Thursday, 5 April 2012

Call the doctor

 Lochmaddy, 16 October 1912. The Dewar Commission is sitting at the Court House in Lochmaddy, North Uist, and Dr Murdo Tolmie Mackenzie is being quizzed about the medical services in North Uist. The below exchange highlights the difficulties in communication, in early 20th century North Uist.

13,804. Are you pretty well off for telegraph offices here?
—Too well off some times.

13,805 Are they telegraphs or telephones ?
—Telegraphs. There is a telephone at Clachan, but the rest are telegraphs.

13,806. Would they allow you to speak over the telephones?
—My nearest telegraph office is six miles away from me. I had to pay 9d. for porterage on a telegram until I told the people they would have to pay their own porterage.

Dr Mackenzie later explains his comments about the island being "too well off"for telegraph offices by saying:  The opening up of telegraphic communication has practically quadrupled my work.

The exertions of his work, and the alleged frivolities of telegraph usage are highlighted in this example.
I have before me the following telegram received a few days ago: —“ Wife seriously ill come immediately.”
Well, this man’s house is got at from mine, first, by a drive of fourteen miles by main road, then three miles of dangerous fords, and afterwards two miles of a township road to a point where I have to strike off for about a mile’s tramp on the moor. On arriving at this point I was met by the brother and brother-in-law, who told me the patient had left her husband’s house the previous evening and had gone to her father’s, two miles further on, with a mud strand to cross. Arriving there, I was told by the parents the patient had left and had walked across the moor, and would probably meet me on my return, which she did. Now, that person was quite fit to have gone to my house by cart or gig, what she could not walk. But they elected the easier way and put the labour and expense on me. Here was a journey of 42½ miles performed by the medical man needlessly, and for which the remuneration was to be taken from a club fee of 5s. per annum. But that is not the most grave aspect of the business. It was quite within probability that on my return home I should have before me an urgent message requiring me to go to a serious case of confinement. I ask what is the mental and physical condition, to undertake such a case, of a man performing such an arduous journey. Is it such that the lives of a mother and a coming child should be allowed to be dependent on him? Do that mother and child get the attention they are entitled to look for?

Throughout the evidence heard by Sir John A. Dewar in the Outer Hebrides, the complaints about frivolous call outs to farflung homesteads abound, and methods are discussed as to how to curtail this. Incidentally, toothache is often cited as frivolous.

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