AggieBMJ 2004; 328 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.328.7439.559 (Published 04 March 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:559
I will call her Agatha Radcliffe, though that is not her real name. Nor was she my patient. I was on rota duty on a freezing, wintry Saturday night some time in the 1950s. The day had been long and arduous, and, at about 11 o'clock, having just got home from another visit, I received an urgent call to visit a Miss Radcliffe, who was having an asthma attack.
It didn't take long to get to her house. She was sitting up in bed, her head between her hands with her elbows resting on her knees, gasping. No stethoscope was needed to hear the sibilant rhonchi. She was in her 70s, a frail spinster with white hair, weighing no more than eight stone, and with rather fine chiselled features. She had obviously been very beautiful when she was young. I wanted to give her an injection of aminophylline but had none with me, so I told her that I would get some from my surgery, which was less than a mile away, and she seemed to be satisfied when I assured her that I would be back soon.
As I got into my car the lightning flash of recognition pierced my weary brain. Agatha Radcliffe! Yes, old Aggie Radcliffe, fancy that now. Agatha Radcliffe, that was the name of one of my teachers way back in my elementary (now known as primary) school. We all called her Aggie, and all the boys, including myself, were in love with her. What a shame she never married, but in those days female teachers were obliged to retire if they chose to marry. I couldn't wait to get back to reveal my identity to her.
As I slowly injected the aminophylline, I said, “You don't know me do you?”
“You're Hyman Davies,” came the prompt reply.
“Did you recognise me when I first came into the house?”
“Of course I did.”
“Then why didn't you tell me?”
“I was waiting to see if you would recognise me,” she answered.
“And what would you have done if I hadn't?”
“I would have let you go on your way.”
I hadn't seen her since I left that school, more than 20 years ago, and she not only remembered me but also remembered the names of my two older brothers, who had also been her pupils, and the names of almost every lad in my class. The injection worked, and soon she was able to talk without difficulty. We spent a long long time reminiscing; the school had included among its past pupils some high fliers, including a violin virtuoso, a fellow of the Royal Society, an eminent civil servant, various legal luminaries, and several common or garden doctors and dentists. And she reminded me of some whom I had totally forgotten.
I came away with that warm glow of satisfaction, of having done a good job for a fine lady, albeit a tiny reward for what she had done for me.