Oh, and one more question: Who are all those extra nuns we see singing in the chapel, but never see anywhere else, even in the background? I’ve been wondering about that for years.
As you ponder those big existential questions, it is fitting that this week we have 18 essentials; 18 is a mystical number symbolizing life. So here are the 18 essentials of Call the Midwife Season 7, Episode 7…
18. Doctor, Doctor, Gimme the News
Episdoe 7 picks up the action minutes after the last one ended. Barbara is having a spinal tap as Dr. Turner and Tom rush into the hospital. The diagnosis is meningitis and septicemia. She will be treated with a strong course of Penicillin. Because she is in isolation, Tom is not allowed to go in to see her, but he begs the boss nurse, Sister Grant, not to let her die. She admonishes him that they are doing their best and that her faith in doctors is as strong as his faith in God. Might that have been a bit condescending? I don’t know. Then again, that was back at a time when doctors were always depicted as gods. Also interesting to note from our 2018 perspective: Even though Barbara is highly infectious, they are not wearing rubber gloves.
FYI: Meningitis and Septicemia. Meningitis is inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord. Septicemia is blood poisoning caused by the same germs and is a more life-threatening form of the disease. Septicemia can occur with or without meningitis. Both are treatable with antibiotics if caught early enough, but untreated are 100 percent fatal and can kill in hours.
FYI: Rubber Gloves. Rubber gloves were invented in 1889, at John’s Hopkins, by surgeon William Halstead, not as a protection against infections, but rather to protect the hands of his surgical nurse (and object of his affection) from the harsh chemical disinfectants used in operating rooms. It wasn’t until much later that they realized wearing gloves benefited patients.
17. Let’s Make A Deal
As Barbara languishes in the hospital, Sister Monica Joan has stopped wearing her new glasses. When Sister Julienne asks her about it, she insists they must have fallen off because they don’t want to be there. She has also given up eating, out of guilt. She has had her long life, yet still had her sight renewed while beloved Barbara is so young and might die. Distraught, Sister Monica Joan says she would gladly let God take her, if he would let Barbara live. Sister Julienne reminds her that God is not Monty Hall; he doesn’t make bargains like that.
16. The Look of Love
Sister Grant tells Tom to go home, but he cannot bear to go back to the flat he shares with Barbaa alone, so he stands outside the hospital all night in the rain. Nurse Crane finds him there in the morning, not having slept (just as she expected) and cares for him as Barbara would want her to, bringing him food, and clean dry clothes. He’s worried because there’s been no change but Phyllis assured him that can be good as well as bad. He tells her he knows how much she loves Barbara and how much Barbara loves her.
Once inside, he refuses to leave his spot outside Barbara’s room. He has sat by so many bedsides of the dying, why not that of his own wife? He finally wears down the nurse; Barbara is not as feverish, so she lets him in for a few minutes. Nurse Crane returns with a brown paper package tied up with string: a razor so he can shave. She says he wouldn’t want Barbara to wake up and see him looking like he should be howling at the moon. He thinks how wonderful it would be if Barbara woke up at all and looked at him “in the way she does.”
15. All Hands to the Pump
Sister Julienne shows up to morning midwife roll call; she’ll be pitching in until Barbara is well. Later, she suggests to Nurse Crane that she take some time off to spend at the hospital, but she’d rather stay busy. All the same, Shelagh is drafted back to active duty until Barbara returns. Elsewhere, news of Barbara’s illness highlights the fragility of life, inspiring Violet to give Fred an extra hug on his way out the door.
14. Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits
Tom sits by Barbara’s bed and talks to her about plans for the future; about moving to the country, where there are hills and green fields; a little cottage, somewhere safe for their children to grow up. Every time he looks away from her we see her eyes flicker open a bit – and for a minute there we want to yell, “Look at her!” because it seems he’s going to miss it. Then she raises her hand, touches his face and tells him he needs a shave. He says Phyllis told him she’d say that, and she says Phyllis knows everything.
Tom calls Nonnatus House to spread the good news and there are tears of joy all around. Now that she is awake and there is no threat of infection, Barbara is finally allowed visitors. There is a stampede to her bedside. Nurse Crane has a rota for visiting and they come bringing all the gifts and cards that have been piling up from patients. Sadly, while everyone thinks this is a reprieve, it turns out to be just the eye of the hurricane. The back end of the storm is just waiting to blow through and do its damage.
13. Jailhouse Rock
Dr. Turner has a new assignment: visiting doctor at Wadelock House, some sort of juvenile hall that is experiencing another in a series of scabies outbreaks. There he meets an inmate his son Tim’s age who is the target of incessant bullying. Michael Sumpter has an infected cut on his hand and when Dr. Turner dresses it he is startled to see scars on his wrist – evidence of suicide attempts. The bell rings to start visiting hours and Dr. Turner tells him he can go, but Michael responds that he gets no visitors; he has no family.
As he’s leaving, Dr. Turner sees the bullies egg Michael into a fight by calling his bird a tart. That bird is his pregnant wife Allison. On his next visit Dr. Turner asks Michael about the other boys provoking him. He tells the doctor that Allison is no tart and Dr. Turner assures him he’s sure she isn’t. Michael took on the job aiding a car thief in order to try to provide for the baby on the way. His mother-in-law says he’s good for nothing and he agrees. What kind of father would he be anyway when he’ll be in and out of jail for the rest of his life. His mother-in-law said that and because he has no one giving him any positive reinforcement, he believes that is his fate.
Dr. Turner is shaken by what he’s seen and tells Shelagh about the boy who troubles him; that he is obviously depressed but is getting no help. Imagine how he must feel stuck in there with his wife pregnant. Shelagh offers to check Nonnatus rolls to see if his wife is a patient. She finds no Mrs. Sumpter, and Dr. Turner fears she has moved away, and what that news will do to Michael.
12. Hey, You, Get Off My Cloud
Tim, who’s not so tiny anymore, wants to go see the Rolling Stones but Dr. Turner fears the bad influence of the band’s rebellious crowd on his baby boy. He is certain that rock & roll music is the start of a slippery slope to anarchy. The answer is no. The next night, when Tim is late coming home from orchestra practice, Dr. Turner waits up for him and lays down the law. Despite Tim’s protest that this is unfair, he is grounded and ordered to stay away from those degenerate violinists in the orchestra until further notice.
11. Baby On Board
In a lucky coincidence, Shelagh gets sent on a pre-natal home visit to see a Miss Weatherly, who has an extremely bossy mother who answers all Shelagh’s questions for her daughter, and is giving her no choice but to have a home birth, insisting she’s going nowhere, no how, as long as she draws breath. Phew! When the overbearing mother finally leaves the room to make tea, Shelagh tells Miss Weatherly that everything is as it should be (except for that toxic soon-to-be granny); the baby is doing its preflight checks, and she is about to pop. Allison confides in Shelagh that her name isn’t actually Weatherly, that she’s married now and her name is really Sumpter. Light bulb moment! Shelagh tells her, you won’t believe this, but my husband is a doctor at Wadelock House and is trying to help your husband. Allison warns her to not say a word to her mother about it.
10. Keeping Up Appearances
Michael didn’t exactly steal a car, but he aided and abetted the theft by delivering a stolen car to someone. He had a baby on way and was trying to take care of it; he’ll pay dearly for that one decision.
Dr. Turner coaches him on what to say when he appears before the magistrate and brings him Tim’s suit to wear (without asking Tim.) Michael asks about Tim, saying he bets he doesn’t get into trouble, but Dr. Turner responds that he’s in trouble right now. What did he do? He stayed out too late. Michael laughs (is that all?). He thinks Dr. Turner seems like an alright dad. Michael’s own dad left before he was born. Dr. Turner wants to go to court to speak for Michael but the warden won’t allow it. He tells Dr. Turner he can’t save them all.
Meanwhile Allison and her overbearing mum argue about Allison and her ilk being the reason the country is going to hell in a hand basket; she rails at her daughter for not knowing the difference between “that thing” and real affection. In anger, Mrs. Weatherly lets slip that Michael is about to go to court and will soon be put away for a long time. Armed with that intel Allison turns up for the hearing but the court officer blocks her from entering, even though she pleads that he’s her husband and she wants to be there.
9. Here Comes the Judge
Michael asks Dr. Turner to go to her, that she’s upset and needs him; that he’ll be all right. Michael is left to face the magistrate on his own. He speaks sincerely and eloquently, admitting he did wrong and begs for another chance to make things right for his wife and baby. The magistrate believes his sincerity, but gives him three years in juvenile prison.
As he is court, wouldn’t you know it, another ill-timed baby. These babies pick their moments! Allison goes into labor and Dr. Turner takes her to the maternity hospital where Shelagh delivers. Allison insists her mum not be called, not yet; she only wants Michael there. Shelagh assures her that Dr. Turner will let Michael know as soon as the baby is born.
8. Baby Love
It’s a perfect baby boy – and he looks like Michael. Dr. Turner goes to tell Michael he has a little boy and wants him to know that it was Allison who sent him there with the message. He is sad that he will be missing the first three years of his son’s life. Dr. Turner says he understands that it must seem like a life sentence, but that he shouldn’t forget what he has to look forward to, and that it is now up to him, he’s got a wife and son waiting for him to get out. Before he gets sent off, Dr. Turner brings Allison to see him so he can meet his son, giving him a motivation that he has a home to come home to.
7. It’s A Gas, Gas, Gas
Dr. Turner returns from court with Tim’s hot-wired suit. Tim admonishes his Dad for going in his room and taking it without his permission. He wants to know why, and Dr. Turner tells him about Michael and that he was trying to help him. Tim says he’d have given it to him if he’d asked, and that he’s not a child anymore. Dr. Turner tells him he’ll always be his little boy, trying to pinch his cheek as the teen recoils in horror. He says now he’s sorry Tim missed the Stones concert. Then Tim informs him they’ll be back at the end of the month, and he seems a little less sorry but offers to go to the concert with him. Tim says thanks but rather than become a social pariah, he’ll go with his friends. Stay tuned for next week when Tim wins a Keith Richards lookalike contest and starts dating supermodels.
FYI: The Rolling Stones formed in 1962, and their first single didn’t come out until June 1963, so Tim would have been seeing them in local clubs. We are impressed he discovered them so early on.
6. There’s No Place Like Home
Lucille takes on one of Barbara’s patients, Mrs. Palmer, whose husband is a pastor. Mrs. Palmer’s baby son is thriving; no sign he caught anything from Barbara. Mrs. Palmer frets that his growth needs to slow down a bit, lest he outgrow his christening gown before the big day. They are Caribbean ex-pats like Lucille and started their own home-based congregation because they didn’t feel welcome in the local churches of London.
Church-going Lucille doesn’t feel welcome in the churches of Poplar either, but is in a bit of denial — for now. When Mrs. Palmer invites her to join with them, she says she’s busy, what with Barbara out of commission, plus she has choir practice. Mrs. Palmer looks skeptical, but she gives Lucille a gift for Barbara, a little glass angel.
5. I’m Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table One of These Days, Hallelujah
Surveying all the get well presents piling up at Nonnatus House, Lucille wistfully says (to no one in particular) how lucky Barbara is to be so welcomed as family, so far away from home. Val hears and is concerned. Over late night cups of hot chocolate, Val tells Lucille she’s worried that she still doesn’t feel welcome there. Lucille tells her it’s not there, it’s in church. She relays that the choir director gave her a solo, but some objected to the likes of her standing out and being heard. Val thinks she should not go back; she should go to Mrs. Palmer’s prayer meetings instead, but Lucille thinks that would be the easy way out; that she should instead stand up and fight with her voice in song. She should be trying to fit in – hard as it is. She also hesitates because Mrs. Palmer reminds her so much of her mum and aunties it makes her homesick.
4. The Impossible Dream
Everyone is relieved thinking Barbara is on the mend, but Barbara is a nurse, so she can see what’s coming. She hides her blackening fingers from visitors, but there are no secrets from Phyllis. Barbara uncurls her hands and shows them to her, saying she can’t feel anything either. It’s bad. She could lose them. Barbara has been putting on a brave face but when everyone leaves she lies in bed, alone, sobbing.
When Tom returns he hesitates touching her injured hand. She tells him she wants him to always hold her hand, even if she can’t feel it; that she will remember his touch. She goes on to say all she ever wanted was to be a midwife and bring babies into the world, but if it’s not to be, it’s not to be. She will happily settle for being best curate’s wife there ever was. She’s looking on the bright side. She can still have babies in her life when they have their own. She reminds him of his plans for them to move to the country. He is surprised she had heard him say it, before she’d woken up, but she did. She says, kind of wistfully, that maybe it was a dream, but if it was, it was a wonderful dream. Just a dream? Before Tom leaves, she asks him to bring her engagement ring when he returns. Looking back, could it be she knew the wonderful dream would never become a reality and wanted to die with it on?
3. You Are The Wind Beneath My Wings
As Phyllis sits with her, Barbara tells her she’s not getting better and the realization hits both of them. Barbara tells Phyllis that, “this next bit is going to be hard,” and says she doesn’t like to see the people she loves upset. Even in a moment that should be about people comforting her, Barbara is thinking of everyone else. It is like she is trying to prepare Nurse Crane for impending death the way she always prepared her pregnant patients for the impending new life. When Nurse Crane first came to Nonnatus House and was a bit of an outcast among the much younger midwives, it was Barbara who saw past her gruff, off-beat exterior and saw the true heart of her. They forged a special friendship; a mother/daughter-like friendship. Now, in their way, they say the things that need to be said before a final goodbye they know is coming.
2. I Am My Beloved’s and My Beloved Is Mine
Suddenly, in the middle of the night, Barbara takes a turn for the worse. When Tom gets to the hospital, the nurse says the septicemia has caused irreversible damage and nothing else can be done. Tom calls Phyllis and she sprints to the hospital. The two sit by Barbara’s bed as she takes her final breaths. Phyllis tells Tom to talk to Barbara, that she can still hear him, so he tries to recite Psalm 23 but breaks down. Phyllis picks up the baton and finishes for him. Phyllis feels for Barbara’s pulse and says, “she’s gone.” Then he did it; Tom slipped Barbara’s beloved knotted grass engagement placeholder ring on her finger, the precious one he had given her in Africa when he proposed. He kissed her goodbye.
It is possible that Barbara is the only one who understood Phyllis, but she is being strong for Tom, likely because she knows that’s what Barbara would want. She brings Tom back to Nonnatus House where everyone is waiting for them by the door, and they walk into a circular embrace. Phyllis quietly backs away from the circle unnoticed and sits on the front steps sobbing on her own.
1. Love Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry
It seems a cruel trick for it to appear Barbara was recovering, only for her to get worse and die. (Just like it seems a cruel trick to bring the character back to Nonnatus House only to kill her off — and so quickly!) As much as it is great drama, had they not come back we also could have enjoyed thinking of Barbara and Tom out there traveling the world forever. But if it was not to be, it was not to be. Sigh.
As devastating Barbara’s death was, this episode did leave us with some hope (not counting the closing shot of despondent Tom back at the flat all alone). Michael met his son, and Lucille, who did decide to go to Mrs. Palmer’s church, is welcomed with open arms found some amazing grace. As the disembodied voice of old Jenny said, “Love cannot always save us but it can be the reason why we fight.”
One supposes that finding that love is half the battle. And one also supposes that the follow up to that would be the words of Lazlo Toth, “Lean to the left; lean to the right; stand up, sit down; fight, fight, fight!”
What did you think, Nonnatuns? Join the conversation in the comments below or tweet using the hashtag #MidwifePBS. Watch Call the Midwife episodes and behind-the-scenes clips.