed him, and he rather resented the thermometer being put in his cheek.
On getting a penny from the doctor, however, and when his mother exclaimed, “Noo, Tam, dinna be nesty,” the little fellow submitted calmly to be examined.
As we took the reading on the thermometer it was pitiful to watch the anxious expression on the mother’s sad face. She asked how he was now, and when the doctor only shook his head, she sank into a chair and burst into tears.
It was then the real experience of the old practitioner became evident.
He spoke words of comfort to that broken-hearted mother which probably had more effect than any medicine he had ever prescribed. He spoke with such effect that the poor being was wonderfully consoled and resigned before we said good-bye.
It is in little tragedies like these where the old and experienced practitioner makes use of his “healing art” to very great advantage, and where his experience tells.
Our road now took us across the moor, where there was heather as far as the eye could see, and the only habitations were the farm-houses which were dotted here and there over the landscape.
The sheep grazing peacefully on the long undulating slopes looked up in wonder as we passed as though resenting this unusual intrusion.
The car was now left at the roadside, while we had to wend our way on foot to a shepherd’s cot which stood in the middle of the moor, and was too difficult of access to drive up to.
The patient here was an old fellow who was troubled with a chronic cough and, in his own words, felt gie dune that day.
On my being introduced to him he said, “Weel, doctor! I’ve aye a welcome for the new yins. but, at the same time, I’ve a safter side for the auld yin, and it’s him I like to see best.
“But doctor, ye maun gie me something for this cough. It’s been rale bad for the last week or twa, an’ at nicht I hinna as muckle win’ as wid blaw oot a caunle.”
“Well, that’s bad,” said the doctor. “We’ll need to see what can be done for you. I think we shall just renew the medicine you had before. By the way, do you find that a little brandy gives you any relief?”
“Deed aye, doctor, it often relieves me wonderfi. Man, but you ken the medicine that I need an’ I’m gled ye’ve suggested it because the auld wife’ll no hear tell o’t.
“Ye micht jist drap into the kitchen in the bygaun an’ tell her ye think I’d be the better o’t. That should smooth things ower a bit,”
This was promised, and the old fellow seemed quite pleased. On approaching the old lady, however, she didn’t seem to hold quite the same view of the case as her husband.
“He’s just shammin’,” she contended, “an’ has been prayin’ I’ll warrant ye that ye wid order some speerits. I don’t think he’s needin’ them ava.
“Hooever, if you say it, doctor, then he maun just get it, although I think masel’ he’s faur frae needing onything of the kind.”
We left the old lady unconvinced doubtless in her own mind, but promising to do as instructed.
Just about to proceed on our way, we were interrupted by a little fellow shouting after us and making gesticulations for us to wait.
He came up, cap in hand, and quite breathless. On the doctor enquiring what was the matter, he said, “My faither wants to see if ye can gie him a worm poother for a dug.”
This seemed to be an unusual request even in the doctor’s experience, and, turning to me, he said smilingly, “You see, for country practice, one must have rather a varied experience.”
He politely informed the boy that he was sorry he was unable to supply his request, and the messenger set off home again evidently very much disappointed.
Our next stop was at Mistress Wilson’s, who beckoned to us from her house, which was a little distance off the road.
We went up, and when she explained the symptoms, the learned advice was that she should take some castor oil.
This news was greeted with great laughter by her daughter, a grown-up girl, who laughingly exclaimed, “That’s fine, doctor. My mither’s rale guid at orderin’ ither folk tae tak’ medicine, but she disna’ care aboot takin’ it hersel’.
“Oh, hoo my faither will laugh when he hears o’t!”
Mistress Wilson only smiled, and further requested us to have a look at “the bairn”, which she thought had the “hives”.
This is a disease peculiar to Scotch children, I think, and nobody knows what it is; neither mothers nor doctors. It covers all the little ailments peculiar to children, and is almost invariably treated with that favourite household remedy, castor oil.
We now entered on the last part of our journey. This took us to the village smith’s, whose heart was “bad”.
The old fellow, white-haired and muscular-looking, even in his old age, knew of his condition, and seemed quite resigned.
To the doctor’s hearty “Well, Jimmie, and how are you to-day?” he answered, “Oh, strugglin’ alang, doctor; struggling alang.”
The pulse was examined, and he asked what we thought of it.
“Oh, it’s going along fairly,” said the doctor.
“An’ dae ye think ye’ll can tide me past the New Year, doctor?” he queried.
“We’ll try, Jimmie; we’ll try.”
“Aye, that’s jist always the wey ye pit me aff, doctor; but ye’ll no’ can pit me aff muckle longer. Fine I ken it. I’ve reached my Waterloo.”
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