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‘Me bones loose?’
‘No, your bowels. Have you been constipated?’
‘Oh … yes … terrible.’
‘I get that weak with hunger, Donald. I tell you, I could eat a man off his hoss. And I could drink a marl hole dry, I’m that thirsty.’
He turned to Lizzie. ‘Anything else, Lizzie? You live with your mother. Have you noticed anything?’
‘Only that she eats well, but I think she’s losing weight.’
He rubbed his chin. ‘Losing a bit of weight wouldn’t do her any harm under normal circumstances, but to me it’s a symptom of her illness.’
‘What d’you think’s up with her, then, Donald?’ Joe asked.
Donald sighed and took the stethoscope from around his neck, folded it and put it in his bag. He looked at Joe, then at Lizzie. ‘Her symptoms are consistent with diabetes.’
‘Diabetes?’ Lizzie said. ‘I’ve heard of it.’
‘All we know is that it’s a disease that affects the way the body uses sugars and, to a lesser degree, fats. The problem’s caused by a little thing in the belly called the pancreas gland. The disease causes certain of its cells to degenerate so that it can’t cope with sugar and so the body passes the sugar out through the kidneys in the urine.’
‘So what’s the cure?’
‘There is no cure, Lizzie.’
‘Having said that, if I’m right in my diagnosis, I believe we can control it so your mother can lead a near normal life. First, I need to double check, of course. I need a sample of her water and a sample of her blood.’
Donald’s words were going round and round in Lizzie’s head in a jumbled whirl. They did not add up to good news. A near normal life? A disease? The pancreas gland? No cure?
‘What’s it mean, Doctor? Will mother be an invalid for the rest of her life?’
Donald saw the anxiety in her eyes and was concerned to put her mind at ease. ‘No, it doesn’t necessarily mean that, Lizzie. We’ve caught it just in time, I think. It’s a good thing you sent for me when you did, because she would’ve become rapidly worse. In another week or two your mother might have slipped into a coma and that would have been a different kettle of fish. What it does mean is that your mother’s got to have a very strict dietary regime. That’s the only way of treating this disease in the long term. But if she sticks to it, God willing she should be able to lead a fairly normal life. That means no sugar in tea, no cakes, puddings, sweets or chocolate. This has to be done carefully though, because we still have to maintain some level of sugar in the blood.’
He paused a moment, evidently deep in thought, his fingers stroking his chin again.
‘That’s the standard treatment,’ he went on, ‘but I’d very much like to try something different. In my opinion as a medical man it seems more logical to try and starve her for a few days until her water is free of sugar, then to build up her dietary with fat and protein. I should warn you though, that this isn’t the recognised way of treating the symptoms. It’s never been tried officially to my knowledge, but I’m absolutely certain it would give us much quicker and more positive results. I’d like your permission to embark on that course of treatment before I do, of course.’
Joe said, ‘But if it’s never been tried how do you know it’ll work, Donald? You might do her more harm than good.’
‘I’ve studied this disease as closely as anybody, Joe. I wrote a thesis at university on Diabetes Mellitus – its full name – and I’ve since had a paper published on it. When I was training I treated people in hospital who had the condition and, strangely, the one who fared best was a woman who couldn’t take food. Only in the last ten years or so have we really begun to understand diabetes, but the more we understand it, the better our treatments get. And knowing what I know, I’d stake my doctorate that starving her for a few days would work.’
‘I trust your judgement, Donald,’ Joe said solemnly. ‘You must know more about it than most doctors, so we have to be thankful for that. As far as I’m concerned, do what you think’s best. What d’you say, Lizzie?’
‘You seem to know what you’re talking about, Doctor. If you think it’ll get Mother better quicker, I reckon you should do it.’
Donald smiled. ‘Good. Of course I shall keep a weather eye on her meanwhile. Now, I’m going to ask her to give me that urine sample. Then I’ll explain it all to her.’
So Eve was put to bed and Lizzie took time off work to look after her. Donald Clark’s diagnosis proved to be correct and his new method of treating her worked remarkably well. In consequence, the improvement, he was certain, was far more rapid than it might otherwise have been. Within a few days she was allowed to get up, and her new diet, although severely restricted, stabilised her condition. It required some new thinking on Lizzie’s part. She had to ask herself every time whether or not she had put sugar in her mother’s tea, and usually tasted it just to make certain she had not. Eve’s intake of fat was restricted and it seemed such a pity to have to deprive her of dripping, butter or fried bread; or fried anything, come to that; almost everything she enjoyed.
Donald Clark’s success at treating Eve’s illness drew increasing esteem from everyone; always useful for a new doctor, but particularly so for him since he was being decried already because of his growing reputation for liking a drink. The whole neighbourhood soon got to know about his miraculous treatment. Only a few years earlier, patients suffering from the sugar sickness were fortunate to survive, because doctors did not understand it. Donald refused all payment for his treatment too. It was, he claimed, experimental, so how could he possibly charge for research work that was helping him as much as it was helping Eve?
In the run up to Christmas, Phyllis Fat married her Hartwell Dabbs, and Jack ’Ardmate, nеe Hardwick, wedded Maria Soap, nеe Hudson. Eve improved sufficiently for Lizzie Bishop to return to work and Lizzie regularly saw Daisy Foster thereafter. She was even introduced to the handsome, blue eyed, black-haired lad called Ben, and there was no doubt that Lizzie really fancied him. Fern, Ben’s sweetheart, saw ever more reason to be jealous of Lizzie, since it was obvious that he in turn fancied Lizzie.
After their last meeting, which was at the Opera House, where they had splashed out and booked sixpenny circle seats to see Vesta Tilley, Lizzie was somewhat concerned about the effect Ben was having on her. He only had to smile at her and she would blush and feel her stomach turn over. But there was no point in dwelling on him because of Fern, who seemed a respectable girl and obviously idolised him. But as the days turned into weeks, Lizzie realised she was thinking more and more about this Ben, and even found herself talking about him to May.
Meanwhile, Eve’s improvement continued apace.
Christmas came and went, bringing bitter cold and frosts. The usual procession of visitors called to see Eve. Her other daughter, Lucy, with her husband, Jimmy Sharpe came down from Stockport and stayed till Boxing Day. May and Joe invited Eve and Lizzie and Lucy and Jimmy to have their Christmas dinners with them, which they did, and they all spent the afternoon and evening pleasantly together.
On returning to work the day after Boxing Day, Lizzie was surprised to see Daisy Foster enter Theedham’s shop, dressed up for the weather.
Daisy said, yes, she’d enjoyed Christmas, thank you. ‘And guess what?’
‘Me and Jimmy are thinking of getting engaged.’
‘No! … Honest?’
‘I thought you said it wasn’t serious, Daisy.’
‘It wasn’t. But it’s getting to be.’ Daisy smiled contentedly.
‘Lucky you! Oh, congratulations. I’m ever so pleased for you.’
‘But that’s not why I’m here. I’m here on a special request, nothing to do with that.’
‘You know Ben, Jimmy’s mate? He’s sent me with a message. He wants to know if you’d like to go out with him.’
Lizzie’s eyes lit up, then she put her hands to her face in disbelief and delight. ‘Honest, Daisy? You’re not pulling my leg?’
‘Honest. He asked Jimmy to ask me to ask you.’
‘But what about Fern?’
‘Fern? Him and Fern have fell out.’
‘If they’ve fell out, I’d love to go out with him. When, though?’
‘Well, he was talking about New Year’s Eve. I think the idea was for the four of us to go to a New Year’s Eve ball.’
‘Then he must’ve finished with Fern if he wants to see me on New Year’s Eve,’ Lizzie reasoned.
‘What shall we tell him then? We have to let him know.’
‘I don’t know, Daisy,’ she said ruefully. ‘I can’t go out New Year’s Eve … Damn … May and Joe are having a party. It’s their wedding anniversary and they’re expecting me …’
‘Oh, shame.’ Daisy looked genuinely disappointed.
‘Hang on, though. I’ll ask May if you, Jimmy and Ben can come as well. D’you think that’d be all right? Would you like to come, Daisy?’
‘I don’t mind. I’m sure Jimmy wouldn’t mind either. Nor Ben.’
‘Hang on then.’ Lizzie went to the back of the shop where May was sorting out a fresh stock of candles. ‘May?’
May turned to Lizzie. ‘What’s up, my wench? You look as if you’ve lost a sovereign and found sixpence.’
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