A classic consultation

BMJ Published 27 April 2011   Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d2626


Give a dog a bad name, said Flashy, but it’s far harder to live down a good one. So when the Greek heroes learnt that I had cured Heracles’ bursitis (cleansing the Augean Stables was not just malodorous but also onerous), 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, and 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, 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.

He looked concerned, obviously thinking about the handmaidens.

“OK, no slaughtering, but—”

“Ravishing’s okay,” I reassured him.

“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.

“Guess it could have been worse, doc,” he said, ignoring my dread prophecy (just call me Dr Cassandra), “At least my mother  didn’t hold me by the di—”

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


Footnote; this photo was my Howard the Duck impression


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