Gods with stethoscopes

23 October 2011 - 04:26 By Ndumiso Ngcobo
Ndumiso Ngcobo
Ndumiso Ngcobo
Image: Lifestyle magazine

If they also had personalities, dinner parties would improve

My mother gave birth to four sons. The descriptors that best capture my mom's essence are "professional nurse" and "devout Catholic". As a result, all she ever wanted in return for her 20-odd hours of excruciating labour pains is that one of her sons should become a medical doctor and that another should become a Catholic priest.

That is not too much to ask, you will agree. Sadly, she only got 50% of her wishes. My younger brother is a man of the cloth. I was the doctor designate - but I lacked the discipline, dedication and zealotry to achieve the grades required to become a doctor. For many years after I chose the convoluted, zigzag path I took to get to this point, I was the very picture of proverbial Catholic guilt for disappointing her.

It didn't help matters that my mom never really gave up on her dream of me spending my life asking sick people to say: "Ah!'' I'm only months away from my 40th birthday but if, by some miracle, I wrote a book good enough to win the Pulitzer Prize, I bet my mom would remark that I had now earned the clout to gain admission to Harvard Medical School.

It was not until much later in life that I finally shed my guilt about not becoming a human-body mechanic. You see, I happen to know an extraordinarily high number of medical doctors socially. It has been my observation that one can either choose to have a charming personality or get a medical degree. Not both.

Let's suppose a doctor friend invites you to a party at his house. And because the best thing on TV that evening is SA Pop Idols, you stupidly RSVP in the affirmative. Unlike normal people, doctors insist on having other doctors as friends. They're not too dissimilar to the members of an Amish colony in this regard. So, before long, your friend's house is overridden by people in varying stages of self-importance and dullness.

It's like being on the set of Grey's Anatomy, minus the attractive people. Now, you can set the clock by how long it takes before every conversation in the room is about sutures and how many ccs of epinephrine are required to stabilise heart beats - or something like that. It is for this reason that I often volunteer for animal flesh-burning duties at the braai to escape the dreariness at these medical conventions disguised as parties.

Even then, it's only a matter of time before the chap with the soulless eyes of a Klingon wanders in your direction to subject you to his morbid medical sense of humour: "So what's the prognosis on the readiness of the cadaver for consumption, chief?" This is often followed by a disturbing chuckle as if to say: "Watch out, Loyiso Gola."

Look, to be fair, medicine is not the only profession that breeds mind-numbingly boring practitioners. Engineers are not what you'd characterise as a colourful bunch. However, with engineers, the insipidness is restricted to oatmeal chinos and check shirts. An engineer won't pin you into a corner and bore you with the maximum kilopascals of pressure allowed inside a Koeberg reactor before a nuclear holocaust is imminent.

My wife once invited a couple over for lunch, both of whom are stethoscope jockeys. At some point the women disappeared into the kitchen and I was left with the husband. I have had more inspiring conversations with seaweed. After 20 minutes of trying a variety of subjects, from politics to gossip about our wives and getting nothing in return except muffled grunts, I was ready to throw in the towel. My final roll of the dice was to steer the conversation towards something generic, such as Absa Premiership football.

His response was to give me a 20-minute lecture on the technicalities of the procedure employed to fix Achilles' heel football injuries. By the time they left, my wife had dubbed him "Holomisa" on account of his monotonous drone.

 Don't get me wrong. It's not really their fault. If I spent all my waking hours peering up sick people's colons, I bet I'd also have the personality of a garden implement. Besides, I'm at that age where my health will increasingly rest in their hands. When I'm lying on that bed I won't care about the personality of the scalpel jockey about to cut me open. So, you see, I have nothing against the guys and girls in white coats. In fact; some of my best friends are doctors.