Monday, May 13, 2013


(Here's the extended limited edition director's cut of my column from That's Beijing/Shanghai/Guangzhou magazines this month!)

WHEN you’re married to, and propagate with, a doctor, it can be good and bad.

The joke goes that you at least have access to some pretty good drugs, but that’s a myth. That’s anaesthetists you’re thinking of. I’m usually good for some aspirin and some antibiotics at best. Woohoo.

On one hand, when there’s a doctor in the house, you should know whether or not your child is really sick. Some ailment that would freak the pants off many a mother, and even some fathers, can be quickly diagnosed as nothing to worry about. It’s not meningococcal – it’s where she got some jam on herself at breakfast.

Such diagnoses happen in the living room. Other people have had to bundle a child up in the middle of the night, wait for Ayi to come to mind the other one, and race to the clinic. Mind you, we’re friends with one medical couple who frantically took their baby to hospital fearing the dreaded twisted testicles, as his scrotum was red and tender. After a long wait in the middle of the night they were told by a bemused junior intern that it was nappy rash. The father’s an anaesthetist, so …

Attending pre-natal classes with a doctor wife was slightly humiliating. For one thing, those little dolls we had to put nappies on? They all looked like me – bald and grumpy. Also a doctor wife knows all the answers. The journalist husband sits there wondering if Cervix knew Asterix, and why we’re discussing the subway in Fallopia.

The births were my time to shine – not because of my technique with the scissors but because my wife was a gibbering fool for the most part, thanks again to a helpful anaesthetist.

Apart from these there were some, but only a few, moments where I was able to triumph in the world of medical science. At four months Lani caught a cold. She was miserable, but finally she was sleeping soundly. Stef went to bed but then got up to do some pacing in the middle of the night about whether Lani’s “condition” was “deteriorating”.

I was pretty calm about it, since I wanted to get back to sleep. “She’s sleeping isn’t she? She can’t be too bad.”

“Well yes she’s sleeping,” Dr Wife snapped. “That doesn’t mean her kidneys aren’t going toxic!”

Now, I’d heard of kidneys, but I didn’t know one could go toxic. And I still don’t know what that means. For me ignorance was bliss. I let my doctor wife continue worrying about medicine while I got back to one thing I’m good at - sleeping.

With a doctor, a thrillingly high piece of playground equipment is not just a climbing frame or slippery dip, it's "a potentially fatal fall". Anything small isn't a 'thing' but a choking hazard. And there's always some story or other about a child who was doing that mundane thing your child is doing right now - and suddenly his head came off.

The line about doctor parents is that the cobbler’s son has no shoes. Doctors see very sick kids, so sometimes ailments that are less serious, but still worth complaint, go under-treated. But sometimes things can get overdone, over-worried. Lani’s had stitches for cuts I would have treated with a kiss and a scruff of the hair.

There are also two truisms about your medicine chest: When you live with a doctor you’re A) going to have a lot of things in there, and B) going to get very confused about them.

As a single man my medicine chest contained, roughly, a tube of ointment and a toothbrush. I’m not sure, with the handicap of hindsight, what kind of ointment it was, but it went on everything.

Now we’ve got tons of stuff to wade through if a child gets sick. Worse, doctors are peculiar in that they call something by it’s active ingredient. Say Evie’s got a fever, my wife will bark: “Give her five mils of ibuprofen, STAT!”

OK, she might not say stat. They only do that on TV. Same as sticking tubes up people’s nostrils if they so much as walk near a hospital.

So I’ll skulk off for the thankless task of looking for ibuprofen. Of course I can’t find it anywhere. It’s listed in small print in the ingredients section of several bottles, but nowhere I’m looking. I just wish one day Dr Wife would give her lay husband something more to go on – I dunno, a brand name, perhaps, like Nurofen, Advil, Zyczyxx or Cyzyczz.

(For the last two, I was making it up, but you wouldn’t know it. Golden Rule of Medicine No.2 is: If you’re trying to sell medicine, make sure it has lots of Zs and Xs in it. A genuine study a few years ago showed we non-doctors were dazzled and reassured by seeing those two letters in medical products’ names.)

Doctors are also armed to the teeth with “facts” and “statistics” they can throw at their husbands. When you’re on a night out “a few beers” can easily become 5.5 standard drinks, which is of course bad for your health. A doctor spouse might remind you of this a few times as part of her duty under Golden Rule of Medicine No.1, the Hypercritical Oath.

But at least she’s just a normal doctor – a general practitioner. I don’t have to explain to people what a urologist or an endocrinologist does, for example. Furthermore, we have a doctor friend whose job it is to look up people’s bottoms all day, every day. Imagine being married to that? All those "How was your day?" bits - indeed any details whatsoever at all about their vocation and their passion - could be kept to themselves for the duration of our marriage, thanks. Just don't forget to buy more hand sanitiser on your way home.

Of course I'm not allowed to show you photos
of my wife being a doctor, so today's picture
special is of the kinds of lifelike baby dolls you
can buy these days and which, some people say,
bear a resemblance to me.
This one fits the bill pretty well. He
calls to mind David Serdaris' description of
newborns - that they all look like bitter
old men.

This one's a little creepy, and not just
because of the decapitation factor.

The artist as a bitter old man.
The all made fun of me.

Another lifelike little grump.

This one does a fair 'me' as well.

This one you might want to get if your
baby is a little bit stupid.

Keep these two in your house and it's a fair bet you'll be
murdered in your sleep.

This one's a bit creepy too.

So is this one.

And this one.

One of the fun parts of being a doctor's spouse is that nowadays, living in an expat compound with lots of friends around, people even ask me for medical advice. I used to patiently explain that I was the husband of a doctor. But now I dish it out in spades. It’s great fun.

Stef recoils in horror at this. She bangs on about “six years at medical school” this and “evidence-based medicine” that and blahdiblah. I take offence at this. True, I don’t have her piece of paper. It’s true I’ve never dissected a frog. Besides, despite not being a doctor I do know frogs don’t look anything like people anyway.

No, I’m proud to say my learning was done the toughest school there is – the School of Hard Knocks. My tertiary education was achieved at the University of Life. There, I mastered in science – the Science of Common Sense!

Noone told Dr Wife, for example, that you get warts from toads, and hemorrhoids from sitting on something cold. I once cracked my sternum, I’m pretty sure, at the gym. I figured, by myself, that I needed calcium. So I drank lots of milk and healed myself. And all in just six months.

So when people come to me for medical advice, I’m happy to help. For one thing, people still feel reassured, and isn’t that nice? Furthermore, Stef usually isn’t around, so I can’t get in trouble – at least not until they go and see her if their ailment should worsen.

Sometimes I nail it, if I get the right patients. One friend, an over-worried New York mum, once showed me her two-year-old’s forehead.

“You see that lump?!?! That red lump?!?!” she fretted.

“Mmm,” I said.

“What do you think? What do you think it is? I’m worried and I might take her to the clinic.”

“Well,” I said, sucking the air, “I’m not a doctor, but … that’s a mosquito bite.”

“Do you think? I thought it might be but then I thought it was something else and I … “

“Yeah no,” I said, using that piece of common, nonsensical Australian. “That’s a mosquito bite. It should go down in an hour.” Oh, the other-wordly wisdom.

Someone else asked: “I’ve got the flu. What should I do?”

“Have a big night on the drink,” I said. “Alcohol kills germs.” (Another basic fact they keep to themselves at med school).

But once a very blunt Australian woman said: “Hey – what do you do if you’re sick in the guts? I’ve been on the crapper with the runs all day!”

My advice was swift and clear: “You tell someone else.”

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