the lazy doctor

At half past three on a bitterly cold November afternoon, Ned parked his car, crossed the road and walked over to the doctor’s surgery.  It had taken him about four weeks to enrol and get a non-urgent appointment.  It wasn’t urgent, but it was definitely worth an appointment.  It wasn’t normal.

Some mornings he felt as if he was being hung by his ankles.  Some nights he felt like his head was a large, overworked hotel with endless drainage problems.  Cotton buds came out warm and wet, without even the gratification of mulchy orange.  They always felt disproportionately good.

He saw the plumes of his freezing breath one last time before stepping inside to the relative warmth of the surgery waiting room.  Ahead of him at the reception desk was a confident mother.  She had a transatlantic drawl and a pram of barely visible newborns, tucked snugly in their cribs as if they barely noticed they were no longer in the womb.  It looked nice in there, Ned thought; that level of sheer oblivion, total ignorance.

“Next Thursday at four then?!” the new mother said, cheerful and glowing with the permanent attention a pram of that size must bring.  “Bye for now!”  Ned had to step back a few inches to allow her to manoeuvre around.  “Ooh, sorry!” she said.

“S’ok,” Ned answered.  “Quite jealous,” he said, nodding faintly at the tiny packages.

She smiled, wheeling it past, “well you can always come round and look after them!”  With that, she disappeared out of the door, leaving Ned perplexed.  That was a strange thing to say, he thought, but I was jealous of the babies, he thought, not you.  Silly woman.

He turned round to see he’d been cut up in the queue for the receptionist.  A young plump girl of around 18 and her tall young goth boyfriend, who wore make-up.  She had queries about an appointment and he wanted to know if he needed immunisations to go to Gran Canaria, but it wasn’t his home surgery.  The flittering receptionist wasn’t confident enough to tell him whether they were necessary so suggested that he check with his home surgery.

Finally Ned won the receptionist’s attention.  He gave his name and she told him he could have checked in using the interactive screen at the door.  He hadn’t seen the screen at the door.  “Saves time you see,” she explained.  “But I know it’s interesting to wait in the queue sometimes.”

“Oh, yes,” Ned said. “It’s been fascinating today.  Thanks.”  The only person in the room, he took a seat and opened his book.

A large, overweight old man entered the waiting room, wearing a large coat and flat cap.  He was well known to the receptionist, Ned presumed, given their obvious familiarity and how are you todays.  Every step the old man took was an effort requiring large gulps of air.  Ned thought he could hear the folds of his huge jacket crumpling with each movement.  He had that aura of wanting or needing to talk.  Perhaps it happens more with the elderly bereaved, he reasoned.   Even so Ned willed the old man not to sit near him, not to start talking to him.  He couldn’t be bothered.  He had immediately judged that the old man was an unsympathetic showman.

He felt a small twinge of guilt at that judgement, but not much.

The old man sat down opposite Ned, eventually.  He made a show of placing his takeaway cup of tea on the window ledge and taking his huge coat off, folding it in half and putting it on the seat next to him, puffing all the way, and commentating his progress with fragments of sentences.  “Just put that there… there we go.. fold that up.. now.. ahhh.”  He slurped at his tea.  “Yaahhh!” he whispered lightly, to himself but not really to himself, “that’s hot, that.”  Ned felt he was being urged to look up from his book, just to glance at the man opposite and engage.  But if he did that the old man might never stop talking.

Minutes passed.

“What’s that?!” the old man said, wanting to be heard by Ned.  Speaking to him.  “What’s that book?”  Ned looked up at the old man and smiled.  The book was a debauched novel about an extremely badly behaved, sex-obsessed character.  So he told him as much.

“Ahh, s’life I suppose,” the old man shrugged, unmoved.  It was the only cue he needed.  “Want someone to write the story of my life, I do.”

Ned raised his eyebrows, he wouldn’t give him any line at all.

“Because I’ve had some life, I have.”

Ned smiled.

“Went to give this reading down the theatre with me mate.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yeah.  There was no bugger there.  Weren’t going to hang round talking to nobody.”

“No.”

The kindly electronic voice called Ned’s name to Surgery 2 please.

“Seeya,” Ned said.

“Cheero.”

The Doctor was young (too young) and smiley and blank and had an annoying lisp.  “Thum people jutht thweat more than others,” she explained.  And that was it.  Not only was it insubstantial and lazy, it made Ned feel as if he was a nervous, profusely sweating, guilty paedophile.  He wasn’t.  He just had sweaty ears.

There was a long pause.  She smiled again, nothing going on inside.  Doctors were supposed to be clever, generously paid, conscientious, do loads of training.

“That’s it then?” Ned asked.  “No other ideas or suggestions or anything?”

“No, not really.  Thorry.  Itsth jutht that thum peop-”

“-sweat more than others, ok.  Well, thanks.”

Ned stood up and moved swiftly towards the door, wanting to make it clear he was unhappy.  She could have at least done a search online, or using whatever directory they had.  At least shown she was engaging, looking, thinking.

It was a completely wasted half an hour of his life, Ned thought.  He probably had a brain aneurysm and would die at any moment.  He walked back towards his car and his left ear began to itch. 

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