Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

No complaints, only symptoms

Peter Arnold 
Sydney, Australia

Aerial view of Sydney Harbour. 2015. Photo by user Whiteghost.ink, via Wikimedia. CC BY-SA 4.0

“No complaints, only symptoms,” I told my cardiologist this year.

How dare I complain? I am eighty-four. Thirty-two years have passed since my quintuple coronary artery bypass; eighteen years since a diagnosis, in one of eleven biopsy samples, of invasive prostate cancer—left untreated, because so few of us die from it; five cardiac stents last year, four of intra-arterial grafts and one of a tatty venous graft—about which I was unambiguously informed. I knew the risks, but what option if I were to be relieved of angina?

Thinking back to the decade before Howard Florey, how dare I complain that, aged four, I avoided meningitis by having extensive bilateral mastoidectomies? I am old enough to remember the horrors of chloroform and ether induction—and the penetrating sound of the hammer on the chisel.

Like so many octogenarians, and my seniors in their 90s and 100s, my polypharmacy would delight Big Pharma. More than twenty tablets daily. (Brand names only, please, so that I can recognize them, week after week and month after month.) Recent bleeding due to a generic (my regular brand was not available because Covid-19 affected imports).

My non-medical wife, eighty-one and also polypharmaceutically burdened, asks, “How do these pills know where to go to do their job?” My concern, as they travel everywhere in company, is how they influence one another.

My general practitioner, fortunately an ex-student of mine, has to steer me through the potential minefields laid by my neurologist, otolaryngologist, ophthalmologist (erythema multiforme from glaucoma drops), “respirologist,” cardiologist (diastolic dysfunction1), gastroenterologist, urologist, and professor of peripheral vascular diseases (a ‘vasculologist’?). Luckily, no nephrologist, hepatologist, or oncologist.

So, despite symptoms galore, complaints are unwarranted. I am nudging the median age of death of Sydneysiders (my own six weeks’ research, commenced before Covid-19, of the local weekly’s death notices)—eighty-seven. “Centurions on the march,” week after week.

Compensation in a happy sixty-year marriage, with generously attentive children, eight loving grandchildren, and sundry friends collected along the decades—some medical, many not; some neighbors, some pen-pals whom I met on overseas travels.

Of course, there is the continuing need to mourn, and then to keep going, as one by one, the oldies reach the terminus. “Life is for living,” so let’s keep doing it as long as we can.

End Notes

  1. A cure for diastolic dysfunction? A heart transplant!

PETER ARNOLD is a retired family doctor and professional editor in Sydney. Former Chairman, Australian Medical Association.

Highlighted Vignette Volume 13, Issue 2– Spring 2021

Winter 2021



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