Spelling out diagnoses with body language

My body language isn't what it used to be. When I was a lad I'd swagger into a disco and throw a few shapes and all the chicks would instantly understand that I was The Man.

Every provocative hip thrust, every vibe, every groove was sending out a clear message on the most primal level. I am the alpha-male. If we were a tribe of baboons you'd all be begging to have my babies, then I'd maybe intimidate a few lower-caste males, make rude signs at the local leopard, then a bit more coupling, before finishing off the night with a few post-coital bananas (perhaps I'm drawing the analogy too far).

However, as in so many other things age has withered me; nobody understands me, and my body language has lost its potency.

Joe had about 40 complaints, all atypical and trivial, and I was reduced to staring out the window and up at the sky, in the vague hope that the clouds might form themselves into the shape of a plausible diagnosis.

Eventually, I managed to terminate the consultation by tying a prescription to a dart and sticking it deep in his heart. He got up and put on his coat, then with his hand on the door-knob, turned and said, 'I've had awful pins and needles in my arm for a long time, what do you think it could be?'

I yawned, looked up the clock, folded my arms, closed my eyes, stuck my fingers down my throat, pretended to retch, affected total paraplegia. 'Scram', 'get lost', 'take a hike', my body language was plainly saying.

It had always worked before, but the times they are a-changing; my fatal mistake was not immediately pressing the button for the next patient; I'm getting sloppy, maybe getting too old for this game.

Joe looked at me, a surprised but not displeased expression on his face, then slowly took off his coat and sat back down in the chair with the air of someone prepared for a very long sit (taking off his shoes and putting on furry slippers and a Noel Coward-style smoking jacket was a clue).

'It began when I was a child,' he said. Which is just about the worst thing a GP can hear (except for 'he's pulling at his ears' of course).

Desperate times require desperate measures; setting my hair on fire was painful, but plainly the lesser of two evils.

Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Email him at GPcolumnists@haymarket.com .

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