Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : January 27th 2015 Contents A23
Tuesday, January 27, 2015 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
In 1981 I spent a month at
the Royal Hospital for Chil-
dren in Bristol as a guest of their
Professor of Child Health, Neville
Butler. As part of my orientation
to English medicine, Neville
arranged for me to spend a day
with an English GP making his
weekly home visits to bed-ridden
patients. In fact we never did
make a day out of it. After visit-
ing three elderly people, we
retired to a pub for lunch and
after a couple of pints, I decided
that was that, got dropped back
to the Hospital and made my
boozy way home by bus.
I don t remember much about
two of the patients but I ll never
forget the last. It was about 11 in
the morning of a crisp English
summer s day. The operative
word is crisp. We in the West
Indies do not know what crisp
is. We don t know what cold is.
You cannot die from cold in the
Caribbean. You can sleep out-
doors, around the Savannah or in
a doorway, quite well. Not com-
fortable but you can sleep. You
cannot do that in jolly England.
It s a question of life or death.
Sleep outdoors in England in
winter and you dead. The rest of
the year is barely better. Up to
that time, the English summer of
81 was the coldest in memory.
The West Indies team in England
played their cricket bundled up
in sweaters, hands under their
armpits. Batsmen looked like
penguins waddling out to the
pitch. I was well bundled up too,
in vest, long sleeve shirt, sweater
and jacket. The Morris Minor
was heated so we were snug and
warm as we tootled along
through the streets on our way
to the Council flats on the out-
skirt of Bristol.
My GP driver was a typical
shortish, bossy Englishman who
probably had not bathed in two
days but was competent, cheery
and sympathetic to his patients
and easy to like.
"I have a surprise for you," he
said. "We are going to see a
We pulled into the Council
Estate, got out of the car, met
the community nurse and pro-
ceeded to walk up the stairs to
the fifth floor. The nurse opened
the door, "he s bedridden." We
walked in. I don t remember
much about the flat except that
it was cold, "the heating is
turned off, it s summertime," it
was dark "electricity is expen-
sive," said dryly by the nurse and
the man in his bed, almost hid-
den by a pile of clothes and
blankets, weakly calling out to us
to come in.
My GP did his thing whilst the
nurse pottered around checking
that the gas stove was turned off
and that there was clean linen
etc, all the while asking about
the delivery of food and was he
taking his medication and so on.
I stared at the man in his bed.
He must have been in his late
60s and had that pale ashen hue
dark-skinned people get when
they live in dark places and
don t get enough sun.
He had got himself into a sit-
ting position with the help of
the nurse and a pillow placed
behind his back. He sat very
still, face expressionless, quiet
but answering questions compe-
tently when asked. He had lost
the use of his legs in an indus-
trial accident and lived alone. He
had no immediate family. There
was a niece who lived "up
north" and occasionally visited
but she had three children and
"times not so good." His accent
was vaguely West Indian. "St
Vincent" said the nurse.
"Dr Bratt is from the
Caribbean, you know," my GP
said jovially. There was little
reaction. I could think of nothing
to say. What could I ask? Was
he well? Was he happy? Was he
content with the treatment and
care he was getting? Free? Was
it worth it? Did he dream of the
place he was born? Did he ever
think of going back? What made
Vincent running a PAHO course
on Oral Rehydration and Gas-
troenteritis for doctors and nurs-
es. My hotel was on Front Street
(at that time and perhaps still,
Kingstown had three streets that
ran parallel to the port, Front
Street, Middle Street and Back
Street). The upstairs window of
the dining room overlooked the
street and the harbour. The
Tuesday night I looked out and
noticed a large group of young,
poorly dressed men jostling
around underneath the window.
"What s happening? I asked
"It s the banana ship. Comes
in every Tuesday. The men come
from all over the island to get
work loading bananas. For most
of them, that is it, so they need
the work. Not all of them get
hired for the night."
In the morning the ship was
gone. So too were the young
He turned to me. "You from
the West Indies?"
And that was it. He turned his
face away. We packed up and
began to leave.
At the door I turned back and
looked at him. He was gazing
longingly at me. I wondered
what he was thinking. He
reached out his hand. I shook it.
For a second I thought he was
going to cry. I was going back.
He was not. Then I turned away
and we went to the pub.
I ve often wondered about him.
Did he ever leave Bristol? Go
back to his warm little island in
Or did he spend the rest of his
life on his back in a cold place,
wrapped up in sweaters and
blankets until his heart could
take it no more and he sighed,
maybe had a last lingering
thought about his Mammy and
the warm sea, and was gone.
LONGING FOR THAT ISLAND IN THE SUN...MAYBE
DAVID E BRATT, MD
I don't remember much about two of the patients but I'll never forget
the last. It was about 11 in the morning of a crisp English summer's
day. The operative word is crisp. We in the West Indies do not know
what crisp is. We don't know what cold is. You cannot die from cold
in the Caribbean. You can sleep outdoors, around the Savannah or in
a doorway, quite well. Not comfortable but you can sleep. You cannot
do that in jolly England. It's a question of life or death.
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