The body beautiful

The amazing pictures of Helen Mirren yesterday have got me thinking about bodies. I see a lot of bodies, and I’d venture to say that in my line of work you see a larger variety than most. Fat and thin, young and old, male and female, deformed and disfigured. And it occurred to me that I’ve only ever seen one body that made me think “gosh that’s perfect”. The girl in question was nineteen, beautiful and in astonishingly good shape. She was a pole dancer at a club in London and, I suppose, rather depended on having the kind of body that makes men and women think “wow”.

Bodies are what it’s all about in GP-land. Whether it’s a fairly healthy body looking for some routine maintenance, an injured or diseased body in need of a diagnosis, a neglected body that could do with a complete overhaul, a newborn body being checked for imperfections, a physically healthy body with an unhealthy mind, an ageing body with organs slowly shuddering to a halt – most of us at some point present our bodies to our GPs for a bit of attention. Often with embarrassment, as we show our most intimate areas to a relative stranger. Sometimes with fear or curiosity or disgust or complacency.

Sometimes my patients’ bodies tell a story without them saying a word. The forearm scars of self arm, the absent breast,  the bitten nails, the colostomy bag, the nicotine stained fingers, the stretch marks, the folds of obese flesh, the gnarled fingers of arthritis, and in one memorable case the tattooed numbers of an Auschwitz survivor. Then the more subtle signs, the ones you learn in medical school, that esoteric knowledge that makes you wonder whether to tell the stranger in the bus queue that the diagonal crease on his earlobe means he’s at increased risk of heart disease.

Other bodies disguise what’s going on. The face that puts on a good show when its owner visits the doctor, only to crumple into tears when the right question comes. The pumped up tattoo covered body of the man whose lungs are concealing a slowly growing tumour which will kill him within the year (but I don’t know that yet). The slim young woman whose outwardly enviable figure is actually the result of years of bulimia.

And of course there’s the joy of the child’s perfect body. I did a new baby check today and holding the tiny little creature who wouldn’t have existed but for the miracle of fertility treatment, I wondered (as one should always wonder I think when presented with a newborn) at how amazing our bodies are. Those tiny fingers, the wise dark eyes, the unblemished skin – who knows what sort of story that body will tell a doctor one day. I hope it’s a nice one.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “The body beautiful

  1. A very thoughtful post.

  2. Kaz

    I am loving your thoughtful reflections. Particularly like the list of signs that tell a story. I am now going to bed but will be sure to check my earlobes in the mirror first. Look forward to the next entry.

  3. Just wanted to let you know that I found your blog today and added it to my Bloglines feed. I love the way you write, and look forward to future posts!

  4. Babies bodies are almost too much to bear.. it is the thought of this perfect little thing and then all the pains and damage life will inevitably deal to it and self-inflicted horrors too…and you don`t want it to grow any bigger or older, not the tiniest bit.

  5. Just found your blog via a link from jobbingdoctor. I like the look of it and shall be back!

  6. Leila

    Sort of related comment here – I held a day old chick in one hand today and an egg in the other (to show some children) it struck me how much lighter and more fragile the chick was than the egg. Isn’t it amazing how creatures (including people) can exist at all!

  7. Steve Gillen

    Wonder how many of us rushed straight to a mirror to examine our earlobes? (I certainly did) – More info on this please

    Splendid start to your blog – i will follow your writings with interest

    Steve

  8. The thing that really gets me about babies is how tiny teeny tiny their fingernails and toenails are, so perfect and beautiful and small! When my girls (now grown up and left home) were newborn it was the thing that almost seemed most wondrous to me.

    I have those creases on my lobes. I had heard of that before. Guess I’m high risk for heart attack, especially given the last few stressful years with my aged and demented parents (now deceased). Mum had heart probs, so genetic link maybe too. To be honest I was quite surprised to hear a GP writing about those ear lobe creases!

    Best wishes from rather chilly (certainly for July!) Liverpool

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