DOWN MEMORY LANE – The early days in Feltwell.
At the end of the last “Down Memory Lane” article, it was 1970 and I was starting the 7 years I spent in a group practice of four doctors between Crawley and East Grinstead. The senior partner had no children at home and the other three of us had children. The school summer holidays lasted six weeks and each doctor with children wanted a two week holiday away with his children. However, the senior partner always “bagged” one of the fortnights for himself; as a result one of the three younger partners had to go without a summer holiday with his children. I came up with a cunning plan. I would take a two week holiday at some other time of the year, do a locum job to earn some money and then use those funds to pay a locum to replace me in the Crawley practice while my family and I had a summer holiday. Of course, lead balloons fell in the Crawley practice – two of the principals would be away at once, the world as we knew it would come to an end, and so on. I persisted and, in 1975, I came up to Glemsford and Cavendish in Suffolk, working as a locum for two weeks, replacing a Dr O'Brien, who was away. The remaining partner, Dr Le Mesurier, with his wife,were charm itself, looking after me really well. I loved the country patients and everything about the isolated country dispensing practice. During my two weeks, I had several meals out in patients' homes, one patient took me the the Bury Round Table meeting and the friendliness was amazing. This generated a desire to run my own single-handed dispensing practice and, two years later, I applied for the Feltwell job and for another in Wansford on the A1 (Had I got that job, I would have become a volunteer train driver on the restored railway). There were 240 applicants for the Feltwell job and, after three intensive interviews, two in Norwich and one with the General Practice Committee in London, I was appointed and started in Feltwell on September 1st, 1977. Purchasing The Old House in Feltwell took three weeks and, during that time, Dr John and Pat Burgess had to remain in the property with me as a lodger. Pat fed me “right royally”. Two butchers delivered to the house and there was plentiful meat on the menu. John would take me out every evening, visiting his favourite patients, and we would sit for hours drinking their whiskey before rolling on to the next venue. Fortunately, he was driving but was never quite able to reverse the car into the garage in the small hours when we arrived home. John and Pat were really hospitable and gave me a good start. As you can imagine, moving house and starting a new practice was quite an upheaval. I was on call every night and had to work all day. The favourite greeting at the time was “We get rid of our vicars and kill our doctors” - a bit unsettling but I soon got used to it! The first night, I had to visit patients at 1.30am, 3.15am and 5.15am. The rule in those days was that anyone who knew they needed a visit should telephone before 7.30am. Every morning, at 8am, I would go to the Garden House in Methwold, where Mrs Ruth Goddard hosted the branch surgery. Fortified by a really strong cup of tea, I would do several visits before the morning surgery which started at 9am and went on until it finished. During the surgery, I did all my own dispensing to patients from the small dispensary between the consulting room and the waiting room. I did the repeat medications during the day, making up bottles of white medicine (getting them to mix was a nightmare), cough mixture, and so on. I remember using a lot of Lin Meth Sal (like horse liniment) for musculoskeletal problems; the favoured cough linctus was “Covonia” and High Blood Pressure seemed to have only one treatment (Aldomet), the dose of which was increased progressively until control was achieved. If we failed to achieve control, the condition was called Malignant Hypertension and was often fatal. There were none of today's carefully refined therapies. Evening surgery started at about 6pm and went on until it finished – usually towards 9pm. In those days, many GPs would use the afternoon for relaxation, golf, etc. However, I had promised my predecessor, Dr John Burgess, that I would continue to visit his “chronic” patients, whom he would visit one a week or so. I carried on seeing them, but I had to change the day of the week. As a result, very often, they were out – on the allotment, at the market or visiting relatives elsewhere. It transpired that, during John Burgess' days, they would always wait at home on the day the doctor was due to visit and I had totally messed up the system by calling on another day. All the repeat medications were left out in the porch of the house for patients to collect, with an honesty box for the prescription charges (2/- an item in those days -10p in new money). All telephone calls came into the house and either the doctor or, during the day, his wife, would answer the patient and deal with the matter. I inherited Betty Chapman from the Burgesses. Initially, her main jobs seemed to be dealing with two open fires and two coke boilers every morning, polishing the tile floors on her hands and knees and answering the telephone. She took to the children, especially Grant (aged 18 months), who would follow her around the house with a duster in his hand, copying her every action. Later, when Duncan was born, she was absolutely brilliant, One morning, she went up to get him out of his cot and found him unconscious and navy blue. She flew about and “got him going” again. Happily, he made a good recovery after a spell in hospital but it gave us all a nasty shock and cemented her relationship with him. Before long, I took on her daughter, Jane (now Peckham) to answer the telephone and do the repeat dispensing. She was brilliant with the job and the children and stayed with us for very many years until her children, John and Kay, came along. In my early days, there was a very small waiting room which would hold about 10 patients. This was luxury as, beforehand, there had been no waiting room and patients had to wait outside. In the early 1980s, we built a large extension (currently, it can still be seen under the conical roof) which provided a large waiting room, a secretary's room and a nurse's room, with a WC for the patients to use. I have one serious regret about the building of the extension. Under the far corner of the building, on the side nearest the house, there was a beautiful chalk-lined well. Because it was situated exactly where the corner of the building was to be, we had to fill it in and build over it. Had it been a couple of feet away in any direction, or had we had infinite time to redesign the building, we could have put a light down it, thick glass on top and made a wonderful feature. Gradually, the new premises at the house became inadequate. As a result, in 1991, Deannie and I designed a new surgery and got Joe Bamford from Mundford to build it. Of course, there was an architect and Alan Bunyan, a quantity surveyor, involved. The new surgery is still in use, modified and extended to fulfil today's needs, but fundamentally the same building. General Practice in the 1970s was a way of life, not a job. The GP had to live in the village and to be available 24/7 for callouts. We spent quite a lot of time as “first attender” at road accidents. Most of the time, I was exhausted and it was a great relief when we eventually took on partners and, as they would say now, “grew the practice” to prepare it for the future. I retired from the practice at the end of 2005, after 28 years. It was a terrible wrench as I had so many wonderful patients. Happily, the neanderthals I had met in the early days did not manage to kill me, as they had promised, although we did have a fair turnover of vicars! Our house has been the doctor's house since 1818 and, apart from Dr George Archer who is recorded as being in the house for 68 years from 1836 to 1904 (not all of them as the village GP), I have been the longest serving GP in the village. For those with long memories, Dr Burgess was here for 19 years ('58-'77), Dr Macdonald 15 years ('43-'58), Dr Naismith 6 years ('37-'43), Dr Cubitt 2 years ('35-'37), Dr Francis 9 years ('26-'35), Dr Rawson 1 year ('25-'26), Dr Neighbour 2 years ('23-'25), Dr MacArthur 1 year ('22-'23), Dr Cassell 1 year ('21-'22), Dr Debenham 5years ('16-'21) and Dr Ernest Archer 12 years ('04 – '16). The first doctor at The Old House was Dr William Henry Roberts (1818 – 1836). Ian G. Nisbet Feb 2014.