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Round The Red Lamp - Behind the Times

1. Behind the Times

2. His First Operation

3. A Straggler of '15

4. The Third Generation

5. A False Start

6. The Curse of Eve

7. Sweethearts

8. A Physiologist's Wife

9. The Case of Lady Sannox

10. A Question of Diplomacy

11. A Medical Document

12. Lot No. 249

13. The Los Amigos Fiasco

14. The Doctors of Hoyland

15. The Surgeon Talks

My first interview with Dr. James Winter was
under dramatic circumstances. It occurred at two in
the morning in the bedroom of an old country house.
I kicked him twice on the white waistcoat and knocked
off his gold spectacles, while he with the aid of a
female accomplice stifled my angry cries in a flannel
petticoat and thrust me into a warm bath. I am told
that one of my parents, who happened to be present,
remarked in a whisper that there was nothing the
matter with my lungs. I cannot recall how Dr. Winter
looked at the time, for I had other things to think
of, but his description of my own appearance is far
from flattering. A fluffy head, a body like a
trussed goose, very bandy legs, and feet with the
soles turned inwards--those are the main items which
he can remember.

From this time onwards the epochs of my life were
the periodical assaults which Dr. Winter made upon
me. He vaccinated me; he cut me for an abscess; he
blistered me for mumps. It was a world of peace and
he the one dark cloud that threatened. But at last
there came a time of real illness--a time when I lay
for months together inside my wickerwork-basket bed,
and then it was that I learned that that hard face
could relax, that those country-made creaking boots
could steal very gently to a bedside, and that that
rough voice could thin into a whisper when it spoke
to a sick child.

And now the child is himself a medical man, and
yet Dr. Winter is the same as ever. I can see no
change since first I can remember him, save that
perhaps the brindled hair is a trifle whiter, and the
huge shoulders a little more bowed. He is a very
tall man, though he loses a couple of inches from his
stoop. That big back of his has curved itself over
sick beds until it has set in that shape. His face
is of a walnut brown, and tells of long winter drives
over bleak country roads, with the wind and the rain
in his teeth. It looks smooth at a little distance,
but as you approach him you see that it is shot with
innumerable fine wrinkles like a last year's apple.
They are hardly to be seen when he is in repose; but
when he laughs his face breaks like a starred glass,
and you realise then that though he looks old, he
must be older than he looks.

How old that is I could never discover. I have
often tried to find out, and have struck his stream
as high up as George IV and even the Regency, but
without ever getting quite to the source. His mind
must have been open to impressions very early, but it
must also have closed early, for the politics of the
day have little interest for him, while he is
fiercely excited about questions which are entirely
prehistoric. He shakes his head when he speaks of
the first Reform Bill and expresses grave doubts as
to its wisdom, and I have heard him, when he was
warmed by a glass of wine, say bitter things about
Robert Peel and his abandoning of the Corn Laws. The
death of that statesman brought the history of
England to a definite close, and Dr. Winter refers to
everything which had happened since then as to an
insignificant anticlimax.

But it was only when I had myself become a
medical man that I was able to appreciate how
entirely he is a survival of a past generation. He
had learned his medicine under that obsolete and
forgotten system by which a youth was apprenticed to
a surgeon, in the days when the study of anatomy was
often approached through a violated grave. His views
upon his own profession are even more reactionary
than in politics. Fifty years have brought him
little and deprived him of less. Vaccination was
well within the teaching of his youth, though I
think he has a secret preference for inoculation.
Bleeding he would practise freely but for public
opinion. Chloroform he regards as a dangerous
innovation, and he always clicks with his tongue when
it is mentioned. He has even been known to say vain
things about Laennec, and to refer to the stethoscope
as "a new-fangled French toy." He carries one in his
hat out of deference to the expectations of his
patients, but he is very hard of hearing, so that it
makes little difference whether he uses it or not.

He reads, as a duty, his weekly medical paper, so
that he has a general idea as to the advance of
modern science. He always persists in looking upon
it as a huge and rather ludicrous experiment. The
germ theory of disease set him chuckling for a long
time, and his favourite joke in the sick room was to
say, "Shut the door or the germs will be getting in."
As to the Darwinian theory, it struck him as being
the crowning joke of the century. "The children in
the nursery and the ancestors in the stable," he
would cry, and laugh the tears out of his eyes.

He is so very much behind the day that
occasionally, as things move round in their usual
circle, he finds himself, to his bewilderment, in the
front of the fashion. Dietetic treatment, for
example, had been much in vogue in his youth, and
he has more practical knowledge of it than any one
whom I have met. Massage, too, was familiar to him
when it was new to our generation. He had been
trained also at a time when instruments were in a
rudimentary state, and when men learned to trust more
to their own fingers. He has a model surgical hand,
muscular in the palm, tapering in the fingers, "with
an eye at the end of each." I shall not easily
forget how Dr. Patterson and I cut Sir John Sirwell,
the County Member, and were unable to find the stone.
It was a horrible moment. Both our careers were at
stake. And then it was that Dr. Winter, whom we had
asked out of courtesy to be present, introduced into
the wound a finger which seemed to our excited senses
to be about nine inches long, and hooked out the
stone at the end of it. "It's always well to bring
one in your waistcoat-pocket," said he with a
chuckle, "but I suppose you youngsters are above all

We made him president of our branch of the
British Medical Association, but he resigned after
the first meeting. "The young men are too much for
me," he said. "I don't understand what they are
talking about." Yet his patients do very well. He
has the healing touch--that magnetic thing which
defies explanation or analysis, but which is a very
evident fact none the less. His mere presence
leaves the patient with more hopefulness and
vitality. The sight of disease affects him as dust
does a careful housewife. It makes him angry and
impatient. "Tut, tut, this will never do!" he cries,
as he takes over a new case. He would shoo Death out
of the room as though he were an intrusive hen. But
when the intruder refuses to be dislodged, when the
blood moves more slowly and the eyes grow dimmer,
then it is that Dr. Winter is of more avail than all
the drugs in his surgery. Dying folk cling to his
hand as if the presence of his bulk and vigour gives
them more courage to face the change; and that
kindly, windbeaten face has been the last earthly
impression which many a sufferer has carried into the

When Dr. Patterson and I--both of us young,
energetic, and up-to-date--settled in the district,
we were most cordially received by the old doctor,
who would have been only too happy to be relieved of
some of his patients. The patients themselves,
however, followed their own inclinations--which is a
reprehensible way that patients have--so that we
remained neglected, with our modern instruments and
our latest alkaloids, while he was serving out senna
and calomel to all the countryside. We both of us
loved the old fellow, but at the same time, in the
privacy of our own intimate conversations, we could
not help commenting upon this deplorable lack of
judgment. "It's all very well for the poorer
people," said Patterson. "But after all the educated
classes have a right to expect that their medical man
will know the difference between a mitral murmur and
a bronchitic rale. It's the judicial frame of mind,
not the sympathetic, which is the essential one."

I thoroughly agreed with Patterson in what he
said. It happened, however, that very shortly
afterwards the epidemic of influenza broke out, and
we were all worked to death. One morning I met
Patterson on my round, and found him looking rather
pale and fagged out. He made the same remark about
me. I was, in fact, feeling far from well, and I lay
upon the sofa all the afternoon with a splitting
headache and pains in every joint. As evening closed
in, I could no longer disguise the fact that the
scourge was upon me, and I felt that I should have
medical advice without delay. It was of Patterson,
naturally, that I thought, but somehow the idea of
him had suddenly become repugnant to me. I thought
of his cold, critical attitude, of his endless
questions, of his tests and his tappings. I wanted
something more soothing--something more genial.

"Mrs. Hudson," said I to my housekeeper, would
you kindly run along to old Dr. Winter and tell
him that I should be obliged to him if he would step

She was back with an answer presently. "Dr.
Winter will come round in an hour or so, sir; but he
has just been called in to attend Dr. Patterson."

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