Rude health: Maurice Gueret remembers Albert Uderzo

By | April 12, 2020

The death of a favourite French cartoonist during the coronavirus crisis rekindles some memories for Maurice Gueret as he looks at variations of cabin fever.

Asterix and Obelix

I have a nice book token to use since a recent birthday, but it could be some time before its redemption. Top of my wanted list is a copy of Asterix the Gaul, which spawned a series of wonderful cartoon books from the 1960s on. Our old family home had well-thumbed hardbacks of Asterix, but alas, none survive. Albert Uderzo, pictured, the French cartoonist who drew wily Asterix and his rotund friend Obelix, passed away last month. He was a sprightly 92. The story of Asterix began as a tale of a small Gallic settlement that used native cunning and magical powers to repeatedly outwit the mighty Roman empire. As Asterix and his pals spread wings in later books, it became a hilarious social commentary on the wacky races of Europe. Britons were a nation of garden-obsessed oddballs where most foods were made palatable by the addition of mint sauce. Swiss folk (Helvetians) ate little else but cheese fondue and obsessed about money, cleaning and time-keeping. Grumpy Greeks would welcome tourists with open arms and would always canvass for family members when a job was going. I don’t believe Asterix ever visited Ireland, but he was under the impression that native Hibernians, like their Scottish Caledonian cousins, would always stand by quaint Britons in a crisis.

Polyfingers

Uderzo grew up in northern France, the son of Italian migrants. He was born with two separate genetic conditions, only one of which was apparent at birth. Like cricketer Sir Gary Sobers, Uderzo was born with polydactyly, which gave him six fingers on each hand. He had an operation in childhood to remove the spare fingers. The West Indian cricketer wasn’t so lucky. He did a DIY job on himself with a sharp knife and catgut. The other condition which affected Uderzo came to light when he used red pens to colour grass on his early artwork. He had red-green colour blindness.

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Partner hospitals

The Government’s move to unite Ireland’s health services in the face of the coronavirus pandemic is welcome – 2,000 extra beds in a crisis is wonderful. Distinctions between public and private hospitals are subtle. Ireland has three types of general hospitals – HSE ones (the vast majority outside Dublin); voluntary ones (most of Dublin’s hospitals); and private hospitals, of which there are about 20. Private hospitals have long been doing public work, while HSE and voluntaries happily admit private patients for extra income. As for doctors, there are many who work in both. There are those in public hospitals who wouldn’t be seen dead in a private hospital. And others who work in private hospitals who wouldn’t dream of taking a position in a public one. In reality, Ireland is too small a country not to have all hospitals pulling in the same direction. I’ll keep saying it until the record is taken off the deck: Irish people deserve universal healthcare. This pandemic may be a perfectly good place to start.

Paunch and Piles

I have been writing about haemorrhoids recently, and a reader called Patrick has been in touch with an old English quotation suggesting that piles could be desirable in certain circumstances. “A successful doctor needs three things, a top hat to give him authority, a paunch to give him dignity and haemorrhoids to give him a concerned expression.” Patrick came across these wise words in a book by Ireland’s favourite humourist, Professor Des MacHale. Patrick wonders if any of these apply to modern-day health professionals like myself. Ahem!

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Cabin fever

With so many people cooped up inside, the phrase ‘cabin fever’ has been used a lot of late. It’s not a medical diagnosis, just a certain touchiness or agitation that can develop in claustrophobic conditions. Prisoners can be described as stir-crazy during their incarceration, ‘stir’ being a slang word once used for London’s Newgate prison. ‘Arctic hysteria’ has been used to describe Inuit people in Greenland who may act out of character during winter confinement and then forget that they have done anything wrong. Early settlers in the great expanse of North America were often said to have ‘prairie madness’. Fresh air and light are vital for us all. Continentals get it on balconies. If you have the refuge of a garden, front or back, use it. If it’s not too windy, take a 1,000-piece jigsaw outside with you.

Dr Maurice Gueret  is editor of the  ‘Irish Medical Directory’

drmauricegueret.com

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