When a doctor makes a mistake, it’s best to bury the subject. – Comedian Woody Allen 

Imagine if you were Lou Gehrig and you’d been experiencing muscle weakness and went to see a doctor to find out why?

How would said doctor have handled it?

Now a grim and sternly humourless fellow would have given him the bad news straight up, and risked a possible heart attack.

The imaginative fellow, however, would have begun: “I have good news and bad news” and then proceed to let slip the news: Mr Gehrig would be forever immortalised by having a hitherto unknown disease named after him. 

Actually, Gehrig was already famous as a baseball player then; which just underlines the point of the affliction’s name – it could happen to anyone, even very healthy athletes. 

This was way back in the 1930s and Gehrig has long passed on to that baseball diamond in the sky, but it makes you think about the great miracle that is humankind, our continued existence despite the countless diseases, syndromes, conditions and appalling threats just waiting to get us.  

Example: I have always found Alzheimer to be a particularly sinister name, the sort that does not roll trippingly off the tongue like George, Faiz or Sumitomo. 

But I’m guilty of equating the horror of the disease with the person who discovered it – a kindly physician who noticed discernible changes in the brain of an elderly woman diagnosed with extreme forgetfulness. 

This was early in 1904 and the doctor’s name was Alois Alzheimer. By all accounts, he was neither sinister nor forbidding. 

A long time ago, I met a Malaysian who, together with his foreign wife, managed beachfront chalets for rent off the East Coast. 

In a conversation with them, however, I was astonished when he suddenly broke out into a fitful stream of obscenities for no apparent reason. It didn’t seem directed at anyone in particular and the other patrons either didn’t bat an eyelid, stared, or just laughed.

The wife explained that her husband suffered from Tourette’s Syndrome, a neurological disorder that usually manifests in “tics” like rapid blinking, shaking of the head or, in rare circumstances, vocal outbursts of the sort affecting said proprietor. 

He was otherwise the soul of decency. There was no cure for it and there was nothing he could take to mitigate its symptoms. Their preemptive approach was to warn customers of its possibility so they might be prepared.

Unfortunately, I got the info after the fact. He bore his condition with a certain resignation and conceded that he’d had problems going through school, but sympathetic teachers got him through it. 

I remember he had a good sense of humour. He said he should have joined politics as “I would have fitted right in.” 

Then, there’s Werewolf’s Syndrome, where the patient grows hair so thickly, and so fast, that he could be mistaken for a werewolf, or a paid-up member of the Taliban.

With all the nasty possibilities skulking about out there, it was no wonder that a prominent banker checked himself into a hospital years ago. 

He must have concluded that it was safer to be surrounded by a team of specialists, all waiting alertly to spring into action at the first sign of a twitch, cough, sniffle,  sneeze, or spasm that indicated he could be suffering from something more serious than the flu. 

More than anyone else, he knew that the most beautiful words in English were no longer “I love you” but “No worries, it’s benign.”


No Pain, No Gain

The only exercise I get is walking behind the coffins of friends who exercise

Actor, Peter O’ Toole

I’m pushing 63 now and, truth be told, that’s enough exercise for anyone. 

But when I was younger, I used to jog. Reluctantly, I have to confess. But most of my peers were doing so and I didn’t wasn’t to stand out. 

In science, we have learnt that serious exercise causes the human body to produce endorphins, substances that interact with the brain’s opiate receptors to produce feelings of painlessness and ecstasy. Not unlike morphine or codeine. 

If you believe that, you’ll believe anything. 

The lone jogger starts off in a position of penitence, not unlike prayer. He then methodically moves on to heavy breathing followed by gasping and snorting in stertorous fashion, not unlike a blowfish. 

But the serious runner perseveres until pain is seen leaping from pimple to pimple in a face now wracked by suffering. 

It is at this point when prudent people begin crossing the street.

Theoretically, it is at this point when his body is producing its maximum amount of endorphins.

But do you see him giggling and occasionally kicking up his heels in bouts of mind-uplifting ecstasy? As Joan Rivers once remarked: “The first time I see a jogger smile, I’ll take it up.”

But there’s exercise and there is exercise. I have a friend, for example, whose idea of an accelerated heartbeat is a brisk sit.

That seemed, to me at least, an idea whose time had definitely come. But my wife who is obsessed with losing weight thinks that walking “10,000 steps” a day is what the doctor ordered so she goes walking all the time. 

I try to accompany her sometimes but the sight of so many elderly people cheerfully walking about in the early morning depresses the hell out of me. If you don’t think Malaysia has an aging population, try coming to Sri Hartamas in the morning. 

Also, knowing my luck, there will inevitably be dog poop around and my shoes have an unerring habit of finding it.  

So my wife took matters into her own hands and signed me up with a physical trainer. 

He turned out to be a fellow with muscles up to his ears and more tattoos than your average serial killer. 

But he was nice enough and seemed to have real knowledge about muscle groups and how to get fitter through diet, exercise and pithy aphorisms like “Take charge, don’t be large.” 

The thing was, he was very serious about working out with one-hour sessions scheduled three times a week. 

What I know is this: a one-hour workout is something that burns fat, sugar and starch into aches, pains and cramps. And the other thing: if you want to know the correct way to do a particular exercise, the answer invariably is “whatever hurts most.” 

It’s been three months now and I have to admit that I do feel better and sleep a lot better. That’s the good news. 

The bad news is that I haven’t lost a single kilogram.