The gift of humour can soothe the savage beast

Joe had a medical Oedipus complex; he wanted to sleep with his mother and murder his doctor. To him, all consultants were fat and complacent, all GPs ignorant and lazy; which was unfair – I’m certainly not ignorant.

But every cloud has a silver lining and Joe wasn’t all bad; he hated alternative practitioners even more, shysters, charlatans and con-artists being three of his more printable epithets.

This was partly my fault, because in an effort to share the burden of his spectacular symptom complex, I had suggested that he might try Vietnamese tongue massage and a rhinoceros horn enema. Traditional Chinese medicine does seem to rely rather a lot on large and almost extinct animals, doesn’t it? But, hey, it’s been practised for 10,000 years, so it must be right. And what use are all of those tigers and rhinoceroses anyway?

So Joe presented a major challenge. A senior colleague once gave me a most sage piece of advice; always do the unexpected, he said, never let the enemy know what you are thinking, creep up behind them, grab their neck with your left hand, pull it back and then with your right, slit their throat all the way across, spill their blood on the jungle floor and rejoice in the lamentation of their womenfolk. This advice seemed rather extreme, but it has to be seen in context – he’d seen action in ‘Nam and had been working for The Man.

The next time Joe came in, I greeted him with a big smile; perhaps the gift of humour could soothe the savage beast.

‘Great to see you, Joe,’ I said. ‘And I’ve got some good news.’

I could see I had him off balance, perplexed by my generous welcome; he was more used to doctors setting their hair on fire or faking hemiplegia or sticking a pastry fork in their eyeballs in pure exasperation.

‘Good news?’ he said, suspiciously. ‘What’s the good news?’

‘I’m banging my receptionist,’ I said.

‘That’s funny,’ he said. ‘But what about me?’

‘You haven’t a chance,’ I said. ‘She prefers rich guys.’

I could see the corners of his mouth twitching. ‘Is that the beginnings of a smile I see?’ I said. ‘Or are little elves pulling at your lips?’

‘Nah,’ he said. ‘I’m just working up a spit.’

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