‘I find two opinions are better than one, particularly if one is mine.’ Sister Monica Joan, you go girl! I feel exactly the same way.
This week Call the Midwife, yet again, illustrates the contrast between the comparitively primitive not-too-distant past with the progress society has made in medical treatment, education, and attitude, showing us how far we have come and reminding us why. Let’s break it down with the thirteen essentials of Call the Midwife, Episode 5.
- How do you solve a problem like Pyorrhea? With a new dental clinic of course!
Suddenly it’s all about teeth! There’s a new dental clinic in town and from the look of things, not a moment too soon. Sister Winifred is giddy with excitement to be drafted into service. Her mission is to get all of Poplar to make brushing and flossing their favorite things (or maybe she’ll just settle for brushing right now). And singing. Because, of course, all good oral hygiene involves singing. Think Maria von Trapp on fluoride. She’s a regular miracle worker.
- Sister Winifred’s Holy Dental Crusade
In her new role of toothbrush evangelist, Sister Winfred has so much paraphernalia to schlep, she is beginning to covet Nurse Crane’s tin can on wheels. (Calling it a car would be a bit generous.) She gets permission to have Nurse Crane teach her to drive. Sister Winfred is enthusiastic. Quite frankly, she seems like she’s been sniffing Mr. Dockerill’s laughing gas. Luckily the residents of Poplar remember their air raid drills from WWII. Keep Calm and Jump Out of the Way!
- Say Cheese: Trixie meets Crystal, “the most miserable woman in Poplar”
A Bat Signal goes up and Trixie gets called to the home of someone she refers to as ‘the most miserable woman in Poplar’ — and proceeds to find out exactly why she’s so miserable. It is Crystal Williams and she has a fear of dentists (and toothbrushes) so severe that her teeth and gums are rotted beyond salvation. When Trixie walks in, Crystal is trying to convince her husband to pull her aching teeth out with a pair of plyers rather than go to see an actual dentist. (Or maybe they’re just into that sort of thing.) Anyway, she insists that dentists are butchers and she will not consent to being poked by one. It seems her previous dental experience was with the demon dentist of Fleet Street.
- New teeth, New Baby, New Outlook: Crystal is a whole new woman.
Trixie warns Crystal that her gum infection can be dangerous for the baby and needs to be taken seriously. She makes her an emergency appointment at the hospital, but when Crystal blows it off, Trixie has to resort to asking the conveniently positioned Mr. Dockerill to step in. Dentist Dockerill says Crystal’s teeth are so bad they will all have to be pulled. Great news for someone who’s already terrified, but Trixie comes along in her hand-holding capacity. (Good thing Sister Grinch is gone; she never would have stood for all this hand holding!) Thankfully Mr. Dockerill promises to replace her extracted teeth with a sparkly new set of dentures.
At the hospital, the laughing gas brings out a new, long hidden aspect of Crystal’s personality. And it also brings on labor that ends up being attended by Mr. Dockerill who is impressed by Trixie’s skill, and hopefully Crystal’s pushing. In the end, Crystal gets new choppers, plus a bouncing baby boy, a permanent case of the giggles, a new lease on life, and kids who are recent graduates of Sister Winifred’s Smile Academy. Quite a big haul! And Trixie may have gotten something else in the bargain; that remains to be seen.
- I Wanna Hold Your Hand: Will a toothache cure lead to a heartache cure?
Has Trixie met her match? It’s early days yet. It seems that Crystal’s toothache just might have led to the cure for Trixie’s heartache. She meets a nice Dentist, Mr. Dockerill, who is manning the new dental clinic in Poplar. She didn’t exactly welcome him with open arms. She read him the riot act over his disrupting the peace and quiet of the maternity clinic. (When is there ever peace and quiet in that clinic?) Still he persisted. He may have had an ulterior motive when he enlisted her to hold Crystal’s hand during her dental examinations. By the time they delivered her baby (or rather, Trixie delivered as he watched) it was a date. So it seems Trixie has caught herself a catch. Call me a cynic, but the flash convertible he picked her up in makes me wonder if he’s a player who will break her heart. Sigh. Time will tell. I’d feel better about him if his car looked like Nurse Crane’s.
FYI: Mister Mister: Odontophobia or Dentophobia is a real and overwhelming affliction. It can resemble post-traumatic stress disorder, and is sometimes caused by traumatic dental experiences from the past. And in case you were wondering if Mr. Dockerill was a real dentist, in the UK doctors are often (customarily) addressed Mr., Miss, Mrs. or Ms. instead of Dr. I don’t think that would fly here though; “my son the Mr.” doesn’t have quite the same ring as “my son the doctor”, amiright?
- House Hunters: The Turners look for new digs.
With two children already and another on the way, the Turner family is bursting at the seams in their flat. Time to move out to the burbs. At Shelagh’s insistence, they find a lovely little house with an overgrown garden somewhere outside of Poplar and are going to make it their new home. In other Turner news: Tired of cooling her heels, and with the danger to her baby past, a now very pregnant Shelagh wants to get back to work. Dr. Turner has no choice but to give in all around, and so she’s back working 9-5 and their home sweet home expands.
- Big Hand, Little Hand: Reggie’s mother Ivy is called home.
When Nurse Barbara goes to have a new cocktail dress made at the insistence of fashion plate Trixie, we meet seamstress Ivy, cousin of Fred, and her son, 31 year old Reggie. Reggie has Downs Syndrome and lives with his mum. Ivy and Reggie have a system: she can allow him to stay home by himself because she’s got a list of ‘don’ts’ (Don’t answer the door. Don’t touch the stove. Etc.), and he obeys. She also points out where the hands on the clock will be when she’ll be home, so he knows. Until one day when she doesn’t make it home. Ivy has been having pains for days and brushing them off. Then in Church, right after Curate Tom’s sermon she collapses dead on the floor. Reggie sits at the table patiently waiting for her to come home.
It is left to Tom and Fred to explain to Reggie what happened to his mum. Reggie doesn’t seem to understand what it all means. He wants to know where the little hand will be when his mum comes back from seeing God. When Fred asks him to get ready to come stay with him and Violet, he lies down on his mum’s pillow. Violet is not pleased to have this new houseguest. She says he needs specialized care. Maybe she just doesn’t want the crimp in her independence. Or perhaps she thinks all the care will be left to her. Or she is expressing the societal attitudes of the day.
Fred doesn’t realize how sheltered Reggie had been with his mum, and how specific the instructions had to be whenever he was left alone. So when he and Violet run out mid-bread slice and he tells Reggie to help himself, he had no way of knowing what would happen. Reggie tries to make toast. He turns on the gas sans flame, then accidentally locks himself out of the house while trying to answer the door for a delivery man. Locked out, he goes wandering the streets, eliciting stares and insults. Where is he going? It turns out he was trying to find his way home. Fred (only by chance) returns just in time to turn off the gas before the worst happens. He then goes looking for Reggie and finds him at his old house, knocking on the door, asking his mum to let him in. When Fred brings him back he explains to Violet that they’re all he’s got. She’s thawing and she helps Reggie get ready for his mum’s funeral.
- Where have all the flowers gone?: Fred and Sister Monica Joan fly under the cuckoo’s nest.
Reggie and Fred become both buddies and gardening sidekicks, and Reggie even gets a little lecture of the virtues of flowering weeds from Sister Monica Joan for his trouble. Yet because of Violet’s wishes, Fred tries to find a place for Reggie. They hear of a place at Linchmere Hospital and go to see it. Sister Monica Joan decides to ride shotgun for quality control. It turns out Linchmere is a foreboding mental hospital, more like a prison (no grounds, no gardens), where they are led on a tour by Nurse Ratchet and shown the ward Reggie would be locked. They are both heartsick at the sight – and then things get worse…
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: Cynthia is found but still lost.
As they dejectedly leave the hospital, Sister Monica Joan thinks she sees a ghost being led along the hallway and follows, with Fred trailing along behind. Only this is no ghost; it is SISTER CYNTHIA!!!! This is where the mother ship sent her! Cynthia sees Sister Monica Joan at the door of her locked room and a look of recognition crosses her face. She moves toward Sister Monica Joan and puts her hand up on the window. They touch through glass.
Sister Cynthia is a shadow of her former self. She’s being held against her will and threatened with electro shock therapy. While she may be confused, she knows enough to know she does not want the electro convulsive therapy. She doesn’t want to be knocked out and have things done to her that she doesn’t know about (a nightmare scenario given the attack that triggered her current state). In this place she has no control over her life or her body.
- And your little dog too!: Sister Monica Joan does her best to rescue Cynthia and is turned away.
Sister Monica Joan is sobbing inconsolably as she and Fred get back in the car. She is ready to storm the barricades to get Cynthia out. Sister Julienne tells Sister Monica Joan and Fred that for Sister Cynthia’s sake they need to keep this horrific news to themselves until she speaks with the boss nun at the mother ship. However the hourglass is almost empty, and that sound you heard was a million Call the Midwife viewers screaming at their TV, “No, no, no! Move faster!”
We don’t hear the conversation Sister Julienne has with the boss nun at the mother ship. We can guess she got nowhere because she turns up at Linchmere Hospital to see Sister Cynthia on her own, where Nurse Ratchet turns her away, claiming she needs to make appointment. And it is too late anyway. We have already seen Nurse Ratchet wheeling sedated Sister Cynthia into the ECT room! Wat will this mean for Sister Cynthia?
- Stuck on You: Violet and Fred say goodbye to Reggie.
When Fred returns from Linchmere, he tells Violet that Reggie is NOT going there. Not ever. No way, no how. And furthermore, he’d like to adopt as many of the resident/prisoners as he can to get them out of that hell hole, but he can’t. Thankfully, Violet has had a change of heart anyway, telling Fred that Reggie is stuck with them. It’s not for long; Shelagh calls about a placement for Reggie at Glasshouse Village Trust, a new kind of facility, where the residents are treated with humanity and dignity. Violet is skeptical. At first Violet didn’t want Reggie to stay. Now she doesn’t want him to go. Fred, on the other hand, understands from his man-to-man chats that Reggie wants and needs friends, so they move forward to Glasshouse, where there are gardens and greenhouses galore. As they leave Reggie behind in his new home, Violet opens her handbag for a hanky and finds a gift Reggie left behind: a bag of flower bulbs.
FYI: The Times They Are a Changin’: In the 1960’s most doctors recommended that children with Downs Syndrome (a condition caused by an extra chromosome that affects about one in a thousand babies) be institutionalized from birth as a matter of course. At that time, few people questioned a doctor’s advice. The institutions were dreary at best, horrific at worst. Yet many people accepted that hiding children and adults with Downs away was better than them being out in a society that did not accept them. All that began to change in the 1970’s when a series of scandals led to changes. (New Yorkers probably remember the investigative reports about Willowbrook that changed everything here as well.) With better care (and living at home) has come an increased life expectancy (from 12 years old in the 1940’s to the present where it is now common for someone with Downs to live into their 60’s). And with a great societal acceptance has come a better quality of life to go with it.
- New Girl in Town: Nurse Valerie Dyer is welcomed into the fold.
Nurse Valerie Dyer reports for duty at Nonnatus House with her belongings in a wheelbarrow; walked there by her mum who sets her off on her new adventure with some broken homemade biscuits from her Auntie Grace. Nurse Valerie is eager to work hard although she isn’t too thrilled with the sleeping arrangements. She claims she doesn’t want to share a room because she snores like an elephant. We wonder if there’s another reason. (Mainly because I’ve never met an elephant who snores!) When she returns home to her dorm room after her first day on the job, she’s welcomed by the midwives daily cocktail party/pub crawl. At first she’s embarrassed, telling the girls she has nothing to offer the group except her auntie’s broken cookies. She needn’t have feared, these midwives don’t stand on ceremony where snacks are concerned. They happily inhale them. And just like that, Nurse Valerie becomes one of the cool kids.
- Ooh, ooh, ooh, baby, baby: Sister Monica Joan recognizes a blast from the past.
As Valerie goes about her business at Nonnatus House, happily humming to herself while she works, she is approached by a disheveled Sister Monica Joan who, upon seeing her, calls her by name. She recognizes Valerie from her mother’s delivery. Sister Monica Joan tells her that she and Sister Evangelina were the midwives who delivered her, and that she had cut her cord. Walt Disney was right; it’s a small world after all.
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