Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Article excerpt

MOST doctors are irritated beyond measure by at least one category of patient. For some it is alcoholics, for others it is drug addicts, for yet others it is depressives. For me, it is hypochondriacs. I want to tip them out of the wheelchairs that they don't need and snatch from their hands the pills that do them no good.

Of all hypochondriacs, Indian women are the worst. For both cultural and practical reasons, they cannot admit that they hate their husbands, their children, their homes and their lives, and so they retreat into invalidity. They arrive in the hospital with an absurd rictus of agony on their faces and complain of TBP - total body pain, as it is known, even to the Indian doctors who might be their sons - from their toenails to their hair.

No sooner have you explained that the pain which starts in their left ankle and travels via their right flank through their lungs and up into their left eye is of no pathological significance, than they bring forth a new pain, this time starting in the left iliac fossa and travelling via the right shoulder to both their elbows and the back of their neck. With this charade, their families are only too happy to cooperate, for the search for pathology will absolve them of all responsibility for her unhappiness. No number of failures to fmd any physical cause for her symptoms will ever deter them from bringing her to hospital again in a few weeks' time with precisely the same symptoms, usually at a time when there is a good chance that no one who knows her will be on duty, so that she will be admitted once more and the whole process of blood tests and other investigations started up again. …

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