Walking into my local medical centre isn't a welcoming experience. Several coffee cups have been squashed on the steep front steps with their sticky contents dribbling down the grey tiles and making a nauseating soup when mixed with cigarette ash and butts. The graffiti scratched onto the glass doors doesn't enhance the atmosphere either.
Inside the over-heated waiting room, I'm given the luxury of time to observe my fellow patients and to consider just how the very worst of cheaply slapped-together 1990s architecture has stood the test of time. Answer: it doesn't. The once-white ceiling tiles are blooming with latte-brown water stains, the huge green formica reception desk is so gouged that the chipboard underneath has become a crazy-paving feature and the once-proud 'Chemist next door' enamel sign has been covered with a torn piece of paper with handwriting informing me that the 'Neerest chemist is 300m walk further up the road.'
A three year old boy and his mother sit beside me. Well, she does: he's busy doing lap after lap around the low coffee tables, saying "When can I see Dr Checks? When can I see Dr Checks?" over and over.
Dr Checks? Dr Cheques? Is his mother running some kind of blackmailing scheme...? I put my boring novel down and am rude enough to raise one eyebrow at her quizzically. To her credit, she doesn't say, "It's none of your pharkin' business," but laughs and says, "Hugo likes ---" she looks around, sees her target and points "-----that doctor over there, the one in the houndstooth jacket."
I see a stooped old man in glasses slowly shuffle behind the reception desk to reach for his next file. He most certainly would have been around to see the celebrations at end of World War One.
Hugo rushed over to tug at his mother's skirt. "See Mum, Dr Checks is here! Dr Checks! Dr Checks!"
Hugo is shushed by Mum, and I go back to my book. Both of us still have to wait our turn and she tries to ease her son into the idea that it might be Doctor Blue Shirt he sees instead of Checks. "His grandfather has the same jacket," Mum whispers to me and says brightly and in a louder voice to Hugo, "But blue is your favourite colour, isn't it sweetie?"
"Ye-e-e-e-e-sss...." Hugo's voice had now moved up an octave to a high pitched whine that was starting to rattle the windows. "But I wanna see Dr Checks!"
It was time to plough back into the dull book on my knee and let the mother of Hugo try to cajole him with a trip to the water fountain, the tatty community brochure stand, the toilets and shooshing him again when he saw the enormous nose ring in a punky-emo hybrid guy who'd just sat on the other side of him: "Why is he wearing a bangle in his nose?"
"Um, it's a nose ring, Hugo. Some people wear them as jewellery, like you sometimes like to wear my bracelets and necklaces."
Nice response, I thought, but not Hugo. "Yuk, it'll get boogies on it."
Fair point too.
Dr Checks came back out into the foyer.
"Yay!" yelled Hugo, "It's my turn, Mummy!"
Dr Checks smiled - or was he merely airing his dentures - and said, "Mrs Lockett?" I grabbed my bag and left the room to Hugo's anguished sobbing.
Three months ago, at the urging of Love Chunks, I underwent a cholesterol test.
"We'll call you if something's serious, so no news is good news," said the doctor filling up the test tube with my red stuff at the time.
No phone call was received, so I was in the clear: my cholesterol test was obviously OK and I could continue to inhale chocolate, cheese, chips, meat, pastries, pies, eggs and donuts with greedy abandon. Especially chocolate.
Today however, found me there to get my tumour checked up on - keep an eye on those pesky prolactin levels and have a wee whinge about the unwanted and increasing visits from Mr Migraine. He was becoming the medical equivalent of a stalker.
"You look very fit," Dr Checks said.
"Oh, I am", I sat up straighter, beaming with pride and huge spadeful of vanity. "I run at least three times a week, power walk twice and am a good girl and eat lots of fruit and veges and-----"
"But," Dr C looked down into the folder. "Your cholesterol level is much too high."
"Wha-a-a-a-t?" My smugness disappeared up the anus from whence it came. "But I was told by the other doctor that no news is good news!"
He affected that pose that's so infuriating because you just know you're in for a lecture and you know it's probably deserved but you just don't want to hear it: he lowered his glasses and looked down his nose at me. Pompous git - and look a him sitting there with his old man moobs sweating in crescent marks on his too tight business shirt, about to lecture me, an educated, intelligent, responsible adult about diet and exercise, the nerve..!
"Your cholesterol level is 6.5 and it should not be anything higher than 5.5. The doctor here has made a note saying, 'Discuss this with the patient when she arrives to collect her test results'."
He pushed his glasses further up the bridge of his nose to deliver the final pompous, know-it-all, you-can't-handle-the-truth barb: "That was THREE months ago. Surely you must have wondered what your results were?"
As intended, it was now my turn to play the part of the sheepish, admittedly ashamed and naughty patient and the role fitted perfectly. "Well, um, I just assumed that if it was really bad, one of you would call..."
Dr C held up a tired, I've-heard-it-all-before-young-lady hand. "You're not about to be carted into an ambulance, but you need to do something about it now. Seriously."
And the next fifteen minutes involved talk of cutting out full fat milk, cream, butter, cheese, red fatty meats, chicken skin, animal fats, coconut milk, palm oil from my diet entirely. Yep, okay, fine, nod nod nod, can do all of that. Sure, absolutely.
And no cakes, eggs, bacon, biscuits, donuts, pastries, pies, tarts or quiches. Ye-e-s, okay, it'll be a struggle but yes, my health is important.
Of course I knew what was coming next.
I knew it, he knew it and you know it, don't you?
"How much chocolate do you eat a week, Mrs Lockett?"
"Oh call me Kath, you already know so much about me, inside and out, heh heh, although I don't want to have a pap smear today. Did you know that I'm a chocolate reviewer and writer and manage to look only slightly chubby instead of Jabba the Hutt-like due to my dedication to exercise and the proper intake of vitamins and min--"
"How much chocolate do you eat a week----" he paused, to let his authority and moral detachment sink in more fully "-----Kath?"
Like a mathematically challenged eight year old, I went through an average week, listing each block, truffle and bar and counting them on my fingers. "Well, I had lunch at San Churro - so it was a meal really, not an additional snack, but then there was the two Nestle blocks which were a gift from Helen and M&Ms have released an orange flavour that is only currentlyavailable in the 200 gram bags and it's greedy I know, but it took me three blocks before the willpower to photograph it emerged in order to write the review for the daggy but delicious Cadbury Tiramisu dessert block and just this morning I finally got a hold of the new Lindt Classic flavours and...."
I just can't write the figure here. It hurts too much. Let's just say that if Dr Checks had any hair left, his eyebrows had risen high enough to have hidden amongst his fringe.
"You have to cut that by at least ninety percent or you'll be in serious trouble."
He might as well have yanked my heart out with barbed wire gloves and plonked it into a tupperware container and slung it in the staff fridge to rot amongst the ancient sweet chilli sauce sachets and yoghurt tubs.
A few minutes later, I slowly walked home. The morning sunshine was too bright and harsh, and my backpack was heavy. Love Chunks opened the door and the moment he saw my face, said, "Oh my god Kath, what's wrong, has your tumour grown back again?"
My eyes were blurred with tears. "But I love what I do...."
I hadn't dared show Dr Checks what I'd purchased from the supermarket before my appointment with him; just a few treats to see me through a week in central Australia on a 4WD camping trip that was not likely to fully cater for my specific needs: