‘Thanks, doctor,’ said Joe, pocketing his protection money and getting up to leave.
‘Hold your horses,’ I said. ‘It has been ordained from on high that GP consultations should last 50% longer.”
‘Really?’ said Joe, fascinated by the concept that I wanted him to stay a bit longer, he being well aware that when I tell him to ‘take care’ I actually mean ‘take off’.
‘Which gives you,’ I said, making a rapid calculation, ‘another 30 seconds.’
‘OK,’ said Joe, always happy to co-operate.
We sat twiddling our thumbs in silence; I’m happy with silence, I could listen to it all day, especially during surgery hours. But Joe was less serene.
‘This is nice,’ he said, uncomfortably.
By this time in a Zen-like trance, I did not respond, and Joe felt something further was needed.
‘Maybe you could give me some lifestyle advice,’ he said.
Irritated by having to return prematurely to planet Earth, I was a bit more brusque than usual.
‘No problem,’ I said. ‘You’re too fat.’
Joe was discommoded by my bluntness.
‘That’s not very nice, doctor,’ he said. ‘I thought doctors were supposed to be more supportive, less judgmental.’
‘Niceness doesn’t enter into it,’ I said. ‘To paraphrase W.B. Yeats, I do not tread softly for fear of treading on your dreams. It’s my job to tell it like it is; a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it.’
‘But shouldn’t you break it to me gently,’ said Joe. ‘Maybe I have a slow metabolism, or big bones or something.’
This, I had to admit, was a good point.
‘Big bones, big belly, big arse, you have the complete collection,’ I agreed.
‘You’re much too negative,’ he said. ‘I could do with a bit of positive thinking.’
‘To quote William Wilberforce,’ I said. ‘”Flatterers are not friends; nay sir, they are your deadliest enemies”.’
‘Though,’ I hastened to add, ‘I’m your doctor, not your friend.’ I drew a little Venn diagram to demonstrate this dictum in a mathematical format; a circle labelled doctor and a circle labelled patient with a big space, a metaphorical desk, in between them.
‘So I’m fat,’ said Joe. ‘What should I do about it?’
‘Your time is up,’ I said. ‘Take care.’