Like most middle-aged Jewish men I am forever worrying about illness and disease. Unlike the others, however, I really am dying of this stuff. Those lightweight kvetchers I have to listen to in shul with their aches and pains, oy gevulting every time they stand up or sit down, have no idea what it’s like to be under constant threat of falling off the twig the way I am.
Another difference is that I don’t like to talk about it. My friend Norman, for example, is quite happy to stand in the queue at Waitrose sharing, with whoever happens to be next in line, the latest news of his unruly bowel. I try to keep this stuff to myself, which is tricky living in north west London, because if I walk into the doctor’s surgery I’ve hardly had time to pick up an eight month old copy of Top Gear magazine before my phone rings and someone is enquiring after my health with not a little hint of schadenfreude in the voice. Apparently Sam saw me going in there two minutes ago.
By the time I’ve left the place 20 minutes later everyone I know is blocking out the rest of the week in their diaries so as not to miss the funeral.
I’m lucky. I have the only non-Jewish doctor at our practice and can therefore rest assured that what goes on behind the doors of his room will stay there.
Thus was my expectation when I arrived last week to discuss my latest ailment – a worrying pain down below. Now a man of my age knows not to take chances with that part of his anatomy, (not that I would take chances with so much as a sniffle), so I was round to the health centre before you could say “probe”.
Unfortunately, on this occasion my regular doctor was away at a conference and instead my file was passed on to Dr Marcus. Now Dr Marcus I happen to know is a perfectly good GP. However, I was not comfortable with her examining me because she’s the mother of one of my son’s best friends and I see her regularly in one setting or another, but rarely with my pants down. She understood my reluctance to let her perform the examination, and instead offered me Dr Wiseman. “No, I don’t think so,” I countered, “Dr Wiseman sits a couple of rows in front of me in shul. I don’t need to be reminded of our encounter while I’m davening.”
Eventually I settled on a Dr Phillips with whom I was sure I had no connection whatsoever, and two days later returned to the surgery for what was now, I was convinced, a very urgent consultation. You don’t need to know the details. Let’s just say my medical fears were, on this occasion, slightly exaggerated. Thankfully Dr Phillips was as gentle as he could be. I doubt it was particularly pleasant for the fellow, although I suspect it was considerably less painful for him than it was for me.
As I dressed he casually asked how my daughter was. I was confused. Why, not being our regular doctor, should he be interested?
“Oh just because I recognised your surname. My wife is one of her school teachers and often mentions her.”
I was totally deflated.
“Anyway, a dab of this ointment now and again should soothe things for you.”
“Forget the cream!” I blasted, “I don’t need soothing, I need psychotherapy otherwise I’m going to die of embarrassment at parents evening next week!”