Char­lie and Jack

Dr. Wil­liam O’Fla­herty writes about one of his more in­ter­est­ing pa­tients

The Compass - - NEWS - — Dr. Wil­liam O’Fla­herty is au­thor of a best-sell­ing mem­oir en­ti­tled “Tom­cats and House Calls: Mem­oir of a Coun­try Doc­tor.” He worked a 40-year ca­reer as a coun­try doc­tor in New­found­land and New Brunswick. He was the coun­try doc­tor in Western Bay, on the

Char­lie was 63 years old and had lived with his fa­ther all his life down there on the High­lands along the North Shore, just be­low Bow­bank’s Cove.

His fa­ther, Jack , now 91 years of age was a fish killer all his life and was still hale and hearty, up and around ev­ery day, ad­mired and re­spected amongst the fish­ing peo­ple in the com­mu­nity, God fear­ing and pay­ing his church dues right on time.

The two of them were pa­tients at the Western Bay clinic for a num­ber of years; they both had pa­per records there — records, let it be known, that were vastly dif­fer­ent in size and con­tent. The old gen­tle­man’s chart was quite thin, hold­ing within its folder only sev­eral re­ports and clin­i­cal notes. Jack rarely vis­ited the — in­deed, he rarely vis­ited any med­i­cal fa­cil­ity any­where.

Char­lie’s record, on the other hand, was vo­lu­mi­nous; it re­minded me of my days as a young in­tern in the clin­ics at the Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal in St.John’s, where we re­ferred to such a pa­per record as a “wheel­bar­row chart,” in that the wheeled con­veyance was needed to trans­port the thing down the cor­ri­dors of the hos­pi­tal. We ex­ag­ger­ated, of course, but the reader will get the gist of what I am say­ing.

Char­lie, you see, was a hypochon­driac. In­deed, let it be said, he was a hypochon­driac of mam­moth pro­por­tions. One of my col­leagues — a spe­cial­ist, no less, and well­versed in mat­ters med­i­cal, who had been con­sulted re­gard­ing his med­i­cal com­plaints stated that if there was an Olympic con­test for hypochon­dri­acs.

Char­lie would come away with gold ev­ery time. Char­lie had never mar­ried, but, as stated, had lived in the fam­ily home, stay­ing on with his fa­ther while the other fam­ily mem­bers moved on. He ap­peared to be of av­er­age in­tel­li­gence and had got­ten his high school leav­ing cer­tifi­cate, or what­ever was its equiv­a­lent back then when he was a teenager. He helped out a bit in the fish­ing boat when his fa­ther was ac­tive in that in­dus­try, but mostly he stayed ashore and helped his mother in the gar­den and in the kitchen. When she died he, with con­sid­er­able help from a clean­ing woman, a widow — who was also a good cook of “rough grub” — looked af­ter the house­hold re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, he con­tribut­ing as much as his per­ceived health prob­lems would al­low.

Jack re­ferred to his son as ‘‘the young fella”....

Hardly a week went by with­out at least one visit to the clinic from Char­lie. His com­plaints were mul­ti­ple, his wor­ries nu­mer­ous, his re­quests for in­ves­ti­ga­tions le­gion. Within the con­fines of his chart were re­ports of ev­ery in­ves­ti­ga­tion known to the med­i­cal com­mu­nity, or­dered by mul­ti­ple doc­tors, in­clud­ing yours truly, and by long de­parted physi­cians who had treated him be­fore my time on the shore.

Oc­ca­sion­ally, on his vis­its to the clinic he would be ac­com­pa­nied by his fa­ther who came along for the ride and , of course, paid the taxi fare since, as he stated more than once, “the young fella ain’t got ONE cent to his name”...

One med­i­cal en­counter, which oc­curred in the sum­mer of the last year I prac­tised on the shore, mer­its de­scrip­tion.

Pic­ture, if you will, an old fash­ioned two storey New­found­land house — clap­board sid­ing, flat roof, brick chim­ney, a wood house close by and out­house a lit­tle ways away.

I ar­rive, black bag in hand; I have been called on a house call, you see, and I am ush­ered into the kitchen—low ceil­ing, low­ered beams, wood stove, sparsely fur­nished with a ta­ble, few chairs and a set­tle.

On the sette is Char­lie and dur­ing the whole visit he is silent, lis­ten­ing, not say­ing a word...

Pacing back and forth is Jack. He is up­set, and when­ever that oc­curs he is in the habit of us­ing a dish towel like one would a paci­fier, wip­ing his mouth and face and wind­ing it around one hand and then the other... He glares at me... “Doc­tor! I wants you to give dat young fella a good checkup!”..

“Jack, I gave Char­lie a checkup a month ago, and one back in the win­ter as well....”

He in­ter­rupts , as I try to talk; ”X-rays. What about X-rays?” “Jack, lis­ten....” “Blood tests? How about blood tests?” “Jack, we’ve done all that and found noth­ing. Lis­ten, we got all the re­ports out there in his chart , out there in the car; it’ll take a few min­utes to bring it in...”

“NEVER MIND the chart! .. lis­ten, Doc­tor, I’m gettin’ sick and tired o’ dat young fella com­plainin’. He’s got a bad head, an’ a bad back, an’ a bad stom­ach; my God, he com­plained a few days ago about a part of him gettin’ sore dat I never heard of be­fore. Doc­tor, he got more com­plaints than a harse could haul!”

He was quite ag­i­tated, pacing all over the kitchen, point­ing at Char­lie ev­ery now and then, and giv­ing that dish towel a full work­out...

“Doc­tor, I’ll tell you wot. I wants you to give dat young fella a GOOD checkup, one more time, an’ if you don’t find NOTHIN’ wrong wit him, this time, you know wot?”

I waited for what was com­ing next — I have a deep re­spect for the wis­dom of the el­derly... “I’m put­tin’ him in the home!” He re­peated: ”By God, I’m put­tin’ him in dat place down in da Grates! in dat place run by the gov­ern­ment!” The new checkup re­vealed noth­ing. Char­lie never did go into a home. One month later the old man died of a stroke.

He had a grand send off, did Jack. A grand three-day Ir­ish wake with ver­bal ac­co­lades, all round, and toasts ga­lore, with a small drink to his mem­ory and the cler­gy­man say­ing that ‘tis rare to find a man of such cal­i­bre and he an hon­our and sup­porter of the church for near a full cen­tury, and count­ing.

A very short while later, af­ter a de­cent in­ter­val, the clean­ing lady, she wid­owed and all, in a short cer­e­mony presided over by the Church be­came the bride of Char­lie, “the young fella”, and moved into the old homestead...

And they both lived hap­pily ever af­ter; in­deed, for some rea­son, some­how, Char­lie’s com­plaints and his fre­quent clinic vis­its de­creased in num­ber; and all the crowd around who knew them said she was the best thing that ever happed to him.

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