I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the treatment for some slight ailment. I got down the book and read all I came to read: and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves and began to study diseases, generally. I forgot which was the first, and before I had glanced half down the list of “premonitory symptoms”, I was sure that I had got it.
I sat for a while frozen with horror; and then in despair I again turned over the pages. I came to typhoid fever – read the symptoms – discovered that I had typhoid fever – began to get interested in my case, and so started alphabetically.
Cholera I had, with severe complications; and diphtheria I seemed to have been born with. I looked through the twenty-six letters, and the only disease I had not got was housemaid’s knee.
I sat and thought what an interesting case I must be from a medical point of view. Students would have no need to “walk the hospitals” if they had me. I was a hospital in myself. All they need do would be walk round me, and, after that, take their diploma.
Then I wondered how long I had to live. I tried to examine myself. I felt my pulse. I could not at first feel any pulse at all. Then, all of a sudden, it seemed to start off. I pulled out my watch and timed it. I made it a hundred and forty-seven to the minute. I tried to feel my heart. I could not feel my heart. It had stopped beating. I patted myself all over my front, from what I call my waist up to my head but I could not feel or hear anything. I tried to look at my tongue. I stuck it out as far as ever it would go, and I shut one eye and tried to examine it with the other. I could only see the tip, but I felt more certain than before that I had scarlet fever.
I had walked into the reading-room a happy, healthy man. I crawled out a miserable wreck.
I went to my medical man. He is an old chum of mine, and feels my pulse, and looks at my tongue, and talks about the weather, all for nothing, when I fancy I’m ill. So I went straight up and saw him, and he said: “Well, what’s the matter with you?”
I said; “I will not take up your time, dear boy, with telling you what is the matter with me. Life is short and you might pass away before I had finished. But I will tell you what is not the matter with me. Everything else, however, I have got.”
And I told him how I came to discover it all.
Then he opened me and looked down me, and took hold of my wrist, and then he hit me over the chest when I wasn’t expecting it – a cowardly thing to do, I call it. After that, he sat down and wrote out a prescription, and folded it up and gave it to me, and put it in my pocket and went out.
I did no open it, I took it to the nearest chemist’s, and handed it in. The man read it, and then handed it back. He said he didn’t keep it.
I said: “You are a chemist?”
He said: “I am a chemist. If I was a co-operative stores and family hotel combined, I might be able to oblige you.”
I read the prescription. It ran: “1 pound of beefsteak, with 1 pint bitter beer every six hours; 1 ten-mile walk every morning; 1 bed at 11 sharp every night; and don’t stuff up your head with things you don’t understand.”
I followed the directions with the happy result that my life was preserved and is still going on.
from “Three men in a Boat” by Jerome K. Jerome
Learn one of the texts by heart to act it out in the classroom.