"The Oldie is an incredible magazine - perhaps the best magazine in the world right now" Graydon Carter, founder of Air Mail and former Editor of Vanity Fair

Subscribe to the Oldie and get a free cartoon book


King of the Cleethorpes hypochondriacs - Jem Clarke

Blog | By Jem Clarke | May 24, 2022

How can the doctor cure my life-threatening knee condition? By Jem Clarke

Jem Clarke is in his very, very early fifties, is five foot zero inches tall and has never left the family home in Cleethorpes, which he still shares with his parents…

Jem Clarke is in his very, very early fifties, is five foot zero inches tall and has never left the family home in Cleethorpes, which he still shares with his parents…

As a man with many medical problems – only some imaginary – I have been accused of putting the ‘hyper’ into hypochondriac.

My GP, Dr Nanda, once restricted me to only two ailments per appointment. I got round this by leaving the appointment and then, Columbo-like, re-opening the consultation-room door, popping my head in and enquiring casually, ‘Did Dr Darund tell you about my fish allergy?’

There were no face-to-face appointments during the height of the pandemic. But recently the receptionist explained I could come in for one. Dr Nanda had asked that two of his medical students do the consultation, and only once they had diagnosed me would he make a ‘guest appearance’ to approve their diagnosis. Our rapprochement was a little like my left kneecap – worryingly slow to heal and still at the scab stage.

At the appointment, Kerri was going to lead the consultation and Demi was going to assist. Kerri got the chair and Demi hovered behind, chatting in a honeyed whisper of a voice, the Debbie McGee of this medical magic act.

Bespectacled Kerri got straight down to business: ‘You’ve come in because your knees ache? When do they ache? Do you smoke?’ They fired a hundred other questions at me, as if I was some daytime quiz-show contestant.

After certain questions, the rather timid Demi, without taking her eyes off me, would delicately two-step towards Kerri and whisper ideas into her ear. Running out of questions, Kerri let out a loud sigh, utterly stumped.

I felt sorry for them, and asked, ‘Would you like to bang my knee with a rubber hammer? It always raises Dr Nanda’s spirits.’

Kerri declined with a weary hand.

‘Oooh!’ Demi piped up in delight and rushed back to whisper something in Kerri’s ear-hole. I caught the phrase ‘body mass index’.

Before I knew it, Kerri ran two feet towards me, said, ‘Hold my hand and follow me,’ and then took me three steps in the direction of some weighing scales. ‘Get on them, please,’ she said. Then in another corner they measured my height.

After converting feet into metres and stones into kilos, they both let out a suppressed squeal, and did the tiniest of unprofessional high-fives. They were so infectiously delightful that, but for my knees, I would have joined in with the high-fives myself.

Kerri phoned Dr Nanda, who answered straight away. (Normally it takes 40 minutes when I phone him.) Suddenly he was entering the room with a smile I had never seen before – clearly reserved for colleagues, rather than the coughing, croup-ridden masses of Cleethorpes.

‘How do you find my students? Aren’t they brilliant? They are so good, I could give them my job and retire in two weeks, I think!’ Dr Nanda laughed, patting me on my arthritic shoulder. (Have 79 previous appointments taught him nothing?)

While I winced, Dr Nanda stood between the young doctors and asked, ‘Have you found out Mr Clarke’s secret? What’s your diagnosis?’

The hitherto mouse-like Demi roared, unthinkingly loudly, ‘He’s fat!’

‘Overweight , overweight, overweight!’ corrected Kerri, looking daggers at the over-casual Demi.

Demi looked deflated – not half as much as I felt, now the fat elephant in the room.

Suddenly, Dr Nanda burst everyone’s bloated balloon. ‘No, no, no … you’re wrong.’

While the girls looked open-mouthed, their heads down, I was finally warming to Dr Nanda. My genes always leant towards lumpy but I was more regional-news-vox-pop chubby than Discovery Channel fat.

‘Look at his notes,’ said Dr Nanda, tapping the computer screen. ‘Don’t even read them. Just look at the number of pages.’

Kerri and Demi’s young, happy faces, illuminated by the screen glow, looked like Charlie Bucket’s radiating in the shine of a golden ticket, as they gleefully diagnosed, ‘There’s nothing wrong with him!’

Dr Nanda confirmed it, glaring at me: ‘There never bloody is.’

I was speechless as I rolled up my trouser leg to indicate a swollen and discoloured kneecap, to no one in particular. But I’d lost the audience anyway.

‘He was a trick question!’ Kerri declared in delight.

Dr Nanda nodded. ‘He comes in here if his cat’s sick.’

‘That’s a lie. I was asking for a friend’s cat,’ I mumbled, rolling my trouser back down.