Circa 1977 I read a collection of short stories, all with a medical theme and all told from a British doctor’s point of view (this was in a British library). I have often remembered it, but have never been able to think of the author or the title.

One of the first stories took place in the first world war, and was about a young doctor having to supervise a soldier who was facing the firing squad the next day. The doctor gave the soldier an overdose of some drug, to spare him the hellish wait, and then discovers that the soldier’s punishment would have been commuted.

Another story (humorous this time) was about a doctor dealing with a government inspector’s demand that he write a prescription in order to check the probity of the local pharmacist (possibly this had something to do with the introduction of the National Health Service?). The doctor dislikes this intensely, and cooperates in the most awkward manner possible. One of his efforts at sabotage is to write a prescription for 'A. Test' (Albert Test, an elderly local resident).

The story ends with the local pharmacist telling a visitor about the kerfuffle, and with his saying something like, "We thought it very decent of the doctor to be so punctilious — the old doctor simply gave us a call whenever he wrote a prescription for an inspector"!

The last story takes place in a hospital, and turns on the question of which of several patients will have access to the hospital’s first dialysis machine. The governor of the hospital (ex-military) suggests drawing straws; the doctors involved think that is nonsense, so he tells them to interview each patient thoroughly. The doctors return, each now convinced that their patient deserves to live, and find the hospital governor waiting with the handful of straws, having known from the beginning how near-impossible such a decision would be ...

Given the dialysis machine, I’m sure the book could not have been published before circa 1948, and I remember nothing that would have the book appearing later than the 1950’s.

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    Welcome to Literature Stack Exchange, take our tour! Please look through our identification-request wiki and, is any of the prompts there jog your memory, please edit your question to add more details. For example, were these the only stories in the collection? Was there cover art or any illustrations in general? How thick was the collection, and approximately how long was each story? Were these by different authors?
    – bobble
    Apr 11, 2022 at 14:07
  • For the second story, did this involve some sort of "ID-10-T" prescription where the doctor wrote up someone that looked legit on the surface, but turns out to be a veiled joke regarding the inspector? If so, that might help narrow things down. Apr 11, 2022 at 14:21
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    This sparked memories! I will edit my question.
    – Barnaby
    Apr 12, 2022 at 18:33
  • Perhaps one of the Doctor in the House books by Richard Gordon? Apr 16, 2022 at 23:20
  • I believe not. I read many of his books before I ever saw these short stories, and they seem so uniformly light and humorous ... although that doesn't make it impossible, I think my surprise at finding that Gordon could manage so different a mood would have stayed with me,
    – Barnaby
    Apr 18, 2022 at 20:18

2 Answers 2


Court Short by James Balfour could be a possibility.

I found it by Google Books search for "Albert Test" prescription. I couldn't find much about the book online, but you can search inside the Google Books record. There are results for some Shrubb:

After all, whoever had given Shrubb his morphia , had only anticipated an event which was going to end his life in six hours anyway , and what harm..

and kidney machines.

  • Maybe? A found an elliptical reference to one of the stories in a journal article about medical ethics, so probably? I'm looking for any further references, and if necessary I'll bite the bullet and order a copy. Having written that (I was still thinking it over) I'm calling it good—at the very least it's the first good lead I've ever been offered!
    – Barnaby
    Sep 26, 2022 at 18:50

Just explore the following, though I am not sure:

Tales of adventure and medical life / Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Arthur Conan Doyle London : Pan Books, 1978.

It was towards the end of his career, and it was out of his Sherlock Holmes thing.

And well, Conan Doyle was an MD, so that adds to the chances. https://archive.

  • Conan Doyle died in 1930, so I'm afraid that that rules him out.
    – Barnaby
    Sep 26, 2022 at 18:51

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