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Letter From America: Diagnosis

...I have known well-meaning visitors whose stock-in-trade ranged from paperhanging to firewood chopping march into a sick room on the pretext of visiting a sick friend and immediately lift the impressive array of pills and potions from the patient’s table and denounce them as poisons more potent that the invading organisms that made their presence necessary.

Their Oscar-winning denunciations display all the confidence of Adolph Hitler at Munich in the thirties, all the charm of Genghis Kahn with a festering boil where his body interfaced with his saddle, and all the insight and finesse of a rampaging bull elephant...

Ronnie Bray deplores the Cassandras who bring gloom to the sick room. He also introduces us to a new and deadly disease - matrimonial thrombosis.

It is fascinating to see how interested in medical matters non-medical people are, as if they somehow concerned them. In any event there is little doubt that Milton was talking about materia medica when he wrote “A little learning is a dangerous thing … “

The less a person knows about medicine proper, the more likely they are to gratuitously diagnose the illnesses of strangers, pronounce a more often than not a dismal prognosis, and announce with confidence that the medication prescribed or treatment imposed is entirely wrong, his doctors a bunch of quacks and the patient would be better off eating an old fish head wrapped in a woollen sock that has been infused with a mixture of garlic and witch hazel.

I have known well-meaning visitors whose stock-in-trade ranged from paperhanging to firewood chopping march into a sick room on the pretext of visiting a sick friend and immediately lift the impressive array of pills and potions from the patient’s table and denounce them as poisons more potent that the invading organisms that made their presence necessary.

Their Oscar-winning denunciations display all the confidence of Adolph Hitler at Munich in the thirties, all the charm of Genghis Kahn with a festering boil where his body interfaced with his saddle, and all the insight and finesse of a rampaging bull elephant. The initial result is to enervate the patient who up to that point believed himself to be on the mend, and thrust him into the dark ravine of despair at his condition, his hope of recovery, and the skill of his medical and nursing care providers.

Whatever the level of his sanguinity prior to the Cassandrian intrusion, it evaporates like morning mist at noon, and slowly he turns his face to the wall, draws his bedcovers over his head to save time later, and sinks into foul despair. The therapeutic equivalent of Jack the Ripper has struck again.

I recollect in my youth that everything one did from sitting on cold surfaces to overindulgence on Dandelion and Burdock was, according to the worldly and freely offered wisdom of ex officio ealdormen, specific to the development of a painful and embarrassing condition in later life. Experience has shown their prognostications to be accurate, but only because it does not matter what one does or does not do when young, as the condition is a concomitant of age.

I was privy to a conversation between two fellows who happened to sit behind me one day as I travelled on one of the funny double decker buses that Huddersfield Corporation used to fit under the railway bridge just down the road from the field where Yetton Rant was held. They were focused on a man who fitted the description of the sick visitor already described.

According to the truth-teller, he had visited an elderly lady, strutting unannounced and unexpected into her sick room as if he had been a consultant in tropical diseases.

He caught the edge of his waistcoat armhole with the thumb of one hand while making a grand gesture towards a large bottle that graced her bedside table with the other. “My good woman,” he trumpeted, “this concoction will pickle your innards!”

“It would if I drank it,” replied the wise woman. The intruder – it would be a mistake to describe him as a sick-visitor, for he had the faculty of consolation common to Job’s comforters – the intruder, raised one eyebrow as an interrogative. She continued, “It’s a bottle of malt vinegar my niece brought for me, you great lump!” The next sound in the room was the door sneck closing upon his heel.

“Eeh, lad,” said his auditor, “he sounds like a rum chap.” They were momentarily silent, except that they let out sighs in concert, a perfect third interval between them. I tried to ‘Name That Tune’ but nothing came.

“Mind you,” began the talkative one, “his wife took it hard.”

“Took what hard,” asked the one whose mind had wandered to the high days of the Cow Shed at Leeds Road.

“His interference with her maiden aunt.”

“Really?”

“Oh, yes. The old lady had all the brass in the family and the wife had been grooming her for years to try to get an honourable mention in her will.”

“I see.”

A short silence recognisable as thinking by one and preparation for triumph by the other followed. It broke as the bus lurched round a sharp corner bending all six passengers on each upstairs seat all the way to the right like a field of corn yielding to a high wind.

“And, did she?”

“Did she what?”

“Did she get any of the old lass’s brass when she popped her clogs?”

“Not a brass farthing!”

“Oh.”

Sixty-six Macintoshed and cloth-capped working men lurched forward as the driver braked late but effectively at the traffic lights, and then snapped back to the upright as one man. A hundred yards of silence followed.

“She died soon after.”

“Who died?”

“The old lady’s niece.”

“How old was she?”

“Fifty-two and two days.”

“That’s young.”

“Aye.”

No one in the upper saloon spoke as the bus swerved round a roundabout. The bus swayed too much for comfort and easy conversation, encouraging stolidity. When it was straight going again, the conversation resumed.

“What did she die of?”

“Well, the coroner said it was natural causes.”

“At fifty-two?”

“And two days!”

“Aye.”

“But the family had their own diagnosis.”

“What did they think it was?”

“Matrimonial thrombosis!”

“What?”

“Matrimonial thrombosis.”

“What’s that?”

“She were married to a clot!”

“How … “ began the auditor, but was interrupted by a shout from his companion who jumped up and ran toward the back of the bus to skip down the stairs.

”Come on, lad! We’ve just gone past our stop!”

The remainder of the journey was uneventful.

(C) 2006 Ronnie Bray

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