Jenning’s Anthology of Disease and Malady, 1956

“You have bedsores, Mr Dunbar.”

“Bedsores? Don’t be preposterous, Doctor”. I wasn’t happy.

“Bedsores Mr Dunbar, and a very light case too – not ‘festering lesions’ as you suggest.”

“Bedsores? Bedsores! Are you implying that since contracting smallpox I,ve been lying in bed all day, watching no end of antique shows or something?” To be fair I’d watched enough of them to make me seriously consider opening my own antiques boutique in Newbury – but I wasn’t going to tell Dr Manuelpillai that, was I.

“I imply nothing Mr Dunbar, I just give you the benefit of my professional medical opinion. I prescribe an antibiotic ointment to be applied to the sores…”

“…Lesions,” I corrected him.

Sores,” he insisted, “three times per day, which if the correct dosage is applied and combined with a moderately active lifestyle, should see them gone within seven days.”

“Ah, so you will be signing me off work for a week then.”

“No Mr Dunbar. Not for bedsores.”

“I can’t believe this. You didn’t even sign me off for smallpox last week, so I had to take my recuperation as holiday.”

“As I told you then, Mr Dunbar, smallpox was eradicated from the world in 1980. You do NOT have smallpox.”

“But that old dishcloth of Mothers I found in the loft was filthy and germ-ridden. From 1968 or even earlier for sure. Impregnated with smallpox it was. I should never have picked it up. I told you it gave me all the symptoms.”

“You certainly did, Mr Dunbar. Let me recall – overall discomfort, headache and severe fatigue, if I remember correctly.”

“Exactly.  Smallpox. It was quite clear about it in my Jennings’ Anthology of Disease and Malady, 1956. It was mother’s book you know, and has been a good friend to me over the years. They knew a thing or two about illness in those days – much more than you do, it seems. And now it tells me I’m breaking out in lesions –see?”

“Bur smallpox lesions fill with puss before dropping off leaving deep pitted scars. Yours do not appear to be doing this Mr Dunbar, I’m sure you will agree.”

“Maybe not yet Doctor, but give them time.”

“What you have are bedsores and not smallpox. Good day Mr Dunbar.”

“What? Is that it? You cast me out to re-infect the world with smallpox from sitting on the bus home with festering lesions. What kind of physician are you? I’ve a right mind to change my doctor.”

“That is, of course, your prerogative. Here’s the form Mr Dunbar. I took the liberty of entering your name earlier.”

I grabbed the form and stormed out, making sure he could see the discomfort I was in from my bedsores, I mean lesions.

Back at home, I rubbed on the viscous prescription and turned on Bargain Hunt. I’d seen this episode before of course, and got rather annoyed as I usually do, shouting at the grinning couple buying a silver plated teapot that would never make a profit. I was sneering as the size of their loss was announced when I felt a twinge in the general area of my lesions.

‘My god, I’m allergic to the cream!’ I gasped and thought of the potential side effects from that corrosive ointment. I had a couple of minutes before Cash in the Attic, so turned to my Jennings’ Anthology of Disease and Malady, 1956. It didn’t list Soresalve as a drug, so I turned to the chapter headed ‘Symptoms and Diagnosis’: the one from which I had identified my smallpox a few days before.

I was concerned to read how in certain cases allergies could induce severe shock reactions (requiring urgent medical attention). I read of various treatments including unbloody cupping and electroacupuncture, whatever they were and electoneural therapy according to Croon, whoever he was. They all sounded dreadful – and painful. Oh god, why me? That settled it, very next day, if the pain from my lesions allowed, I’d limp to Holland & Barretts to see what Marcus would have to say. He’s always got a bottle of something, and I’d get even more points on my rewards card.

After howling my disgust at those money-grabbers on Dickinson’s Real Deal, I read further into lesions looking for solace. I found none. When I learned they can indicate tumour, abscess or chemical abnormality I started to sweat. I looked up sweat. Clearly now I was suffering from hyperhidrosis. My resulting facial grimace was almost certainly Costen’s syndrome. God, it was just one thing after another. I was a wreck. I feared I might not even see the night out. Shaking, I shut the dreaded book and stood on the chair to replace Jennings’ Anthology of Disease and Malady, 1956, back on the shelf.

Next thing I knew I was in a strange bed, in a strange room. Was I in heaven? It didn’t feel like it. I had been woken by a short, round and extremely loud vacuum cleaner being operated by a similarly featured West Indian woman, short enough to be afflicted by Turner’s syndrome and sufficiently rotund to suggest a totally defective hypothalamus in regard to controlling her appetite.

I tapped her on the arm to catch her attention as she sucked the dust from under my bed with the ghastly machine. She turned the damned thing off. I fired a round of questions at her? Where am I? Am I dead? Is this the Hospital for Tropical Diseases? And why aren’t I in a plastic bubble?

“Well mistah, You’re five-alive alwight” she said in a strange South London-meets-the-Carribbean accent. “Dis is St Swithins ‘ospital, Tootin’. Dunno ‘bout no bubble. Did I wake ya? You been sleepin’ days, innit.”

“St Swithins? Days?” I suddenly felt quite proud to be hospitalised with smallpox, so revealing that charlatan Dr Manuelpillai to be the quack I always knew him to be. “Am…am I going to die?” I swallowed hard. “Is this pain in my bottom terminal?”

She lifted the clipboard at the end of my bed. “Says ‘ere you banged yer ‘ead and got der concussion, that’s all. As for yer ‘arris, well, says here you had glass shards plucked out.”

She restarted the dreadful vacuum cleaner as I lay trying to piece things together in my aching head. I came to the conclusion that I probably wasn’t dead, and that Dolores, as her name badge informed me, was in all likelihood neither an angel of heaven nor an agent of St Swithin, and that despite the unbearable din I was not in the ‘other place’ either. This came as some relief albeit my bottom remained extremely sore.

Thankfully Dolores and her vibrato vacuum left, but the resultant peace was soon broken by a willowy medic pursued by a posse of what I determined to be student doctors, notepads to noses.

“Ah, Mr Dunhar. You are conscious,” he said flicking his way through my clipboard charts offering me no eye-contact.

“Dun-bar. And yes, you appear to be correct.”

“Dizziness? Headache? Pain? Mr Dunhar.” Before I could answer he turned to the students and explained that I had not vomited in the previous 24 hours. I was pleasantly surprised to hear this, not that I’d felt the need to have given it any consideration up to that point. The students scrawled about the stability of my stomach contents in their pads.

“Dun-bar.” I corrected him again. “Yes, all of those things. What am I doing here?”

“A classic case of post concussive amnesia,” he informed the eagerly scribbling students before turning to me. “Well, Mr Dunhar.”


“Dun- bar. According to the ambulance reports you toppled when replacing a heavy book in your home, giving yourself some almighty crack on the cranium, the resultant descent from which sent your rump crashing through a glass coffee table and a subsequent whip-lashed collision of your parietal lobe with the hard surface of an adjacent sideboard. You were delivered to me in an unconscious and bloodied state.”  The students’ frantic scribbling became audible.

My immediate concern was how on earth I was going get blood stains off my Victorian mahogany chiffonier, when something even more prescient came to my badly bruised brain.  “Wh…what about my smallpox?”

“Smallpox! Oh Mr Dunhar, you may be awake, but you remain quite delusional.” He started to chuckle and turned to the tranche of students who felt obliged to laugh with him. I was too ashamed to even correct my name this time. If he was going to make me the subject of an anecdote at this year’s doctor’s dinner-do, I decided there he could jolly well get my name wrong. That bloody book had got me into trouble for the last time. Maybe its knock had knocked some sense into me.


As he pulled the stitches from my derriere the following week, Dr Manuelpillai expressed his approval of my decision to dispose of my Jennings Anthology of Disease and Malady, 1956. I offered it to him, but he said he’d kindly have to decline as it would breach the ‘doctor-patient charter’, whatever that is.

At home, and after Flog It! I opened the log burner to throw in the blasted book. To my horror the flames blew back and suddenly my silk pyjama bottoms, the ones mother bought me in 1984, were ablaze. I ripped them off, exposing my bedsores and everything else to the cat, before beating the flames out on the hearth rug with the Jennings’.

I was left with some minor burns and a burnt patch on the rug. The evil book had dealt me its last blow. I didn’t even bother looking up ‘Burns and Scalds’ in it and soothed my injuries with the remainder of the bedsore cream. They were fine though the pyjamas sadly, were a write-off.

Next day, I went to the charity shop and handed them my slightly singed copy of Jenning’s Anthology of Disease and Malady, 1956. The girl tried to look grateful and took it straight to the room at the back. Perusing the shelves I found exactly what I wanted: a hard-backed copy of Millers Antiques Price Guide, 2006. OK, it was a few years out-of-date, but it fit the space in the bookshelf left by the Jennings’ perfectly.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Elizabeth says:

    The etching of a character like Mr. Dunbar reflects the emotional moments most of us won’t express for fear of being placed in a mad house, but they are there with us, and when we find writers that have the courage to voice them, there’s also a relief that goes through our soul, a catharsis. Reading about those characters is like a rain in a hot day. Great job!


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