Call The Midwife’s Christmas Day special was so surreal and nightmarish it must have left the viewing millions choking on their mince pies and wondering if several glasses of festive eggnog were responsible for some terrible hallucinations.
One precious newborn baby was addicted to heroin, for example, and it felt like Sister Frances was blaspheming when she uttered the word ‘anus’.
‘I’ll draw you a diagram!’ she promised a patient who didn’t know what, or where, her perineum was. It’s a long story and somewhat lacking in Christmas spirit…
Matthew Aylward (played by Olly Rix) and Nurse Trixie Franklin (played by Helen George) in the Call the Midwife Christmas special
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As for the sight of a black leech sucking the blood out of a bride-to-be’s eye, I confess I did not see that coming. Much like Nurse Anderson herself, her left eyelid had become so hideously swollen. (As was the leech when he’d finished.)
Yet the 90-minute festive episode had begun in classic, cosy, comforting style.
Reggie joyfully had a snowball fight, the postman delivered parcels by hand (rather than hurling them behind the bins from his van), and Miriam Margolyes read Dickens to a group of young children who genuinely didn’t seem to mind and were even mesmerised. Different times…
But soon there were more drugs and soppy gangsters than EastEnders (which followed at 9.35pm), with a wedding drama that made Walford’s look tame.
The daughter of an alcoholic mother, Anita Page had been shooting up in the laundry room when her waters broke, eventually giving birth to a girl who was underweight, fitting, and bawling constantly.
Mother Mildred (Margolyes) had witnessed such terrible high-pitched wailing before – in Hong Kong – so luckily knew exactly what to prescribe the mite: little baby doses of heroin.
It was very sad. However, it did at least stop her crying.
But the winner of the Casualty-esque ‘Guess the Catastrophe’ was nurse Lucille Anderson, who had tripped tipsily on the stairs after spending her hen night playing Pass The Parcel (not a metaphor).
‘Oh you poor girl! It’s more than a black eye!’ cried Patrick Turner, which she could see for herself (just about). The doctor’s bedside manner wasn’t exactly sensitive.
‘We can’t use iodine,’ he explained to Lucille. ‘If we do, the leeches will die’ (as if they were his priority).
‘You won’t feel any pain once the leech is in position. It releases a natural anaesthesia into the wound as soon as it starts to feed upon the blood.’ (As if this made having a leech feasting on her eyeball much better.)
‘I feel sick just looking at them,’ Nancy Corrigan gulped about the jar of squirming black creatures, speaking for us all.
Cyril Robinson (Zephryn Taitte), Nurse Lucille Anderson (Leonie Elliott) and Reggie Jackson (Daniel Laurie) in this year’s Call the Midwife Christmas special
Amazingly, Lucille’s ordeal got worse. Dr Turner had to ‘encourage’ the leech to start gorging – by releasing a drop of blood that he may have regarded as ‘tiny’ but basically required him sticking a needle into her eyelid.
Lucille was a lot calmer than I would have been – or was, frankly. Couldn’t she just wear an eyepatch, you wondered – like the singer Gabrielle?
‘That’s the ticket!’ the doc cheered, clamping the leech firmly on to the wound with a bandage.
‘The good news is, it’s a fairly sizeable specimen! It seems to be attaching nicely!’ Forty-five minutes of voracious sucking followed, but it still wasn’t over.
‘The puncture wound will continue to ooze blood for ten hours until the haematoma is completely drained!’ Turner told her ecstatically.
On the plus side, Lucille’s eye was cured and her wedding to Cyril had been saved. (By the leech more than the doctor.) They would all live happily ever after, even the baby junkie.
So it was drinks all round. Except for the leech, who looked as if he couldn’t swallow another drop, having just had his best Christmas dinner ever. For us, though, the turkey sandwiches suddenly didn’t seem that appetising.