Beware the power of nine-year-olds

Matilda had two spiders in her room — twins, she said. No child can be expected to sleep in a room with twin spiders. I found her at midnight asleep on the floor of my room and, despite moving her back to bed, some atavistic sense of the presence of arachnids sent her crawling back to her former spot, even though there are 10 spiders on the floor for every one on the wall.

The will power of nine-year-old girls, however, is legendary, and I was reminded of this when Serena Very Posh and her mother Victoria sashayed in through my door.

Such patients are not common in Suffolk, where the rich usually demonstrate their richness by wearing muddier Wellington boots than everyone else. The quality of the mud, you see, displays the level of wealth to another farmer and, since people who don’t understand mud don’t matter, social rank is perfectly maintained (GPs in Suffolk are trade. We use the back door).

Serena had bruised her toe and is requesting lifelong exclusion from cross-country. I peered at it and  explained that it was a bruise and would  get better soon.

Serena drew herself up to her full four feet six. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said in a voice like Joyce Grenfell, ‘I want an X-ray.’

I fell on the floor in surprise and Victoria looked troubled. ‘Can’t you send us to casualty?’ she asked.

I sigh. ‘No,’ I said, ‘nor can I sign her off sport. This is a normal foot.’

Several days later a report landed on my desk. Serena Very Posh had broken her toe. I was surprised at my own misjudgment. Serena had already bruised her toe, the report stated, when she groomed her pony, which stood upon her little toe and broke it. She had been advised to avoid sport for the next six weeks. Diagnosis, accidental injury. Remembering Matilda and the spiders, I wasn’t so sure.

- Dr Selby is a GP in Suffolk.

You can write to her at

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