MY doctor husband and I recently attended the reunion of the 1964 medical graduates of the University of Sydney: at least 60 rather elderly men — and some women; the golden oldies were particularly absorbed by the long notice posted on the door, a list of those who had since died. It was akin to reading the obituaries published in one of the local newspapers, which I peruse every morning, calculating how many men and women have dropped off their perch and how old they were at the time.
The lunch reunion was a jolly occasion, full of bonhomie and a very developed sense of humour. One of the medicos told the tale of our favourite local man, Spike Milligan. ‘‘ I put on a uniform,’’ he said. ‘‘ It attracts women like flies!’’ Another quick quack said: ‘‘ I’d rather see women who didn’t look like flies!’’
I felt at ease with all these doctors; for one thing if one of us, for example, swallowed a bone, or even had a heart attack, we would be in good hands. My other half and I were once on a plane, making our way overseas. Before we go away, my husband always works like a dervish and, being very tired, collapsed in his seat, out for the count, soon after take-off. Minutes later a flight attendant stood up and asked: ‘‘ Is there a doctor on board?’’
Without rousing him, I jabbed my finger over my husband’s head; the flight attendant, running, reached his side and escorted the half-asleep man towards a woman who was hyperventilating. He found nothing particularly wrong with her and marched back to his seat, giving me a filthy look for waking him and making him the centre of attention.
I felt guilty for not playing the game, but pursed my lips; what if I had saved her life!
My first taste of Australia was in the mid1960s when, oddly enough, I met some of the above-mentioned doctors. (It seems impossible, now, that once I was young and flopped around pretending to be a hippie by wearing no shoes. The only result was corns and flat feet.) I shared digs with one of the doctors, who was a couple of years older than the class of 64; he now runs a hospital in Vanuatu. When I met him, he took me to a pub as a treat for a new beginning. ‘‘ What would you like?’’ he asked. ‘‘ A gin and tonic,’’ I replied. He frowned, as people seemed to do around me a lot. ‘‘ A middy or a schooner,’’ he said shortly. I had no idea what he was talking about.
Although I’ve had a good time with doctors — especially with my husband — oddly enough I have had very little to do with them in a professional capacity. My children recently nagged me into seeing a GP because I was losing weight. It was no use telling them that I had picked up a germ in Libya and couldn’t fling it off. He examined me by poking me in the stomach, which I didn’t enjoy very much. ‘‘ How long has it been since you saw a doctor?’’ he asked. ‘‘ I am married to one,’’ I exclaimed. ‘‘ But it has been at least 30 years since I needed one.’’
‘‘ Well, off you go’’ he said. ‘‘ I can’t find anything wrong.’’ So away I skipped, whistling — out of tune, of course.
More women are hypochondriacs than men. We all worry about our health. A poem I read often, to stiffen myself up, is this one by Christopher Matthew, published in his collection Now we are Sixty: