The premises of Langport Surgery used to be much smaller, accommodated within a period house on The Hill. The dispensary could be seen through a hatchway from the waiting room. Doctors would write prescriptions which were passed into the dispenser who would hand the medications out to the waiting patients.
The dispensary seemed a place crammed with medicines, countless bottles and boxes. Prescriptions would be tablets counted out into round cardboard pill boxes, or mixtures poured into small bottles, the labels of which would be handwritten with instructions as to how the mixture was to be taken.
The dispensary seemed crammed because the space it occupied was compact. The number of drugs prescribed cannot have been more than a small fraction of what is routinely dispensed now.
Suffering severe asthma as a child in the 1960s, meant regular visits to the surgery and regular waits for mixtures and tablets to be handed out through the dispensary hatchway. Compared to the range of drug options now available, the available medication in the 1960s was very limited.
Even at the age of eight or nine, it was not hard to know what tablets and medicines would be prescribed. There was a cough mixture called phenergan, a brown liquid that came in small transparent glass bottle and which had a horrible taste; there were soluble tablets called betnesol which came in foil strips in white cardboard boxes; and if these prescriptions failed, and a house call from the doctor became necessary, then the last resort was an adrenaline injection to stimulate breathing and prompt the heart to beat more.
The arrival of inhalers in the early 1970s was a major breakthrough. Capsules containing powder were placed into an inhaling device which punctured the capsule and span it around as the user breathed deeply through the inhaler. Sometimes, the powder seemed to prompt more coughing than it relieved.
By 1974, lengthy absences from school caused by asthma meant being sent to a special school on Dartmoor where there came the realisation of how fortunate I was. There were boys whose prescriptions were multiples of my own. There were boys for whom drugs were of no avail; two boys died during the summer holidays of 1974.
Cardboard pill boxes and bottles of cough mixture now seem like something from the pages of a history book or television period drama. It is infinitely better to need prescriptions now than it was in 1969.