“You have chronic lymphocytic leukaemia,” said the summary
Being sent the wrong health results makes you think about how random and pitiless the universe is, says Boris Johnson.
One of the peculiarities of being Mayor of London is that there is no provision for an automatic succession. If the mayor dies in office – whether he has a cardiac infarct, falls beneath the wheels of one of his own buses or he is cornered in a dark alley and beaten to death by hooded teenage girls with rolled up copies of Jackie magazine – then there is no way he can be smoothly replaced by a deputy mayor.
The rules say there must be a by-election, and a by-election is immensely laborious. Polling stations must be booked. Millions of leaflets and ballot papers must be printed. Officials must be recruited to ensure fair play, with UN observers probably flown in from Zimbabwe and Afghanistan. The whole shebang costs about £20 million. Since the Greater London Authority has better things to do with £20 million than keep it in a sock drawer in case the mayor carks it, we have a system of insurance. And because they are being asked to insure the mayor’s life for this vast sum – about as much, I shouldn’t wonder, as the foot or hand of Thierry Henry – the insurers insist that the mayor must pass an annual medical test.
Boris explains that “ever since the office was invented, the insurers have insisted that the mayor goes along to a famous private healthcare company that it is superfluous to name.
For the past two years I have obediently toddled off to a swish clinic. Actually, I rather enjoy the experience, and this year my feeling from the female doctors and nurses was that I was doing better than I had thought possible. My hearing was pin-drop sharp (or so they seemed to suggest); and though I am sometimes convinced that I am going blind from staring at a BlackBerry, they gave me the distinct impression that I still had the eyes of a lynx.
In fact, the general ego-boost was what I imagine it must be like to be in a South-East Asian massage parlour and receive a series of extravagant compliments on one’s physique. So when I got back to the office, and recounted events to my executive assistant, Batley-born Ann Sindall, there may have been something boastful in my tone.
A few weeks later the written results arrived at my home address and, though they were marked “strictly private and confidential”, my first instinct was to hand them over without even having a look. “Just bung them through to the insurers,” I told Ann, and barely had she taken hold of the envelope when I yanked it back. I had a thought. What if my impressions of the test had been false?
Ann and I know each other well -15 years – but I can imagine that she might have broken into a good-natured chuckle on being the first to read such news. I wanted to be spared that chuckle.
I opened the envelope myself, and quickly scanned the report, starting at the back and hunching away from her so that she couldn’t see. My thyroid was dandy and so was my renal function. There were no abnormalities in my urine sample. Terrific. They thought I could do with more exercise, with two strenuous sessions each week, and that seemed fair enough. But hang on a mo – what was this?
It seemed my urea level was significantly raised, and, good Lord, I had the lungs of a 68-year-old and a one in six chance of contracting diabetes within the next 10 years! Feverishly I riffled to the front, to the page marked “Medical Summary”: “You have chronic lymphocytic leukaemia,” said the summary. Leukaemia, I thought, and my mind spooled as fast as it has ever done. Right, I thought. Leukaemia. How bad is that these days? And then my eyes skittered on in despair, about various drugs I was taking, and the opinions of distinguished consultants – and in that instant the penny dropped, and I was as certain as certain could be that these results could not possibly be mine. “Are you sure?” said Ann. “Yes, I am sure,” I said, slightly testily. “I don’t have leukaemia.”
Within a few hours we had solved the mystery, and my real results were couriered round. Someone had blundered. After all, I had lost nothing. The results confirmed my rude good health, with colossal lung capacity and less chance of contracting coronary heart disease, apparently, than someone half my age.
In fact, I had gained something – an insight into what it must be like to be that person, and to receive some bad news from the doctors. It made me think how random and pitiless the universe is.
I was talking to a child about God and the problem of pain, and why so many good and wonderful people have awful physical afflictions, when so many bad people have none. The best answer I could come up with was that pain is essential in the world, because without pain there would be no pleasure, without bad things no good things, without dark no light and so on. But how these things are distributed is a mystery. Why does the angel of death fly over some houses but not others? There is no rhyme or reason. There is no system of just deserts. It is all as inexplicable as a piece of mail intended for someone else.”
For a longer version read The Daily Telegraph