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Christmas time is here again and we've been ever so busy at The Old Surgery, putting up our decorations and buying presents and cards for everyone. These days I can't go up the ladder to do the paper chains like I used to, I let the young ones do all that sort of thing while I direct them from down below to make sure everything is straight. Young Dawn was very helpful; I think she has a flair for this sort of thing, what with going to Art College before she came to us. She had some very good ideas this year, like putting holly round the doctors' diplomas and a bit of mistletoe on Dr Phillips's Family Planning Certificate.
When we had our weekly staff meeting presided over by Elena, our manager, we had the important task of deciding where to go for this year's practice dinner. Katie who is our nurse practitioner wanted to go for Chinese at the Golden Concubine like we did last year while others (including Dawn and Sumita), favoured the Indian fare provided down at the Khyber Pass, which is very nice especially if you like curry. When we asked Dr Teacher (who happened to be passing through the office) he said that neither of those would offer a traditional Christmas meal, excellent though they might be and he himself rather fancied that new place in the High Street, Le Gourmet Rechauffée. He thought we might get some really first-class French style cooking there. But Dr Grimes, who had come in behind him at that very moment, overheard his words and began clearing his throat in that important way he has. A place like that, he said, might look impressive from the front, but if you saw what went on in the kitchens it would be enough to turn your stomach. Then he told some story about cats being kidnapped and with those rich cream sauces they cover everything with you would never know what you were eating. Poor little Dawn's eyes went wide with horror and she nearly dropped the tray of mugs she was carrying because she's ever so fond of animals. But Dr Teacher said the Gourmet wasn't like that at all and had already had an excellent write up in the Gazette. In fact he was in favour of booking a table at once because it was becoming so fashionable. Dr Grimes muttered a bit about the expense but Elena said there was plenty of money in the bank thanks to our earnings from the Quality and Outcomes Framework and it could all be offset against tax. So it was all agreed and the talk for the rest of the week (in between dealing with patients of course) was all about what we would choose from the menu and what we were going to wear. When the great day came, we kept the afternoon surgery as small as possible by blocking out all the late appointments and telling the patients we only had room for emergencies. Fortunately, there weren't many of those and most people just wanted to order plenty of tablets and medicines to last them over the festive season. And of course to bring Christmas cards and presents for the staff and the doctors.
The practice staff go out for dinner to celebrate the festive season. But one patient manages not to be left out.
Mr Snooter brought a bottle of whisky for young Dr Nigel, our FY2 doctor, who he has taken a shine to. I thought whisky was a bit strong for a boy like Nigel (I don't know what his mother would think) but Mr Snooter just guffawed loudly and said it would put hair on his chest. I suspect that he had had a drop or two himself because he's not usually so coarse but one mustn't sit in judgement and it is Christmas after all. Anyway this is all by the way because the real excitement began at 6 when I shooed the last patients out, wished them Happy Christmas and locked the door. Then with many an excited giggle, the ladies all repaired to Dr Brenda's office to change.
When we emerged, looking glamorous, the gentlemen were very gallant and complimentary, as well they might be. I had my black dress and chiffon scarf and Dr Brenda had her nice bluey-green dress she was telling me about from Debenhams'. Elena had a lovely red sheath dress, and as for Dawn she looked a picture in pink satin, with a scoop neck and straps. Dr Nigel practically devoured her with his eyes. So when we had admired each other's finery and the mens' best suits we all got into a cavalcade of cars, led by Dr Grimes's Rover and sped off to the High Street.
The restaurant has a small car park but most of the spaces were full and there was no room for Nigel's car which brought up the rear. He had to leave it on the single yellow line. Dr Grimes lent him his ‘Doctor Visiting’ badge and said there would be no problem. When we got inside, the place was already quite full and there was a buzz of merry conversation and laughter. The waiters were really attentive. They beckoned us to our reserved table — a great long one down the middle of the room — and gave us each an enormous menu. Then they came round with complimentary cocktails — ever so nice of them, I had a gin and Italian. Then the headwaiter, a very handsome dignified man, came to take our order. Now where have I seen you before, I thought because his face rang a definite bell. So I wasn't a bit surprised when he held out a hand to Dr Teacher and said: ‘Hello, doctor, this is a great pleasure, I am so happy to see you in my restaurant.’ Dr Teacher sort of shrank into himself a bit. They hate being recognised in public because they shun publicity and hate their private lives to be intruded on by the media. Just like celebrities, really.
However, our headwaiter was very discreet and said his piles were very much better and he would come along soon for another tube of the ointment. Then he went off with our orders and we saw him pointing us out to the other waiters. Dr Grimes said he had blown our cover but at least we would get good service, even if it cost us a few prescriptions before we had finished. And when the food came it was truly delicious. We all pulled crackers and wore the hats and read each other the jokes.
During the main course (turkey with all the trimmings and pink sparkling wine), we noticed quite a lot of noise coming from another long table at the far end. They were a large, mixed party and I think someone must have been making a witty speech, because every so often there would be a great roar of laughter and applause and some shrieks from the girls. One of our waiters said they were from Potters' Plastics, where they make those little models of well-known people. I said to Dr Brenda: ‘Isn't that where Norman Gland works?’ ‘Yes, Mrs Flagg, she replied, ‘I believe it is. You don't suppose he…’ Before she could finish there was a dreadful cry from the Potters’ table and a chair went over. Waiters came rushing up to us saying: ‘Please, doctor, a gentleman has been taken very ill, could you help him please?’ So of course all my doctors dashed over as did Dawn and me and the nurses.
Well, would you believe it, there was Norman Gland himself, lying on the floor, pink in the face and gasping like a fish. Dr Brenda loosened his tie and collar while Dr Teacher felt his pulse and Dr Grimes inspected the contents of his glass. Then Mr Gland found his voice: ‘I think there's a Brussels sprout wedged in the bend of my duodenum,’ he croaked, ‘I can feel it — just — here.’ Dr Brenda gave him a glass of water to sip and he gradually began to recover, so they helped him back to his chair. The other Potters' people seemed to think it was all a bit of a lark (once they saw he was going to be all right) and said things like, ‘Ooh you didn't half give us a scare, Mr Gland!’ Just as well my doctors were there in my opinion, but as I said to Dr Teacher, when we were seated again, you never know in our profession when or where you are going to be needed next.
‘Very true, Mrs Flagg, ‘he replied, ‘at this time of year the nation's digestion lies in our hands. Might I just trouble you for the cranberry sauce which is by your right elbow. Thank you so much.’