Deny yourself the fleshpots…..

BMJ 08 November 2007    Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:996

 In the small yet dull world of the medical columnist, the use of quotations is considered rather jejeune and naff. Meant to imply a deep breadth of scholarship—that the writer curls up each night with a good dose of Seneca and a tincture of Molière—what it really means is a well thumbed Big Book of Quotations, kept in the bathroom, to be consulted at length while the Great Writer strains away.

But an ear for the telling phrase remains an indispensable part of the columnist’s armoury, as it saves us thinking them up ourselves.

When I started practice in Crossmaglen there were no road signs, these having been removed by helpful locals to confuse the army and other officers of the state; confusing the new general practitioner was just a convenient bonus.

So when I stopped to ask directions from a likely chap, I was wearing my stethoscope prominently, ensuring that I wouldn’t be mistaken for the television licence man. He was sitting on a gate, staring aimlessly into the distance, irrefutable evidence of ample local knowledge; one of the immutable laws of the countryside is that the more unworldly you look, the shrewder you are. I was therefore hopeful of lucid advice.

He was glad to be of assistance, though the faraway look never left his eyes.

“You’d be the new doctor then,” he said perspicaciously. “Continue on for a mile or so, then deny yourself a right; you’ll see a crossroads, keep straight, take the next left at the dead hyena, and the house is right there in front of you, though to actually reach it you’ll have to get out of the car and walk in the opposite direction, yeah really, walk away from it, it’s counter-intuitive, like the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass, there’s a loop in time/space, you cross the Event Horizon, like in Stargate . . . ”

The directions continued, but I wasn’t listening anymore—I had lost him way back; I was enraptured, in a reverie.

Deny yourself a right! Deny yourself a right? What did he mean? What forbidden pleasures, what glorious vista of debauchery and depravity lay down that country road? What was so tempting that I should have to deny it?

I surfaced eventually, gave him a prescription for antibiotics (the traditional gesture of thanks for services rendered), and drove quickly past that right turn, steadfastly looking the other way, resisting the urge to bury myself headlong  in the fleshpots.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, “The only way to conquer temptation is to catch an embarrassing disease because of it.”



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