It was Christmas Eve and Dr Mungo was writing up what he hoped would be the last consultation of the day. As he did so he reflected on what had been an eventful twelve months. A year previously he’d been a partner at Portside Medical Centre but when several doctors left and nobody could be found to replace them, the practice had eventually collapsed and so, when Bob Cratchit had got in touch and asked whether Scrooge would like to join his practice, filling the vacancy created by the untimely death of Dr Ebenezer Scrooge exactly one year ago, Dr Mungo had jumped at the chance.
The last few weeks though had been incredibly difficult. The demand for appointments had never been so high with duty doctors regularly being asked to manage more than a hundred requests for urgent medical attention a day. No wonder he was looking forward to a few days off over Christmas.
But then the phone rang. Dr Mungo picked up the receiver and heard the familiar voice of one of his receptionist.
‘I’m sorry to bother you Dr Mungo but we’ve just had a ‘walk in’ who says he’s worried about his Aunt. He says he tried to phone but, what with us taking so many calls this afternoon, he couldn’t get through. I should add, Dr Mungo, that the person with me in reception…well…he’s not a person at all. He is in fact…a bear!’
‘A bear you say?’
‘That’s right. And he says he knows you’.
‘Does he now?’ said Dr Mungo beginning to smile. ‘Is he by chance wearing a blue duffel coat and sporting a red hat?’
‘As a matter of fact he is. How did you know that?’
‘Because one doesn’t get to meet too many bears, not, at least, in this part of the world. It can only be Paddington. And yes I do know him well. What’s more I will be forever indebted to him as a result of his coming to my rescue when the CQC paid a particularly stressful visit to my old practice. Please, show him through’.
And so a minute or two later Paddington was stood in the doorway of Dr Mungo’s room.
‘Good evening Dr Mungo’ he said, lifting his hat as he did so. ‘It’s very kind of you to see me so late in the day. And on Christmas Eve too’
‘Not at all Paddington, it’s my very great pleasure. Now, how can I help?’
‘It’s my Aunt Lucy, Dr Mungo. She’s not been in the best of health for a while and has been in residential care for some years, living in a home for retired bears in deepest, darkest Peru. But she’s always wanted to visit London and the Brown’s very kindly said she could come and stay for Christmas. But this week she become more unwell with her breathing getting steadily worse. She didn’t want me to bother anyone but today I’m very worried about her. Could you possibly come and see her?’
‘Of course Paddington’, said Dr Mungo noticing the clock was showing that it was now past six thirty. ‘I’ll come straight away. Have you got your car?’
‘Sadly not. I had to stop driving a couple of months ago following an episode when Mr Brown panicked and took me to casualty because he sought I’d had some kind of absence attack. It was eventually put down as an unprovoked syncopal episode though in reality it was merely that I was experiencing a moment of ecstasy after tasting Mrs Bird’s steamed marmalade pudding’.
‘Oh I am sorry Paddington. But never mind that now, we’ll go together in my car. Follow me’
Dr Mungo grabbed his medical bag and exited the building, pursued by a bear. Paddington’s home was a few minutes drive away and so Dr Mungo took the opportunity to ask Paddington what he’d been up to since last they’d met.
‘Oh nothing much’, Paddington said, ‘though, having said that, there was that one occasion when I had tea at Buckingham Palace. I met the Queen there, a lovely lady and, do you know Dr Mungo, she told me she once did a parachute jump?’
‘I did hear something about that’ replied Dr Mungo, pulling up outside 32 Windsor Gardens as he did so.
They got out of the car and headed into the house whereupon Paddington led the way to the downstairs room where his ailing aunt was lying in bed. The room was in darkness and the only sound that could be heard was the obviously laboured breathing of an elderly omnivore. It was immediately clear to Dr Mungo that Paddington’s Aunt Lucy was in urgent need of medical attention and wasted no time in pulling his phone from out of his pocket and dialling 999.
The phone rang…and rang…and rang. But nobody answered. Eventually, when nearly ten minutes had past, Dr Mungo, knew he could wait no longer. Lately he had had patients experience long delays for ambulances and he was, therefore, all too well aware of how stretched the emergency services were. And so he decided he and Paddington would have to try and get Aunt Lucy to the hospital themselves.
Kneeling down next to her bed, he asked if she thought she could try to make it to the car. Aunt Lucy indicated her willingness to try with an almost imperceptible nod of her head and so began the painful process of sitting her up in her bed, easing her legs over the edge of the bed and then, with all her weight supported upon Dr Mungo’s shoulders, slowly walking her out of the room, across the hall and out onto the street. Finally, having manoeuvred Aunt Lucy into the backseat of his car and strapped Paddington safely in beside her, Dr Mungo got into the driver’s seat and set off for the hospital. As they arrived it was beginning to snow. Dr Mungo found a wheelchair that they could make use of and before long he was wheeling his ever more breathless patient through the doors of the A&E department.
Inside, the waiting room was packed. Patients were sat on every available chair and many more were sitting on the floor. A television screen attached to the wall indicated that the average waiting time was seven hours. Dr Mungo said that he’d stay with Aunt Lucy and suggested that Paddington should join the queue to tell the receptionist of their arrival.
In front of him was a man he recognised as his perpetually complaining neighbour, Mr Curry. Eventually he made it to the front of the queue and glared at the young woman who was doing her very best to enter everybody’s details on the hospital computer system.
‘Call this the National Health?’ Mr Curry began. ‘More like the national disgrace. You should all be ashamed of yourselves’
The receptionist tried to ignore his unpleasantness and enquired how she might help.
‘I want to see a doctor and I want to see one now’
‘Well as you can see sir, we are very busy. But if you could tell me what the problem is we’ll do all we can to help you just as soon as we possibly can’
‘I’m not telling someone who isn’t medically trained my problems. Get me a doctor this minute’
As he said this he felt a tug on his sleeve and turned to see Paddington looking at him intently. Suddenly he felt somewhat hot about the collar.
‘Why are you looking at me like that…is it me or is it hot in here… why am I feeling so uncomfortable…so flushed…so queasy?’
‘It’s a hard stare Mr Curry’ replied Paddington. ‘My aunt taught me to do them when people had forgotten their manners’
Suddenly Mr Curry forgot what aspect of his health had been concerning him and he wandered away from the reception desk leaving Paddington at the front of the queue. The receptionist smiled at him and thanked him for his patience.
‘That’s totally OK’ Paddington said, ‘I can see that you are busy, it must be very hard for you’
‘It is a little – especially when not everyone is as understanding as you are’
‘Aunt Lucy always says that if you look for the good in people, you’ll find it.’
The receptionist, unaccustomed to being spoken to so kindly, looked for a moment that she might cry.
‘Your aunt sounds like a very wise and exceptionally kind lady’ she said. ‘Perhaps she should write a book containing all the beautiful things that life has taught her’
‘That’s a lovely idea’ said Paddington, ‘but first I think she might need to see a doctor. She’s over there in the wheelchair. She’s very weak and she can hardly breathe’.
The receptionist looked across to where Paddington was indicating and saw immediately that Aunt Lucy needed urgent attention. She promised Paddington that she would get her seen as soon as possible and hurried off to find a nurse. Moments later one appeared and Paddington and Dr Mungo watched as she wheeled Aunt Lucy off to a separate room, explaining as she did so, that she’d be back as soon as she had any news.
It was now nearly 8pm and Paddington told Dr Mungo to go home explaining that he’d be fine now by himself. He explained the Browns would all be home by now and they would be able to collect him when the time came. Dr Mungo conceded that there was no more that he could do at present and so said his goodbyes but not before making Paddington promise that he would call if there was anything he could do to help.
Once alone, Paddington realised he was thirsty and he noticed that there was a machine that dispensed hot drinks standing in the corner of the waiting room. He briefly considered making use of it but, with the memory of an encounter he once had with a defibrillator still fresh in his mind, he dismissed the notion, recognising how, whenever he tried to make use of any electrical appliance, disaster seemed to inevitably ensue. On this occasion however he needn’t have worried for the machine was out of order and had been for some while.
Paddington then went for a walk around the emergency department. Amongst those waiting for treatment it seemed to Paddington that there were a great many who didn’t really need to be there at all and he wondered how the doctors and nurses coped in the face of such demand. Wandering further he passed through some double doors and found himself in a room where a doctor was sat at a desk with his head in his hands. And Paddington suddenly realised that not all doctors and nurses were coping.
‘What’s the matter?’ he asked the doctor who looked like he might have been crying.
‘Oh nothing’ the medic replied. ‘It’s just that sometimes it all feels too much and that I’m just not good enough’
‘My Aunt Lucy says that we should never blame ourselves for what isn’t our fault.’ said Paddington. ‘She’d say that you were undoubtedly doing your best in sometimes impossible circumstances and that’s all anyone could ever ask of you’.
And with that Paddington lifted up his hat and pulled out a marmalade sandwich. ‘Before he died, my Uncle Pastuzo used to say ‘A wise bear always keeps a marmalade sandwich in his hat in case if emergency’. Well it seems to me that this is just such an emergency.’
Paddington held out the sandwich. ‘Take it’ he said. ‘It’ll do you good. You know, one marmalade sandwich contains all the minerals and vitamins a bear needs for a whole day!’
The doctor took a bite and as he did so he felt instantly better. It wasn’t that he was suffering from any nutritional deficiency, nor was it that he liked marmalade, on the contrary he found the taste particularly unpleasant. But the kindness with which the snack had been offered was sufficient to lift his spirits’.
‘Thank you’ the doctor said, putting what was left of the sandwich on the desk. ‘I guess I had better see another patient. It’s just such a shame that we sometimes have to see so many that don’t really need to be seen at all’.
And it was then that Paddington had an idea. He made his way back to the middle of the waiting room and then, having taken a big breath in, gave the biggest ursine growl of his young life. And then, as the sound of his exhalation rattled the windows of the waiting room, something remarkable happened as dozens and dozens of patients whose medical needs were not worthy of their attendance in an A&E department decided they would rather not wait any longer and simply left, leaving only those who were truly in need of medical attention.
The medical staff were delighted at the effect of Paddington’s intervention and set about their work with renewed vigour. But even as they did so, Paddington noticed that his efforts hadn’t been sufficient to encourage Mr Curry to leave.
‘Are you aware there’s a bear in your department’ he said to the receptionist before turning towards Paddington and approaching him with such a frown on his face that it was all too apparent that he’d found yet another thing he could complain about.
‘Well I wouldn’t exactly call that benevolent, roaring so loudly and scaring so many needy people away. I’d say it was rather hypocritical coming from bear who is always insisting that we should always be kind. What would your precious Aunt Lucy say about that I wonder!’
Paddington paused a moment to consider his response. ‘I think, Mr Curry, that she’d say that kindness isn’t simply a matter of being nice, that sometimes it’s also about being fair, and that what’s fair isn’t always what everyone wants’. And then Paddington gave another of his hard stares, one that was so hard that even Mr Curry couldn’t help but turn tail and head out of the casualty department and into the cold night air.
Exhausted by his endeavours, Paddington sat down in one of the now numerous empty seats. He watched as all around him the NHS did what it does best, namely providing care that is free at the point of need to those who required it. And he wondered how Aunt Lucy was getting on and whether or not she’d be all right.
Half an hour had passed when Paddington heard a familiar voice. Looking up he saw it was his good friend Mr Gruber, who, he remembered, had taken a job as a hospital porter to supplement his income now that, as a result of the economic downturn, his antique shop was no longer an establishment that made a profit sufficient to live on.
‘Master Brown’, he said ‘I have been twisting my knickers looking for you. Aunt Lucy has been moved to a side room in a ward elsewhere in the hospital. The doctors are saying you can see her now. Follow me’.
Mr Gruber led Paddington down a long empty corridor till they came to the ward where Aunt Lucy had been taken. On the left there was a side room, the door of which Mr Gruber opened and ushered Paddington in. Aunt Lucy was lying in a bed, her breathing less laboured. She appeared to be asleep
‘The doctors, they soon will be here’ said Mr Gruber quietly. ‘When they arrive be careful not to be forgetting your queues and peas’. He smiled at his friend and then slipped out of the room.
Paddington sat down on the chair next to the bed and waited. After a few minutes the door opened and in walked two women both with stethoscopes draped around their necks. The taller of the two approached Paddington and introduced herself.
‘Hello Paddington, my name is…’
‘The same as mine’. The voice was barely audible but unmistakably that of Aunt Lucy. ‘I can see it written on your badge’
‘That’s right’, said the woman, turning to Aunt Lucy. ‘I’m a consultant who specialises in elderly care. And this is a medical student who’s working with me this evening. Her name’s…’
‘Judy’, exclaimed Paddington excitedly, suddenly recognising Mr and Mrs Brown’s daughter who was, he remembered, nearing the end of her medical training. ‘It’s so good to see you!’ He slipped off the chair and gave her a big hug.
The consultant smiled at them as she watched them greet each other. She sat down on the edge of Aunt Lucy’s bed and waited for Paddington as he climbed back onto his chair. expectantly at the consultant, wondering what it was that she would have to say.
‘How is she Doctor?’ he asked.
‘Well Paddington, I’m afraid your Aunt is very old now. As you know she’s been becoming frailer of late. And now she’s really quite poorly’ The consultant turned to Aunt Lucy and placed her hand on her paw. ‘We’ve done some tests, an X-ray and some scans, and we’ve found that there is a growth on her lungs. The kind of growth that is going to get bigger, the kind of growth that we can’t do a great deal about’. The consultant paused a moment, allowing Paddington to take in the enormity of her words. ‘Do you understand what I’m saying?’ she asked gently.
‘Are you saying, she’s got…’ Paddington paused, not wanting to add the word he knew he must. ‘Cancer?’
‘I’m afraid I do’
All was quiet for a few moments. Nobody spoke. Eventually Aunt Lucy broke the silence.
‘It’s all right Paddington’, she whispered. ‘It’s all right. It’s my time’.
Paddington slipped back down from his chair and climbed up onto Aunt Lucy bed and kissed her, a solitary tear rolling down his cheek. He looked back at the consultant.
‘Is there nothing you can do?’ he asked quietly.
‘Oh yes, there’s a lot we can do…but we can’t cure her.’
Again the consultant paused and Paddington looked down at Aunty Lucy again
‘We can’t cure her Paddington, but we can care for her’
Paddington looked up again as another tear began it’s long journey down his cheek and along his nose before falling silently to the floor. He wasn’t sure what to say.
The consultant turned again to her patient. ‘What’s important to you Aunt Lucy’ she asked.
‘Being with Paddington’, Lucy replied, taking Paddington’s paw in hers as she did so. ‘And marmalade of course!’ she added, managing a slight chuckle.
The consultant smiled again. ‘Would you like to go home?’
‘I rather think I would. You’ve been very kind, but I’m not sure I like being in a hospital.’
‘Then that’s what we’ll do. We’ll get everything organised for you to go home where you’ll be more comfortable. We’ll speak to Dr Mungo and make sure everything is properly in place. I’m sure that he and the district nurses will be able to provide all the support you’ll need’.
The consultant stood up and checking that nobody had anything else they wanted to ask made to leave. At the door she turned and asked Paddington whether perhaps she could ask him a question.
‘Of course!’, he replied
‘That time you met the Queen – did she really have a sandwich in her handbag?’
Paddington smiled. ‘Oh yes!’ he said earnestly. ‘And she used to make her own marmalade too. I’m sure that is the reason she lived to such a ripe old age. Is that a possibility?’
‘Well,’ replied the consultant, ‘I couldn’t say for sure, but I understand that marmalade is a good source of vitamins and minerals so it certainly won’t have done her any harm. Perhaps I should start carrying a marmalade sandwich in my medical bag – just in case of emergencies!’
And with that the consultant left the room, indicating to Judy as she did so that she should stay with Paddington and Aunt Lucy.
For a while none of them said anything, choosing instead to hold each other and share the preciousness of those few moments in each another’s company
‘Judy’ began Paddington eventually, ‘the consultant you’re working with, she is a good doctor isn’t she?’
‘Oh yes Paddington. She’s one of the very best. Like your Aunty Lucy she is very wise and exceptionally kind. She always knows what’s best – sometimes I think she must know everything that there is to know.’
‘Perhaps she should write a book’
‘Perhaps she already has!‘
Paddington’s eyes widened.
‘That’s right Paddington. And a very good book it is too. In fact it’s the book about getting older. You should read it one day!’
‘Perhaps I will’ said Paddington, ‘but first I think we should ring your parents. They’ll be wondering where I am. It’ll soon be Christmas Day and I wouldn’t want them to worry about me! And besides, I have a question I need to ask them’, he added, looking at his dear Aunt Lucy. ‘Would they please look after this bear!’
Far, far away, yet somewhere unimaginably close, Dr Ebenezer Scrooge is walking across beautifully green fields. Alongside him is Mrs Gray, his former patient, who had died only a year or two before the former GP. They are laughing together
Up ahead is a wood – a vast unexplored wilderness. There they meet a bear whose name is Pastuzo. He tells them how a new room has been built on the tree house where he lives and that recently a huge preserving pan has been delivered full to overflowing with perfectly ripe Seville oranges. He says that it’s almost as though a place is being prepared for a new arrival with everything that they could ever possibly want being made ready for them.
Pastuzo wonders who it might be. He says he thinks he knows. And now he can barely contain his delight.
The above story serves to complete both ‘The Scrooge Chronicles’ and ‘The Dr Mungo Chronicles’, the latter being made up of ‘Mr Benn – the GP’, ‘A GP called Paddington’ and ‘Scooby Doo and the Deserted Medical Centre’. Links to all these stories can be found below together with a review of ‘The Book About Getting Older’ written by Dr Lucy Pollock. You’ll also find links to a number of other GP related tales and some attempts at Christmas Comic Verse.
To read ‘The Scrooge Chronicles’, click here
To read ‘Mr Benn – the GP’, click here
To read ‘A GP called Paddington’, click here
To read ‘Scooby Doo and the Deserted Medical Centre’, click here
To read ‘Book Review: The Book About Getting Older’, click here
To read ‘How the Grinch and Covid stole General Practices Christmas’, click here
To read ‘Twas the NHS week before Christmas – 2022’, click here
To read ‘Dr Jonathan Harker and the post evening surgery home visit’, click here
To read ‘Bagpuss and the NHS’, click here
To read ‘Jeeves and the Hormone Deficiency’, click here
To read ‘Jeepy Leepy and the NHS’, click here
To read ‘The Three Little GPs and the Big Bad Secretary of State for Health’, click here
To read ‘A Dream of an Antiques Roadshow’, click here
To read ‘The NHS Emporium’, click here
To read ‘Mr McGregor’s Revenge – A Tale of Peter Rabbit’, click here
To read ‘Dr Wordle and the Mystery Diagnosis’, click here
To read ‘The Happy Practice – A Cautionary Tale’, click here
To read ‘The Three General Practitioners Gruff’, click here
To read ‘General Practices are Go!’, click here
To read ‘A Mission Impossible’, click here
To read ‘A Grimm Tale’, click here
To read ‘The General Practitioner – Endangered’, click here
To read ‘The State of Disrepair Shop’, click here