Intended for healthcare professionals

Career Focus

A bad smell

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 12 June 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:s240
  1. Nicola Sharp

“There's a funny smell in here,” muttered Douglas.

“This is your new accommodation.” David Millstone led a group of junior doctors into Woodside ward.

“It's a ward,” said Janet.

“We have made alterations,” said David.

“But where do we sleep?” asked Alice.

“This smell reminds me of something.” Douglas coughed.

“I think you'll find these comfortable,” said David.

“These strange black leather chairs?” said Alice.

“Sit down here, What's your name?” David peered at Alice's name badge.

“Where are your glasses, Dad?” asked Douglas.

Alice sat down on one of the chairs. David pressed a button. Alice's head and shoulders fell back while her legs sprang up into a horizontal position.

“We got them from the dental hospital,” said David.

“You have sold off the doctors' residence and now you expect us to sleep in dentist's chairs?” asked Janet.

“That's what I can smell,” said Douglas, “the smell of dentists.”

“And the smell of deceit,” said Janet.

“You don't have much need for sleep,” said David. “You'll hardly be working at all from August.”

“I shall phone the BMA,” said Janet.

“You don't know how lucky you are. I did a one in two when I was a house officer,” said David.

“Mother was right,” said Douglas. “We should join her in her new campaign.”

* * *

It was dark in the library. Somewhere a fly buzzed about. Aisha turned on a desk lamp, put her head in her hands, and tried to concentrate on her text book.

“Why are you doing all this work?” said a voice from the dark.

Aisha looked up. She couldn't see anyone. “I want to pass my PLAB part 2 exam,” she said.

“And why would you be wanting to pass that exam?” asked the voice.

“Because I want to be a surgeon,” she said.

“A consultant surgeon?” asked the voice. The word consultant was emphasised.

* * *

Douglas struck the match. A dead leaf flared, then turned to smoke. He put the match in a pile with the other used matches.

“I can tell you weren't in the Scouts,” said Martha.

“You were too busy to take me, Mother,” said Douglas.

“Poppycock,” said Martha.

“But Mother—”

“Get out of my way. I'll show you how to light a campfire. Pass me those papers in my tent. They'll burn well.” Douglas walked over towards an old canvas bell tent and fell flat on his face.

“Mind the guy ropes,” said Buster.

“Are you sure you should be burning these papers?” asked Janet. “There's a questionnaire on your working week, an audit on waiting times and some NICE guidelines.”

“They will do perfectly,” said Martha. “Now I'll show you how to light a fire.”

* * *

“Martha must be stopped.” David Millstone rubbed his eye.

“So you keep saying.” Hubert looked out of his office window down onto the lawn at the front of the hospital. A bell tent, a purple frame tent, and a number of small igloo tents stood in a circle around a campfire. Martha and several junior doctors sat around the fire. A banner in front of the bell tent read: “Martha Millstone Saves Our Services.” A small crowd looked on.


“Before the press arrive.” David rubbed his eye again.

“Is there something wrong with your eye?” asked Hubert.

“Contact lenses,” muttered David, “part of the campaign to improve David Millstone.”

“You're trying to improve your appearance?” asked Hubert.

“I'm trying to improve my relationship with Martha. That's why I'd like you to tackle her on this business.”

“You've got to admire her spirit,” said Hubert. “She never gives up.”

“It's a health and safety risk,” said David. “She must be stopped.”

* * *

“Well of course I want to be a consultant,” said Aisha.

“Do not be bothering,” said the voice.

“I'm sorry.” Aisha looked around the library, but all was dark.

“You are wasting your time. No one will be interested in you.”

“Who are you?”

“It is not mattering what my name is.”

“Everyone's name matters.”

“Not mine.”

The characters this week

Douglas Millstone—a house officer

David Millstone—a consultant psychiatrist, the medical director, Douglas's father

Janet—an SHO in casualty, has an on-off relationship with Douglas

Alice—a house officer

Aisha—an overseas doctor on a clinical attachment, is staying with the Millstones

Martha Millstone—a consultant surgeon, David's wife, is campaigning to save the hospital from closure

Buster—a house officer

Hubert—the chief executive, previously Martha's lover

“But what do you do?”

“I am doing everything. I am covering every doctor in the hospital when they are going off on courses and study days and holidays.”

“But I haven't noticed you before.”

“No one is noticing me.”

“You work at this hospital?”

“I am working very hard.”

“But what is your job title?”

“They are calling me staff grade doctor but I think they should be calling me Dogsbody.”

“They don't treat you with any respect.”

“I was a professor in my own country.”

“I'm sorry.”

“Go home. Before it is getting too late.”

“I still can't see you.”

“Do not be bothering. Just be going home. Back to your own country where they will be treating you with respect.”

* * *

“I suppose you've come to tell me off,” said Martha. She held a frying pan over the fire.

“I could smell your sausages from my office,” said Hubert.

“I suppose you've come to tell me it's a fire risk,” said Martha.

“It might be,” said Hubert.

“We're not moving,” said Martha. “We're campaigning against the closure of the hospital and the selling of the doctors' residence. Besides, the junior doctors have nowhere else to sleep.”

“It looks fun.”

“We don't care what management think,” said Martha.

“I said it looks fun. It reminds me of Scout camp. Dib, dib, dib, dob, dob, dob.”

“It is a serious protest,” said Martha.

“I just want to ask you something.”

“No, we will not move.”

“I wonder if I could have a sausage. They do smell very good.”


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