Sewing bad stitches with the wrong coloured cotton, I made the best effort I could to repair the fallen turn-up of a pair of work trousers. That the trousers were grey and the cotton was white was not a concern, the turn-up was inside and no-one would ever notice.
The bad stitches recalled a conversation with a doctor at the end of 1987. Visiting home for a few days after Christmas, I had ducked under scaffolding that shrouded my parents’ house and stood up too quickly, gashing my head open on a protruding bolt. Our next door neighbour had driven me hastily to the doctor’s surgery in Langport where one of the GPs had cleaned up the wound before sewing it up. “Is there much baldness in your family?” he had asked.
“No,” I had replied.
”Good,” he said, “because these stitches are terrible.” With blood still down my face and neck, I hadn’t been overly worried by the quality of the stitches. That a rural GP in the surgery of a small country town had so speedily remedied the situation was a cause for great admiration, as far as I was concerned. How he saw through my matted hair to see stitches at all was a mystery to me.
Stitches, bad or good, were a mark of the service our local surgery provided. Twenty years previously, it had been my face that was sewn up in the same surgery after a bicycle brake lever had gone through my face. (Pushing my tongue against my cheek to the right and below my lips, I can still feel the scar that remains inside my mouth).
Perhaps the 1980s were the final days of the local doctor truly being a physician and surgeon. The letters on the brass plaque at the door of surgeries might still say, “ MB BCh,” but were I to tear open my head now, I would be instructed to attend the accident and emergency unit at one of the local hospitals.
Why the change? General practitioners could undoubtedly still stitch up the head of a clumsy visitors, but such tasks seem no longer part of general practice. Perhaps it is because there are so many other demands upon their time; perhaps it is felt that the hospital is the best place for such injuries; perhaps it is because people expect to go to hospital. How many people would be content to receive treatment sitting on a chair in the doctor’s consulting room?
When there is such massive pressure on hospitals, perhaps a reversion to the old ways would help. There would be fewer people in the emergency units and those going to the doctor’s surgery would have much shorter waiting times than they might expect at a hospital. Getting doctor’s stitching again might a good idea.