Life on the inside

2008-03-22 00:00

Dr Kevorkian the vet was very interested in what I had to say. Mingus, my black Labrador was standing on the examination table looking harassed and oppressed.

“Mingus has lost quite a lot of weight over the past few weeks. He eats well, but seems to have little energy. Frankly, Doctor, I’m worried about him. After all, this is no ordinary dog.”

Dr K did his disappearing trick with the thermometer, retrieved it with some difficulty after a short period and took a smear off the tip on to a microscope slide.

“Mingus has got worms,” he said shortly. “When did you last deworm him? And more to the point,” he continued, “when did you last deworm yourself?”

Here we go, I thought to myself. Either a lifetime of doing the disappearing trick with thermometers had finally driven him over the edge or deep inside the mysterious Dr K a real human-type doctor was struggling to get out. Since I had a deep investment in alternative medicine, happy to give immediate credence to shamans, magazine advice columnists, reflexologists and aromatherapists, taking health advice from a dog doctor was not particularly out of court.

“Never,” I said proudly. “I am not a dog. Nor a cat,” I added unnecessarily. Dr K reached for his thermometer. I sat down, quick as a wink. Advice was one thing, an examination quite another.

Dr K scribbled on a pad. “Here,” he said thrusting two prescriptions into my hand. “This one’s for Mingus. The other’s for you. Don’t get them mixed up.”

On the walk home, I fell to thinking. What might happen if I did get them mixed up, assuming that I was going to buy the stuff in the first place? Would some curious transmigration of souls occur between Mingus and myself, in which he became a journalist and I turned into a dog? How would he cope with the pressure of deadlines? How would I ever learn to do the thing with the tongue? Quite apart from these dark imaginings, I didn’t like the news Dr K had given me. Hospitality is one thing, but being host to a squirming nest of internal parasites, quite another. The idea was truly repulsive. But Dr K was clearly no ordinary vet. After some reflection, I chose to take his advice and at the chemist, bought the worm-destroying medicine the vet had prescribed.

I decided that my worm infestation was going to be a secret. Dr K was clearly an ethical man, one on whom I could rely to maintain the confidentiality inherent to the doctor-patient relationship. Mingus too was very confidential and, unless we bumped into Dr Doolittle and his dangerous ability to chat to animals, my secret was safe with the dog.

In fact, the only way my terrible wormy story was likely to get out was the label on the medicine bottle. To prevent any ghastly pharmaceutical accidents, our worm pills were clearly labelled Mr Basckin on one and Mr Basckin’s dog on the other. Only by reading these would my family deduce that tapeworms had taken residence in a non-dog member of the family.

Back home, I secreted the pill bottles into the bathroom medicine chest and got on with my life. But the thought of my fellow travellers, those teeming multitudes of free-loading tapeworms feasting like kings on whatever it was that I had enjoyed for breakfast, made work impossible. There was no alternative. The time had come — for me, for Mingus and for the tapeworms — to move towards closure, finality, Gotterdamerung.

Curiously, there seemed to be no real difference in the brand, dose and appearance of our respective medicines. I read the labels, made Mingus swallow his pills, did the same for myself and waited for interesting results. Nothing happened. Not that I was quite sure what to expect and the literature in the pill bottle was unenlightening. I could of course, phone Dr K. But I shan’t be doing this as he will probably insist I come in for my distemper shots. And you know how much I fear needles.

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