Miles Kington: Hypochondria can damage your health

'To see a doctor these days you have to book ahead. But how do you know you're going to be ill on Thursday?'
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I have recently received a very troubled letter from a reader, which I think I should reprint in full, as it is of great topical interest. Here it is.


Dear Mr Kington,

I wonder if you can help me, as I think I am about to get embroiled in a major scandal entirely by accident, and I don't know where else to turn. It was not my fault at all, as I had only gone for a routine medical check-up...

But perhaps I should start at the beginning.

My family have always claimed that I am a bit of a hypochondriac. Perhaps I am. Perhaps some of my ailments are imaginary. But even when I have real aches and pains they have no sympathy. "We all put up with our own aches and pains," my wife would say, "so why don't you?"

"Well," I would say, "aches and pains are nature's way of telling us that there's something wrong. When we cut our finger, the pain tells us to do something about the wound. We ignore aches and pains at our peril."

"That's all very well," says my wife, "but nature doesn't know when to shut up. If you cut your finger and it hurts and you put a dressing on it, why does the finger go on hurting?"

Sorry. I am getting off the point. Anyway, recently I started noticing one or two symptoms I hadn't had before (irregular visits to the lavatory, strange bowel movements – I won't go into details). I tried to mention them to the wife, but she wouldn't listen.

"If you aren't well, go and see a doctor. That's what doctors are for."

So I went to see a doctor. It took time, of course. You can't just go and see a doctor these days. You have to book weeks ahead, because all the appointments are already taken. I don't understand this. How do people know they're going to be ill next Thursday? Well, I suppose they don't. They're ill now. But they can't see the doctor now, because right now the doctor is seeing all the people who were ill last week but couldn't get an appointment last week. By the time people get to see the doctor these days, they are probably either recovered or dead...

I got to see the doctor. It was one I hadn't seen before. Locum, I expect. He examined me. He thought there was nothing much wrong, but just to be on the safe side he would give me a blood test, and also asked for a urine test and a faecal test. Do you know why doctors ask for these so often? Because someone else does them. Not him. The surgery nurse does the blood test and you do the other tests yourself. Here, take these little pots and sample bags home, and when you have taken all your samples, bring them back to the surgery. If we are closed, pop them through the letter box at the back, but don't bother me with details.

Well, I won't bother you with the details either, but I eventually gathered enough samples of my urine and faeces to satisfy anyone, and the next time I was passing the surgery I went round the back to pop them through the letter box. It was typical of a doctor's surgery that the letter box was not at all obvious, but I eventually located it in some sort of out-house and popped the sample into the box. (Why am I saying "popped"? Because I have picked up doctors' baby talk, that's why. All doctors use baby talk for patients. "If you could just slip your trousers off..." "I'm just going to feel your tummy...")

The thing was, as I discovered, that the letter box I popped the samples through wasn't the surgery. By accident I had posted them to the house of an Asian family living next door. The first clue I got that something was wrong was when I rang the surgery to ask if they had done the tests on my samples. They said they hadn't had any samples. Then the police came round and arrested me for racial harrassment. They said they had proof that I had been pushing human ordure through people's letter boxes. I admitted it, but said I had been delivering samples to the doctor's surgery, and they only had to check with the doctor. They went and checked with the surgery, but they had no record of my visit, nor of any doctor who corresponded to my description. I now think he was a bogus doctor, as sometimes happens in even the best surgery.

So my "hypochondria", as my wife calls it, has led to my being arrested on a very serious racial charge. Please, please, Mr Kington, what should I do?

Miles Kington writes: I'm stumped on this. Any reader got any bright ideas?