Mabel and the Blessed Virgin
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
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.