Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A visit to the doctor

In order to get life insurance, I have to have a physical examination first, to ensure I'm not trying to game the system by having no lungs, or weighing three times as much as an average man of my age and height.

The clinic is in the shopping centre just over the road from where I live. It has a nice name that will remain anonymous, but it's a rather grotty, dingy mall that has seen better days. The perimeter is all travel agents and takeaway food, but the clinic is inside; at 9 in the morning most of the lights were off and nobody was about. There was one man sat on the floor by an escalator, apparently asleep, and the clinic was shut with the lights turned off.

I had to have a fasted blood test, which meant no food since 9 last night, so I was hungry and in a punchy mood. It seems strange to me to take an appointment for 9 in the morning if you're not even going to arrive to turn the lights on until ten past, but this seems to be normal behaviour - I stood around and gently seethed.

Eventually the doctor arrived, gave me a sample jar and told me to go upstairs to the toilets. They're tucked away in one corner of the Anonymous Shopping Centre, next to a sign that says there's a 10 cent fee to use them. There was nobody around apart from a man hosing down the whole room, so I splashed across the floor and unloaded some precious urine into the jar, then went back downstairs again.

By then, some other people had turned up and went in to see the doctor first, which got me a bit annoyed, but then I suppose maybe they'd also been told to turn up at 9. The receptionist (or qualified nurse, or cleaner, or a random passer by who'd decided to sit behind the counter in the clinic as a ruse in order to steal samples of urine from strangers - never assume, guys) weighed me (our scales at home are out by 4lbs, apparently) and then I sat some more. Eventually I went in to see the doctor, and he began to ask me the questions on the form from the insurers.

Very, very quietly.

I wondered if this was a test of my hearing. Had I ever had any kidney mumble mumble mumble mutter mutter blood in my urine? Did I have any hmmm hmmm mmmm rhubarb rhubarb? Was I hearing voices?

I suppose it's not as bad as the time I went to give blood:

Are you gay?
Have you ever had sex with a man?
Have you had unprotected sex with a man in the last 12 months?
(Either they were reading the questions back to front, or they skipped over the last one "Would you like to give it a try today?)

He mumbled something about tuberculosis. I declined. (Actually, if I did have TB, I'd have to leave Singapore, because, along with HIV, I'd be breaking the terms of my employment visa, so it seemed odd that the insurer would ask about that, but I suppose they have to. Then again, that seems a bit like those "Are you, or have you ever been, a Nazi?" questions you get on entry to the US.) He asked me how much I drank.

Well, I think he did; the question was sotto voce, in a tone that suggested he was bored with his own life, let alone mine. I was in a quandary: it's been a while since I remembered having a drink. (Is that a sign that I'm actually drinking too much?) In the old days, I'd do ten pints in two nights, and anything else I could lay my hands on. Six units a week seemed like it would be a reasonable upper bound on what I'd usually put away now, so I said that.

I began to worry I was the one person in the world who actually exaggerates their alcoholic intake to their doctor.

He asked me if I drank every day, I said just at the weekends. He seemed happy with this. Maybe he hasn't heard of binge drinking. Perhaps it's considered healthy to have one bottle of gin a month in Singapore, as long as you drink it all in one night. I didn't want to get into a discussion on this: for a start, I wouldn't be able to hear half of what he said.

He shone a light in my eyes. He hit me on the knee with a rubber mallet. He made me lie down and put some electroconductive gel on me. I felt like I was starring in the world's least interesting porn film. (Well, this is Singapore, it's not like proper depraving filth is allowed.)

After an eternity of listening to things beep, the ECG was done. He took some blood (three samples - is that inflation at work? It only ever used to be two.) and then told me I could go. Or mumbled something. I fled to the sunshine.


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