A lady older than I – all the patients seem older than I am – enters my consulting room. Tall, broad in her build, her face is oblong. If she were a horse she’d be a Clydesdale. A voice rattles and grates from the lady’s throat, the voice of a thousand cigarettes: ‘What’s your name, son?’
I tell her.
‘And you’re Frank’s locum?’
I confess I am.
‘Right. This is what I need.’ The lady pushes a scrap of paper across my desk.
I read her list: Valium, Nembudeine, Mogadon.
Diffidently I wonder aloud, ‘What conditions do you take these for?’
The lady – was her name Gloria? – it was so long ago – the lady looks at me in mild disbelief. Is the doctor a bit simple?
‘For pain of course. And nerves. And to sleep.’
I commence writing out her prescriptions. In 1970 we wrote our scripts longhand. Valium for her nerves, nembudeine, a handy concoction of narcotic and barbiturate, mogadon, another benzo.
A doctor stirs within me: ‘I should point out the risk of becoming dependent on these medications.’
‘Rubbish! You think Frank doesn’t know what he’s doing? He knows I’m not the addictive type.’
Subdued by the confidence of my neighsaying patient, I resume writing.
‘I need a smoke. Want to join me?’
The doctor within feels more secure on this ground. ‘No thanks. Smoking isn’t all that good for your health.’
‘Rubbish! A few fags can’t hurt. Frank smokes.’
‘Well, I’m not Frank’s doctor. But no-one smokes in here.’
‘Rubbish!’ The lady reaches across the desk, her broad arm brushes me as she removes the lid from a small ceramic jar, revealing a dozen or so cigarettes all standing to attention. She takes one, flips it expertly between her lips, sucking back a denture that ventured a peek at the world outside. ‘Got a light, or do I have to use Frank’s?’
The locum is always the wrong doctor. Gloria expected to see Frank and, doubtless, to subdue him at his point of weakness, his fondness for the occasional fag. This very young locum is composed almost entirely of weaknesses, but smoking is not one of them. He is decidedly the wrong doctor: ‘I’m afraid no-one smokes in here with me.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean no-one smokes in this room while I am in it.’
Gloria gives me hard look: ‘It’s not your practice!’
‘That’s true. But you must excuse me if I step outside while you light up.’
Glowering, Gloria snatches her script and takes her leave.
Later, Frank chuckles: ‘Gloria always tries that out on me too. I always say no. Glad you did as well.’