She shook me awake, urgently. “I think you’d better get up. There’s a man down in the kitchen and he’s hurt.’’
© Photo courtesy of University of Prince Edward Island.
Dr. William O'Flaherty
She had heard a noise on the ground floor at 1 a.m. on a Sunday morning. The door leading into the residence part of the house was never locked and, occasionally, patients wandered in through the wrong door when they meant to go into the clinic area of the building a few feet away.
“He looks like he’s badly hurt.”
Down I went.
In the kitchen there stood the person who had blundered in the wrong door. It was Freddie. If you knew Freddie as well as I did, explanations would be unnecessary; expounding on Freddie would be superfluous.
The fact that he was standing there, covered with blood, at 1 a.m., didn’t at all surprise me. You’d expect that of Freddie. He was a man of small stature, stooped over because of a back problem, who, instead of becoming serene and less aggressive as he aged (as most men do), had become more combative and belligerent in his dealings with his neighbours and acquaintances.
He suffered, big time, from what is called “the small man syndrome," and this manifested itself especially when he went to the local beer parlours where, without fail, he imbibed far more than his small frame could tolerate.
Taunted by the younger ones
The local patrons of the pub that Freddie frequented, especially the younger ones, took advantage of this trait in his character to the point that they would amuse themselves by plying him with beer, and then calling him by his nickname, "Sculpin."
Freddie hated the nickname with a passion, and whenever he was called that, he would, without fail, challenge the name-caller to a fight. Usually, under the circumstances, the older, more sensible club patrons, or management, would intervene and no altercation would come about.
However, especially if he had imbibed beyond the usual amount, Freddie would hit back with verbal insults, often bringing out of the closet long hidden family disgraces that were best forgotten. Indeed, what he lacked in physical prowess he made up for, many fold, by way of verbal abuse and invective.
It should not surprise the reader that the very reason our man had acquired his nickname was because the fish, the sculpin, and Freddie, had one thing in common (according to the local patrons), namely that they both had a big mouth. In any case, it was stated that the only thing big about Freddie was his mouth.
In my kitchen, at 1 a.m. there was no need for greetings or small talk. We knew each other well. I had looked after him previously under similar circumstances.
Freddie needed suturing.
A banged up face
I took him into the clinic part of the building where I cleaned off the blood so I could assess the damage. There was a laceration over his left eye, a split upper lip and, close by the lip injury, a loose tooth.
That latter problem needed no immediate care. Freddie placed little importance on the state of his teeth, since most of them were missing anyway, and had been for some time.
He was unusually quiet as he lay on the examining table. Under similar circumstances in the past he would break into a garrulous description of how he had been attacked in an unmerciful fashion in a situation wherein he didn't stand a chance of winning the altercation, else he would have given a good account of himself. And he would be looking forward to evening things up.
I placed him under a sterile sheet, the usual one with small windows placed over each laceration, and laid the various instruments on top of the sheet, all resting on his chest as he lay prone on the table. Often, in similar circumstances, in an inebriated patient, sleep intervenes and the individual slumbers on, until roused when the procedure is finished. As well, often, there is no need for local anesthetic, since already the patient is partly anesthesized by the alcohol.
The suturing went along quickly, without any unusual problems occurring. Freddie had a number of scars; a couple of new ones wouldn’t bother him one iota. And as for my plastic surgeon skills, I was quite cognizant of the fact that I wasn’t sewing up Miss America.
Up with a roar
With the procedure approaching the end and, thinking my patient was asleep, I muttered to myself, out loud: “By God, Freddie, looks like somebody gave you a damn good trimmin’ tonight.”
Well, sir, that was a mistake. Up he jumped with a great roar, flinging the sheet and all the instruments all over the clinic floor, leaping off the table and glaring at me.
“Look a’here, Willie Flaherty. I’ll have you know that nobody on the "Nart" Shore kin give me a trimmin’, an’ dat includes you."
Out the door he went, with me shouting after him that he needed another suture and a dressing, all to no avail.
Next morning, now sobered up, he came to the clinic so I could finish the job. He remembered little or nothing of what had transpired the night before.
When I removed the sutures out of his healed lacerations one week later, I admonished him: “Freddie, stay away from the booze. The next time you come here, in the middle of the night, all smashed up from a fight, you’ll go off to Carbonear hospital, guaranteed."
“Yis, b’y,” he said, “But I won’t be comin’ in here smashed up, next time; it’ll be the other fella."
— William O'Flaherty worked a 40-year career as a country doctor in Newfoundland and New Brunswick. He was the country doctor in Western Bay, on the north shore of Conception Bay, from 1967 to 1989, and was born in the tiny fishing village of Long Beach, at the lower end Northern Bay. He writes from Moncton, NB.