Dr Eric Stafford - Medicine
My name is Eric John Stafford and I was born on July 3rd 1925 in a little village called Crick in Monmouthshire, South Wales. I was a farmer's son but at sixteen and a half years of age I decided to have a go at medicine and so I went to Guys Hospital in London as a medical student in 1941 when the war was on. The first year I was evacuated to Tunbridge Wells after which I was still in Kent but came back to Guys for lectures. I got to know all about doodle bugs and those sort of things and we had to help deal with the casualties.
As a student you had to obey instructions rather like a maid to the cook. Guys gave their students an excellent grounding in all types of medical treatments. The professors there would ask, "What is your diagnosis?" and you might mumble,"I don`t know." You would be told to make up your mind and decide what it is. `You have to put a name to this`, they would say and you were hammered until you did. It was a strict but a wonderful training. On my week-ends off, I played rugby for the hospital side. In those days the first fifteen was very good and you were expected to turn out for practice on Wednesdays and Thursdays for training.
I wasn't that bright so I declined to do that and started a team called 'The Extra A' for men who, like myself, enjoyed their rugby but didn't want to turn out and train two or three times a week. We would play anybody who rang us up. At one time we went to play an Army unit and when we got there it was a seven-a-side match but seven-a-side rugby involved a lot of running about all over the pitch so we pulled out. But it was always very enjoyable and the same people would play for my team every week. Indeed it became quite difficult to get into it as it was very sociable. We loved playing but we didn't want to devote all our spare time to the game. At one time I went to join up but was told that they wanted me where I was more than they wanted pilots. So I was told to stay where I was. I spent the next five or six years getting my qualifications before I was called up into the Army to do my National Service at the age of twenty-four.
I served for a couple of years where I served in Germany and Holland in the RAMC. I started off as a Lieutenant and I finished as a Captain. I was in charge of a small hospital in the Hook of Holland. I was with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and the East Yorkshire Regiment. Both regiments were keen on rugby so as well as being their doctor I played rugby for them both. When I came back, I had written letters from Berlin to many doctors for a job. Some of them didn't bother to answer but a Doctor Foster from Ancaster did. He said the job was open for me if I promised to come the very day I returned from Germany. I was to go and see him and he would interview me. So I travelled from Berlin to Monmouthshire where I stayed overnight and then from Monmouthshire to London by train and from London to Ancaster where I saw Dr Foster and he gave me the job.
I had met Margaret at primary school, a broken-down Church of England school with very poor tuition, and from there we both went to the Grammar School called Larkfield in Chepstow which was a mixed school so Margaret would be playing her hockey on one pitch and I would be playing my rugby on the other one. Our partnership started, I suppose when she was about sixteen, and we have been together most of the time since then. We got married back in Caerwent, a village a mile and half from Crick, at the local church and Margaret came up to Ancaster to join me in our flat over the surgery. We had four children born in 1953, 1956, 1959 and 1961, and none of them have followed me into medicine. The girls, Jane and Susie both went to Strathclyde University. Before Jane went there, nobody from England had ever been to Strathclyde. A father of a friend, who was from Scotland, knew all about further education and he found out about this course at Strathclyde which did all sorts of things, languages and office management and short-hand and typing and the rest of it. Jane and I went to Scotland to take a look at this place and Mrs Bennett who used to run the surgery arranged an appointment for me at 10 o'clock in the morning. I said, "It's a long way from here to Glasgow!" but we did it.
It was the first time they had been interviewed by a prospective client. It was usually the other way round; they interviewed the applicant. The term at Strathclyde used to start a few weeks before other institutions because the course had so much ground to cover. At the end of the course, representatives of the Foreign Office where Jane went to work, came to interview the students. Susie did exactly the same thing and also joined the Foreign Office and then went to Nigeria where she stayed for three years. She joined the yacht club run by the British Embassy. She got herself a small boat and spent her week-ends sailing. Mick, the eldest son, went to Oxford Poly to study. Simon went to Liverpool University to complete his education. He is a well-known poet in his part of London. All my family were sporty. The tennis court out there was used every weekend, with our friends from Lobthorpe bringing groups from all over. Our children learned to swim in the swimming pool in the garden.
I was with Dr Foster for just under a year. Then his friend, Dr Norman, who used to run the practice here in Colsterworth came along and asked me to go and work with him. So that is how I ended up in Colsterworth all those years ago. When I came I was twenty-seven years of age and I thought I knew everything. I was invulnerable. As you grow older you know less and less and less about more and more and more. We had a house on Bourne Road where a Mrs Sims had lived previously. We were there until 1958 and then we moved to our present house, Highfield. My predecessor, Dr Norman, had not really wanted to be a doctor. Farming was his first love but his Mum and Dad decided that he was to be a doctor. His father was qualified as a doctor and as a solicitor. But he died when Rex was seven or eight. His mother sold up the house and went off to live in hotels in different places all the time. Rex went to Uppingham School and at holiday times he went to stay with his mother in these hotels in the Lake District or in Scotland. His mother was an artist. In 1957-8 Dr Norman made up his mind that he had had enough and when he made enquiries about his pension to the people who managed the practice in those days, he was told that he had three or four years to go before he could claim it. He decided that he was going just the same and I remember he came into the surgery one day and said,"I am going to stop. You won't hold me to the six month's notice will you?" So he and his wife started to hunt for a house down in Somerset where they eventually went to live.
It took them about a year to find a plot of land on which to build their house and meanwhile I shuttled between our house on Bourne Road and the surgery. We moved into this house which was built in 1897 by a doctor who set just two rooms aside for the practice - the waiting room, a small damp dark room, and a so-called surgery. It was a fairly small oddly-shaped room with bottles all along various shelves and fire-place round the corner. Everybody seems to remember the green baize door. For some reason it sticks in people's minds. Dr Norman had it put in for sound-proofing. The door is still there without most of the green baize. In those days medicines were dispensed from concentrated medicines and you put one ounce into an eight-ounce bottle and filled it up with seven ounces of water. Dr Norman did in fact have some wonderful pain-killing tablets, aspirins in various colours. The red ones were the most powerful, you could not have too many of those. To cap it all when penicillin came in, Dr Norman did not stock it. Even on prescription you could not have it. I think that he could not afford to stock it.
When we did eventually get control of the house, on the first morning there were seven workmen here, one putting the telephone in the surgery. Previously you had to go from the surgery to the dining room to answer the telephone. We did alter the set-up by including a third room with a couch for examinations. Dr Norman would examine people in their own homes. There was no water in the surgery except some in a canister which was supposed to come through a filter. So all in all it was pretty rural! If you walk round the house you can see that it should have a window in the wall of the waiting room to match the pattern of the other windows. But that would have never have done. People could have sat and watched the doctor taking his ease in his garden. Similarly above the surgery there was another window where the maid was and she too could see the doctor enjoying his garden. We had Saturday morning surgery and when I first came we had Saturday evening surgery as well. This was back in 1953. However my mother had cancer and had undergone an operation so I belted off to see her. I heard that a chap came into the surgery and declared, That b... doctor! He thinks he can go off whenever he likes! That was the end of Saturday evening surgery.
In the mornings the surgery was held from 9 to 9.30 , though more often I was in the surgery at 8 o'clock . We did not have an appointments system. I think that appointment systems are for the benefit of the doctor not the patient. In those days if the patient didn't mind waiting, he would be seen on the day he wanted to be seen. He may have had to wait some time, but he knew he would be seen before the day was out. Sometimes I would be in the surgery until 9 o'clock at night. After morning surgery I would go out to the branch surgeries. On Monday I would do South Witham and Tuesday the branch surgery would be at Skillington where Buckminster people came as well. These branch surgeries were held in someone's front room. They would be hired out or the people would allow the doctor to use the rooms for free. It worked very well especially when it came to doling out the medicines, as very few people had cars then and it saved them making the journey to Colsterworth to collect them. It seems that no-one nowadays can get cough medicine from the surgery, and we used to dole out gallons of the stuff and some of the patients would swear by it. I expect it had a lot of licorice in it. It was often taken in hot water. It was said to be very nice.
Some doctor rang me up and asked what we did about blood pressure problems in the late 1950s. There was hardly anything you could give except phenobarbitone which would not do any good at all. I do think that some of the medicine we gave out was more of a placebo sometimes. The practice was different in those days because the doctor was expected to give twenty-four hour cover for all his patients. Dr Norman and myself would have about two thousand patients between us but within two or three years of my arrival there was an increase in activity in North Luffenham where there was an Air Force base whose clientele lived in South Witham. This led to my looking after around three and a half thousand patients. I invited the doctor at North Luffenham to help out but he said that I was doing a wonderful job and to carry on! I was on my own here and things were certainly very busy and it was difficult to get away. I found the people around here extraordinarily good, I have no complaints about them whatsoever, they were wonderful. You could talk to them in the middle of the night and say,"Are you happy about this if I see you in the morning?" and they would say yes or no, you knew exactly where you were. I got to the stage where I could almost answer the telephone without waking up! I was rung up one night at two o`clock in the morning and a voice said, "Hello doctor, mutter, mutter, mutter, could you come and see Arthur?" I put down the phone and got out of bed and said to my wife, "I don`t know where I am going." "Don`t worry," she said, "Get dressed, it will come to you." I went outside and got into the car. Where was I to go? I knew the area because it was a Buckminster exchange number. I drove to Woolsthorpe and all round the back lanes and so forth and couldn't find anyone. I went down School Lane and there was a light on outside a front door so I got out and it happened to be the right house! I said that I was sorry I has been so long, I had had trouble with the car. "Oh don`t worry", said the wife.
Sometimes another call would come in whilst I was out and then my wife would go down and put the lights on in the garage as a signal not to put the car away but to come in and find out where I had to go next. This was in the days before mobile phones. There was one chap at Easton I went to see who had had a stroke and on my return I had to go to Gunby where a woman was in labour. She had already had three or four children and was known to bleed after her deliveries but she had insisted on staying at home. I got her a bed in the hospital but she was going to have her pregnancy at home and her baby at home, no matter what the doctor said. I was fortunate to have two excellent nurses particularly Nurse Warner, a wonderful midwife. More than fifty per cent of mothers had to have their babies at home because of lack of care in Grantham and so I was very grateful to Nurse Warner who had her round here. I recall the first baby I delivered was to Mrs Baines in Sewstern . She had five or six babies, all girls. In those days we did the anti-natal examinations at home and when I went to see Mrs Baines, there they would sit side by side on the settee, one, two, three, four, five, as good as gold, all wonderfully disciplined. When the time came for me to retire, the youngest daughter Betty, whom I had delivered, was the one who presented a parting gift to me.
I don't think that people are more demanding now, but in many ways the Government have made so many horrible mistakes. I have criticised the Government for years. They suddenly said to all GPs, "We are deducting 6000 from your remuneration and you may have all your nights and week-ends off call." Every week-end free from Friday 8 pm to Monday 8 am! It is impossible to get full cover for that. So of course all the GPs said "Oh yes, thank you very much!" So now from 8 pm to 8 am every night and at the weekend, the doctors are off call. It is not right, it seems to me to turn the work into an office job rather than a vocation. I may be criticised for saying that but I don't remember making objections when I had been up all night delivering someone's baby and then taking the surgery in the morning. It might be said that I could be overtired the next day, but I can't remember making any mistakes. I don't think that my successor has been to many road accidents during his time here since 1988 or attended to coronaries or thromboses or that kind of thing where you have to leave your surgery saying,"I'm sorry, I'm off to an emergency, I'1l see you when I get back." Now, you just call the ambulance. He is in his surgery and no-one can move him it seems. It is a question of whether it is better to call the ambulance than to call you. Well that may be so, I don't know.
I was called out to a lot of road accidents, something I disliked intensely but I just had to do it. One particular accident stands out a mile in my memory. This girl was about 18 or 19 years of age and her father was a florist. He grew flowers and sold them on Nottingham market. She wanted to go and see them being sold. She had a word with the man who drove the lorry and went with him. In the early hours of the morning he ran into the back of a cement lorry at the other end of the by-pass. About 3 o'clock in the morning I got a message saying, "Doctor, we have a major emergency and would you kindly attend?" So off I went to find that the girl was trapped and the Fire Service and other people had been trying for an hour or two to release her, pulling her this way and that but they couldn't do it. Her legs were mangled between the seat and the batteries under the seat. It was a dreadful accident and she was conscious but gradually going downhill. I had to take the decision to remove both her legs, there was nothing else that could be done. She went off to the hospital and apparently within three or four days she proved to be the life and soul of the party in hospital. She came back here to thank me, the only one who has ever done so. I remember she showed us her tin legs and my little son, Mick, aged about 4 years of age, was very interested and kept tapping them. She sends me a Christmas card every year.
Another time there was a nasty accident outside the Fox Inn where a lorry was smashed up and the driver was killed in his cab. I didn't like going to accidents but it was part of the job. As for taking on a locum , that is another story. They bring their families and take over your house, and use your car and eat out of your deep freeze. We had a locum from Glasgow once who was a consultant obstetrician. but when he attended a woman in labour and problems arose, he didn't have a clue! The same chap went down the village to a patient who had tummy pains. He phoned me to say that she either had appendicitis of idiopathic-mesenteric-adenitis. I said that we didn't have those things here in Colsterworth. "She has either got appendicitis or belly ache, so what is it?" He decided that she had got belly ache. I did not really have time for any hobbies. Back in 1953 there were three people who were expected to take up responsibilities in the village, the doctor, the parson and the school-master. Other people may have had better brains but it was the done thing for these three people to take a leading role. I recall having a meeting with Canon Barraclough and the captain of the Cricket Club over whether Sunday cricket could be played. It was agreed that it could but it must be over by 6 o'clock in time for the Evening Service. It was extraordinary what power you had. I went to a meeting of the Men's Sports Club when I had only been in the village a week or two. Some of them had got together beforehand and made plans and I was duly elected president. I was on the Parish Council for many years as its president too, and I also served on the Ingle Charity Board, as I still do.
Running First Aid courses for the Ironstone Mines took up another evening every week. I was also kept busy mowing the Church and the Parish Burial Grounds as both were in great need of attention. We had advertised and advertised but no-one came forward so I took the job on myself, getting my son, Simon, to help me until he went to the university. I did mow the cemeteries for five years until at last someone did turn up and relieved my of my duties. I have enjoyed living in Colsterworth very much. It was wonderful to go down the village knowing everyone and everyone knowing you. As I look back, it is certain that medicines have become far more effective these days and the treatment and identification is much better and more efficient. However, I think the way the doctors treat their patients is worse. I think that is true. When a doctor gets a patient, the one thing in his mind is what is the problem and let's do what has to be done to get that patient better. Recently I was found to have something wrong with me and the young doctor said that he would get the consultant's opinion. I assured him that I didn't want any consultant's diagnosis, to forget it, his diagnosis was good enough for me. But I was told that he was obliged to refer me, it was a Government regulation. It was difficult to argue from a hospital bed though. After the assessment comes the treatment and you have got to have this and you have got to have that. The consultant put me on some medicine to stop my blood clotting but I said I didn't want it. He said that I must take it. But I told them in the end that I had decided that I no longer wanted to have this course of treatment. When I came home then of course I had phone calls from the hospital saying, "Where are you? We are looking for you", because I had missed the appointments at the clinics. The district nurses would keep coming and taking blood from me until I said,"Stop! I've had enough."
Sometimes I think they should just ask the patient does he want it or not. On the occasion of an incurable disease and an inevitable end, the patient ideally should have faith in his doctor who would do what is best for him. For a patient who knows that when he wakes up in the morning he is going to have to face another horrible day like yesterday, pain after pain after pain, with increasing doses of morphia and with no possible chance of improvement, it is the duty of the doctor under his Hypocratic Oath to do what is best for the patient as he sees it. I had such a case some years ago when the patient was clerical gentleman. He said to me, "Don`t you think I have had enough?" I knew what he meant and I asked him what his God would say. He replied that the God he knew would say that it was right to take that path. A week later he died a peaceful death. Someone has to take a decision - the patient, the doctor or God. It was always a case of trusting your doctor. You don't have doctors nowadays. You have super, super physicians. They know what to do for any illness you can think of but sometimes it seems that the caring side is lacking a little. It is typical of a man of my age to say that. Nurses take on the duties that belonged to doctors previously. Of course they are cheaper to employ. The Government seems to be trying to run the Health Service on the cheap, or cheaper at any rate. Now sisters can attend to the varicose veins and the hernias, for example. In my day nurses were not allowed even to give injections. Of course some of the nurses were very good. When a visiting consultant obstetrician attended one of my patients he hadn't a clue what to do when a problem arose.
I have enjoyed living in Colsterworth very much. It was wonderful to go down the village and to know everyone and everyone knew you. It was a different way of life. Though sometimes when I am in the queue at the Post Office people will say,"Hello doctor! How are you?" I think now where did I last see her? When she was 6 or 16? It is extremely gratifying to think that people still remember you. My youngest son goes down to the pub sometimes and people ask after me and compare me with Bamber. He is a wonderful chap but in any comparison I will win because I am not in practice now and people have warm thoughts about me! I was thinking about my own demise. I went to a funeral recently and the church was crowded with people all dressed in their black ties and so on. I said to my wife, "How will it be to have my funeral private?" "That would be fine," she said, "but people might like to celebrate your life and say what a wonderful chap you were." Well, I shan't be there, shall I? My wife will, and I expect she will have her way.
I would certainly choose medicine again, but how it was then not how it is now. I would be bored with as it is now. I'd have to be a different man altogether. The caring side seems to be lacking enormously. Although the patients are looked after better in many ways, the bedside manner is lacking. It was a different world then with so many home visits and I'd see children I'd brought into the world grow up. Final thoughts: If I hadn't rushed back from Berlin in 1952 and was given the Ancaster job, and if Dr Foster was not a friend of Dr Norman, then I would not be here today. So my wife and I have lived with great village folk (and other villages around) and we would not have had this lovely house with its great position to enjoy all these years. Such is fate. Colsterworth and the surrounding villages gave me my life's work from 1953 to 1988 for which I am eternally grateful.