Pat Clark: Medical Marvel
By Alan Hancock
Illustration by Peter Clayton
You never went looking for a chat with Pat Clark from Upstairs. Never. It was just one of those things you learned not to do because the outcome was invariably the same. Like walking across a freshly mopped lobby floor or sitting bare cheeked on the thin glass of the photocopier. Yet somehow, at the least opportune time, a chat with Pat would ensnare you and you’d be socially obligated to listen whilst she morphed you into a noise receptacle for her own morbid hypochondria.
On this occasion, I’d only nipped into the tea room to rinse out my mug when Pat emerged suddenly from inside the fridge, sucking on a strawberry Froob. An odd choice of yoghurt, but Pat was a quirky soul. She began, not with a “hello” or a “sorry I frightened you” but with an immediately melodramatic recital of the tale of her recent doctor’s appointment in unnecessarily graphic detail; as if I was already familiar with the previous instalments of the saga and that this was a conversation I was going to have whether I wanted it or not.
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t mind taking the time to listen, I genuinely wouldn’t, if it wasn’t simply a chart top forty style countdown of her top ten complaints. In at number seven and down two places since last month, it’s Chesty Cough.
I’d have no problem if, perhaps, I might get a word in about a minor illness from which I may have suffered so that we might bond over a shared experience without being cut off with a “yeah, I’ve had that” before exploring it from her perspective once more.
I would happily sympathise if she at least came across as the type of person who thanked her lucky stars that, as someone with an extensive medical history so varied and complicated, she still drew breath.
I wouldn’t mind if she really did live each day as if it were her last instead of just having it quoted on an inspirational fridge magnet she brought in from home.
Instead, I found myself riding the Pat Clark Carousel of Complaints going around on a pivot of problems, bobbing lifelessly up and down on a fibreglass horse of blame beginning to feel dizzy, wondering whether she didn’t bear some personal responsibility for her medical circumstances because surely the NHS wasn’t that incompetent.
Now, believe it or not, I’m a relatively empathetic person. If someone says they’re unwell, I can certainly relate to that in a general “yeah, there’s a lot of it about” sort of way but when someone presents seemingly minor problems as a matter of life and death as Pat does so frequently, it puts me in a tricky position, in that I feel little sympathy but also I’m not a medical professional. It’s a very real problem for her and I’m not qualified to contradict it.
So I remained silent, thinking “maybe she’s just a medical marvel”.