November 06, 2004

A surfeit of doctors

On Thursday afternoon, I suffered chest pains again. The same tight feeling, like a sharper heartburn, this time striking when I was sat down and forcing me to get up and walk around to try and shake it off. I found that this dulled the pain, but failed to terminate it, and I had to spend several minutes shelving books, all the while breathing cautiously, before both the pain and my concern about it would subside.

I bet it is my diet, when you come down to it. I'd promised myself just the day before that I would try to improve it, even if that improvement only added up to having something healthy to eat at lunchtime rather than the usual bar of chocolate and a sandwich. Whether the pre-packed pasta salad I therefore selected for lunch on Thursday really constituted "healthy" is a question in itself, but I doubt very much that it compensated for the chicken pieces and chips I ate on my way out that evening. (That's after my chest twinge of the very same afternoon.) And quite likely the ill effects of that particular too-frequent meal are compounded by the loathing I feel for myself every time I have it.

While shelving, and waiting for the pain to get better, or worse, I reflected that a medical library would probably be a paradoxically disastrous place to experience a collapse. You would think that being adjacent to a hospital and surrounded by medical texts and medical people would be the perfect place. But unfortunately these advantages would be cancelled out by the presence of so many medical students, in much the same way that the chicken and chips cancelled out the pasta salad. I can just imagine them all gathering round, blocking out my light and my air in their keenness to save my life, trying to remember which limb it is that one examines when checking a pulse.

I remember being seen by two medical students in the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford after I collapsed in a newsagent about ten years ago. It consisted of a little bit of puzzled prodding and a large amount of baffled and incoherent muttering, as if I were being examined by Beavis and Butthead but without that pairing's human sympathy. I quite fancy the idea of losing my final consciousness in a library aisle, the titles and spine labels forming my last fading ocular frame. But I'd rather it were not accompanied by a ring of curious faces whispering to each other is he all right? and I think it's one of the library staff and do you remember how to check whether his heart is still beating?


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