I love Doctors. It has to be one of my guilty pleasures in the daytime TV schedule. It’s also something of a dark horse. It has been on our screens for some 16 years now, yet aside from the terminally ill, the elderly and maternity leave mums, no one seems to have heard of it. It seems to be taking a break from our TV screens to make way for the Olympics, but I hope it returns soon.
Doctor is a continuous serial drama (oh go on then… soap) that is set at a GP surgery in the fictional Birmingham suburb of Letherbridge. The stories in Doctors normally follow two strands. One strand will involve the doctors, nurses and receptionists at the doctors’ surgery. All sorts has happened to them and compared to some soaps, it does have a very high turn around rate of staff. Whether this is true of all GP surgeries, I have no idea, but I suspect that the death toll of staff at most GP surgeries may not be quite as high as those in Doctors.
The second strand involves the patients of the surgery. Sometimes it is a bit like Casualty where they identify someone at the beginning and then they have some kind of medical incident that will then involve them having to visit the doctors’ surgery in Letherbridge in order for it to be resolved.
It’s this reason that I love Doctors. They are not afraid of taking risks. I have seen storylines involving child prostitution, domestic abuse, drug abuse, euthanasia, police brutality, anorexia, all at quarter to two in the afternoon. My mum also loves Doctors and she told me that apparently a lot of new scriptwriters, directors and other TV crew use Doctors as a bit of a training ground. This sometimes is quite clear to see as some episodes are dramatic masterpieces while others fall flat completely. However, it’s this boldness that I like. The two strands means that you have the excitement of a new story but the continuity of the characters from the surgery that somehow, holds it all together. It can be a bit twee and middle class at times, but then again it is about a load of doctors, so that may not be too much of a surprise. But the way that they often leave storylines opened ended with no full resolution at the end is often quite realistic, especially where health matters are concerned.
The day of the operation eventually rolled around. So there I was at eight o’clock in the morning on 19th January 2011, sitting on the edge of a bed while a nurse explained to me how a hospital gown operated. She was mid-way through her preamble when an anaesthetist rushed in carrying a clip board.
“Urm… I’m sorry to interrupt, but we need you in surgery straightaway…”
The nurse looked a little startled and I was told to quickly get undressed and put the gown on immediately.
After I had done this and was sitting up, in the bed, the anaesthetist gingerly approached the bed. He was quite short and stocky with a mane of dark hair and a beard.
“So Mrs Read, could you confirm your date of birth for me?”
I went through all the normal hospital protocol and he quickly ran through the precautions of the operation. I signed the consent form and he drew on the left side of my face and neck to show where they were going to operate. That was a bit reassuring. Heaven forbid they actually take out my kidney by mistake.
A porter magically appeared and I was rushed, quite quickly, to the operating theatre. I was put to sleep and my last memory was looking at the clock in the anaesthetist’s room and it said a quarter to nine.
When I came round, back in my hospital room it was half past three. Blimey. It must have been a pretty big operation. I generally felt OK if a little sore. I always became aware of something protrubing from my neck. I slowly turned my head to the left and saw two transparent tubes coming out of my neck. I slowly began to sit upright on my bed, to see what the tubes were attached to. They were attached to two small jars that looked a bit like milk bottles. These milk bottles were sat in a little cage that looked a bit like a milk bottle carrier that you see milkmen use. In the bottles, there was blood. Mmmm.
About five minutes later a nurse came in to check my temperature, blood pressure and the amount of oxygen in my blood.
“Ah… you’re back in the land of the living I see..”
“Just about… what are these?” I said holding up the bottles in the cage.
“They are your drains. When the blood reaches a certain level, we will remove them for you.”
“When will that be?”
“Well everyone’s a bit different, but probably not for a day or two…”
Great. That meant no shower, going to the loo being a bit nightmare and not much sleep. Still I was alive so that was a bonus.
Visiting time rolled around and although my parents, my sister and my husband all said how marvellous I looked, you got the distinct impression that they were a bit shocked. It wasn’t until I nipped to the loo and saw a reflection of myself that I saw why. I had a massive scar that started from my left shoulder and arched all the way round to behind my left ear. However it was the left side of my face that was more shocking. As the tumour had wrapped itself around one of my facial nerves, Mr C had to remove the nerve during the operation. The result of this was that now, the left side of my face hung limp. I tried to smile but it was only a half smile. When I spoke, only the right side of my face moved so it looked a bit like an Elvis Presley lip curl. Ah huh huh.
I was mortified. I knew that would be some facial changes but I wasn’t prepared for this. When I came out of the bathroom, Mr C was there with his registrar laughing and joking with my parents.
“Ah there she is. How are you feeling?”
“What have you done? I can’t believe I look like this…”
The room became silent.
“Well from our perspective, the operation was a success. It was a long one. You have been through quite a lot for today so it’s understandable that you feel a bit emotional. I’ll pop in a see you tomorrow to see how you are…”
We chatted a bit more about the drains and then off he went, looking a bit emotional himself.
“Well love, we’ll leave you to it. You’ve had a long day and we’ll come and see you tomorrow.”
And off my visitors went and I was left with two drains sticking out of my neck, trying to work out how to get some sleep.
A couple of days later I was discharged and ready to go home. I remember on the drive home, feeling completely detached from the world around me. People were getting on with their lives and as it was a Saturday, that involved shopping. As we pulled up at some traffic lights I was amazed by these ant like people busying themselves, hustling and bustling and for what? A new colander from Wilko’s. Some dog food. A haircut. Treats for the kids. The normality of it all seemed so removed from me. I was a little bit scared of it. Would I ever get back there? Would I always be someone who had to be ferried somewhere like some precious cargo that could never be exposed to sunlight? It all seems a bit dramatic now and doubtless medication was clouding my judgement at the time. But I knew, ever back then, life would never be the same again.