A Classic Consultation….

BMJ 27th April 2011

Give a dog a bad name, said Flashy, it’s far harder to live down a good one. So when the Greek heroes learnt that I had sorted out Heracles’ bursitis, the waiting room was soon bursting with Homeric valour and girded loins. The testosterone was sky high, an equal temper of heroic hearts and body oil, though we had to give the Trojans a separate room.

Some of it was predictable: Tithonus had dementia, and Polyphemus had glaucoma. But there was also the occasional surprise: Bellerophon was allergic to horse hair, Silenus abhorred bestiality, and Oedipus was actually very kind to his parents.

Achilles came into the surgery, trailing a bored-looking Greek chorus. He squashed his mighty thews into the plastic-covered chair, which gave an amusing farting noise. Some members of the chorus sniggered.

“I usually see Asclepius,” he said. “But it’s always the same with him: ‘Sacrifice Iphigenia here; libation to Apollo there; blah blah.’ It’s almost as ludicrous as homoeopathy.”

“Opathy, opathy,” chanted the chorus.

“Trouble with the handmaidens again?” I asked; general practitioners are the Renaissance men of medicine, a knowledge of the classics is mandatory.

“No,” he said, “I was racing a tortoise. Sounded easy, gave it a start, but each time I caught up it had travelled a small distance further. I was just about to overtake and disprove the infinity paradox when I tripped over a golden apple that Atalanta had left lying around. Now my ankle is giving me gyp. What about an x-ray?”

“An x-ray, an x-ray,” chanted the chorus.

I scrolled through his history. “Ah yes, after your MMR vaccination, your mother dipped you in the River Styx, which made you invulnerable. This, incidentally, was the earliest recorded example of preventive medicine, and we were going to dip all our infants in there too, but then a paper in the Lancet suggested a link with autism. However, because she held you by the ankle, your ankle has no protection. But it’s just a sprain. Rest for two weeks, and no slaughtering.

“And,” I continued, in a faux sepulchral tone, à la the Delphic oracle, “don’t go near the Scaean Gate.” Opportunistic health promotion is an integral part of the good doctor’s consultation.

He looked concerned, obviously thinking about the handmaidens.

“Ravishing’s okay,” I reassured him.

“Guess it could have been worse, doc,” he said, sounding relieved, “At least she didn’t hold me by the di—”

“Digits,” I said, pre-empting the chorus.


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