A Place Of Healing – 08

Lightening crackled over the hills of Skerrabost and great barrels of thunder rolled down the glen. Driving rain pelted the windows of Stanecroft House and the wind howled at the door and moaned down the chimney.

Cassie sat doing a jigsaw with Jess at the kitchen table. Nearby was a hurricane lamp and a box of candles in case the electricity went out.

Andrew put down his book and joined them. He sat close to Jess.

She was frightened, he knew. He’d never experienced such powerful weather. He thought of the little metal plaque. Fraser MacKenzie, lost at sea.

God help anyone in peril this night.

The telephone rang.

“Yes, Doctor Shelley speaking.” Andrew listened. “Your daughter is fourteen. Could it not be normal stomach cramps?”

He listened again.

“All day? And she’s been sick? Very well, Mrs Barton, I’ll come. About ten minutes.”

Cassie and Jess both looked at him.

“That was a Mrs Barton. Her daughter has had stomach pain for over twenty-four hours. I’ll have to go. It’s not far.”

“Be careful, Andrew.” Cassie was torn between her fear for Andrew and not wishing to alarm Jess. “I’ll get your bag and a torch.”

The street was deserted. No lights at the Stanecroft Hotel. Even hardened drinkers wouldn’t venture out on a night like this.

Only fools and doctors, he thought.

Even at full speed his windscreen wipers could only give him quick views of the road, but he was hardly likely to meet much traffic.

He drove past the harbour. He could make out shapes of boats bouncing on the black water even in their protected anchorage and could hear the boom of waves against the harbour wall with white sheets of water bursting over the top.

He found the house a minute later, a stone cottage with the front door already opening as he got out of the car.

A man and a woman welcomed him in. Annie Barton was a fair-haired woman in her forties.

“Thank you for coming, Doctor. We hoped it was just stomach ache and it would pass but it just got worse. We’re sorry to trouble you.”

Her husband stood behind her. Andrew could see the anxiety of the man.

“You did right to call me, Mrs Barton. Now, let’s have a look at Sarah.”

Andrew went into the small sitting-room. Sarah was lying on a floral patterned sofa, wearing pyjamas with a tartan rug over her and a hot-water bottle clasped to her stomach.

Andrew kneeled at her side.

“Hello, Sarah. I’m Doctor Shelley. I want to examine your tummy to see what the problem is. OK?”


Mrs Barton removed the rug. Andrew gently pressed the left side of the girl’s stomach. She winced slightly and Andrew could see that she was already afraid of him touching the right side. When he did she gave a little cry of pain. Andrew took the rug and put it back over the child.

He stood up and looked at the fearful faces of mother and father.

“I’m pretty sure that Sarah has appendicitis.”

Annie Barton’s hand went to her mouth as Mr Barton spoke.

“She’ll need an operation, then.”

“An appendectomy is straightforward, Mr Barton. The real danger is if the appendix bursts – then there is a danger of a poisoning of the blood that can be life-threatening.”

The parents looked at each other. Andrew reached into his pocket for his notebook.

“May I use your telephone?”

The telephone was in the small hallway. Andrew looked in his notebook then dialled the number.

“Hello, RAF St Oran,” a woman’s voice answered.

“This is Doctor Shelley on Skerrabost. May I speak to the Station Commander, please? It’s an urgent medical matter.”

“The Station Commander is in his home quarters, Doctor. Do you wish to speak to the duty officer?”

“No. I really think it must be the Station Commander.”

“Very good, Doctor, I’ll put you through,” she said.

A moment later a voice barked down the line.

“Wing Commander Ferguson. What is it?”

“This is Doctor Andrew Shelley on Skerrabost. I need urgent medical assistance for a fourteen-year-old girl. She needs to be in hospital as soon as possible.”

There was silence.

“You’re asking for a helicopter?”

“I’m afraid so. I know the weather conditions are terrible but this girl needs an operation as soon as possible.”

Wing Commander Ferguson sighed.

“In four or five hours the weather conditions may be less severe. That’s the forecast. But at this moment all aircraft at St Oran are grounded.”

“So there’s no helicopter?”

“If I order a helicopter to Skerrabost I will be risking the lives of three men – pilot, navigator and winch-man. If they reach you I will be risking their lives on the return journey, plus the life of your patient.”

“I see. I think four or five hours may be too late,” Andrew warned him.

“If I order my men to go, they will. And I will if you tell me categorically that this is a matter of life and death. It’s your decision, Doctor. Do I give that order?”

Lucy Crichton

Fiction Editor Lucy is always on the look-out for the very best short stories, poems and pocket novels. As well as sourcing enjoyable content, she enjoys working with our established contributors, encouraging new talent, and celebrating 155 years of 'Friend' fiction!