Last week I had a phone call from the local GP surgery where I am registered. “Please come in for a session with the practice nurse,” said the receptionist, as instructed by my doctor, and gave me an appointment. I cherish my doctor, a serene, unflappable woman who has accepted long ago that I was a somewhat irregular but, on the whole, harmless patient, so if she wanted me to see the practice nurse, she must have had a good reason for it.
Well, the reason was that patients over a certain age had to have an annual inspection, a kind of human MoT test, and I had reached that age. (Namely? Of course you may ask. Except I won’t answer.) The nurse turned out to be young, bright, friendly, and welded to her computer screen from which she read out a long list of questions. She enquired about my eyesight and hearing – both o.k. – and sundry other bits, pieces and functions of the body, including my weight. That has been 8 stone, or 50 kg, for the past thirty years – surely I deserved a small medal for that? But none was offered, and when we ran out of physical factors she switched to examining my mental state.
Now this was real fun. She gave me three words, “Banana, sunrise, chair” to see whether I could remember them later. I immediately visualised a banana seated on a chair and admiring the sunrise, so after five minutes I was able to repeat her words. I could have told her about real memory lapses causing real trouble, when for instance I can only remember somebody’s first name, the surname having fallen into what the French call “a hole in one’s memory”, or when the safe place where I had put an important document had become so safe that even I couldn’t find it. But the nurse moved on. She asked me to draw a clock face. I did, complete with hours and clock hands pointing at ten past eleven. “Oh, I wanted to ask you to put it at ten past eleven,” she said, sounding disappointed. Sorry, can’t help being psychic. Or something. I hoped she’d ask me to draw a cat, as I am pretty good at that, but the drawing was over, and I was only requested to count backwards from twenty to one. Obviously she found this as idiotic as I, so we both laughed and left it at that.
My condition, she declared, was excellent, I could pass for someone ten years younger. And yes, thanks, that was all. Did she have no more questions to ask? Why no, none. “But you didn’t ask me about my diet,” I said. “Surely, what I eat every day of my life has a big impact on my condition!” She looked baffled. No, diet didn’t figure on her list. I didn’t want to upset her, but my blood pressure rose at yet another example of how official medicine ignores the vital importance of nutrition, how during six years spent at medical school, I am told, only some four hours are devoted to the subject of diet. And here was this nice young nurse at the beginning of her career – would she reach its end in the same state of abysmal ignorance she was in now?
Not if I could help it. I told her that I was 85% vegetarian, adding only tiny amounts of cheese, fish and two eggs a week to my organic wholefood intake, which greatly surpassed the official requirement of five portions of fruit and veg a day. It didn’t cost more than a diet based on junk food, which with added snacks and fattening empty calories was truly expensive, and it kept me, in her words, in excellent condition. If I lived on white toast, margarine, baked beans, tinned fruit and six cups of tea with two sugars – “Oh , I see,” she said. “But that’s what a lot of patients in your age group eat. And they are … quite well.” She stood up and moved towards the door. The audience was over.
I wonder what she will tell my doctor about our meeting, but I bet that my doctor won’t be in the least surprised by what she hears.