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Out of all proportion

Are run-of-the-mill psoriasis, a stuffy nose and athlete's foot good reasons to consider ‘ending it all'? Probably not, Phil reckons

‘No-one suffers like I do,' said the lady sitting in front of me. ‘How do you mean?'

I asked.

‘This psoriasis. No-one knows what I go through with this psoriasis.'

I scrutinised her self-pitying face carefully for signs of irony or self-deprecating humour, but she appeared to be serious.

‘You mean those two patches on your knees?' I asked her.

‘Sometimes it's on my elbows too.'

‘Does it hurt, or itch?'

‘Sometimes it itches. No-one knows what it's like.'

‘Au contraire,' I reassured her. ‘Roughly a million people in this country are suffering similar agonies at this very moment. I see it's your birthday soon. Why not ask your husband if he'll get you a sense of proportion?'

A sense of proportion is what many people seem to lack. I remember an article in the Sunderland Echo a few years ago, about a lady and her two daughters in council accommodation.

One Sunday evening in winter, the heating had gone off. The lady called the council immediately, but shamefully no-one came out to repair the heating until the next day, and our three martyrs had to spend an entire December evening and night with no central heating, and only one fully functioning gas fire in the living room prevented them from becoming Captain Oates-style frozen corpses overnight.

The newspaper article was accompanied by a disgraceful picture of the three ‘victims', artificially posed together beneath a blanket on the sofa, their faces a picture of simulated misery.

In one sense, it's a blessing that a local paper could find nothing of more importance to put on their front page. If this is the biggest story we can find in a city of some 25,000 souls (and almost 10 times as many actual people) then society must be doing something right.

But on the other hand, what sort of self-obsessed tosser would think that this story was worth even a single column inch in a newspaper?

Only 40 years ago, practically no-one had central heating at all. This single evening of purgatory was what has been normal for the entire British race since the Romans left 1,600 years ago.

I had a relative who used to describe his dandruff as ‘total hell'. I have a patient who requested a sick note because his new spectacles were unsatisfactory, and another who took her employers to a tribunal because someone in the office insisted on having a window open.

I have had a patient tell me, in all seriousness, that he had considered ‘ending it all' because of his chronically stuffy nose, and another who said ‘you might as well put me down' when her athlete's foot recurred for a second time. God help these people if, or rather when, they get a serious illness.

I suppose it's because we see so many cases of stoical, good-humoured fortitude in the face of serious illness that we find these shysters so ridiculous.

Maybe, if faced with serious progressive pathology like cancer, these people will discover previously hidden inner strengths that will enable them to confront their inevitable mortality with some sort of dignity.

But in the meantime, I would give anything to be allowed to take a run-up, and kick a few sorry backsides. It would do them a world of good.

Dr Phil Peverley is a GP in Sunderland.

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