Keeping abreast of the situation

old-lady-in-bikiniLorraine and Frank Cooper were booked in for skin checks. I had previously met Frank a few times but Lorraine only once. Like many older Australians they had managed, with the assistance of unprotected fair skin and direct sunlight, to achieve decades of perfect skin-cancer-growing conditions, and their crops of lesions were maturing nicely. Frank in particular rarely escaped without donating a skin chunk or two to our friendly local pathologist.

I quickly scanned their charts then walked into the crowded waiting room.

“Frank and Lorraine please.”

Frank sauntered over from where he’d been standing. Lorraine closed the two year old New Idea, placed it back on the rack meticulously, and headed towards me. They met in the doorway. Frank beamed at Lorraine, she returned his smile with her mouth but frowned with her eyes.

“You want us to come in together?” Lorraine asked.

“Only if you’re comfortable doing so.”

“No worries, Doc!” Frank said without hesitation.

Lorraine shrugged, “I guess so.”

“So who wants to go first?” I asked after we were seated and the usual pleasantries exchanged.

“Ladies first,” Frank volunteered.

Lorraine looked mildly irritated. “It should indeed be me, but not because I’m a woman. I was booked in first.  I heard the receptionist saying that his spot was at 3:15. Mine was at 3.”

At that point, I recall wondering whether Frank had done something to really annoy her that particular morning, or whether her touchiness was simply a result of years of accumulated frustration.

Lorraine’s history-taking unfolded uneventfully, but I hit resistance when it came to her examination.  As is my habit, I asked her to undress down to her underwear behind the curtain and to cover herself with the provided sheet.

“Is he going to stay?” she inquired.

“Not if you don’t want him to,” I quickly countered, sensing her discomfort.

“It’s OK, Luv, you’re behind a curtain, and anyway, it’s not as if you’ve got anything I haven’t seen before.”

“But you haven’t seen mine!

An alarm bell rang. It didn’t seem like something a wife would say – at least not without a “for years” or “recently” tacked onto the end.

I glanced again at their charts: same surname, different phone numbers, different streets, different towns. Uh oh!

Taking a deep breath, I somewhat sheepishly inquired, “This may seem like a silly question, but you are married, aren’t you?”

“Married? I’ve never met him before in my life!”

Luckily for me, both were very understanding and forgiving, and could see the funny side.

Frank was relegated post-haste to the waiting room while Lorraine had her solar keratoses cryotherapied in private.

Later, Frank lamented, “I was hoping to get a peek at some live bosoms. It’s been a long time.”

I must have looked shocked.  He rushed to explain. “I’m no perv.  I just happen to love breasts. All of them: pancakes or melons, firm or dangly. The only complaint I’ve ever made about a pair of bosoms is that they’re too… clothed.”

When I sought their individual consent to write this column (I didn’t want to breach their privacy a second time!), Frank’s face fell when I explained that I would need to give him an alias.

“I’d quite fancy my name in print,” he lamented. “Well, at least use my ‘all breasts are beautiful’ line, OK? I want to do my bit to help all the ladies out there be proud of their assets. And hopefully, bare them more often. But not too much time in the sun, of course, Doc. There’s too much breast cancer around nowadays as it is!”

(names and identifying details have been changed)

First published in Medical Observer, 25th July 2014

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