4 NOVEMBER 2000, Page 36


The doctor was in a hurry. He glared at me.

`Tell me what you want,' he said


Ihave had tinnitus for the last ten weeks, an unremitting whistling/roaring sound in the ears and head, which takes away thought, removes the possibility of past or future, and keeps me fixed in an unfocused way in the present. I have been dashing around, follow- ing up suggestions, trying one treatment, then another. 'What does your GP have to say?' people ask. 'Useless,' I protest.

I made an appointment: 'Dr K can see you at 5.45.' Dr P, the one I usually see, was away. I sat in their dreadful surgery facing the monumental receptionist — in the 12 years I've been going there, she has never once smiled at me or changed her expres- sion (sometimes she makes faces at chil- dren) — and her younger accomplice. No one would treat furniture the way they treat people, and especially, it seems, me. I won- der if it's class.

I was the last person left. I went in with an envelope on which I had scribbled notes to myself so that I wouldn't forget what I want- ed to say. The doctor turned out to be quite a good-looking man. He looked at his watch. `Tell me what you want from me quickly,' he ordered. I looked him in the eye and stam- mered, 'What I have to tell you can't be done quickly, really. It's a bit complicated and I feel awful — really awful.'

`Quickly,' he repeated, shuffling some papers. He looked at his watch. 'I want to go.' Tears began to prickle. 'I've got tinni- tus,' I said. 'And . . . and . . . it makes me feel kind of mad. I don't know where I am. ' There was a lump in my throat and I could hardly speak.

`Hurry,' he said. 'What do you want from me? I want to go home.' He leant towards me over the desk clutching his papers and glared at me, pen poised.

`I've got tinnitus,' I said, 'and I don't know what to do. The noise is awful and it doesn't stop. I get lost and forget.'

`Tell me what you want,' he said. 'I want to go home.' I stared at him, speechless. I needed to talk to someone, I thought, but didn't say. I needed advice. 'What can you do about it? Can you help me please?' I said simply.

He stood up.

`I've got tinnitus. Ringing in my ears. It won't stop. I'm desperate. It's frightening. I. . . . ' He picked up his papers. He half turned.

`My wife is waiting for me,' he said. 'Four children.'

`Oh, how lovely. Well done,' I said.

`And a new baby.' He stared at me hard. `A new baby!' I said. 'How marvellous. How old?'

`Six weeks,' he said.

`Goodness,' I responded. 'I don't expect you get much sleep at night.' He looked at me, still standing, half turned away. 'No, no,' he said. 'No problem. Sleeps all night.'

`How wonderful,' I said. 'A lovely new baby and he sleeps all night. When I had my first baby we didn't get a night's sleep for. . . . '

`Four children and a new baby,' he repeated with some bitterness. I began to feel indignant. 'Don't say that. You mustn't speak like that about a child. Your child. Your new baby.'

`A new baby,' he repeated. He sat down. `Any hair?' I said. He looked at me again. `What do you want? Quickly.' The pre- scription pad was in front of him; his hand was poised. This was more than a hint. I swallowed. 'Well,' I said, 'tranquillisers. How about some tranquillisers? Do you think?'

He scribbled a prescription. 'Two of these and you will be asleep,' he said, and made for the door. I got through it before him. 'Valium. 5mg,' I read.

`Make an appointment to see me again tomorrow,' he called.

The fat receptionist was on her feet, manoeuvring her plump arms into the sleeves of her coat. She has a beautiful (Fellini-fat) face. 'Can I make an appoint- ment to see Dr K tomorrow?' I asked. `No,' she said. 'Ring me in the morning.'

I got on my bike and pedalled away into the afternoon sun. It was ridiculous but 1 felt almost elated — and thankful. I have a bit of money; there are alternatives. What if I were truly trapped — with none?

The author's name has been changed.