22 November 2001
If you'd like to follow me. Doctor Jarvis will see you now.
I hate this: odour of disinfectant masking lymph and urine; stench of absence and evacuation. I have never been happy in hospitals. No one is, save vagrants and convicted criminals. I trail after the buxom nurse sewn into her uniform. Appearances are indeed anything to go by, and this one had once been one of the less able but more boisterous members of an under-16 Lacrosse team.
Had it not been for the fact that she had expressly stated our destination the nurse and I could have been on the road to anywhere. It is the peculiar distinction of the characterless hospital corridor network that its disorientating effect renders the visitor capable of believing that they may just as well be going to have radiotherapy as physio, as likely to deliver a child as to have a wisdom tooth extracted. The possibility rapidly increases that one is suffering from long dormant and previously undetected heart disease; that, thank god, the routine cholesterol test at the local health centre picked it up; that you are, in fact, on your way to a triple bypass.
By the time I reach the examination room I have inoperable testicular cancer; at the very least I am looking down the barrel of a eunuch's shotgun. As I am shown inside a voice from behind the screen gestures me to the couch in the far corner and asks me to take a seat. I duly do so and, to the sound of running water, the lathering of hands, the tearing of paper towel, close my eyes, try to steady my nerves, regulate my breathing, allay my discomfort.
Now then, Mr Barnes let's have a look at you.
My eyes reopen. At first I see no-one. My gaze travels downwards from my sightline and a boy appears - small, certainly no more than hip-height, six or perhaps seven years old. He is wearing the white coat of a grown man. On him it is outsized - the sorcerer's apprentice. His movements are the mannerisms of caricature: in the disorder of my shock they are made in time to the Fantasia soundtrack playing in my inner ear.
If you could just remove your shirt for me.
By the time I register his request it is already by my side on the couch - my arms have moved without first gaining consent from my brain. In the theatrical exaggeration typical of a dressing-up session my doctor flourishes his yellow plastic stethoscope and, sweeping with determination across my chest, issues appreciative grunts which I suspect correspond only to symptoms of make- belief. He then seeks my back, adjusting the angle of the box on which he is standing in order to gain access.
There appear to be no major problems up top. If I could now ask you to drop your trousers and smalls...
Close your eyes. DON'T LOOK DOWN. A hand cups my balls, gently squeezes, checking for irregularities. It is small, so truly tiny that after a few seconds it is joined by another hand in an effort to cover the required surface area. Paralysis. Motionless both with horror and by an absurdly paternal concern not to startle my mini doctor. My mind flinches and whirls: this is repulsive, the ultimate reversal of the abusive stereotype. I'm no kiddie fiddler, but I would imagine that a large part of the thrill is being able to appreciate the vulnerability of one's victim. Here I was, and a seven year old had me by the balls. DON'T LOOK DOWN. The excessively affected murmurs of the doctor are no longer an innocent's unintentional pastiche. They have forced upon me a sensual dilemma which places me in the same category as the paedophile.
LOOK DOWN. Aaaghgodno. The noise is not mine; the rational me doesn't recognise it. The child begins to scream - fitfully at first, more of a sob, then uncontrollably, wailing like an ambulance siren. Remembering first to pull up my pants and button my trousers I fling myself into the corridor, searching frantically for the nurse who had brought me here not ten minutes ago. Recalling the unease I felt at last being out here I realise that I have little hope of finding her - staff nurses go missing for days on a regular basis, only to be rescued from an underground defile or store room blinking into the light. I will settle for anyone, of average height and above, in a uniform. A blue one approaches, a diminutive form inside. I'm not totally convinced.
How old are you?
I don't think that's any of your business, do you?
How old are you.
Good. The added menace second time around clearly worked. I tell her what has happened. Of course, she knows my name.
Mr Barnes, you know that since 1997 NHS policy has stipulated that twenty percent of new doctors are to be recruited from the Child Training Scheme.
She's right. I remember now.
And you must also know that the criteria for acceptance on the Child Training Scheme are the ownership of a toy stethoscope or blood pressure monitor and a year's experience, certified in writing by a parent or legal guardian, of playing at doctors and nurses. After all, it was your idea. Now if you don't mind, I'd better go and see if Dr Jarvis is alright. He'll be needing some ice-cream after the nasty fright you gave him.