Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Carry On, Doctor

"Now then, Mrs. Artichoke, the ET scan and the phraseology reports indicate cancer of the sarcophagus with well advanced secondary malicious rhizomes in the left and right ulterior catacombs. In order for us to operate safely, it was considered necessary for you to lose a considerable amount of weight, so we've amputated both of your legs just below the hip."

"But, doctor, I'm Mrs. Antelope."

Like everyone whose occupation brings them into close and regular contact with the medical profession and like those thousands upon countless thousands of people who, like the unfortunate Mrs. Antelope, have woken to find they have been parted from their limbs quite unnecessarily, I have little faith in the ability of physicians to diagnose correctly and treat successfully the overwhelming majority of medical conditions, though their skill in congregating in small to medium-sized groups for the purpose of obstructing hospital doorways and corridors is certainly most admirable and rather marvellous to behold, combining as it does the haughtiest arrogance with an absent-mindedly oblivious disregard for the needs of those lesser mortals who wish to make progress in the course of their menial labours. It seems that no matter from which direction you approach a clique of stationary doctors, they manage somehow to ensure that all of their backs are turned ignorantly upon you. A much underestimated and often overlooked accomplishment, it takes many years of sacrifice and dedicated study to acquire such a towering level of self importance.

Indeed, a genetically inherited aptitude for lofty imperiousness is what medical schools have always looked for in potential students and is far and away the chief quality required for a successful career in hospital medicine and most particularly in the field of surgery.

One thinks immediately of the overblown pomposity displayed by Mr. Jean-Claude Glazier, the eminent braggadologist, who would as a matter of honour and reputation aim to reduce to tears of suicidal hysteria through the employment of sarcastic personal abuse at least one member of his firm during the course of every operation and who famously insisted that his surgical clogs be cleaned upon the completion of each day's list by the tongues of those junior house officers who wished to be still employed by him the following morning.

Undoubtedly without that natural air of overbearing superciliousness a hospital doctor has virtually no chance of advancement and might just as well give it all up and join the Red Cross. Or become a general practitioner, most of whom, while probably possessed of even greater qualities of ineptitude, are on a human level generally a more palatable breed entirely.

I must have been something of a sickly child because I remember becoming quite accustomed to frequent visits to the GP, Dr. Medson senior, accompanied by a fretful but fragrantly well dressed Mother. He would be sitting there in his old brown leather chair puffing away on his pipe and after a cursory examination would set me long-winded and complicated arithmetical puzzles to solve while he and Mother left me in peace, retiring behind a door marked 'Strictly Private'.

After twenty minutes or so they would reappear, breathless and flushed with concern, and enquire as to my progress, although the actual results of my mental labours were never disclosed and seemed somehow arbitrary because Dr. Medson would in any case hand me some chocolate, ruffle my hair and pronounce me well enough for now, which always seemed a great relief to Mother, who would walk me home with a spring in her step and a broad, enigmatic smile upon her face, a far-away look in her eye, having made an appointment for me to undergo further tests in a week's time.

As far as I know my mysteriously asymptomatic ailment was never properly diagnosed and I assume it must have healed of its own accord because Dr. Medson eventually discharged me as fully recovered, preferring to concentrate his efforts instead on the son of a very elegant lady named Mme. Honoria De Baucherie, which I'd have thought should have pleased Mother immensely but rather unaccountably caused her instead to weep inconsolably for several weeks.

I suppose the emotional machinations of women and the inordinately high esteem in which society appears to regard the doctor of medicine are among the innumerable subjects which must remain forever beyond the comprehension of the humble ambulanceman.