‘I was thinking about changing my …lifestyle,’ he said, clearly struggling with the word, as he did with any health-related issue that didn’t involve a prescription.
My clinical instincts are ever alert, and they informed me that Joe had had a curry for breakfast. The stains on his sweat-shirt (which had probably started out life as an ordinary shirt; Joe provided his own sweat) leant strength to this hypothesis.
‘Your diet consists of curries and burgers, you take no exercise, you smoke and you drink too much,’ I said. ‘These violent delights have violent ends.’
Joe belched on cue, a large and pungent punctuation. Food that Joe ate was in trouble; his digestive system did terrible things to food.
‘You want me to give up curries and burgers, and start taking exercise as well?’ he said, ‘When sorrows come, they come not single spies. But in battalions!’ Our consultation was becoming increasingly Shakespearean.
‘Is good health worth being miserable?’ his lamentation continued. ‘As La Rochefoucauld observed: "To preserve one’s health at the cost of too strict a diet is indeed a tedious illness." Anyway, why worry about the future, I’ve had a good life.’
‘Really?’ I said, waking up from a Joe-induced stupor for a moment, now genuinely intrigued.
‘Some great times,’ he said softly, as if still in a post-coital afterglow. ‘You remember my STD?’
‘It was unforgettable, one of the few things you can’t buy on Amazon, yet,’ I admitted, considerately leaving out the implied ‘you idiot’. ‘And also unique, the first person ever to contract an STD without having actual sex with, you know, another person.’
‘Those were the days, my friend,’ he said sadly.
‘I’m not your friend, I’m your doctor,’ I said, not wanting any misunderstanding, quickly sketching a Venn Diagram to underline the point.
‘But I’m gonna try anyway,’ he said. ‘Burgers and curries, they’re history.’
I’d heard all this before of course; to paraphrase Dr Johnson, Joe’s annual lifestyle change was like a dog shaking hands or poetry in a medical journal.
It wasn’t going to be done well, but it was surprising that it was done at all.
- Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Follow him on Twitter @drlfarrell