#25 The Un-Soundtrack to My Life
One of the things that struck me while I was bathing in the glow of and wandering around New York, was how different my life might have been if I’d gone there when I was much younger. If I had, I’m not sure I would have ever left. I wouldn’t be married to Natalie, nor have three amazing sons or a dream place in France. Would I even be a comedian? Would I have fulfilled my early ambition to become a film writer/director? Would I even now be an obese chilli-dog-eating NYPD desk sergeant with a string of failed marriages investing all the money he has in a Knicks’ season ticket? It’s all sliding doors idle speculation obviously, and though I loved my trip and the place, I wouldn’t swap anything I have now. Nothing. Zilch. Promise. Well, a few things.
The French health system is the best in the world, by all accounts. Certainly I’ve always found it attentive and there when I need it. I don’t have to wait ages for an appointment and, my own GP aside, medical staff are remarkably patient and understanding. But, has this catch-all health safety-net created a nation of inveterate hypochondriacs? I only say this because just before my trip away I finally changed my GP. It was a big step to take and I should have done it years ago, but it had now become imperative. In order to qualify for full reimbursement of medical fees my GP has to create a ‘Dossier ALD’, a private dossier that is vetted by social security to monitor someone with a longterm illness. Well, seeing as he’d rubbished all my Chronic Inflammatory Rheumatoid Arthritis diagnoses thus far on the flimsy basis that my Rheumatologist is Romanian, I didn’t fancy my chances. A new doctor arrived in town, and I joined the mass exodus from old to new. And she’s good, but combine her new prescriptions with my existing ones and it’s more than one body can handle. Put it this way, if all my current specialist referrals were to work at the same time it would look like a pack of hyenas ripping at a kill, or a medical gang bang.
‘I’m not happy with your blood pressure,’ she said, ‘is stress normal for you?’
‘Oh, er, un peu…’ She prescribed some tablets and wrote a letter to a cardiologist she insisted I see.
‘And these nosebleeds… I think you should see someone for that too.’ She wrote another letter, this time for an ENT specialist.
I’d only gone in to set up this dossier thing! Of course my blood pressure was high, I’m seeing a new doctor. And as for my daily nosebleeds I’m convinced they’re a result of what I consider a botched tooth implant a few years ago. Anyway, I came out more worried than when I went in, which you know, is no good for someone with my blood pressure issues.
My next appointment was with the Gastro-Enterologist. An early morning date that started badly. I’ve created a new playlist on my ipod, and it’s a mixture of favourite songs across all genres, musicals to Britpop via late 60s garage psych and mid 70s Philadelphia soul, and autobiographies written by the author and each divided into song length chapters. Specifically Gene Wilder, David Niven, Carrie Fisher, Katherine Hepburn, Eric Idle, Leslie Phillips and Lauren Bacall, all beautifully read, all funny and all, at times, very, very moving. And as I turned into the car park to see my Gastro-Entrologist Gene Wilder, I swear, started talking about his wife Gilda Radnor going to see a Gastro-Enterologist just after her cancer diagnosis. I stayed listening in the car for a few minutes, and I possibly shouldn’t have done so. I’m prone to fatalism anyway, and this seemed like a portent so overladen with doom it could have been filmed by Hammer.
This gastro appointment had been set up by my Rheumatologist to check if I was ok to take the second lot of medicine she’d prescribed, after the first one had tried to kill me. I mean it wasn’t ok obviously, anyone who has the misfortune to watch me eat can tell that my stomach now resembles the firebox on an old steam locomotive, and I told the Gastro-Enterologist that. She was another, very business-like Romanian, my third so far since this all began, and she didn’t look happy. Her French wasn’t that great and my French isn’t all it should be either, but then school textbooks rarely have a vocabulary section for stomach issues and stool texture. The thing is we spluttered our way through the conversation despite the fact that all the medical textbooks in her office were in English, one was even called ‘Failed Anti-Reflux Therapy’ which seems quite useless as a book idea and I think the author may have used their time better if they’d looked up, not down. Anyway, she even had a box of After Eights on her desk, she was clearly an Anglophile, and probably an Anglophone. But I didn’t think I should presume to speak English, and although she knew I was English, she didn’t offer. It must have made painful viewing, but we got there in the end. The end being that I would have to have the full pornstar Gastro treatment, tubes in every orifice.
I slumped back in the car. In truth, and although I put on a happy face, well sometimes I do, this is all getting me down now. It just feels so relentless and dispiriting. I turned on the engine and began the 40 minute drive home and the car stereo fired up my ipod and its random choices from my playlist. I promise you I am not making any of this up, but the first song was ‘Frightened’ by Paul Weller, a string-laden ballad about a mid-life loss of direction. That was followed by Leslie Phillips talking about the death of his father. And that pretty much set the tone for the drive home, Katherine Hepburn’s posthumous letter to Spencer Tracy would segue smoothly into Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘The Man I Used to Be’. David Niven reading John Huston’s Humphrey Bogart funeral eulogy would fade into Jackson C Frank’s ‘The Blues Run the Game.’ Leslie Phillips would pop up regularly to talk about death, and even Barry Manilow’s ‘Copacabana’ now had darker overtones. I got home just as Eric Idle talked about the death of Robin Williams, a death that, though I can’t explain why, affected me quite deeply.
By the time I got home, I was an emotional wreck. A barely functioning human being who felt like he’d just heard the soundtrack to his own demise. I’m not preoccupied with death, I’ve never had a problem getting old, and I hope all this current medical nonsense is over by spring and I’ve qualified for the miracle drugs, but I may need to help myself by steering clear of most of my cultural choices. I stayed there, sat in the car, not wanting to get out, almost willing another black cloud song or death anecdote to come on, but needed a lighter release so I could break the spell. Of course, if this had been a Hollywood film it would have been Eric Idle singing ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,’ but it wasn’t. I did get my release though. It was Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby singing ‘Well Did You Evah?’ from High Society, uplifting, memory-laden, consistent in my life since I was young and guaranteed to raise a smile. Until someone shoves a bloody great tube through it anyway.
Monsieur So British is a weekly blog and carries on from my two best-selling books ‘À la Mod…’ and ‘C’est Modnifique…’, both are available here. It is also a fortnightly podcast, sometimes with extra bits thrown in and all the major podcast platforms.
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