'Oh, for a good while now,' he replied, which was not very informative, I thought.
'Are you bringing up any phlegm?' I asked (being systematic is one of my two great clinical virtues, the others being apathy and vindictiveness, my three great clinical virtues).
'Yeah, buckets of the stuff,' he enthused.
'And what colour is it?'
He looked at me as if I had just arrived from another (more hygienic) dimension.
'What do you mean?' he asked, palpably mystified.
'Well,' I said slowly, 'when you spit it out on a hanky, is it green or yellow, or is it clear and watery, like a waterfall in the rain-forest, where the dolphins play and all the people live in harmony with nature?'
He shook his head firmly, quite unmoved by the haunting imagery I had so carefully crafted. 'I never spit it out,' he said.
'So, you just swallow these buckets of phlegm you have alluded to,' I said.
'You are implying,' he said, wonderingly, 'that I should be laying it out for inspection. I'll admit, that had never occurred to me.'
'You aren't a doctor, how could you have known,' I reassured him.
'But I like to be helpful,' he said, and began to expectorate loudly. I had to hand it to him, he was really trying, doing his best, giving it loads, and it sounded like a horse being strangled; 'Go on, my son,' I said encouragingly.
The phone rang.
'Is everything all right in there?' enquired the receptionist. 'It's just that a crowd has gathered, and there is a rumour going round that you are torturing someone.'
By this stage he was blue in the face, and gagging. He gestured frantically, and I passed him a specimen jar, into which he deposited the fruit of his labours.
We looked at it together, and a long moment passed in contemplative silence.
Eventually: 'A rather disappointing result, I think,' I observed sadly. 'To paraphrase W B Yeats, sound and fury, signifying nothing but a little blob of mucus.'
'Yeah,' he said defensively, 'but it's green, ain't it? That's gotta count for something.'
'Wins you an antibiotic,' I said.