Ma­bel and the Blessed Vir­gin

The Compass - - OPINION -

I don’t re­mem­ber when I laughed so much while read­ing a book. The au­thor, Wil­liam O’fla­herty, was born in North­ern Bay. Com­plet­ing a med­i­cal de­gree at Mcgill, he worked seven years in fam­ily prac­tice in St. John’s. From 1967 to 1989, he lived and prac­ticed as a coun­try doc­tor in his Con­cep­tion Bay home­town.

Now re­tired and liv­ing in New Brunswick, he fig­ures he’s made as many, or more, house calls as any fam­ily doc­tor in Canada. Through 40-plus years and thou­sands of pa­tient en­coun­ters, both hu­man and an­i­mal, O’fla­herty learned that ab­so­lutely any­thing could be await­ing him on the other side of the clinic thresh­old.

“The ul­ti­mate re­sult of all the ef­forts of a physi­cian in his prac­tice is, sad to say, fail­ure,” he says. “As dili­gent as he may be, as ex­pert in his knowl­edge and its ap­pli­ca­tions as is hu­manly pos­si­ble, some­day all his pa­tients will die. But that is not to say that, along the way, there are not great mo­ments of triumph, sat­is­fac­tion, and, of­ten, hi­lar­ity.”

O’fla­herty’s book, “Tom­cats and House Calls: Mem­oirs of a Coun­try Doc­tor,” is filled with such sto­ries of triumph, sat­is­fac­tion and hi­lar­ity, sto­ries about life, death and the truly un­ex­pected from a life­time of liv­ing and doc­tor­ing in ru­ral ar­eas.

Many of the sto­ries are gut-split­tingly funny. For this col­umn, one will suf­fice.

Ma­bel was a strong be­liever in God, who she re­ferred to as “the Almighty.” O’fla­herty writes: “she spoke of­ten of her faith to whomever would lis­ten. This as­pect of her life helped her over­come sig­nif­i­cant ob­sta­cles, es­pe­cially in the days be­fore Con­fed­er­a­tion with Canada, when there was wide­spread poverty amongst the scat­tered peo­ple of the ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.”

On the night of her hus­band’s 65th birth­day, Ma­bel took with what she later called “a shockin’ pain in me belly.”

She ad­mit­ted to O’fla­herty she had eaten “a bit of pig pork for sup­per.” She had the same pain the year be­fore, again “af­ter eat­ing pig pork,” she ex­plained. Mean­while, she knew she shouldn’t be eat­ing the stuff, she added.

Wak­ing her hus­band, she in­structed him, “Amos, go down­stairs and bring me up that picture of the Blessed Vir­gin. You know the one, over there by the man­tle, hangin’ on the nail.”

The du­ti­ful hus­band was half sleep and still reel­ing from the ef­fects of “a few nips of rum” he had con­sumed at his birth­day party.

The way Ma­bel ex­plained it to her doc­tor, “When you are 65, af­ter all, cel­e­brate all you want. You don’t have too many birth­days left.”

Amos stum­bled down­stairs in the dark, re­trieved the picture and lugged it up­stairs to his wife.

“Doc­tor,” Ma­bel said, “I put the picture on me stom­ach right where the pain was. Right there,” she added as she pointed to her belly. “First off, I didn’t think it was goin’ to work. But, you know, af­ter a few min­utes the pain seemed to ease off.” A few min­utes later, she “dwalled off, and didn’t wake up till dawn.”

Then, ap­pre­cia­tive of the re­sults brought about by the Mother of God, Ma­bel took a closer look at the picture. To her ut­ter and com­plete sur­prise, it wasn’t the Blessed Vir­gin af­ter all. In­stead, it was a pho­to­graph of Joey Small­wood!

O’fla­herty says he “couldn’t help but think that, amongst the con­sid­er­able ar­ray of am­mu­ni­tion that medicine has to fight dis­ease, re­lieve pain, and help the suf­fer­ing of hu­man­ity, a new one had been re­vealed. Which just proves that you never knew what will come through that clinic door, or what unique in­di­vid­u­als you will be called upon to deal with, day af­ter day.”

The good doc­tor de­votes equally hu­mor­ous chap­ters to, among other top­ics, “Milk Fever,” “Emily, Joshua and the Blue­berry Pigs,” “No Sick Soup for Lige,” “The Cler­gy­man and Filthy Lucre,” “An­gus, the Gen­tle Gi­ant,” “Esau and his Bib­li­cal Diet,” “No Bla­gard in Aunt Emma’s House,” “Bessie, the Fightin’ Tom,” “Poor Un­for­tu­nate Root Cel­lar Dweller,” “A Dif­fi­cult Pa­tient,” “The Old Lady with the Breed­ing Cats,” “Lawrence’s Haven of Peace,” “Wild Ride to Car­bon­ear” and “Mother Mul­laly of the Ob­stet­rics Unit.”

If, as the Good Book says, “a cheer­ful heart is good medicine,” then I would strongly rec­om­mend a lib­eral dose of O’fla­herty’s book. The medic­i­nal ben­e­fits are prodi­gious.

“Tom­cats and House Calls” is pub­lished by Boul­der Publi­ca­tions of Por­tu­gal Cove-st. Philip’s. Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at


Photo by Ni­cholas Mercer/the Com­pass

Ger­ald Smith of Dildo took ad­van­tage of some of the nice weather May 1 to get in some fly fish­ing. Smith was try­ing to hook some sea trout in Salt­wa­ter Pond in New Har­bour.

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