A few weeks ago, I woke in the night with excruciating neck pain. Rather selflessly, I ignored it and pushed on through, much in the spirit of Nelson, keeping my head pointed slightly to my good side and ignoring the baffled looks of those I met. It is only an eye, or an arm, or, indeed, a neck. However, three weeks of almost unrelenting stiff-necked-ness has driven me to the doctor to get it looked at properly, just in case it isn’t a simple crick or a spasmodic muscle or something, and I am almost immediately reminded of why I stopped coming to the doctor for any ailment, let alone something serious. Doctor's waiting rooms are, quite literally, hell on Earth.
I find myself in the medical centre waiting area, viewing my fellow sufferers with more than a little disdain. A few, like me, sit alone, shunning contact—you don’t know what they have wrong with them, after all—but many are congregated in small family clumps, having bought everyone along as a kind of medical day out with the kids and grandparents, their only positivity being enthusing about how ill they really are. They bide their time by shoving Percy Pigs and processed ‘Chickin Bit’s' (their spelling, not mine) into the gaping maws of their corpulent offspring, unaware they are already setting their kids down the path of death-by-eating, or type 2 diabetes at the very least. While they may have the might of the world’s medical knowledge at their fingertips, it doesn’t necessarily mean they either heed nor understand it! Good diets, apparently, begin in someone else’s home!
Of course I do expect to find the less-than-well here—where else would they be, apart from on the bus, leaning over the seat and impressing on me how selfless they are in not going to the doctor with whatever malady haunts their body—but I had forgotten just how ill some of them make out to be. It’s as though they seem to revel in their invalidity, gone way beyond a simple my-cold-is-worse-than-your-cold scenario, and into passive-aggressive bickering with their nearest neighbour, who they didn’t even know existed just ten minutes (or however long they have been sat waiting to be called in) ago. It’s a game of top-trumps with diseases and maladies.
In a hideous parody of holding your nose when phoning up the boss to make a cold seem worse, they sit and gaze at the ground, mouths limp as though the sheer act of breathing is cause of pain beyond belief. They clutch their side and wince as they stroke bruised legs; they cough and gurgle theatrically. Immersion in lakes of liquid sulphur would have less impact on them as the strive to demonstrate just how unwell they are.
And they find a camaraderie in their ill health, alternately sympathising with others and imploring them with their own tales of woe. It’s like Monty Pythons's "Yorkshire Men" sketch, where grumpy Northerners try and outdo each other on the depth of the poverty of their childhood ("...there were 17 of us living in a rolled up newspaper in a septic tank…"), everyone has an illness to put others to shame. Personally, I blame the internet and the culture of self-diagnosis, in which anyone can look up a series of symptoms and declare that they have Hairy Cell Leukemia or Renal Glycosuria rather than the sniffy head cold that it really is. The access to unlimited medical information has plainly not broadened the outlook of many, but rather given them even more to bitch about.
And the man sitting next to me has just guffed too—God’s Teeth, when will this purgatory end… oh, the doctor is just calling me….