(Published 09 February 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:371
Referring to yourself in the third person usually signifies an unpleasantly inflated ego—for example, “The Lady’s not for turning.” But I can do better, with echoes of the politically incorrect “Liver in ward 3.”
It was a cold winter’s night, and the wind was moaning through the eaves like a patient having an in-grown toenail removed who has been given too little local anaesthetic (come on, haven’t we all done it?), the kind of night when doctors huddle a little closer to the fire, like a blob of phlegm on the uvula.
Then, the phone call.
“What about The Toe?” said a voice, and that was all it said.
I was silent for a long moment, lost in the ambiguity.
“What about The Toe?” I repeated it softly to myself, a question leading only to more questions. Whose toe? Why are we here? What was wrong with The Toe to begin with?
Yet there was information to be gleaned: an implacable self-confidence, certainty that his voice would be instantly recognised, and that his Toe was unforgettable, contempt for Galileo and Copernicus and all those who had endured persecution in search of scientific truth. The earth doesn’t revolve around the sun, everything revolves around me. Me, me, I am the centre of the universe, the Great Panjandrum.
I wished, once again, that Sigmund Freud was still around to help; note the subject’s terse and precise language, he would say.
“How anal of you to notice,” I would reply.
“Oh, everything’s anal to you,” he would scoff. “
Why, does it remind you of your mummy?” I would retort.
“You speak the truth, my young Oedipus,” he would say. “We must investigate.”
When I arrived at the farm, everything was quiet, apart from the slavering guard dog, which, unusually, had three heads.
“Too quiet,” I thought, remembering my westerns.
A hawthorn grew in the centre of the yard, which made turning awkward. It hadn’t been chopped down, as the hawthorn had a reputation as a faery tree, so I resisted the temptation to drive over it.
The Toe was reclining regally on a velvet cushion. “Great Toe of this assembly,” I said, giving it a respectful little massage and some antibiotics (as is traditional in the country) and advising it to rest.
The owner regarded me with satisfaction.
“Look on The Toe, Ozymandias, King of Kings,” he said, “and despair.”