“My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains my sense . . .”
“I get it Mr Keats,” I said. “You’re a bit depressed.”
“ . . . and I feel like drinking hemlock, or some dull opiate emptying to the drains,” he said, a trifle sharply, as if annoyed that I had interrupted his flow. Hey, I’m a busy man, and at 6 to 10 minutes per consultation, just call me the GP from Porlock.
“Probably makes you want to jump on the viewless wings of Poesy,” I said, quickly getting up to speed with the whole poetry gestalt; family doctors have to be able to do this kind of stuff. His eyes narrowed, and he furtively took out a pen and scribbled something down.
I was faced with a dilemma. His melancholic disposition was obviously the essence of his muse. Treat it successfully and I’d be depriving the world of some of the great works of English literature. The common good, said Pierre in War and Peace, is the only kind of good there is, but sometimes even good doctors just have to be bad.
Ever the alert clinician, I had also noted the lily on his brow and the fading rose on his cheek, so I reckoned we hadn’t much time, which ruled out cognitive behavioural therapy and its billion year waiting list.
So I gave him some general lifestyle advice: no more getting loaded on cups full of the blushful Hippocrene; the only beaded bubbles winking at the brim were to be from cans of Pepsi. Get out more, meet people, nix on the palely loitering. And you need more exercise, I said, a vigorous half hour’s walk every day.
“And take time to smell the flowers,” I said.
“Smell the flowers?” he said, with a condescending smirk. “What are you, one of those pre-Raphaelite bird-brains?”
I was reassured by this show of spirit, but as he had revealed a propensity to self harm, I also started him on an antidepressant and arranged an early follow-up. Had I committed a crime, I wondered; would his literary genius survive my clumsy biochemical manipulations?
Two weeks later he returned.
“I wandered lonely as a cloud,” he simpered.
Forgive me, Melpomene, I thought.