Latymer heard a piercing scream rise from amongst the general sound of the station. He took it to be the whistle of an engine. As he looked around his eyes set upon a man clutching his arm. Could this be his first patient, so soon after his arrival?
‘The stupid sod.’ The voice sounded shrill.
‘Now sir, watch your language, there are ladies and children present.’ His uniform gave the porter the prerogative to sanction.
‘Yes, Reg.’ The lady with the injured man spoke, attempting an air of authority.
Reg replied, ‘Are you standing here with a broken arm?’
‘No, it’s just that–’
‘Shut your gob then,’ Reg told her.
‘Reg,’ the lady pleaded, ‘stop the palaver. Don’t speak to me like that.’
The porter moved to intervene.
‘Fight a man with one arm, would you?’
‘Reginald. Calm down.’ The woman was firm with her husband.
‘What was the idiot doing,’ Reg whined, ‘slamming the door on a train full of people?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘I bet he’s in the station bar,’ said Reg, ‘cosy with a whisky. That’s what I need, a whisky for the pain.’
‘I’ll get you one.’ The lady looked around and shouted, ‘Porter!’
‘Don’t give him anything.’ Latymer purposefully strode to the small gathering. Full of self-importance he said, ‘I’m a doctor.’ Every young doctor has the desire to utter the statement, I’m a doctor, and answer the emergency.
‘Thank God for that.’ Reg spoke, with a miserable groan, as if his life needed saving. ‘A doctor.’
‘He may be in shock. No alcohol.’ Latymer repeated the instruction while he looked into the man’s eyes.
‘What the doc means is he may need an operation.’ The porter made a sawing motion across his own arm. ‘His arm amputated.’
‘Oh no! Oh no! Milly, I’m going to have my arm cut off. You’d better get me that drink.’
The porter walked away and left them to it.
‘You’re all right. Pull yourself together. Let’s take you to a seat and have a proper look.’ Latymer pointed to a bench.
His wife led Reginald to the nearby seat.
At the end of the bench was a narrow space, perhaps large enough for Reg to sit. The rest of the bench was taken by a lady of large proportions with a scarf tied tightly to her head. Next to her was seated a schoolboy.
‘Move along and let the gentleman sit down. He looks a bit pale.’ The woman gave the boy a nudge.
‘Where am I going to sit?’ asked the boy.
‘You’ll have to stand. The train will be here soon,’ the lady said kindly, seeking to appease him.
‘I’ll have to stand on that, as well,’ the boy shot back.
‘Stop being cheeky. Here you are, sit down, duck.’ She gestured for Reg to take the empty place that the boy, flouncing and sighing, had gone to great pains to make.
Reginald made a show of sitting down as if he were a hero.
‘Well it can’t be because of the war,’ the boy gave a sideways nod towards Reg, ‘it’s been over three years now. Why can’t we get proper food? I was reading in The Times that they’re better fed in Germany and they lost!’ He stood petulant in his schoolboy’s uniform, speaking as if he were talking about a game of football.
‘We don’t want that kind of talk,’ said the lady minding the boy.
Latymer looked at the boy and said, ‘You’ve got a politician there. How old is he?’
‘Ten. He sees, hears, and reads everything.’
‘Is that so? Very bright,’ answered Latymer.
‘So his parents say. I’m seeing him back to school.’
What a precocious child, Latymer thought, but doctors are taught to never give away their true feelings. ‘Anyway, thank you for letting this gentleman sit down. He’s been in an accident.’
Reg nodded his head, affirming the situation.
‘Yes, I see that,’ the boy went on. ‘His arm isn’t broken though. At the worst it’s a slight sprain. If he moves it carefully, it’ll free itself. He’ll be right as rain in no time.’
Years of hard work training to be a doctor, Latymer despaired looking heavenwards towards the vaults of the railway station, and a ten-year-old diagnoses my first patient.
‘His mother and father say he wants to be a doctor.’
The boy confirmed the statement, pronouncing his words as if he had a plum in his mouth. ‘I do want to be a doctor.’
‘Well, there’s a lot more to it than guesswork.’ And to show that he was very serious, Latymer spoke in a voice that was a few decibels below his normal one.
‘How long have you been a doctor then?’ the boy asked.
Latymer ignored the question, but carried on with his explanation. ‘There’s seven years hard training, difficult examinations.’
‘There’s nothing wrong with most patients you see as a GP that wouldn’t cure itself,’ said the boy pompously.
Latymer knew the boy to be correct. ‘How do you know that?’
‘I read it in The Lancet – last June’s issue. I can send it to you if you give me your address.’
‘You read The Lancet ?’ Latymer gave the boy another look.
‘Like other boys read the Beano,’ the lady told them rather proudly, as if she were his mother.
‘Yes, so do I,’ said Latymer, foolishly with pride in his voice.
‘You read the Beano, Doc?’ asked Reg. ‘I can let you have my back issues.’
‘No, The Lancet.’
‘That’s why he knows more than you,’ said Reg.
‘He doesn’t know more than me. This arm could be broken.’