Going Our Way Chapter 4

by Vera Leff

Dr. Anderson’s living-room was a lofty, gloomy room situated behind the surgery. The dark oak furniture was heavy and solid; the gilt-framed pictures, the red-patterned carpet, the large fireplace, all had an air of old-fashioned dignity which not even the years of war and violent change had been able to alter one degree. When Donald was a schoolboy, Dr. Anderson had thought once or twice about moving to a modern house in a newer neighbourhood, but always there was his loyalty to the surgery. “The patients like to know I’m on the spot” he said. And then his wife had died and there were more’ reasons for staying in the old familiar home. Donald grew up knowing two lives. The rough and tumble of the Rankin Street school-gang, in which he was more than able to hold his own; and the quiet, studious atmosphere of his home, where the appeal at the mysterious, exciting bookshelves and his father’s example soon led him along the path of his chosen career.

It was a cold, rainy evening, and as usual after supper, Donald and his father settled down into the very masculine leather armchairs on either side of the fire. Donald had his lecture-notes on his knee but somehow he could not concentrate. Marie’s refusal to see him again had not daunted him, but he was thinking very deeply about her attitude, and in whatever light he thought of her he found that he was more and more in love with her. There something about her pride and seIf-respect that drew him . . . . was it the difficulty of the chase? he wondered. Of course not! Marie was not playing a cheap game with him, but was acting absolutely true to her own honest feelings. He loved her for that. He had not been brought up in the neighbourhood without understanding the difficulties that went on behind the shabby front-doors. Marie’s own troubles roused in him a great desire to help, and it was not for pity but for love. He was glad he felt decided about that. “The pig-headed little darling!” he thought. “’I’ll show her that she can’t run away from me!”
Dr. Anderson lit his pipe, and drew courage from the friendly smoke that curled upwards past his head. “Donald!” he said, but his son’s thoughts were far away. Dr. Anderson almost let the moment pass. Why bring a disturbance into the peace of the evening, especially when he had had such a hard day? But then, every day was hard, and the disturbance would still remain in his own heart. No! He had to be out with it, and now was as good or bad a time as any. “DONALD!” he said sharply, and Donald sat up so abruptly that his note-book fell to the ground. “Yes, Dad ?”

Dr. Anderson conferred with his pipe for another few moments, but now his son was ready, waiting for him.
“Donald. I want to have a few words with you. It’s not often, you know” we have a chat together!” he smiled, wistfully. “Well, you have your time taken up with the surgery, and I have so many lectures and meetings.”
Donald felt guilty. It was true that he and his father found very little leisure to spend together although there was a deep bond of affection between them.
“Ah! The meetings. That’s what I wanted to speak to you about, Donald.”
Now his father’s gaze was fixed firmly on him, but Donald returned the look, half guessing what was coming.
“I’ve always tried to give you freedom. But now I think you’ve overstepped the mark. To put it plainly –” Dr. Anderson suddenly lost patience. “I think you spend too much time at meetings, and not enough at lectures. Your finals are in a few months, you know!”
“I haven’t failed any exam. yet!” Donald spoke quietly but confidently. “So don’t worry Dad!” He tried to sidetrack the coming storm with a light-hearted laugh.
“But I am worried. And about other things than your examinations.” Dr. Anderson would rather have dealt with a difficult case than have this discussion with his son. If only life would run smoothly, according to plan. Why was there always this unrest, this sense of upheaval? All a man wanted was peace to earn a quiet living; to heal sick patients or dispatch them as comfortably as possible if it came to that – and to guide his son in the well-worn path of his forbears.
“Donald, I think you are in need of guidance.” Dr. Anderson stood up before the fireplace, and felt a little more confident before this quietly stubborn young man. Donald tried to be patient and look respectful, although in spite of himself he was straining to argue and dispute with his father.
“These socialist meetings that you go to!” said Dr. Anderson… “When you take over the practice, you’ll have to drop all that, you know. A doctor leads a very public life. And after all, your job is medicine, not politics.” He felt that he had been tactful. Not the overbearing father, but the wise counsellor. He was quite unprepared for Donald’s answer.
“I’m not going to take over the practice, father!”

Twenty years of hard work, the most solid achievement of his life, vanished into nothingness. Dr. Anderson was silent for a moment, and then his disappointment found release in anger. “So that’s your loyalty and gratitude!” he said bitterly. “The practice was good enough to keep you and pay for your studies. You didn’t criticise my way of working then! And I suppose a father’s hopes mean nothing to you modern young people. Nothing, nothing is of value to you but your own impossible ideas!” he glared at his son.
“Look, Dad!” Donald tried to speak calmly. He had an urgent wish to make his father see his point of view. “I want to be a doctor all right. I only hope I’ll be half as good as you. But I don’t want to work in the old way. Everything’s changing. Things have got to change. And you can’t leave medicine out. Why, it’s one of the most important things in people’s lives. I want to do things the new way, the organised way. Can’t you see, Dad ?” he pleaded.
“It took me twenty years to build up this practice for you, Donald!” Dr. Anderson was sad more than angry now. “I had hoped that you would be glad of the chance to settle down here’ without the same struggle I had.”
Another anxious thought was troubling him. Might as well have it all out now, he decided. “I thought, too, that you would be glad of the chance it would give you to marry young. But, naturally, to some suitable girl of your own class –”
“My own class?” said Donald, and a new note in his voice suddenly infuriated the Doctor.
“Of course! Someone who would help you with your career. NOT the sort of girl you were seen out with the other night!”
“What sort of girl?” Donald’s voice was dangerously quiet and cold. “One of my own panel patients! It’s not done, Donald.”
“Not done! Not done! Then Donald’s anger overflowed. “I’ll tell you a few other things that aren’t done that should be done!” he said, standing up to his father, man to man. “It’s not done to care about the wife and family of a man when he’s sick and off work. It’s not done to ask too closely about their home conditions or why they can’t go to Harley Street for help when they need it. It’s not –”
Dr. Anderson tried to speak, but Donald shouted him down.
“I know. That’s politics, not medicine! Well, in my opinion it’s only common humanity, or if you like it, common-sense. And I tell you definitely I’m not going to tie myself to this old-fashioned practice or to any silly snob of a girl, either!”
Dr. Anderson wanted nothing better now than to make peace with his son. He was fair enough to see that there was justice in his arguments, although the blow to his own hopes was a painful one. After all, youth is always hasty, he thought. There was time yet before these matters were finally decided.
“Well, Donald!” he said. “Let’s not be enemies over this – “A violent ring at the door-bell cut through their talk like a knife-stab.
“It’s the surgery. After hours too!” Through years of habit, Dr. Anderson could recognise the urgent message of the bell. “I was looking forward to a rest,” he said, glumly. He went towards the door. “I gave the housekeeper the evening off.”
“I’ll go, Dad!” Donald put him back in his armchair. “Perhaps it’s only for medicine.”

He went out to the surgery door. Wearily, Dr. Anderson waited in his chair. How often in recent years he had thought of the time when his son would be qualified to take some of the burden of work from his hands; to carry on with youthful energy when he was beginning to tire; to take over the great tradition of the past and give it new life. Well! Perhaps in a way he had never dreamt of, this might come true. But no man parts easily with a long-cherished idea, and Dr. Anderson felt a great pang at the thought of a future, so different from his own life. Through his bewildered thoughts, he suddenly became aware of anxious voices in the hallway. Then the door was flung open and Donald came in, closely followed by man whom Dr. Anderson recognised as a patient of some years’ standing.
“Doctor! You must come at once. Please. It’s my wife!” The man’s blue eyes were staring from reddened eyelids. Two deep lines ran from nose to mouth, as though anxiety had carved them with a sculptor’s chisel in his thin face. His overcoat was wide open, his frayed shirt without a tie.
“You’re on my panel aren’t you? What’s your name?” said Dr. Anderson, rising, from his chair and shaking the weariness from his mind.
“I’m John Abinger. On your panel, sir. It’s my wife. She’s having a baby.” “But I’m not her doctor. Have you a midwife ?”
Donald felt the man’s torture. Speed! Hurry!! COME! His whole person seemed to plead, but awe at the sanctity of a doctor’s private room choked the words back into his throat. “Doctor!” His voice came out in a hoarse whisper. “I’m afraid she’ll bleed to death!”
Donald had already collected his father’s hat, coat and the familiar emergency bag. Hastily, they got into the Doctor’s car, stumbling over the doorstep in the darkness and the rain. The engine started up with some difficulty, roaring protestingly.
“She’s cold!”, said the Doctor. He had to steer carefully out of the narrow garage. Once he got too close to the side and had to reverse in again.
The man sat uneasily on the edge of the seat. His cold hands were clenched together. “We’ll soon be there. Don’t worry!” Donald whispered, but inwardly he fumed with impatience. On the way, Dr. Anderson put the usual formal questions to him, getting the position clearer. Last-minute emergency calls always annoyed him. The patient or her relatives must have made a mistake somewhere. Things just shouldn’t happen like that, he felt. And yet they always were happening, he sighed to himself.
“Why didn’t you book her up in a hospital?” he asked. “There was no room. We tried four or five. No one would book her,” said the man. “She had the other two with a midwife, but I suppose something must have gone wrong this time.” He kept his eyes down, speaking dully. Nothing mattered except that the car should fly homewards as fast as his thoughts and get the doctor to the mother’s side. The Abingers lived on the second floor of a’ three-storied house. On the ground floor they encountered two very small figures squabbling over a rusty-looking tin.
“Ma said I could have it!” yelled one. “It’s mine!”– dirty little fingers pulled greedily.
Mr. Abinger stopped. “Why aren’t you with Mrs. Cooke ?” he asked crossly.
“She had to go on the night-shift, Dad!” said the bigger child. “She said next week would’ve been all right! Gimme that tin!” he returned the attack.
“She won’t let us in, Dad!” cried the little one. “And I wanna go to bed!” he suddenly felt unhappy, but still clutched the tin.
“Soon! Soon! Be good, kids!” said the father despairingly. The three men struggled past the children on the narrow stair.
The midwife met them on the landing, where in a dark corner a tap dripped incessantly. “Is that a Doctor?” She could hardly believe it; it seemed like a miracle that the man had managed to get one, at such short notice.
“Shall I come in; too?” whispered Donald half reluctantly.
“Yes. You could help!” Dr. Anderson was all briskness now; efficient and the only calm one of them all.
The man watched these strangers enter the room which held his few poor possessions and his suffering wife; all that he valued in the world. The door closed gently, and he stood outside on the dark landing, waiting.

The room was not much brighter than outside, the small electric bulb barely throwing light into the shadowy corner in which stood a very large, brass-posted bed. The doctor and midwife went straight to the bedside. The silence of the woman lying there was more terrifying than any cries or moans. Donald stayed humbly.near the window, hemmed in between the bare table and the cooking-stove, on which stood a cracked basin and a kettle of boiling water. The floorboards were covered with old newspapers spread out “for the sake of hygiene,” Donald realised with a shock. Just above his head a pulley was hung with still wet washings. The mother had been taken unexpectedly with pains in the middle of her weekly wash. Her last conscious thought had been that there wouldn’t be a clean change of clothing for Kenny and Tom.

Dr. Anderson with quick movements took off his jacket, opened his bag and gave the midwife some shining instruments. “Boil these!” he instructed. “And I want hot water and a towel. “ Both he and the midwife knew from the exhausted condition of the patient, and the circumstances they were in, that there could be little hope. “But while there’s life there’s hope!” The old tag flashed through his mind, as in emergencies it had always done since his student days. And as always, it inspired him to give his best.
“Donald! Prepare this injection!” He handed him needles, syringe and a small box with tiny glass phials. “I must try to control the womb. We must stop the blood !”
With the trained obedience of a soldier, Donald carried out his instructions without fumbling. The injection was ready. He handed it to his father, on whose forehead was a film of sweat.
“Feel her pulse!” Donald gently lifted the cold, clammy hand. The fingers were knotty at the joints and across the palm ran deep grooves. “The scars of hard work,” thought Donald.
Dr. Anderson bent over the scarcely-conscious woman, using all the skill and gentleness that his experienced fingers knew.
“How is she?” he asked after a time without looking up.
“Pulse stilI beating . . .” Donald assured him. “Wait . . . no . . . it’s faint.”
With what anxiety he held the heavy hand in his own.
“Dad . . .” he spoke urgently, bending carefully over the blood-soaked bed. “Is there nothing else we can do?”
Dr. Anderson paused for a moment. “A blood transfusion. Yes, that would help!” He returned to his efforts. “But that can’t be arranged. It is . . .” he spoke in little pauses. “In a few places. . . not here yet. . . .”
“Then what’s the good of talking!” Donald said bitterly, but beneath his breath. He felt that he could tear down the very walls to save the patient, and yet nothing they could do could avail.
“She used up all her strength,” whispered the midwife.
Donald looked round the room, just coming out of a daze. He was an experienced student in midwifery at the Lane End Hospital, but this was the first time he had been present at a home confinement. All his textbook knowledge recoiled at the absence of light, air, space, and the hygienic and antiseptic hospital atmosphere to which he was accustomed. Yet his father and the midwife seemed not to have noticed anything amiss. They’ve seen so much they’ve become blind, he thought angrily.
The bereaved husband still stood beside the door. Against his better judgment he hoped that these supreme beings who held the secret of life and death in their trained hands, might yet save his wife.
“You should have got a doctor sooner,” said Dr. Anderson quietly, coming out to the man to tell him that resignation must now take the place of hope.
“We couldn’t afford no doctors or specialists,” he said dully. Weeping was too easy for his sorrow.
Although there was nothing more to be done except write out a few formal words on a certificate, the Doctor and his son went over for the last time to the bedside. The work-worn hands were rested now, calm and unmoving.
With a shock, Donald noticed a clothes-basket on a chair near the bed, in which a bundle stirred lightly. “What a pity it survived!” he thought, then almost laughed at the irony of his thought. A pity that a new-born baby was alive and well! When the front page of every newspaper in the land was pleading, urging, demanding more babies.
Donald felt he could stand no more and abruptly left the place. As he ran down the uncarpeted stairs, he once more stumbled over the two young ones who had just been blessed with a new baby sister. They were sleeping, one against the other.
Dr. Anderson caught him up in the street. “Bad case of haemorrhage,” he said, conversationally.
“I’ll walk home, Dad,” said Donald, and left him standing beside the car in the wet, dark, silent street.

Chapter 5