It's not often a book comes along and I know the person who's written it, as in written by a doctor I'd worked with, but when I saw Country Doctor Tales of a Rural GP by Lifton GP Dr Michael Sparrow in the Constable catalogue I just couldn't resist asking for a copy...well how could I not?
Truth be told, though I provided holiday cover and disaster back-up for the Lifton practice for about fifteen years I was rarely called on, having been blessed with an exceptionally fine Health Visitor colleague possessed of that precious gift of prediction, plus the innate ability to avert most disasters for the two weeks she'd be away.
Basically the families loved her so much they could invariably hold off a crisis until she got back.
I'll perhaps gloss over the visit I had to do to the family living in the house decorated inside and out to match the parrot perched in the centre of the living room, but apart from that, no, nothing too dreadful comes to mind.
Over the years we did a lot of joint visits and I saw a lot of the families but I doubt Dr Sparrow really knew of my existence until my colleague moved on and I slotted into Lifton thinking I'd like a change which in fact, in the end, I didn't.
I had to increase my hours to cover it and though the surgery and the staff were lovely I couldn't manage the vast amounts of driving through holiday traffic way down into Cornwall to Egloseverywhere and TreperranalongtheA30 to see the patients.
I had enough trouble locating Devon Social Services, let alone getting to grips with Cornwall's and it was clear I'd be needing to find them.
But the first thing I saw when I walked in the surgery was a poster for this book. I'd toyed with the idea of fessing up about dovegreyreader scribbles (which very few people I worked with knew about) and scrounging a free copy but thought better of it.
Dr Sparrow did not seem too happy at the loss of his much-loved and respected Health Visitor, I was a poor substitute who would probably have to prove herself over the next fifteen years or so. This was going to take time but in many ways it felt like Lifton history repeating itself for me.
There's a great deal in the book about Mike's medical training all hilarious (we did almost get on first name terms, perhaps not quite, I moved swiftly on after a very long, hot and demoralising summer in 2007) , but what intrigued me most was his account of how he took on the Lifton practice from the long-established, dedicated but unusual team of Dr Christopher and his wife Dr Margaret (renamed by Mike but we all know who they were)
Drs C & M had arrived in Lifton (incidentally also the home of Ambrosia rice pudding) in 1954 and established a practice that changed not a jot in the face of successive government edicts, becoming something of a famed local institution and well, how can I put this, they were not really truly sure what a Health Visitor was for when I found myself allocated to their practice in my rookie years back in the 1970s, long before Dr Michael arrived.
These were the olden days of health visiting when all families had my home phone number and I'd effectively be on call unpaid for 24/7 in gratitude for the Health Authority paying the rental on the phone, and therefore getting calls at 3am because 'the baby wouldn't sleep'.
And before you ask, yes, I'd go out and help sort it, because in those days in rural Devon we did and I can hardly believe that now. You haven't lived until you've paced around a muddy farmyard at 3am with someone else's screaming baby wondering quite how you got yourself into this job.
So there we were in those halcyon newly married, pre-children times, packed up and ready for a day at the beach early one Saturday morning and I was more than disconcerted when the phone rang ominously.
'It's Dr Margaret for you.'
'For me? Really? Dr Margaret wants ME? But I've been there a year and I don't think she really knows who I am, let alone wants me for something.'
It felt in that split second like a bit of a moment.
I was newly qualified and keener than mustard about 'preventing ill health and promoting good health' and now Dr Margaret 'wants' me', perhaps my work had shone and I was 'in' that was it.
Respected, accepted this was indeed good news all round.
Gosh this would be a coup with the senior HVs on Monday...oh yes, by the way, I took a call from Dr Margaret at home...absolutely unheard of to be needed like this.
I was all nervous trepidation when I picked up the phone until I discovered it was to tell me quite authoritatively that a patient had locked themselves in their bedroom, please would I go and talk to them and persuade them to come out. I fancy there was even a touch of controlled panic in her voice but that could be my imagination, perhaps Dr Chris and Dr Marg were packed up for the beach too?
Suddenly I could hear the rolling Atlantic waves, feel the sand between my toes, smell the egg sandwiches and besides I'd never heard of this patient living in the very back of beyond, no babies or children involved and all on a scorchio Saturday morning just as we were going to the beach for the day.
I was a rookie it's true and my instinct was to please, but on this day I learned one interpretation of being put upon and proceeded to practice a skill that I was forever trying to perfect with GPs for the following thirty years,
'Actually Dr Margaret, that's really not my remit, I think perhaps you'd better ring Social Services yourself about that one.'
I was shaking like a leaf when I put the phone down.
Dr Margaret had that way about her, Mike's right, she did look just like the Queen and things had definitely got a bit frostier than usual. Bookhound and I leapt into our old Renault 5 and shot off to the beach in a flash where I sat and fretted about this person locked in their bedroom all day, imagined Dr Marg in her tweed skirt up a ladder at the window negotiating and, much worse, what she might have in store for me on Monday.
Needless to say nothing was said and I was too frightened to ask about outcomes, but then that was no different to the usual and we rubbed along regardless, me keen and eager, Dr Marg largely unaware of my existence until I eventually sloped off unnoticed to have babies.
Who knows what best friends we'd have become if I'd obliged, but somehow I doubt it.
When some years later Dr Christopher died during morning surgery as local legend has it and Mike recounts this, Dr Margaret took a deep breath and went in and finished his surgery for him remarking
' they would only have come back in the evening.'
They were definitely made of very stern stuff in those days.