It was just a routine blood test, so I was told. A smiling nurse rammed a needle into my arm, then packed off three vials of the red stuff to the local hospital for analysis. Lots and lots and lots of tests, from thyroid to glucose via potassium, were all whisked through the lab in record quick time. The next communication stage, however, took rather longer. Eventually I received my second class letter (four days to travel quarter of a mile, but that's E3 mail for you) inviting me along to the surgery to "discuss the results". Hmmm. And so I wandered along to meet my doctor on Monday, wondering what might not be quite so routine after all.
And everything was fine, absolutely fine, bar one small cluster of results which had tripped the computer's automatic trigger. Cholesterol - HI. Damn. My 5.5mmol/l may have been precisely the same as that of the average British male, but medical science considers anything above 5.0 to be too high. Damn. And especially for me, in conjunction with recent occasional outpatients visits, 5.5 is definitely above acceptable tolerance levels. Damn. "But look," I said, "at least one of my cholesterol tests came out really low." Alas, that was my 'good cholesterol' (which turns out be a real concept, and not a devious marketing strategy thought up by fish salesmen). So, all in all, not great.
My doctor looked at me with that kindly expression which means "I've just had to tell you something that'll change your life, and tonight I'm going home to burger and chips". And then he reached over to the top drawer of his filing cabinet and pulled out a photocopied sheet with a grid of foodstuffs on it. I recognised it immediately. My mum was given something remarkably similar 30 years ago. I remember she brought it home, stuck it up in the kitchen and then never quite ate the same food as the rest of the family forever afterwards. I then wished I hadn't remembered that.
I was disappointed to notice that the sheet I'd been given was sponsored by Flora margarine. "Ah, yes, sorry", said my doctor, "do try to ignore that." It turned out that he'd been good and photocopied the sheet so that the grid didn't have a giant advert for tubs of polyunsaturates on the reverse. But it still struck me as pretty poor that this crucial turning point in my life was being exploited by greedy Unilever marketeers. Can the NHS not afford its own unbiased information booklet on a condition which must affect millions of patients in this country? Seemingly not. Well yah booh sucks to you Mr Flora and your poxy margarine, because I never spread anything yellow and fatty on my bread anyway.
My doctor and I had a long and intelligent conversation about the causes and implications of my diagnosis, which was reassuring. We specifically discussed chocolate (not surprisingly, not recommended). I agreed that I'd have a go at adjusting (nay, transforming) my diet in an attempt to get my cholesterol down to well-below average levels. And he asked me to come back and have another blood test in a couple of months to see whether my restraint has had any effect. If not, mine might be another life thrown to the mercy of the 'miracle' statintablets. We shall see. In the meantime, I appear to have 18 leftover Creme Eggs sitting in my kitchen, all suddenly past their eat-by date. Anybody want to swap them for eight weeks' supply of oily fish?