‘I was in the doctor’s office, steeling myself for the worst.’

You know how when you’re having a lie-in on a weekend, sometimes you’ll get the pillow into a position where you can hear your pulse? One Saturday morning, 30 years ago, I was in this contented state, when my mood was shattered by the realization that my heartbeat was not following the expected sequence, but: o.o..o.o.o…oo etc.

My immediate reaction was “Well, I’ve had a good run; the mortgage is paid off, the kids are grown and almost launched on life, and I’ve been hugely fortunate in marriage, as in everything else in life. I can’t complain.”

Monday morning, I was in the doctor’s office, steeling myself for the worst. When I poured out my story, he listened to my heartbeat, and said “yes, there it is.” Instead of the inspirational words that I expected, he asked me “How much coffee do you drink?”

I replied that I had recently cut back drastically: I was down to 10 or 12 cups a day.  He allowed that I might want to consider cutting back a bit more, then proceeded to tell me a story to illustrate how dangerous my habit was to my health. 

He had started practice right at the end of the Second World War, and one of his early patients was a man of hugely advanced age.  As the doctor gave him a general check-up, he noticed an irregular heartbeat very similar to mine and commented on it.

“Yes,” replied the patient, “that kept me out of the army.” 

The doctor, shocked, asked “What on earth were they doing, trying to call up a man of your age?” 

Came the reply, “It was for the Boer War.”

Norman de Plume

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