A Well-spent Age.
What is it with doctors?
I went to see mine the other day, – I say ‘mine’, but round here we don’t have personal medics these days – the Surgery - sorry – Health Centre - consists of two Principal Doctors, with a consulting room each, (but to see either of them you need to book an appointment a month before you fall ill,) plus several part-time registrars box-and-coxing it in the third consulting room, with the result that you never know which one you’re going to get, until you’re told by the touch screen computer they’ve just installed just inside the door in order to book you in. This is presumably to save the Receptionists having to put their conversation on hold in order to talk to you, although this isn’t a bad thing, in practice – the computer has far more warmth and personality then the Receptionists ever managed to muster, and doesn’t look down on you like you were something it had just stepped in.
After the usual 25 minute delay, sat on what must be the most uncomfortable seats this side of Death Row, the computer paged me to go into the consulting room. Today’s incumbent was young, female, and pleasantly ethnic. I’d not seen her before.
I was there not because there’s anything particularly amiss – I’m in rude health, other than the usual list of minor ailments and annoyances that septuagenarian flesh is heir to, but because they’d asked me to come in for what they call ‘a medication check’. I don’t know why they couldn’t just look at their own notes, and read the list (unchanged for the last ten years at least) of pills they prescribe me. These must be working – I’m still here.
Anyway – the consultation consisted of a blood pressure check (passed with flying colours) and a two minute conversation to establish that the prescription needed no re-adjustment , and as far as I’m concerned was a complete waste of time, both mine and hers. But I suppose it keeps the paperwork straight and the NHS computer up to date. So that’s alright then. Admin, having stolen an hour or so out of my day to no purpose, can breathe easy.
But, seeing as how doctor’s appointments are supposed to last the full ten minutes, regardless of how many people are kicking their heels in the waiting room outside, I then had to be treated to the statutory inquisitorial lecture to fill the time in.
“Do you smoke, Mr James? “
“Omigod – here we go again”, I thought, and pointed out that her colleagues had asked me that question every time they’d clapped eyes on me over the last twenty years, and by now it must be engraved ineradicably on just about every page of my notes. Unclean! Unclean!
“Yes”, I said. “not cigarettes any more, though. I smoke a pipe.”
“You really should think of cutting down an bit,” she said, in her best headmistress to recalcitrant schoolboy voice (and of course without taking the trouble to enquire as to the level I was expected to cut down from, or for that matter to inform me as to how much I should cut down to. The theory presumably being that no matter how little I smoke, the Nanny State still requires a decrease.)
I pointed out that over the last decade or so I had voluntarily “cut down” dramatically, from the 4 packs of Benson and Hedges a day which was my norm for about 40 years, to about an ounce-and-a-half of pipe tobacco a week. That’s what I’d call fairly serious pruning, but somehow she seemed less than impressed. “Sniffy” comes to mind. “Did I want a leaflet?”
No – I Bloody Didn’t! Why is it that everybody in a position of little brief authority these days thinks that every problem can be solved by stating the obvious in a turgid multilingual folded a4 pamphlet?
“And I really do think you should start losing some weight”, she went on, waving a diet sheet under my nose. A diet sheet, let me tell you, describing meals of such an awful grey, puritan bland institutional dullness that I wouldn’t impose them on my worst enemy. Not even on the local VAT inspector. Not even on Wee Gordy McBroon, although he’d probably think them irresponsibly hedonistic. No fats, no sugar, no starch, no alcohol, no red meat, no dairy products except the abomination known as skimmed milk, no chocolate, no biccies, no salt, no nothing. No nothing, indeed, in several languages, including Punjabi, Urdu, Arabic, Polish, and various scripts I didn’t recognise. I thought of asking for one in Hebrew, but bottled out.
“I want you to stick rigidly to this for a month, and then come and see me again”.
It was at this point that all diplomatic niceties deserted me.
“For God’s sake, woman! I’ve been fighting my weight since I was fifteen. I’ve tried more diets than you’ve had hot dinners. I’ve variously starved myself, purged myself, bored myself titless, and stressed myself out. And my weight hasn’t altered a jot.
Just answer me one question. To quote the Good Book, the days of my age are threescore years and ten. So at what point will the National Health Service say to me “Phil – you’ve reached a ripe old age – now eat what you like, smoke when you want to, have a few drinks if the mood takes you, sprinkle a bit of salt on your veggies, in fact stop trying to give up, or feeling guilty about not giving up, all the things you enjoy.” Against all the odds, I’ve reached seventy, for God’s sake. What age will I have to achieve to be allowed to do as I please, without having somebody haranguing me on the supposed evils of all the minor pleasures of my life? ? Eighty? Ninety? A hundred? “
And do you know – she had no answer to that.