Good Health Can Kill You

As a child I was told that an apple a day would keep the doctor away. Now, low salaries and poor working conditions keep the doctor away. Far away. As in Perth. Or toyi-toying in the parking lot outside casualty.

And it turns out that apples are rotten to the core with dangerous sugars and killer acids. If you had to eat one a day your teeth would fall clean out of your head, you’d lose your job, be ostracised by society and end up getting shanked in Pollsmoor after being forced into racketeering to stay alive. All because of apples.

I was also told that sunshine was good for you. If I started choking on a lump of gruel or cut myself and began bleeding on the carpet, my mother would smack me across the head and say, “Go outside and stand in the sun – that’ll fix you.” But the sun isn’t good for you at all. After giving you a fabulous tan, it leaves you with squamous cell carcinomas that gnaw away at your skin until you wake up one morning and find there’s nothing left to stop your meat from falling out. Even worse, it makes your face go all splotchy and people will start mistaking you for Zakumi, the diseased mascot of the 2010 World Cup.

For almost my entire life I have had to put up with my parents, ex-girlfriends, lawyers, paramedics and magistrates telling me that beer is evil. Pinot Noir, on the other hand, is good. What absolute rubbish.

Wine is only good for cleansing your palate between beers. Recent studies have shown that beer improves cardiovascular function. Don’t ask me how it accomplishes this. God works in mysterious ways. All I know is that thanks to beer, I have a heart that beats louder and faster than a Malian jina djembe and I can run the 800m in under four minutes. Beat that if you can.

I remember growing up and my mother telling me that I couldn’t have chocolates because they were bad for me. Well, it turns out that chocolate was only bad for her because she had to pay for it.

Chocolate doesn’t make your willy fall off, as I was led to believe. It is packed with antioxidants that expand your arteries and quite possibly your mind. But make sure you stick to chocolate with a high cocoa content. If you can only get your hands on the cheap stuff, dip it into a bowl of cocaine first. The effect will be similar, except with cocaine you may develop microscopic holes in your brain.

Everyone knows marijuana is harmful. Or is it? Perhaps we are just saying that because we have come to associate it with police brutality. Well, here’s a shocker. Recent studies on mice suggest that anti-inflammatories found in the drug prevent the clumping of brain proteins, a major cause of Alzheimer’s. After the study the mice kept misplacing their car keys and eating way too much cheese, but that seems a small price to pay.

As an adolescent I had to contend with a mother who would don protective gear to clean my room. “But mummy,” I would cry as my emergency food reserves were shoveled into a lead-lined bag, “maggots are good!” It was too terrible for words. The maggots – the only real friends I had as a child – would be taken around the back of the house where unspeakable things were done to them.

It has since been proven that maggots, unlike many mothers, can cure all sorts of things. Placed on an open wound, maggots will happily munch away on bacteria and dead tissue, stimulating healing and preventing infection. Some work colleagues may find this less of a conversation piece than you might think, but this is nothing more than jealousy on their part. If they complain too much, give them an open wound of their own and offer to share your maggots.

I was also taught from a young age that anger is a negative emotion. Every time I threw a tantrum, my mother took me gently by the hand and led me to the bathroom where she would whip my quivering buttocks with a bamboo rod, coat hanger, hair brush and, once those had snapped, she would start in with her teeth, nails and feet.

I quickly learnt to bottle up my anger. When I turned 21, I went out and killed the local rugby team. Looking back, it might have been better for my blood pressure had I let my anger out in smaller bursts.

One of the most enduring myths, usually propagated by slack-jawed mouthbreathers who believe the Earth is only 6000 years old, is that pre-marital sex is wrong. Even though post-marital sex is an even bigger myth, the fact remains that nothing else you do has the ability to reduce stress, lower cholesterol and improve circulation while simultaneously exposing you to ridicule, legal proceedings and life-threatening diseases.

My point, if there even is one, is that nobody knows anything. What seems like a good idea today – like taking Viagra or owning an iPhone or a Vietnamese potbellied pig – could end up decimating half the world’s population I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. I’m simply saying … actually, I don’t know what I am saying. Forget I ever mentioned it.

Anyone For Chemo And A Nice Cup Of Tea?

I lost my mother a few days ago. Not in the way that you might lose your car keys. Keys can be replaced. Mother’s hardly ever.

It all started several months ago when she developed a cough. Our family doctor, who must be 104 years old, gave her cough mixture. Later, when she complained of chest pains, he gave her a modern miracle drug he’d just come across. Panado, I think it was. Then she started coughing up blood. “How much?” he demanded to know. “A cup full? A bucket?”

A few weeks later, my father suggested she saw someone other than a geriatric GP who spent most of the time complaining about his own ailments.

Her consultations went something like this: “Please sit down. How are you? I’ve got this terrible pain in my knee that just won’t … would you mind not spitting blood onto my carpet? Thank you. As I was saying …”

So she went off to see a man who took some X-rays, told her she had six months to live and suggested an around-the-world cruise rather than chemotherapy. Not being married to Richard Branson, my mother went to another specialist who scoffed at the first specialist, saying: “What does he know? He’s a cutter.” What? You mean this is his part-time job and he actually works for the municipality trimming verges along the M4?

Not quite. He’s a surgeon. For some reason, doctors who aren’t surgeons look down on those who are. Jealousy, I suppose. After all, what red-blooded South African man doesn’t long for a sharp knife and a couple of hours alone with an unconscious woman?

Oncologists look down on everyone because they are fabulously wealthy and also because they get to play with lots and lots of human guinea pigs who eventually stop bothering them because they are too weak to pick up the phone and make another appointment.

House calls? Please. I have no idea what you’re talking about. James? Bring the Jag around to the front and get these weeping peasants out of my office. They’re upsetting the angelfish.

Thanks to the tobacco industry, red meat and deadline stress, oncologists are able to afford offices the size of Khulubuse Zuma’s breakfast nook. Which, in case you didn’t know, is the size of a tennis court.

Oncologists would rather their patients didn’t take a cruise around the world. At least not before signing up for one of their once-in-a-lifetime chemo courses at just R40-thousand a day. Free tea and biscuits included! If lines are busy, call later! But do call!

By the time my mother’s hair fell out, the medical aid was squealing like a stuck pig and the tumour in her lung had shrunk to the size of a grape. I don’t know how big it was to start with. If you ask the family doctor, he’d probably say: “Oh, I don’t know, the size of a hippo? Did I tell you about my leg?”

Then the oncologist, giving us the full benefit of his dazzling smile (no extra cost), suggested she went for radiation. The tumour loved the radiation. It got big and fat off it. Radiation causes cancer, so let’s give cancer patients radiation. I’m missing something, here. An enormous salary and perfect teeth, for a start.

Her tumour was inoperable because she also had emphysema. And why shouldn’t she? After all, she came from an era when they made cigarettes that were good for you. Better than fruit. Yum yum. Got a light?

I had already uprooted the family – if you can call Brenda and two dogs a family – and moved from Cape Town to Durban so I could help out and spend time with my mother. I bought her a wheelchair when she began struggling to walk and forged a disabled sign so we could get the best parking, even when she wasn’t in the car.

Not being a fan of country music, Brenda had apparently never listened to the song, Stand By Your Man. After a while, she packed the dogs and disappeared two weeks before the grand finale.

I suspect all cancer patients ultimately face their fate with extraordinary courage and fortitude. But not all face it with the same degree of acceptance. Some go quietly. Others, like my mother, rage, rage against the dying of the light. Even after she slipped into incoherence, she was still shouting at us. I shouted back, trying to get her to take her medication. Then my sister would shout at me and my father would shout at her. It was like my childhood. Lots of shouting and nobody making any sense at all. The only difference being that I was too big for anyone to hit me.

A hospice nurse dropped off a bottle of morphine. I insisted on trying it in case it was poisoned but my father slipped the bottle into his pocket and gave me the lazy eye.

My mother died in her bed, but I wasn’t there. I was down the road at a strip club playing pool with three lesbians from a local biker gang. Maybe I was, maybe I wasn’t. It doesn’t really matter. When I left the house two hours earlier, she was already in a coma. I said my goodbyes while she was still breathing.

The crematorium was fun. To get there, we had to negotiate a part of the city that makes Cormac McCarthy’s The Road look like Disneyland. Hesitantly, we walked into what they call a chapel. Not a sound. No one around. Just rows of cheap blue office chairs facing a low stage. A curtain twitched and a coffin glided into the room.

A monochrome man appeared from nowhere. “Is that one ours?” asked my father, perhaps expecting more coffins to start appearing and a sudden rush of people claiming them as if it were the baggage carousel at OR Tambo International Airport after a suicide bombing in Kabul.

The ghoul nodded, unscrewed the coffin lid and went to stand a few metres away, watching us in case we stole something.

My father recited a Hindu prayer because he doesn’t know any Christian ones. Then I kissed my mother on her ice-cold forehead and walked out into the sunshine.

Hamba kahle, Ma.