The next instalment of Meg’s diary, the diary of a young student doctor studying at London School of Medicine in the year before the war, is now published.
by Margaret Taylor, age 24 years
February to October, 1938
Meg continues as a student doctor, experiencing Casualty, Children’s wards, and Midwifery at the London School of Medicine.
- Monday, Feb. 7th 1938 – starting in casualty, sincerity
- Sunday, Feb. 27th 1938 – casualty not so bad, ambitions to write and travel
- Wednesday April 6th 1938 – getting to end of casualty and will miss it
- Saturday June 25th 1938 – pathology, looking foward to Children and Midwifery
- Wednesday, July 27th 1938 – on the Children’s wards
- Monday, August 1st 1938 [Bank Holiday] wondering what the future holds, different moulds, feeling homesick
- Friday, October 7th 1938 – district midwifery from a clinic which used to be a pub
Monday, February 7th, 1938
Now that I have re-read my last entry after the steadying interval of a couple of months, I would like to cross most of the end part of it out. It reads just as if it were high-sounding nonsense and got up for effect rather than to give vent to real feelings. And I rather think, now, that it was. When Jim and I wrote to each other some time ago, he was criticising my literary, or rather poetical, attempts and insisted that it was essential above all that they were completely sincere.
He was right of course, but not until you have attempted to produce something which you want to be good can you realise how very difficult it is to be quite sincere, or even to know whether you are being so or not. It is no good writing what you would like to think, as if you did think it spontaneously; you only give yourself away, and go hot or cold with shame when you meet the thing later! Also, sentimentality is a dangerous stumbling block. Nothing is so moving if it is rightly used; nothing so nauseating if improperly handled, or if it is merely put on. On the whole, I think, better avoided
I’m on casualty now, and not certain whether I am enjoying it or not. The post is quite unlike any of the others, and you rely on yourself and are accountable for your actions very much more than on the ward posts. Students give gases, sew up wounds and do some of the minor ops e.g. circumcisions etc. The work is certainly hard while it lasts, but there are slack as well as busy days for everyone, and if you get overtired it is really your own fault, and means that you are not using your time off in giving yourself a well-earned rest.
The first few days on casualty or ‘gate’, are distinctly chaotic, and you spend a good deal of your time either doing what someone else is doing for you, or forgetting to do what the doctor has ordered. There are innumerable bylaws about procedure on different occasions and you learn them one by one – by the infallible method of breaking each in turn and being hauled over the coals for it. Still, the house staff, the nurses, and above all Sister are really most long-suffering, and we do not get really the amount of blowing up and acid comments to which we all lay ourselves open. Perhaps in a week or so, when they have exhausted all their indulgence for the ‘new’ post they will be less kind, but again by then we shall have got over the first petrifying panic of the new surroundings, and be able to hold our own in the face of criticism.
I suppose that it is because children are ruled by their parents so entirely when they are young that they care so intensely what their superiors think of them or say to them. A word of praise is a lasting joy, a reprimand or thoughtless roughness causes intense misery, possibly very deeply rooted and remembered long after the author of it has forgotten. But as the child grows older, fashioning his mind and character and getting slowly accustomed to making his own decisions and acting on them, then he begins to lose the exaggerated reverence for the opinions of others, and grows to rely on his own appreciation of what is to be praised or condemned in himself as well as others.
I seem to have entered a strange state of fatalism recently. Nothing upsets me for long, indeed even at the moment of happening I am oddly unaffected by it – as if it were happening to someone else and I was merely a slightly interested onlooker. It is very comfortable to have a second self which will ungallantly deny any relationship with the offending member in that way!
I must stop now – no more nonsense!
Sunday Feb. 27th 1938
Nearly the beginning of another month – they seem to slip by so rapidly, and the three months posts slip by with them, the more is the pity. I have now almost completed a month of the casualty post – that most dreaded of all the posts, and it has turned out to be quite survivable after all. Indeed it gives opportunity more than the other posts for rehearsing the part of Doctor, and discovering the most readily-made mistakes. My dread of stitches and gases is subsiding rapidly and I find that it is true, as I have told myself so often recently, that what others have done must be doable and therefore not to be dreaded.
Last Saturday I sent a copy of a short article I had just written for the magazine, to Jim for his criticism. He hasn’t written yet, and I don’t expect his verdict will be favourable when he does. I have never sent him a prose attempt before, and am interested to hear what he thinks of it. I should very much like to write a book or short stories or articles of some sort when I am older, and settled down in a practice or hospital somewhere, and have got something worth writing about in my head.
Next to my longing – well on the way towards being gratified – to become a doctor, I want to write, and I want to travel. I feel as if the writing can very well be delayed until I am older, or even till I am ‘getting on’ and need a hobby not as strenuous as a full-time doctor’s work, and that is pretty strenuous as I well know. The travelling I think must come sooner, while I am still young and strong and able to enjoy roughing things and bumping my body against nature’s hard corners. I really think I must be developing a wander-lust in my bones, for nowadays the thought, as now, of setting forth on travelling adventures makes my heart jump up and down with excitement, and my tummy go curiously light in anticipation.
An exquisite short story by Martin Armstrong was read on the wireless today – it was called ‘Birds of Passage’. After hearing that and after reading Jane Eyre again, as I am doing, my ambitions about writing myself seem a little presumptuous, and at least doomed to failure. Maybe it would be wiser to fill my time with doctoring and if necessary keep a diary as this one, for my private enjoyment, thus giving myself opportunity for scribbling when the mood is present, and denying anyone else the privilege of throwing cold water and perhaps hard words at the resulting drivel.
Bedtime so Goodnight!
Wednesday April 6th 1938
Two late nights running have dragged all excess energy out of me for the moment, and I am giving myself the easy task of writing here until it is a sufficiently sensible time to drop into bed.
Only one more week of Casualty after this one – I am dreading the end of the post, and the return to the dull round of pathology and wards again. There is a true dramatic quality in Casualty, absent in the other posts. You get a chance of showing your mettle, and also of finding how you react to making mistakes in front of companions and superiors. We are extremely lucky in having had exceptionally nice C.O.s Blenkin and Payne. Blenkin left at the end of last month, and we gave a supper party for her in Evans’ flat. She, Mr Payne and Mr Taylor came, and it was a success – they stayed on till almost midnight. Evans arranged a German supper with all kinds of unusual and good things to eat. Also we imported beer cider-cup and coffee, though we forgot the coffee until we were nearly going home! Blenkin we jokingly have called ‘the Darling’ for that was what one of the patients was heard to say about her. But it suits her exactly, for she is a perfectly natural, unassuming and tireless striver after all things, however trivial, that will help the patients under her immediate care. She treats us students as friends and just hasn’t any superiority, though she has a dignity of her own, and a quickness of perception and understanding that worms pathetic stories by the dozen from willing or unwilling narrators. Her efficiency in all branches of casualty duty is undoubted, and she will tackle absolutely anything that needs doing.
Mr Payne is quiet and sensible, very decent to the patients, and pretty efficient, though not, I think, infallible. What makes me like him perhaps, more than for example Mr Taylor or Le Vay, is that his work does really thrill him; the romance of healing has gripped him, as it does all the really true doctors. I like him ever even more since the supper party, for there it was possible to get to know him a bit unwound from the strappings of authority, and he showed up pretty well, putting Mr Taylor with his affectations and explosive – sometimes beastly – language out of court. Time for bed, so – Goodnight!
Saturday June 25th 1938
I haven’t been keeping up this diary at all according to plan, and there are large chunks missing between the entries. But perhaps the chunks are better missing, as everyday events are a bit monotonous. Even now, after about two months, there seems little to say. In spite of bewailings the Casualty post ended, and in spite of forebodings the Pathology post hasn’t been unbearable. We have only another week to go now, and then it’s Children for Jones and me for two months followed by Midwifery in September, October and November. On Children’s post we get Dr Hobhouse’s beds as well as Mrs Chodak-Gregory’s, so there will be plenty of reading to be done. I have really been working fairly hard at Pathology, and have reached the stage of being sorry that I didn’t work harder at Junior Medicine or Surgery. The weather now is really blazingly hot, and that makes me fagged out and uneager to tackle work in the evenings.
Last Wednesday Mum and Dad paid a flying half-day visit to London and we met at Wimbledon for the tennis. It was marvellous seeing them again after being away so long – my last holiday was in January. They both looked very well – Mums seems to look prettier every time I see her, and nobody could be sweeter or more lovable. They are grand parents! It seems however pretty rotten that they should spend all their energy and money on educating and training their children, and yet see so little of them. Such is the lot of most unselfishness it seems – it is its own reward for no other reward appears.
Jones has been elected senior for the Children’s post, and for a little while I was verging on jealousy – it is beastly how competition brings out the worst in people. We have worked together most of the time at hospital, and I consider myself just as good a worker as she is, and I suppose that made me resent the fact that she was preferred to me as senior. I know really that the election makes no difference whatsoever, and that all I have to mind about is that I make myself as good a doctor as I possibly can, let alone what anyone else does, and whether my standard is theirs or not. It is a weakness to want recognition for one’s achievements and honour for one’s capabilities.
Another triumph for Jones is that Dr. Playfair, on behalf of Dr. Shaw who is now head of the V.D. department, has offered her the post of senior assistant there two years after she has qualified. The pay is £300 a year and the attendance only 18 hours a week. So Jones is simply overjoyed, and feels beautifully safe and free from worry about her future after qualifying. She is almost certain to get 3rd H.S. [House Surgeon?] job too if she wants it after qualifying, as she was the only student on Miss Dearnley’s post on Gynaecology and got to know her very well. All this made me, with my complete absence of plans and prospects, slightly green too, but that also is stupid really because I certainly don’t want to specialise in Gynaecology and V.Ds.
Hospital goes on unobtrusively changing round so that students go and residents change so quietly that you never notice the absence of one or the presence of the other. The new house list has just been published, and we shall get Crossley on Children – not too bad but might have been better! Mr Payne is now R.N.O. and Mr Taylor has gone into the blue. It really was time too that he went, for his good name was becoming slightly tarnished, and we were getting very tired of his bumptious presence – poor man, what horrid things to say! Mr Payne is apparently coping adequately with R.N.O. though he hasn’t the experience of Mr Taylor yet. Jones and I attend Minor Meds. with others from the Pathology post, and we get all the work of diagnosis etc. to do as the others haven’t done any clinical work yet.It is good fun.
Must go to bed now, so Goodnight!
Wednesday, July 27th 1938
Nearly a month of the children’s post gone now, and a fortnight’s holiday only about three weeks away. I haven’t felt so much in readiness for a holiday for ages, for I’m really a bit overtired now and the work is fairly heavy. But this post is one of the most enjoyable that I have done so far – the children are most fascinating and both the authorities and nursing staff that we meet are very friendly and create a genial informal atmosphere.
There are only five of us on the post this month – Jones, Burton-Brown, Nuvell and Koluyan and myself. Two others are joining us in August. Nuvell has been away on holiday recently and Koluyan is never on the premises when needed, so we three remaining have been running about and doing most of the work. We have Dr Chodak-Gregory’s, Dr Shelley’s and Dr Hobhouse’s patients, and I have had about 10 cases – new ones – since the beginning of the month, so I have gained quite a bit of experience.
Dr Gregory becomes nicer and nicer as you get to know her, and we are all sorry that she is going to be away during the whole of August, so we shall see very little more of her after this week. Dr Shelley we have seen extremely little of so far, as she missed rounds and outpatients quite a bit at the beginning of the month, and is away on holiday now until the beginning of August. I hope she teaches a lot to make up for missing Mrs C-G’s rounds etc. when she returns.
Dawn-Pattison, Mrs C-G’s H.P., has been extremely decent to us – most approachable and willing to help and not a bit aloof as I expected! Her tutorials on Wednesdays before Dr Hobhouse’s rounds have been awfully funny. She has told us pretty exactly what Hobhouse will say about each case, and how we must reply. And her forecasting has been most useful and stood us in good stead in our many moments of need with him. Crossley is coming on in August instead of D-P, and I rather fear that the atmosphere may be rather different. Still I was wrong in imagining that D-P could not unbend, so maybe I will be wrong about Crossley too – I hope so.
This evening I have been to a sherry-party at Mrs Williams’ house in Harley Street – for those of us who have done the test mealls and vitamin C tests for her. I had two glasses of sherry, one of tomato juice and a most variegated assortment of eatables. All this made it impossible for me to work tonight, and anyway I have been overworking just recently – so I’ll go to bed.
They call them the “long, long thoughts of youth” and I think they are right. Our thoughts are long and rambling and a little restive. Living ‘up’ and rather isolated – partly isolated by choice of course, for there are people I could descend upon – gives me time during the weekends and holidays to take stock of things wider than the daily routine. I think about myself, my future activities, and get a creepy feeling wondering what the future holds in store. And I think of other people and of what and how they think.
Just recently I have acknowledged to myself what I have always up to now I thought nurture – probably because it should theoretically be nurture. People are stamped definitely in different moulds, and though some characters of different moulds are alike, products of different moulds have nothing akin to bind them together. I mean really that there are some people that I find it absolutely impossible to like, even if I do not actively dislike them. Some people I can, and do of necessity, feel a sympathy with; others I can neither talk unrestrainedly to nor feel a single interest in common with them. It is a very curious fact that it should be so, and it would be very interesting to see if Mendel’s Law applied to such a moulding of mental make-up. Anyway it seems to be pretty true to say that like types appeal to each other, for the friends of those with whom I cannot feel at ease are, almost without exception, those whom I should choose last of all for my own friends. In a way this grouping is worth it, for any dexterity one can steer moderately clear of battles with ones antipathies, and the joy of finding a person in whom one senses true sympathies is doubled.
I’m feeling a bit miserable tonight. I think it is really a bout of homesickness, for Richardson has just departed homewards on holiday, and I’m feeling a bit marooned in consequence. There is nobody else in the house, I believe, except Mr and Mrs Sydney down in the depths. In many ways I like being by myself. I have a strong bump of reclusiveness, and will always rather retreat behind the doors of my room than sally out to make merry in company. I’m not sure that I don’t revel slightly in my independence and the fact that I am quite sufficient company for myself. Really we are most of us humbugs at heart!
Roberts, Nouvell, Kohiyar and I are all at 434 Essex Road* now, doing our first month of district midwifery. Last month we four, plus Jones, were at R.F.H. doing the midwifery wards. Last month I thought was foul, and I was rebelling against the rules and regulations nearly every moment – though usually it was only a mental rebellion!
* The Royal William was situated at 434 Essex Road. This pub has now been demolished and replaced by the office block in the photo.
Living together constantly, and living both a day and night life the whole time was altogether too much of a bad thing to those quite unused to it. I was longing so often to be able to have even a moment’s quiet to myself, and even five minutes with secure knowledge that I would not be rung up to “come immediately”. Bigby the third O.A. with whom we had most to do, did not get along well with us. Her over conscientious sense of duty, her overserious outlook on the most trivial things made even everyday things a duty and a burden. Her moments of lighthearted chatter and amazingly uncontrolled laughter made her even less understandable than if she had always been serious. Sykes and Stokes were very easy to get along with and Sykes especially gave us a good deal of necessary light relief on occasions. ‘Conny’ is an attractive person everyone likes and admires. Professor is our inimitable little Scotchwoman; Moore-White and efficient and entertaining little chatterbox; Shippam is ‘heavily’ nice and really unfathomable.
In the first month we got 10 cases each, which was good going. So far here we have each had one case and Roberts and Kohiyor have had two. My case was an extremely lucky one. The lady was a Mrs Bastie and within five minutes of our arrival she started second staging and about 10 minutes later the baby was born – no complications. I was very afraid at one time at one time that she was going to have a bad P.P.H. for she started bleeding severely before the placenta was nearly ready to expel. But we held our thumbs for a few minutes and the uterus hardened up and the bleeding stopped, though the placenta did not come out for about 45 minutes. I should have hated having to Crede the thing out.
Essex Road clinic is a weird little place – originally a pub. There are two parts to it, separated by the kitchen. Downstairs is the clinic proper with consulting rooms, sterilising room etc. Sterilising all our own things was a tremendous business at first, but I quite enjoy it. Freath is charming and we get along well with her. She is very nice indeed about letting us do exactly what we want to our patients without interfering or advising. Enough for the present.
‘Tis women’s way –
Or so they say –
To beautify or rectify
Their varied physiognomy
Regardless of economy.
It may be so,
But this I know,
At Telegraph and Times they laugh
Neglected quite they let them lie
And daily to the Mirror fly
Margaret Taylor 1938 (Age 24)