“Knight” duty and the Lady of Shallot…..

BMJ 16 June 2005

“‘Tis the Lady of Shallot,” she said, “Wouldst thou call upon me?”

“No chance,” I said, “new NHS policy, not efficient use of time, etc etc.”

But she was a quick learner, knew all the tricks. “I sense an ill humour, and central crushing chest pain radiating to my left arm and all.”

“Oh, all right,” I snarled graciously. Even fairy-tale patients know how to push our buttons and make us jump; the university of the street could teach our medical students a thing or two.

I parked outside the tower in a temper, accidentally on purpose running over a unicorn (the presence of which would soon become clear). Rather nouveau riche design, I thought. walking up a winding stair past the mural of Merlin performing an adenoidectomy on The Green Knight.

I tripped on some white glistening sticky stuff, of uncertain and possibly revolting provenance.

“Mind the web,” said a voice from behind a huge mirror, which I noticed was linked to external security cameras, “it’s a bugger to spin.”

“If I’m going to examine you, you’ll have to come out,” I said.

“No man may look on me, else the curse come upon me and I perish.”

I drew myself up, feeling rather violated; “I am not a man, madam, I am a doctor. You may consider me an asexual robot, or maybe a mutant.”

A beautiful maiden appeared, garbed in voluminous white, a tad too Miss Havisham for my taste. “Oooh,” she said, “aren’t you the handsome young buck.”

My reflection in the mirror revealed a specky, balding person.

“Don’t meet many guys, do you?” I said. “Now, what about this chest pain?”

“I confess ‘twas a mere contrivance,” she said, stroking my bald patch meaningfully. “I grow lonely for male company and I figured, what the heck, GPs have to come out when you call, don’t they?”

Her expression suddenly changed. “I don’t believe it,” she said peevishly, “you wait a lifetime, and then two guys come along at once.”

On the camera screens I saw a knight in armour, brazen greaves glittering in the sun, his mighty stallion befouling the green sward in what looked like an annual catharsis.

“Gotta go,” she said.

I felt rejected; he was tall, handsome, and heroic, but I drive a Mercedes.

Lancelot came running up the stairs. His noble visage was grave and his eyes bugging out. “Come quickly, Doc, the fair maiden…”

“Yeah, I can guess, she’s all a-swoon, is she?”

I checked her out; her chest was heaving prettily in the way only a very alert chest can manage. As Chesterton observed, artifice is the ultimate expression of human genius.

“It’s a bad case of melodrama,” I said.



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