In medicine, like in
most jobs, days are humdrum, filled with unremarkable, routine events. The occasional surprise does happen, though, and helps to keep us alert and awake, especially when we’re overworked
Coconuts in the snow
For instance, I
remember one Christmas when I worked in London, when around 3am a tall young
man walked into the casualty ward, brushing snow from his shoulders and complaining
about sore arms. I asked him what the problem was, and he replied that he
had been hit by falling coconuts!
Based on the total lack
of coconut palms in London, I found his story somewhat unlikely. Seeing my
puzzled expression, he pointed out that he worked at the nearby docks, and,
while unloading coconuts, a wrong move sent several hundred projectiles
cascading over him.
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It’s usually the
patient who brings the oddity to these encounters, but sometimes it’s the medical
staff that make for strange and special occasions.
One of the most
light-hearted events was probably the time, years ago, when I delivered a baby
dressed as Queen Victoria. Just to clarify, I was dressed as the famous royal,
and the baby was nude, as they tend to be when coming into the world.
At the time I was
doing obstetrics at a hospital near Farnborough in Kent, south of London. As it
grew closer to Christmas, admin announced the hospital would host a fancy dress
ball on Christmas Eve, with special prizes.
My clinical team consisted of myself, a junior doctor, and some jolly midwives.
For a time we tried to think of individual costumes, but came up with nothing
interesting enough on which to want to spend any of our scarce free time. Because
it was clear that everyone else was aiming to win individual prizes, we decided
to go for the “group prize”.
None of us can
remember how we came up with the idea, but we decided to dress up as Queen Victoria
and Prince Albert and present ourselves in a four-poster bed. It seemed like a
good idea at the time. Our leading
midwives would make a splendid royal couple, in bulky gowns with the royal coat
of arms colourfully displayed across their chests, modest bedtime crowns and
regal hairstyles. The junior doctor and I, covered in gold paint, representing
carved figures would carry the canopy over the bed. Anyway, that was the idea .
Soon, however, a
problem arose. The midwives were early feminists and decided that our
allocation of roles had been too sexist and gender specific for their liking and needed to be
revised. We therefore needed to draw lots to determine our role allocations. My junior
colleague didn’t like the idea and decided to enter individually as Batman.
The ballot determined
that I would portray the queen, so I ended up having to shave off my moustache
while Sarah, one of the midwives had to stick on a moustache for her role as
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We felt safe that
night as we were only second on call, and nobody could remember the last time
the second team had been called out for any kind of emergency. While we were getting ready, we heard that
the fist team had been called out, but we were assured that they’d be back very
That turned out not to be the case and just as we’d finished our round at
the end of the Grand Parade, our bleepers and pagers went off en masse. We had
no time to change, and outside there was an ambulance waiting for us. Someone
arrived with our bag of instruments, transfusion sets and bottles of blood, so we
piled into the vehicle and bounced off down the road.
We were told that
there was a woman with a risky pregnancy who had just gone into premature
labour at a chicken farm in our
area. Before long we were rattling down farm lanes, and screeched to a halt in
front of the farm house.
You have to admire the
British for their calm, unflappable politeness.
They must have been really anxious about the imminent birth, and as they
gazed across the snowy lawn, they were treated to the sight of Queen Victoria
and Batman leaping out of an ambulance and bounding towards them through the
snow. Yet they welcomed us calmly as though this was the most normal thing
ever. There wasn’t time to
explain either, as I gathered up my skirts and dashed upstairs.
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Nobody commented or so
much as raised an eyebrow. Again, what remarkable composure! Nobody had had a moment to explain or to
prepare the expectant mom for the surprise, but she also asked no questions as
we burst into her bedroom. She just waved cheerily as we set to work.
went smoothly and soon everyone was admiring a healthy, bonny baby boy. My
crown had slipped askew and Batman looked somewhat the worse for wear. We had a nice hot cup of tea in the kitchen
and then headed back to the hospital.
As I left, the proud father patted my arm
and said: “Thanks a million doc, can we name the child after you?” Of course I
agreed, and as we were driving back, I realized I hadn’t actually given him my
name. So somewhere in Kent there’s a farmer’s son, presumably called "Victor". I’ve often wondered whether his parents
ever told him of the unusual circumstances of his birth, and the “celebrities”
who attended it.
Cross-dressing and other fetishes
500 000 die giving birth: UNICEF
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Professor MA Simpson is Health24's CyberShrink. A South African psychiatrist, he qualified in medicine and in psychiatry in Britain. He has been a senior academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries. Read more of his columns.