Phil Hammond MD

On the third attempt I realised I'd been trying to incubate a Miss Piggy
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Indy Lifestyle Online
It's not often you get asked to be a patient's godfather and I never have been. True, I get as many thank-you letters as the next GP (one this year and counting), but none of my flock has seen fit to put a specky agnostic in charge of their child's Christian upbringing. This normally wouldn't upset me, but my friend Vernon is five years my junior and he's already been chosen to renounce evil and turn to Christ, as godparents promise. Not bad for a fat atheist.

Dr Vernon Trim works on SCBU or, if you prefer, the special care baby unit. This is not to be confused with SSCBU (the so-so care baby unit) or CCBU (the couldn't care baby unit). Vern just wants to be a GP and would rather not be on any sort of baby unit at all, but such are the vagaries of GP training that most of us do time with tiny humans who'd be much better off in a womb. I have a Polaroid memento of me all knackered and sweaty, spectacles edging down my nose, trying to insert a catheter into the navel of a baby the size of a kumquat. I wouldn't mind, but intricate technical procedures are not my forte (it takes all my concentration to cut a slice of bread straight) and I'd rather leave it to those with a bit of manual dexterity. The nurses soon sussed this out and my stretch on SCBU was a complete role-reversal. I'd be sent off to fetch the tea and on my return the baby would somehow have its tubes, drains and drips correctly positioned. The nurses weren't allowed to do it, but they could and I couldn't, so they did it and I took the credit.

I'd like to go further and name those who saved my bacon but the NHS being what it is, they'd probably be sacked in retrospect. Besides, we parted on bad terms. On my final shift, I was crash-bleeped at 4am to the car-park to rescue a 24-week-gestation baby girl who'd been born on the back seat of a Cortina. Such babies are at the limits of viability, and speed is of the essence. By the time I got there, the nurses had wrapped her ready for me to incubate. I couldn't get a tube down into the larynx. I tried not to panic and had another go. No joy. It was on the third attempt that I realised I'd been trying to incubate a pink foam Miss Piggy. There's a Polaroid of that, too, but they wouldn't let me have it. They keep it on the wall with all the others who've fallen for the hilarious Muppet routine.

I've warned Vern about this, but he's a nice guy and he isn't easily fooled. If Miss Piggy came his way, he'd play along out of politeness. Besides, he works in a part of the country where New Age therapies are endemic and he's had to deal with forces far spookier than a lump of pink foam.

Last week, a Mum bought an amethyst to sit with her baby in the incubator. It had only been in there a minute when the door of the incubator fell off. Mum convinced the nurse that this was the power of the crystal, but Vern reckons it was so big it broke the hinges on the way in.

Next day, Mum brings a phrenologist in to feel the baby's skull. This bloke just sticks his dirty mitts in the incubator, dislodges a few tubes and tells Mum that the baby has very strong bones. Vern is not amused and the baby remains critically ill. A succession of Venezuelan healing beads (from Glastonbury), locks of horse's hair, flower remedies and exotic herbs all fail to make a difference. In desperation, Mum pitches up with a picture of the Pope. Vern, a lapsed Catholic, finds this particularly hard to bear but he lets her stick it on the outside of the incubator. No change.

One evening when the babies are behaving themselves, Vern takes time out to fashion a Jimmy Saville wig for the Pope out of a yellow physiotherapy card. No sooner has he tacked it on and gone for a leak than Mum arrives. A quick-witted nurse whips off the wig and sticks it upside down next to the Pope. "What's that?" asks Mum. "It's Dr Trim's lucky horseshoe. He made it especially."

From that moment the baby gets miraculously better. Within a week, she's off the ventilator. Mum's overwhelmed, Gran arrives with a shawl emblazoned with yellow horseshoes and Vernon gets his godfather call-up. His Catholic conscience resurfaced and he declined, so as a compromise they've named the baby after him. Well, sort of. Verity. Nice touch.