Health: Diary of a hypochondriac

Tuesday: Four days from now is my birthday, and although (apart from a middle ear infection, otitis media, in the right ear) my general health is no worse than usual, at this time of year it is a struggle to keep my thoughts off death and decay.

Wednesday: On Saturday I reach 37, the official start of middle age, as I point out to my wife over what passes here for breakfast (three mouldy grapes and a glass of slightly rancid grapefruit juice: sometimes I wonder what Ivan Denisovitch found so bleak about his labour camp). "Is that what you really think?" asks Rebecca. "Well it certainly was 10 seconds ago when I last spoke on the point. But perhaps I've changed my mind." A fermenting muscat splatters into my left ear, filling it with rancid juice, and I take this as a sign that the debate has reached a natural hiatus.

Thursday: My mind is diverted when a friend calls for advice. For four years, he says, he has had stomach pain and heartburn recurring every few months, and he is in a state about an appointment in Harley Street later today. I explain that you can't have anything nasty in that region for long without suffering weight loss, rectal bleeding, altered blood and, after four years, rigor mortis and decomposition. My diagnosis is an ulcer or one of those hard-to-diagnose recurrent bacterial infections. He sounds relieved and grateful, although when I ask to see his medical notes the line goes dead.

Friday: My friend calls to say that a latex-gloved examination and an ultrasound were clear, a blood test has been taken, and that the specialist suspects either a "pseudo ulcer" or one of those bacterial infections that are so tough to diagnose. "What's a pseudo-ulcer?" asks Rebecca when I boast about it. "It's an ulcer that goes to modern art shows and whines about finding the artist's work 'a little jejune'," I say. "So you've no idea at all," says Rebecca.

Saturday: In the Bayswater Turkish baths, where I spend my birthday morning, the spirits lift. I may be plump and balding, but I still have some hair and am not as grotesquely fat as I have been. In this heavy steam I could still pass for 35, I am reflecting, when a man with whom I often exchange grunted hellos asks how I am.

"Oh," I hear myself reply, "mustn't grumble." He nods morosely. "Yes," he says, "at our age you can't expect perfect health, can you?" Eventually, I recover the power of speech. "If you don't mind my asking," I say, "how old are you?" "I'm 74," he replies, sighing sadly.

Sunday: I awake in the midst of what was an untroubled night, and am baffled when a run through the usual check-list for wakingness yields nothing. No nightmare and no drink-induced dehydration, while Rebecca has not yet confiscated my third of the duvet. And then it hits me. I have been awoken at 3.47 am by the need to void my bladder. My cousin, who is 40 next May, warned me of this. And now it's happened. At 37 and one day, I can no longer make it through the night.

Monday: The urinary earthquake is followed by an ocular aftershock. Famously, shortsightedness can reverse itself in middle age, I remember, when in the sitting room I am struck by the clearest vision of the magnolia in the front garden ... a tree I haven't seen through this window for years. I am about to inform Rebecca of the miracle when a man enters the kitchen with a ladder and a sponge.

"This is Peter," she says, but very, very faintly. "He's here to cream the widows." I ask her to explain (Rebecca isn't a widow yet; and if she was, she'd hardly have inherited anything from me worth creaming off), but I cannot make out a word of the reply. So this is the third leg of the inevitable three in which calamity presents itself: first the dodgy bladder, then the restored sight, now the deafness.

How long now, I wonder before the short term memory goes and I start repeating myself? And how much longer before I can't remember as well as I used to, and start saying everything twice? Not long enough. Not nearly long enough.

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