The usual anxieties that plague me moments to a doctor’s visit overwhelmed me Wednesday afternoon.
I find sharing with someone, even a doctor, my intimate concerns with my own body disconcerting. It is like bearing the inner sanctums of my body to a stranger with pretensions to knowing it better than I do. At the end of such sessions, I’m left feeling like doctors either exaggerate or miss out on whatever is wrong with me.
It should have been different on Wednesday. My appointment was, after all, with a physiotherapist. The struggles with my Achilles heels and the pain of being reduced to watching others enjoy a jog that I couldn’t partake in had forced a visit to the doctor.
At the university hospital, I had the misfortune of being attended to by the same doctor I had seen late last year over a different issue. “Misfortune” because I’m convinced he subordinates his medical knowledge to stereotypes about Africans being carriers of all manner of poverty-related diseases.
My maiden visit to the hospital, for instance, was over my embarrassingly rumbling tummy. Initially, I blamed it on change of diet and hoped it would calm down once I acclimatised to the foreign food. But the noise only revved up. I tried to contain it by changing diet and exercising but to no avail.
On one evening, I had sat in the library sandwiched between two brunets. Then the noises began: a spaced grumbling that quickly grew in volume and frequency. I tried to rustle my books to hide the noise. Next, I swivelled my chair hoping to muffle it with the swishing sounds. It did not work. The girls stared at me with growing disgust. One of them pouted her lips while the other spread out her palms and twisted her face in a what’s-wrong-with-you? gesture.
It was time to see the doctor. As I waited for my turn at the reception, doubts over whether my problem really merited a hospital visit flooded me. Around were patients who appeared sicker than me. I felt sissy. Besides, I imagined the line of questioning ahead with the doctor: “Do you eat enough roughages?” “Do your exercise?” “How is your sex life?” “Are you stressed…?”
These were precisely the kind of questions that make me hate hospitals. I was nearly resolving to walk out when my name boomed over the loudspeaker. Could you please proceed to door 4 C to see Dr….?
He was a monstrous man of an indeterminable age. So obviously obese was he that I thought his body size alone disqualified him from being taken seriously as a doctor. He listened to the story of my noisy stomach with the practised indifference of attending to hypochondriacs. He didn’t ask any of the anticipated questions. Instead, he inquired about my country of origin. When I said “Kenya”, he quipped: “Plenty of queer diseases there, isn’t it?”
He instructed me to lie on the observation table, my shirt pulled up to expose my stomach. When he pressed my lower abdomen while asking if I felt any pain, I replied in the negative. But I wasn’t sure whether the lack of pain was because there was really no problem with my tummy or because his fat fingers were too layered for a firm contact with my skin.
“Because of where you come from, we will test you for Hepatitis just to rule out any hidden causes. Have you tested for TB? I think you should…here in the UK. What they do in Kenya is not good enough…Worms too. I gather there are many back there…they can cause these things.” I consented to the tests more out of curiosity than diagnostic hopes. When the results turned negative, he suggested I avoid wheat products. Sensing his guesswork with my body, I resolved to ignore him.
Three months later, I was back to the same doctor over my Achilles heels. An attempted jog just after the New Year break had left me immobilised for a week. This time, we chatted like old buddies. When he said, his tone dripping with concern, that being his age-mate, I should still be able to enjoy active sports, I felt seriously affronted. How could I possibly be as old as this gobbet of a man!
Choosing my words carefully, I wondered why he looked so obviously unhealthy. He explained that, hailing from Liverpool, he loved his beer and his burger. He had been meaning to do something about his weight but he kept postponing his starting date.
But now that he had a new, “fussy like hell” girlfriend, he would treat himself to one last weekend indulging then sign up to a gym!
I had Googled the direction to the hospital. I would take a bus, ride for half an hour and then walk for five minutes. But when I asked the bus driver, a huge Asian man, how much the fare was, he said he had never heard of my destination. I showed him the map on my phone. He either couldn’t read or couldn’t see as he took too long while squinting on the screen that other passengers began to grumble.
I wondered how safe we were with his driving.
Google had nailed it with amazing precision. I alighted at Stop C. But typical of my poor map reading habits, I couldn’t tell which direction was west. Luckily, a fellow passenger directed me to the hospital. But not before sharing that originally from Jamaica, he had settled in the UK 42 years ago and that he was still saving for his dream holiday – in Maasai Mara!
At the hospital entrance, a doctor and a nurse, judging by the coat and the dress, were smoking gaily directly below a billboard screaming “Smoking Kills.” It reminded me of Jos, my fellow Kenyan student. A doctor doing her Masters, she has an insatiable appetite for junk food. Whenever I criticise her failure to practice her preaching, she retorts that there is a good reason why doctors seldom prescribe their own lifestyles to patients! The latter would die much sooner!
The physio turned out to be a middle-aged, lively lady. I told her how an MRI test for my recurrent Achilles problem at one of Kenya’s top hospitals had “revealed” all was fine with me. She laughed derisively. “The radiologist must have been blind. I can see the problem from a kilometre…”
I concluded it is a doctors’ idiosyncrasy to discredit each other’s work. As she ventured into the mumbo-jumbo of tendinopathy and tendonitis, my attention drifted to her torn and dirty sneakers. I knew junior doctors working with the National Health Service (NHS) regularly went on strike to protest poor pay. Her shoes were a befitting testimony to their hard times!
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