1 I’ll Give You Leave to Call Me Anything
“Our first breakfast together as man and wife in our own home,” said Doctor Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly, beaming at the suntanned woman across the table. “And how does it feel to be back in Number One Main Street, Mrs. O’Reilly?” Three honeymoon weeks in Rhodes had given them both healthy glows and brightened the silver streaks in the raven hair of Caitlin “Kitty” O’Reilly née O’Hallorhan.
“It feels very good to be home, Fingal, and in what’s now my home, too,” she said, stretching out a hand and covering his.
“And it does be good to have you both back, so.” Mrs. Maureen “Kinky” Kincaid came in bringing a tray with two plates, each bearing a full Irish breakfast. She set one in front of Kitty. “Now eat up however little much is in it, Miss—” She frowned.
Oh-oh, Fingal thought, Kinky’s having difficulty working out the proper form of address between the housekeeper and the mistress of the house. “Miss Kitty” had been fine before the wedding. “Mrs. O’Reilly” would be too formal. “Mrs. Kitty” sounded odd. He waited, a tiny smile playing on his lips.
“Kinky,” Kitty said, “plain Kitty’s fine. Aren’t we friends?”
“We are, so.” Kinky’s two chins wobbled as she chuckled and said, “Indeed we are so, Kitty, bye. And there’s your breakfast, sir. I’ve done the rashers crisp, the way you like them.”
The telephone in the hall began its double-ringing clamour. “I’ll see who that is,” she said.
“That was gracious, Kitty,” O’Reilly said, feeling his mouth water, “and it’s a great relief to me that you and Kinky are getting on so well now.” He stabbed a ring of black pudding, sliced it, and shoved half into his mouth. Greek grub had been all right, but it was great to get back to Kinky’s proper Irish cooking. He was, as she often remarked, “a grand man for the pan.”
“We’d better,” Kitty said, and smiled. “It’ll be a whole new experience for you, having three women in the house and no fun at all if two of them are at loggerheads.”
“True enough.” Young Barry Laverty, who had been O’Reilly’s assistant until recently, had gone to Ballymena for training in obstetrics and gynaecology. His place as temporary assistant had been taken by one Doctor Jennifer Bradley, who was out on a maternity case this Saturday morning. “At least,” he said, “having Jenny living and working here lets me have some weekends off. After breakfast, let’s pop in and see Donal and Julie Donnelly and the new chissler. Kinky tells me the wee lass arrived three days after we left, so her birthday’s July 6.”
“I’ll put that in my diary when we’ve finished breakfast—”
“Sir.” Kinky stood in the doorway. The colour had left her cheeks. “It’s the marquis. His sister, Lady MacNeill, has had a riding accident.”
Fingal ran to the phone, bolting the black pudding as he did. Young ones being born, middle-aged ones falling off their bloody horses. The daily round of the country G.P., a job he’d loved for more than twenty years. And he was duty bound to answer this call even if it was his weekend off. He grabbed the receiver. “John? What’s up?”
He listened as John MacNeill, marquis of Ballybucklebo, explained how his sister had been thrown when her gelding, Bramble, balked at a jump. “You reckon her leg’s bust? I see. Is she conscious? Good. No trouble breathing? Good. John, don’t try to move her. Keep her warm, don’t give her anything to eat or drink, and I’ll be right out.” He slammed the receiver into its cradle. “Kinky, get an ambulance out to Ballybucklebo House.” He stuck his head into the dining room. “Kitty, the marquis’s sister has been hurt. I’m heading straight out there. Shouldn’t be too long.”
“I’m coming—” Kitty started to rise.
“Finish your breakfast.” There was no time to waste on politeness or explanations. He had to get out there now, and even if she was a nurse, there was nothing Kitty could do. As he crossed the hall, O’Reilly’s stomach grumbled. Couldn’t be helped, but Lord, that soupçon of black pudding had been delicious. He grabbed his bag from the surgery and charged down the hall. Lady Macbeth, his white cat, leapt for the stairs, scrabbled between the bars of the banister, arched her back, fluffed her tail, and spat.
He raced through the back garden yelling, “Stay, Arthur,” when the big black Labrador stuck his muzzle out of his kennel.
In moments O’Reilly was in the long-nosed Rover, roaring along the main Belfast to Bangor Road. He barely noticed a cyclist taking refuge in the ditch. Up the gravelled drive, past the oddly shaped topiary in front of Ballybucklebo House, round its Virginia-creeper-covered gable end. The gate was open to an adjoining paddock, where he saw a saddled bay horse, reins dangling, cropping the grass. Two men squatted beside a figure lying near a two-bar jump.
The old Rover jounced across the field, shuddered to a halt, and O’Reilly, bag in hand, dismounted close to the marquis and his butler/valet Thompson. Both were coatless, their jackets covering the prone Myrna even though the sun was splitting the heavens. Fingal felt its early-morning heat and heard the burbling of wood pigeons from a nearby coppice and the Kek-kek-kek
of a cock pheasant.
“Fingal,” John O’Neill said. “Thank you so much for coming so quickly. Thompson and I have done as you told us.”
“Good.” He knelt. “Myrna, please don’t turn your head, but can you hear me?”
Until he was satisfied that she hadn’t hurt her spine it was critical that Myrna not move.
“I can hear you perfectly clearly, Fingal, thank you.”
“Where are you sore?”
“I’m sure I’ll have a bruise like a soup plate on my backside, but it’s my right thigh. I distinctly heard the bone snap. It’s aching now to beat Bannagher and I can feel the muscles all knotted up.” He was impressed by how calm she sounded describing what was, almost certainly, the muscle spasms associated with fractures of the femoral shaft. “And no, I didn’t land on my head.” He noticed that her John Bull top hat was still firmly in place. “I was getting ready for next week’s gymkhana. Bloody horse has never refused before and I should be putting him at the jump again, but clearly I’m not fit to do that.”
“Lie still, Myrna,” O’Reilly said.
“I wonder, Thompson, if you’d be good enough to catch Bramble?” said the marquis. “Take him back to the stables.” He spoke to his sister. “I don’t want you fretting about your horse. Don’t worry, Myrna. I’ll get him over that damned jump once I know you’re settled.”
“Thank you, John.”
O’Reilly ran through the routine assessment of a patient who had fallen. When he examined her lower limbs, he had already satisfied himself that she had suffered no head or spinal cord injury at least as far down as the first lumbar vertebra, and if she was feeling pain in her thigh and could sense the spasms, it was probable that the second and third were unaffected too. The fuller neurological assessment could wait until she was in the hands of the orthopaedic specialists at the Musgrave and Clark Clinic, the private hospital associated with the Royal Victoria Hospital. Right now, he had no concerns about moving Myrna once her leg had been splinted.
O’Reilly glanced at his watch. “I’ve sent for an ambulance,” he said. “Should be at the hall soon. Could you meet them, John? Bring them round here.”
“Of course.” The marquis left.
“I need to have a look at the leg, Myrna,” O’Reilly said, not relishing what he had to do.
“Go ahead, Doctor.” She smiled, then winced.
O’Reilly looked at her right riding boot. The toes were pointing to the side at an unnatural angle and the whole leg seemed to be about an inch shorter than the left. He took a deep breath and gently laid both hands on her jodhpurs at the top of her right thigh. When he approached mid-thigh he heard Myrna sucking in her breath. “Sorry,” he said.
“That bloody well hurt.” He saw how pale she was and a drop of blood where she had bitten her lip.
O’Reilly was certain Myrna had fractured the shaft of her right femur. “Your diagnosis is correct, I’m afraid,” he said. “It is broken. We’ll have to get you to the Clinic and have it set. In fact, I think I hear the ambulance arriving now. I’ll give you something for the pain.”
The ambulance driver and attendant were efficient, waited patiently until the quarter grain of morphine he had given her took effect before they applied a Thomas traction splint to immobilise the break, realign the ends of the broken bone, and reduce muscle spasm and further soft tissue injury. Introduced by the Welsh surgeon Hugh Owen Thomas in 1916, this type of splint had reduced the mortality rate for femoral shaft fractures from 80 to 8 percent.
The ambulance driver tied a label to her hacking jacket collar. The red “M” indicated she’d been given morphine.
She said drowsily, “Thank you, Doctor O’Reilly,” as they loaded her into the primrose yellow Northern Ireland Hospitals Authority ambulance. It drove off, slowly at first, across the irregular ground in the field. The injury, now the splint had been applied, was hardly life-threatening, so there were no accompanying flashing lights or screaming sirens.
“She’ll be grand, John,” O’Reilly said to the marquis. “As good as new. Broken bones are pretty routine stuff today.” Not, he thought, like in my student and junior doctor days. Fingal decided not to worry the marquis by talking about potential complications like nonunion of the bones or deep venous thrombosis in an immobilised limb.
“I appreciate your coming out, Fingal, and your reassurance,” the marquis said, “and I’m sure she will be fine. Myrna’s a tough old bird.” He nodded toward the house. “I suppose it’s a bit early for a Jameson, but if you’d like a cuppa?”
“Much too early for whiskey,” said Fingal, “and as I hadn’t even finished my breakfast. I’ll be trotting on, thank you, John.” He opened the car’s door and chucked his bag inside.
“Understood,” said the marquis, stooping to retrieve his and Thompson’s coats, “but now you’re home from abroad you and Mrs. O’Reilly must come round soon. Have a bite.”
“We’d like that,” O’Reilly said, thinking how much he liked the “we,” “but it’s home James, and don’t spare the horses for me now.”
On the drive back to Number One, O’Reilly let his thoughts roam. He’d phone and arrange for Myrna MacNeill to be looked after by Sir Donald Cromie, one of O’Reilly’s classmates and close friends from their student days in Dublin. Cromie’d studied under Mister Jimmy Withers, the first orthopaedic surgeon in Northern Ireland. Fingal’s other great friend, Charlie Greer, was now a consultant neurosurgeon at the Royal Victoria.
It had been an interesting road Fingal O’Reilly had travelled to get here; G.P. in Dublin, junior doctor in the Rotunda Maternity Hospital there, then assistant to Doctor Flanagan here in Ballybucklebo before the war. He’d been briefly married when he was a naval surgeon on a British battleship, and then after the war the widowed principal in his present practice. He frowned. The first years here had been lonely ones without her, but Fingal was single no more and he knew his first wife Deirdre would fully approve of Kitty, and that thought drove away his frown and brought a smile to the dark eyes he’d inherited from his father.
He could recall in detail his interview for that very first job, and his first-ever case as a newly qualified doctor. That had been a patient with a fracture too, but unlike today, in 1936 the outlook was not as good.
It took no effort to see himself twenty-seven, one week qualified, standing in Aungier Place in Dublin’s Liberties slums ready to go into the building that housed the dispensary practice presided over by one Doctor Phelim Corrigan.
Copyright © 2013 by Ballybucklebo Stories Corp
PATRICK TAYLOR, M.D., was born and raised in Bangor, County Down, in Northern Ireland. Dr. Taylor is a distinguished medical researcher, offshore sailor, model-boat builder, and father of two grown children. He is the author of the beloved Irish Country novels, beginning with An Irish Country Doctor, as well as Pray For Us Sinners and its sequel, Now and in the Hour of Our Death, a duology centered around The Troubles. He now lives on Saltspring Island, British Columbia.