The Practice

I travelled to Renvyle in my new little Ford car, which I had purchased in Dublin, after crossing over, for the princely sum of £130. I had never previously been to the Renvyle area and my initial impressions were anything but favourable. I was somewhat intimidated by the mountains and the vast expanses of bogland and I remember thinking that it was not altogether a very prosperous place. The Renvyle Dispensary area incorporated the four electoral districts of Ballinakill, Cleggan, Cois Killary and Renvyle. Its population was around two thousand and it would have been considered a relatively small practice, a stepping-stone to a more lucrative practice at some later stage. Such was my thinking early on, but fate decreed that I was not to move to a larger, more affluent dispensary area and ultimately I did not want to move. Shortly after I took up my appointment a vacancy arose in the Clifden Dispensary area. Clifden was considered to be one of the more lucrative practices at that time. However, I considered that the combination of dispensary and hospital would be too much of a workload and I did not bother to apply. My wife and I lodged in Kylemore Abbey, Ballyview Hotel in Letterfrack and Cartron House during the first few months until eventually the County Council provided me with my present house in Letterfrack, having purchased it for £3000 in 1946.

The main surgery, which was part of a small three-roomed cottage was located in Letterfrack. The middle bedroom served as the waiting room. The Home Assistants Officer also worked from this room.A curtain was drawn across the middle of the room to conceal the bed. This was where the elderly couple who lived in the house slept. They spent most of their time in the kitchen on the east side of the house and the third room, on the west side served as the dispensary premises. It contained a table, two chairs, some wall presses, a small couch and a medical cabinet. Letterfrack surgery was held every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tully surgery was every Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Despite the very basic nature of the dispensary it was very well stocked. I had no blood pressure apparatus but everything else was available to me, even items of equipment I would never use like a trachiostomy tube for performing throat operations and craniotomy forceps used in obstetrics. I had a substantial list of all the available drugs. These included Anadin, salicylicate of sodium which I used to give out for rheumatism, cough mixtures including syrup codeine phopa (a very potent cough sedative) and a variety of tonics. These tonics included iron and ammonium citrate, Easton’s Syrup, Parrishes Food. Parrishes Food was the most popular tonic.

I was required to dispense my own drugs and medicines in very much the same manner that chemists do today. The old dispensaries all had weighing scales for weighing out solid drugs. They also had pestle and mortar for crushing solids. The solid drugs were supplied by Boileau and Boyd; the liquid medicines were supplied by Aerton-Saunders and Fannins were the principal suppliers of surgical instruments. The most common cough mixture I used to make was a combination of two solid drugs, ammonium chloride and ammonium carbonate. These were weighed out in powder form, transferred into a 20 ounce glass tumbler where chlorodine and liquorice were added, bringing the mixture up to the 8 ounce mark. When the mixture was suitably prepared it was transferred subsequently into an 8 ounce bottle.

There was a humorous story once told about a dispensary doctor who, when confronted with a surgery full of people with coughs and colds, appeared out in the waiting room quite suddenly and dramatically, clutching two of the 80 ounce Winchester bottles. As his somewhat startled audience looked on he declared as follows “Those with coughs and spits take it out of this bottle but those with coughs and no spits take it out of this other bottle.” One bottle was a cough suppressant and the other was a cough expectorant, designed to make them cough up the phlegm.

Remembered by Dr Albert Flynn and written by Paul Gannon

Full Version Available in “The Way it Was”

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