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“We have a sick man on our hands ?” Emperor Nicholas I. of Russia

Caricature by Daumier:  The Imagination/ The Physician - "Why the devil! do all my patients leave me?...................in vain do I bleed them, purge them, drug them .......I can't make head or tail of it!"  Bibliothèque Nationale de France/ Engravings : B  51 754

Steve set out to make fun of the doctors.

His company had offered him an expensive medical examination. He had so far refused to accept it, but changed his mind this year, no doubt for the good Yorkshire reason that it is silly to refuse anything expensive that is free. Of course, he would not be played and fooled around with at this examination. He would not have the final report sent to the family doctor as is the practice, but straight to our own address, for one thing. Of what concern is it to anybody but him ? Also he was not going to have the x-ray done – x-rays are not good for us. It would be quite fun to be a little different from all the rest and give them a headache, maybe, as to how to treat him. It would be interesting to experience the atmosphere in such a place; plenty of wealthy businessmen, no doubt, and good-looking nurses; why not !

He had to forgo his breakfast on that day and arrive with an empty stomach – he did not look forward to that. Also, ideally, he should not have eaten less than fourteen hours prior to the examination. However, he felt sure there was a safety margin and therefore enjoyed a good meal at 10 pm, about eleven and a half hours before the appointment.

He got up in the morning late enough to be forced out of the house on coming downstairs, thus avoiding to see the others eat. The housewife welcomed this opportunity of not having to provide a cooked breakfast nor a packed lunch : he would treat himself to a restaurant meal after the ordeal.

He gave us a report when he came back in the evening, beaming and looking as fit and healthy as ever. Yes, they had had to strip down to their pants, socks and shoes and then received a blue gown to cover themselves with – quite a few prosperous looking businessmen in a visibly posh place. Then they were channelled one after the other through the various tests :

his sensory organs turned out to be perfect, the capacity of his lungs – he thought his wife would be pleased to hear that – by as much as a hundred and twenty per cent better and his chest by ten centimeters broader than the average estimate; his blood pressure was that of a young man, his weight only ninety three per cent of the average – he said this was still too much, considering he weighed four kilos less on his return from Germany five years ago -, his height unchanged —

all of this printed out by a computer. He showed us the paper, explaining some of the figures and symbols. The family was duly interested and grateful for the good results. He had struck no problem refusing the x-ray – people simply complied without asking unnecessary questions. The results of various blood and urine tests would have to be waited for, of course.

The examining doctor, a retired Dutch cardiologist living on the south coast of England and travelling up to London twice a week for some extra income, told him that his heart from a cardiologist’s point of view was a delight to listen to. This gentleman also tested his reflexes and found them alright. Brief mention was made of his latent back problem. The doctor noticed that his spinal column was not quite straight, which we knew anyway. However, this should not be too serious, if he did not put on weight.

In the end he was told that the doctor would “send a letter”. “Who to ?” I wondered. Steve shrugged his shoulders and looked indifferent : “the family doctor maybe”. I did not understand : “did you give them his address?”.  “No”. Nobody had asked him. Only when he had a session with a computer, feeding in details of his medical history, he had to indicate the family doctor’s address …  Who would resist a computer ?