There is something about a message like that which ranks with the all-time terroriser, which is ‘Don’t panic’, which of course means that your cerebral cortex will go into a flat spin, and you will begin to shake as if with the palsy or the shivers or the early stages of St. Vitus. One of the most memorable literary passages is the one at the opening of Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men In A Boat, in which the narrator looks up ‘hay-fever’ in a book, and
idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally. I forget which was the first distemper I plunged into – some fearful, devastating scourge, I know – and, before I had glanced half down the list of “premonitory symptoms,” it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got it.
I sat for awhile, frozen with horror; and then, in the listlessness of despair, I again turned over the pages. I came to typhoid fever – read the symptoms – discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it – wondered what else I had got; turned up St. Vitus’s Dance – found, as I expected, that I had that too, – began to get interested in my case, and determined to sift it to the bottom, and so started alphabetically – read up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, and that the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight. Bright’s disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a
modified form, and, so far as that was concerned, I might live for years. Cholera I had, with severe complications; and diphtheria I seemed to have been born with. I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid’s knee.
I’d had an annual blood test. What horror was going to be unleashed on me? Would I ever return home?
I have to say, embarrassingly, that I don’t in the least mind going to see the doctor, albeit when it is my call. You are after all, going to receive a lecture from an expert, and expertise is always interesting. You will hear a lot of long words, and you will receive, at the very least, some intellectual stimulation.
But this was the doctor calling me. What had been discovered? What required my instant attendance?
And the answer was: I have a slight deficiency in my level of calcium, the cause of which could be anything from malnutrition to alcohol abuse, with a variety of other options thrown in, including the possibility that it was a lab test error. (I am deficient to the tune of o.o2, although I cannot tell you if that is especially bad news.)
So although the doctor wanted to see me, there was nothing to worry about. If there had been, I suppose, the message to me would have been shorter, like ‘See the doctor. Nothing serious.’