Off colour


I’d been in need of a new doctor for quite a while – ever since Dr F, who’d shepherded me through several life crises over 15 years, had retired from general practice. I was seeking a doctor who wasn’t dismissive of complementary medicine, ‘a GP with naturopathic tendencies’ would be ideal. My search had brought me to this second floor waiting room in a suburban CBD to honour this new doctor with the ailments I’d been stockpiling for almost two years.

I poured myself a glass of lemon-infused, filtered water and settled into the squishy sofa, smugly noting the framed qualifications for acupuncture, Chinese herbalism and laser therapy displayed alongside the common, but incomprehensible, jumbled alphabet ones like FRACGP – anyone want to hazard a guess?  My self-satisfaction increased as I filled in the exhaustive questionnaire worthy of the most invasive market researcher, willingly ticking off multiple choice options about the specific condition of every part of my anatomy and giving each organ a score out of ten.

Before we go any further I should explain that, despite lifelong devotion to feminism and admiration of the suffragettes, purple is a colour that I loathe (along with orange and lime green). I shun it in all circumstances, with the single exception of a bunch of irises.

So, when I’m ushered into the doctor’s consulting room my composure dissolves as I’m assaulted with a sensory bludgeon: the full gamut of ghastly in the spectrum of purple. The doctor is wearing flowing garments, layer upon layer of variations on the theme from royal purple through aubergine and maroon to mauve, lilac and lavender. There are dozens of purple objects in the room, both functional and decorative, from the stapler, manilla folders and paper clips to the photo frames, filing cabinets and macrame potplant hangers; the overall effect made more oppressive by the exquisitely hideous pinkish-purple walls. There is nowhere I can look for relief.

I wonder about the significance of the colour and what it says about this professional woman who has made it her trademark. I doubt her intention is to proclaim a feminist ideology, let alone royal connections. As the consultation progresses I form the view that the colour is a  naïve way of asserting personality: Look at me. I am interesting. I am colourful. I am eccentric.

For me the colour undermined her professional authority. People  seeking a medical practitioner with both conventional and ‘alternative’ qualifications don’t need to see a purple furry creature with googly eyes stuck to the top of a computer monitor to know that the GP has chosen an unorthodox path.

I find that my ailments are not on her preferred list of treatable conditions. ‘I don’t do internal examinations,’ she said, when I told her it was several years since my last pap smear. She didn’t do anything much it seemed, as the consultation progressed, except fill in referral forms to specialists – a gynaecologist (for the pap smear), a dermatologist, a radiologist – and provide instructions on diet.

She looked at my tongue, took my ‘Chinese pulse’, pinched the skin on my hand and gave me instructions to eat seven different types of vegetables and seven different fruits every day. I’d thought my diet was adequate at around six vegetables and three fruits but seven it seemed was the magic number. She took a pinprick of blood to do a ‘live analysis’ so we could inspect the condition of my blood cells on the computer screen.

‘What did you have for lunch?’ she asked.  ‘Chinese dumplings,’ I said, ‘I had lunch with a friend’. ‘Curious that there’s not many fat cells,’ she said. I was glad I’d opted for steamed dumplings.

This doctor talked a lot throughout the consultation. She told me about her children, how hard she worked, how hard she was studying (getting more qualifications in complementary medicine), how long she’d been separated from her husband, her exercise routine, her diet, the vitamin supplement regime she followed, her dramatic weight loss. ‘I was obese,’ she confided. ‘I weighed 80 kilos – and I am small.’

I hadn’t given her a questionnaire but she volunteered  information as if I had. The fee for the one-hour consultation was staggering. My search for a new GP continued.

© Veronica Doolan 2007




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