Whenever I saw Pamela in the veterinary hospital where I was employed, who was on the other side of her fifties, with large hip and sagging breasts on her belly, With that large hip swinging both ways, when she walks in, I will be expecting, as usual, someone from the members of staff to say ‘hi, your girlfriend is in the corridor.’ They are all happy to let Pamela see me with her dogs.
Pamela would always come to the hospital dressed in the same cigarette smelling cloths. Her entry always amused the members of staff of the veterinary Hospital, from receptionist at the front desk to nurses and veterinarians who is supposed to treat people with empathy and courtesy.
I noticed nurses and other veterinarians covering their noses and avoiding her like plague. It is unfair. But, of course, you cannot do much towards the attitude of the people.
As for as I am concerned, I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for her, whenever she came to the hospital with her dogs, after came to know of her story. She always wanted to see me until I stopped working in that hospital.
After the Second World War, as a child, she was sent to Australia as an orphan along with many other children on board a ship, by the Great Brittan. Many orphans were brought up in Christian orphanages and some enjoyed a happy life while others grew up to be burdens to the Australian Society. It was part of the colonial legacy of the Great Britain.
Pamela did not marry and had been living in a state owned apartment in the inner suburb of Melbourne and dependent on the financial hand outs of the government. Two dogs, Lassie and Jacky provided emotional support to her and the only lifeline in her living was these two dogs. I do not know whether I can say this but thought Pamela and her dogs were mutually dependent on each other’s wellbeing.
Whenever she came to the hospital with her dogs, other nurses and doctors who avoided her would tease me. I used to laugh it out and attend to her needs as if she was another customer. Another reason I felt sympathy for her was that a dog which she treated as her own child, had died. Jacky had suffered from cancer in the liver and had been put to sleep by me. Pamela was devastated by that incident.
One day she came with her other dog Lassie. She was concerned, since as in the case of Jacky, Lassie had developed a cough and she wondered whether Lassie had ‘contacted’ cancer of the liver from Jacky. When I examined Lassie, I found her to be in good health but showed signs of asthma, while breathing. An X-ray showed that Lassie’s heart had normal silhouette and unlike humans, dogs tend not to develop asthma. I sent her home with antibiotics to treat the cough.
Despite the medicine that was given for two weeks’ course, the cough remained. A specialist referral was not an option, as Pamela could not afford the treatment. So I agreed to have another look. I washed Lassie’s trachea in saline and found that the trachea was affected by some sort of allergen. The ambulance driver who had assisted Pamela to bring Lassie to the hospital admitted that her apartment was filled with cigarette smoke. ‘The smell, filled in her house, made my stomach churn’ admitted the driver.
It was then that I diagnosed the reason for the dog’s persistent coughing. I rang Pamela to discuss my findings. I inquired whether she was a smoker, which she admitted positively. I explained to her that the reason for Lassie’s cough was from the cigarettes she is smoking. I advised not to smoke indoors thereafter.
“Doctor, how can I go outside and smoke when it is bitterly cold? I must give up smoking that is my only option, for the good of Lassie” she responded.
I agree with Pamela that it is not easy at all to stand outside and smoke in the winter months in Melbourne. But I was sceptical about her word of promise on giving up smoking.
Pamela kept to her word and gave up smoking. Lassie was much better after that and the coughing had stopped in a few weeks.
The sight of women who smoke while pushing their babies in prams, sending down puffs of smoke would make me think of Pamela and Lassie.