Preview: Teddy Bear's Triumph


This book is based upon a true story. Only the names, places, circumstances and events have been changed in order to protect the innocent. 

Throughout this book, I refers to me and them refers to everyone else. The rest is open to interpretation. 

Unattributed quotations are by the author but have not yet been quoted.  Quotations attributed to Bob Dylan are by Bob Dylan. The others are self-explanatory.

Medicine is the only profession that labours incessantly to destroy the reason for its own existence.   James Bryce

I’m not really a career person.  I’m a gardener, basically.   George Harrison

Chapter 1:  Sowing the seed

A seed is essentially a plant in a very small box. 

I blame my mother.  And my teddy bear.  Well not really, but without those two I wouldn’t be writing this book because I wouldn’t have studied medicine and this book is about medicine.

My mother was physically on the short side (or height-disadvantaged as I believe we say these days).  She was five feet two inches in her stockinged feet.  I cannot say what she was in her non-stockinged feet because she would never be seen in such a state of undress.  She was aware that height does not dictate other qualities: diamonds are not made as big as bricks, as she informed a teasing lofty neighbour.  She had ambition, and I have to say heart, far exceeding her physical frame.  I suspect she got her ambition from her father, whom I never knew.  Although not rich, he had no hesitation in buying her a piano to fulfil her desire (sadly never achieved) of becoming a concert pianist.  He showed Victorian-style encouragement, wanting to know, for example, why my mother did not come first in the class when she told him she came second.  Women in those days (she was born in 1914) were never likely to achieve as much as men professionally because of the social constraints so I suspect that she transferred her ambition onto the men around her.  I don’t think this was confined to me.  She certainly told my father on many occasions that he could achieve more than he did although perhaps she did not put it quite so politely.  

At first sight, Teddy seemed healthy enough but he was not a well bear.  Like an indulgent father, I attended to his every complaint with thorough attention to detail and a desire to do whatever was in my power to help.  Thus, Teddy was at the heart of my first forays into surgery.  Instruments in those days were limited to a blunt penknife but, despite the technical limitations and the lack of anaesthetic, I managed to carry out a number of what I would regard as successful operations in pursuit of Teddy’s complaints.  As I discovered to be a surgical maxim later in life, the operation went well but the patient failed to recover.  Despite an assiduous search through his internal straw, I could never find any pathology to account for his symptoms.  In order to oblige, I would regularly remove some of the straw to show him postoperatively that treatment had been carried out but he would only come back with more complaints requiring more surgery.  After a while, Teddy was embroidered from head to hind paw with incisions, carefully sutured using my mother’s darning needle and wool.  It was only later that I heard of Munchausen’s syndrome, which is a condition where people feign illness in order to attract attention.  I realised then that that diagnosis summed up my teddy bear.  

We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.   Stacia Tauscher

It’s alright, Ma, I can make it.   Bob Dylan “It’s alright, Ma (I’m only bleeding)”.....................

Chapter 7:  Foreign varieties

If the grass seems greener on the other side of the hill, it is probably a different species.

..........I approached the Immigration desk.  I think American immigration officers are much more pleasant now (or I am less afraid of them) but at that time the expression of the lady official and the way she looked me up and down made me feel like a criminal before I had handed over any papers.  She examined my passport.  

“I am afraid I have to refuse you entry, sir,” she said.  “You do not have current valid documents.”  

“You are joking!” I said.  On the whole, one is ill advised to use this sort of phrase when reasoning with an immigration officer but it was entirely involuntary, ma’am.

“No sir, I am not joking.”  

She went on to explain the nature of my problem in great detail, as if talking to an imbecile, and, as I continued profusely to object, quite how I was descending at high speed into the depths of the criminal fraternity that the USA can do without.  When I got to the argument as to how the USA would lose out by not having my services, specifically because I was scheduled to do a clinic at Mass General the following morning, Boss Man came to my rescue.  

“If you want somebody to help you, sir, I suggest you calm down.”  I felt that was an offer I could not refuse so I did.

Boss Man informed me that he had been listening in to our “conversation” (that is a euphemism, if ever I heard one) and wanted to help.  He offered to telephone the Head of Immigration in Boston to check on my credentials and set off so to do.  While he was away, Mrs. Grouch and I stared silently at each other in a scene reminiscent of a wild-western gun dual except that I, unlike her, was unarmed.  Twenty minutes later, Boss Man returned and gave me the all-clear to board the plane. 

“But I have missed the flight,” I said.  

“No, you haven’t,” said a second Delta official, to my right.  “I authorise departure and I am not going to do so until this is sorted.  Please, sir, now board the plane.”

I got on the plane and walked to my seat with a spring in my step and, in my mind, incredulity at my good fortune.  My joy was not even dampened by the other passengers, whose glowering looks alternated between me and their watch.  “Who exactly is this guy for whom we all have to wait?” was at that time the single universal preoccupation of every passenger on that plane.


Chapter 8:   Fruition

Fresh fruit can be preserved or left to be consumed, rot or turn to alcohol.

............... One day, I was called to the medical ward by Dr. Hickens, a consultant physician, to see a middle-aged lady who had had episodes of loss of vision with mild headache.  After the usual introductions, I asked her about her attacks.

“The vision in my right eye goes suddenly.  My husband says it’s a blackout.”

“Well, in one sense, I suppose it is, but ....”

“So you agree with him then?”

“Well, the term blackout can cover a multitude of problems.   Certainly, it sounds as if your vision blacks out.”

“My obstetrician says my vision is fine.”

“Your obstetrician?”

“The man who checked my eyes.”

“Oh, your optician, yes I see.”

“My doctor says its My Grain,” she said, with equal stress on the “My” and “Grain” and a staccato-like separation between the two words.

“Migraine, yes possibly.”

After learning of several more diagnoses volunteered to Mrs. Johnson by members of various professions and the lay public, I was able to pin her down long enough to be able to extract some relevant information.  

“Are there any conditions that run in your family?” I asked.

“Well, my father had trouble with his preposterous gland.  He couldn’t pass water.”

“Prostate gland, yes.”

“Yes, prostrate gland.”

“And my cousin had celeriac disease.  He couldn’t eat wheat and had to have a glutinous free diet.”

  “Thank you.  Coeliac disease treated with a gluten-free diet.  Yes. Anything else?”

“My uncle had a problem with his gall bladder.  He couldn’t pass water either.”

“Sorry, Mrs. Johnson,” I said, “there is the bladder, sometimes called the urinary bladder, which we use to pass water.  The gall bladder is different; it lies near the stomach.  It sounds as if the problem was with his ordinary or urinary bladder.”

“Well, he also had indigestion.”  

“Anything else?”

“My mother had a gastric stomach.”

After thirty to forty minutes, I felt like a United Nations linguist carrying out translations of speeches in real time but had gleaned enough to conclude what was wrong with her...............

Chapter 10:  Legal requirements

...........There was not much chance of getting him off using the defence of automatism – committing the attack without any voluntary control – because he could recall all the details well and moreover said the act was consensual.  Unless he was so deluded by the effects of the head injury as to imagine that an act of rape was in fact carried out with her agreement, I could offer no medical explanation for his conduct.  Furthermore, if he were so deluded, the head injury would probably have been more severe and he would not have remembered everything so well.  Despite my misgivings, the defence barrister asked me to attend the trial in case anything came up in evidence that might be medically relevant.  

In cross-examination, he asked young Tracey how she had come to report the crime and she explained that she did so at her boyfriend’s assistance when she told him that rape was the explanation of why she and Martin had been seen together near the park that evening.  They were seen by a mutual friend who, with everyone’s welfare presumably as his prime concern, had passed on the information to Tracey’s boyfriend.  It was no doubt pure coincidence that Tracey had dumped the well-wisher for her new boyfriend three months earlier.  

Tracey admitted in cross-examination Martin’s claim that he interrupted the intercourse in order to pass water and that she requested removal of her tights because they were tightening around her legs during the rape.  She also admitted that Martin temporarily ceased his sexual assault to allow her to carry out this partial deshabillement and resumed once she had completed it.  She didn’t really know why she had not run away when he left her to use a nearby tree as a urinal.  When Defence Counsel pointed out that Well-Wisher had seen them walking together peacefully towards the park, she indicated that she had walked back to the scene of the crime, accompanied by the alleged rapist, ten minutes later because she had forgotten her tights.

Martin didn’t need me.  The Jury found him unanimously not guilty. . ..............

Chapter 11:  Postscript

........ Tolling for the aching ones whose wounds cannot be nursed, for the confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones and worse, and for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe.  And we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.   Bob Dylan  “Chimes of Freedom”

It’s all right, Ma.  It’s life and life only.   Bob Dylan.  “It’s All Right Ma; I’m Only Bleeding”

   C    © Harvey Sagar 2013