Babies, cigarettes and Nazis

Cigarette photo

‘Can it really be that hard?’

The three of us exchange glances. It’s after-hours and we’re sitting in a small room with one too many chairs and precisely one too few windows. Overhead, an ancient strip light hums away like tinnitus, bathing us in sterile, anodising, brightness. Odd, I think to myself, that the last time this room saw any sunlight was the day it was built.

‘No idea, Prof. I’ve never smoked.’ Ameer looks back at the Professor.

‘Well, nor have I,’ says Prof. They both turn to me.

The layers of hermetically sealed asbestos between us and the outside world have trapped the summer and will not let it go. Each of us has our collar undone and our sleeves rolled up. Our chairs are so close that we sit ramrod straight so as not to encroach on each other’s personal space. This forced physical proximity makes me feel more candid, like we’re just three mates tucked in the corner of an old pub.

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Finding the best burger in the world, and the NHS…

For Paul


Join me, if you will, in a thought experiment. Imagine you love burgers. I mean, you really love them. You love them with the zealous passion of the religious convert and it is your greatest ambition in life to share their joy with the world around you. To this end, you devise an idea. You will find the world’s greatest burger. Now, you’re no fool. You’ve been to university. You remember well the best kebab you ever had. It was three in the morning, you were so drunk you couldn’t feel your face and you stumbled into a tiny chippie down a hidden side street that you never found ever again. You went to great lengths to try. You recreated the exact circumstances that led to its discovery. You went out with the same people, drank the same drinks, begged the DJ to play the Piña Colada Continue reading “Finding the best burger in the world, and the NHS…”

‘And are her immunisations up to date?’

Its one of life’s universal rules: Emergency Departments are situated in the basement. No matter the city, the country, the healthcare system, the age of the building itself: Emergency Departments are almost wholly subterranean. One unfortunate upshot of this is that, when you’re working in one of these EDs, you generally have no idea what the weather’s like outdoors: that is, until the broken bones roll in. This is the fourth patient with a nasty fracture I’ve seen in as many hours, which pretty much narrows it down, weather-wise, to treacherous snow and hail, or glorious sunshine. It’s July. Even in England, my suspicions are that, up in the outside world, this would be a lovely afternoon to while away an hour or two in a beer garden.

Sitting in front of me, the four year old girl being cradled close to her mother has started to calm down. The intranasal diamorphine has kicked in. She has spent the afternoon performing acrobatics on her cousin’s trampoline and now she has a very bendy arm. Before we get round to fixing that I just need a little more information.

‘And are her immunisations up to date?’

‘No. She hasn’t had any of her immunisations.’ Breathe, I tell myself, just breathe. Poker face. Do I challenge this?

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Zombies, exams and childhood obesity


I, like most paediatricians you will ever encounter, have a truly comprehensive plan of action in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Bear with me.

Doctors have to do a lot of exams. By my rough estimation I’d say that they are required to do approximately all of the exams in the world, ever. Give or take one or two. This makes my colleagues and I experts, if in nothing else, on the practice of these, aforementioned, exams. Now, given the extent of my rather portentous knowledge in this area, I am willing to share with you, lucky reader, three absolute truths regarding exams: if the word ‘never’ or ‘always’ is in a true/false question, the answer is universally ‘false’; to be honest it is never, ever, likely to be option C; and finally, (make no mistake, this is by far and away the most important thing I have ever gleaned from years of studious efforts) following an examination people generally divide into two groups: sadists and ostriches.

The ostrich is a pleasure to be around. Having had information forcibly extricated from the dull grey matter sloshing around between his temporal bones he will calmly and charmingly proceed to forcibly stick his head into the proverbial sand and, much like a Continue reading “Zombies, exams and childhood obesity”

“What I’m about to say might be considered blasphemy…”

“DNA,” she drops the notes onto the end of the desk, and I sigh: she’s not referring to deoxyribonucleic acid. Here, in this clinic room, DNA stands for ‘did not attend’.

“Your eleven o’clock is here early though. Shall I bring him through once I’ve weighed and measured him?”

“Yeah, thanks. That’d be great.”

She glances at the mess of toys and crayons scattered over the giant city plan play mat, before noticing the fire engine that now stands in watchful readiness under the furthest recesses of the examination couch. It’s her turn to sigh as she considers tidying everything up in a couple of hours. She stoops down and removes the Tyrannosaurus Rex from the Continue reading ““What I’m about to say might be considered blasphemy…””

It’s still a sin to kill a mockingbird

Five years ago. It’s 3am and there’s a stack of notes at the end of the long, curving nurses’ station. Only around five or six, now. When I started five hours ago I could’ve sworn it was never going to drop below twenty. I pick the next set and start reading about the patient I’m about to meet in cubicle six.

In ED I never read these charts from front to back, I start by skipping to the patient’s vital Continue reading “It’s still a sin to kill a mockingbird”