Today, I received in the post an uncorrected proof copy of an Oxford University Press book to be published next January. The point to A Bloke's DIY (diagnose it yourself) Guide to Health, by GPs Keith Hopcroft and Alastair Moulds, writes commissioning editor Martin Baum, is that "most men do not go to the doctor... because they are worried about what they'll find out, or they are afraid that as soon as they enter the room it will be 'trousers down, out with the rubber gloves'." Men don't go to the doctor... what the hell has this to do with me? Still, I don't suppose glancing at it for five minutes will do any harm.
I am fatigued and fretful after passing a late and troubled night. So far - and I have only reached page 35 ("blood in urine") - I appear to be suffering from 11 distinct forms of cancer, TB, deep vein thrombosis, renal colic, ectopic heartbeat (arrhythmia by another name), allergic rhinitis and acute angina.
Inevitably, perhaps, the book is proving the catalyst for a divergence of marital opinion. I am finding it excellent, and can see how it would help men less knowledgeable than myself. Now - and this is the root of the debate that has jeopardised spousal harmony - I cannot find it at all. Rebecca insists that I'm so exhausted after two near-sleepless nights (at 4.35am this morning, while on page 67, "diarrhoea", I came to realise that I have both an overactive and underactive thyroid), my mind is playing tricks.
The book has turned up at the bottom of my sock drawer, face down but open on page 103 ("penis problems"). Rebecca denies involvement, and will not discuss it, except to promise that she will call Dr Sarah Jarvis and ask to have me sectioned (an alarmingly routine threat lately) if I mention the matter once more.
I awake feeling sluggish having passed another troubled night, to find the book laying face down again, but this time on my chest, and open on page 108, "problems sleeping". By the box marked "Do you snore so loudly that you wake yourself?" (sleep apnoea), the following annotation has appeared - "Or do you snore so loudly that, although you - selfish bastard that you are - can sleep through it, your wife has to go off to the spare room?" This is needlessly cruel. She knows about the significantly deviated septum I am scheduled to have cauterised shortly, in an operation from which I expect to emerge as a vegetable.
A morning of unexpected placidity gives way to an afternoon of familiar skirmishing, when, while I am on page 120, "shortness of breath", Rebecca returns from Tesco and asks in her menacing Don Corleone whisper if I'm "ever going to put that f***** book down again?" An exchange ensues, and when it has been completed I am headlong on the sofa, composing a mental note to the authors advising that they add an extra box to page 108, reading "Has someone just dropped a water melon on your solar plexus?"
Subarachnoid haemorrhage, epididymal cyst, aphthous ulcers, acoustic neuroma, trigeminal neuralgia... this is a small sample of the ailments I now realise myself to be suffering. Close to despair, I bin the book and call Sarah Jarvis to arrange seven 30-minute appointments in the next four days.
"It's this book, doctor," I explain. "Very well done and everything, but not safe in non-medical hands... " I notice an oppressive silence strangely reminiscent of home life at the other end of the line. "You do agree with me about these books? Doctor?" "Not really, no," she says. "You see, I know all about this book, because I may be writing the girlie version myself, and I think it's great. I must go now, because there are sick people I have to see, but I commend you to page 96."
I fish the book out of the bin, rinse it off, and turn to the page. "Pain in the bottom," it says.
It's a doc's life
Are you a GP whose sparkling wit is wasted on medical notes and prescriptions? The Guardian is looking for a doctor to write an occasional, light-hearted diary of surgery life. If you'd like to be considered, send a 600-word article, describing a week in your professional life, to Health Editor, The Guardian, 119 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3ER. The best three submissions will be published on our health pages.