The magazine mystery of modern medicine

Shower curtains grow mould; gardens grow weeds; doctors’ surgeries grow magazines.

It’s a natural phenomenon, like fungi popping up overnight in woodland. They build the surgery, they roof it, plaster the walls, lay the carpet and install the telephone network – and all the time, in a corner of what will one day be the waiting room, a small and flimsy magazine rack, or in some cases a coffee table, is manifesting itself, much like fungi, from proteins in the air.

It’s the only explanation. If people actually bought them and placed them in there on purpose, they’d be different. There’d be a magazine about wood carving, for example; but there never is because the magazines in doctors’ surgeries have nothing to do with what the doctors themselves actually read at their breakfast table.

If they did then we could deduce that the entire medical world was interested only in motorcycles, cars, caravans and fishing (possible for the blokes); or the fashion and fads of people laughingly known as stars, but who are, in fact, the hangers-on of the stars (for the women, presumably).

The only exception to this is the Reader’s Digest, which can be read by either sex, so long as they don’t mind reading stuff that’s two years out of date.

That’s the other thing. If these magazines didn’t appear by witchcraft, then surely some of them would be last week’s, or even last month’s. But none of these magazines is ever less than two years old, which means – if they actually do come from doctors’ homes – that there is some kind of caveat written into the Hippocratic Oath that says you can’t add your old magazines to the waiting room pile until they’re… well, old.

The only possibility is that they represent a thriving commercial enterprise. Maybe doctors telephone a medical warehouse somewhere and ask for a gross of syringes, 2000 painkillers, 20 prescription pads, a bedpan and, oh yes, a job lot of those waiting-room magazines.

This makes sense, if you think about it, because someone must go through every one and carefully tear out the crosswords, or make half-hearted and inaccurate attempts at the sudoku.

I’m not interested in motorbikes, cars or caravans, so I always turn straight to the sudoku or the crossword, and someone has always – always – beaten me to it. Surely in the real world I’d find one now and then that no one had touched!

And yet I never see anyone in the doctor’s waiting room chewing the end of a pencil and staring at the wall as they try to think of a six-letter word meaning hypochondria that has E-something-T-something-something-something. Suspicious.

Which makes me wonder why they’re there at all. I mean, does anyone actually read them? And if they do, is it a fulfilling experience? Last week I read an article about Alan Ladd, and he’s been dead for 40 years! I’m sure a little social research would establish that these magazines are actually unhealthy, leaving us feeling oddly dissatisfied and out-of-sorts.

Doctors should listen to this. They may find there were fewer return visits from customers if they could get up-to-the-minute information in the waiting room on the first go.

When they call my name I’m going in there and I’m saying: “I may have a melanoma, and I’m not sleeping at nights. Oh, and can you give me something for a sore shoulder… and please tell me: did Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise ever split up, or are they still together? I can’t stand the suspense.”