plainly jane

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Jane Fraser

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:

the sight­geist

jon kudelka

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