It was the first Liverpool FC shirt I have seen in Kakumbi rural health centre. The man wearing it handed over the school exercise book containing his medical records.
“So,” I began, “Are you a true Liverpool fan, or do you just like wearing red shirts?”
“Both,” he replied.
“Ah, but would you ever wear a Manchester United red shirt?” I asked.
“Never.” A serious Scouse supporter, then.
Looking through his records, it seemed he was a frequent attender, usually complaining of ill-defined symptoms, headache, chest pain, side pain, tummy ache, weakness, nausea, poor appetite. Nurses had checked him for malaria several times recently, but the tests had always been negative.
I asked him how I could help. He replied with the same list of symptoms. “But you had these problems earlier this month and we could find nothing wrong,” I told him.
“I never get the correct medicine,” he said. He moaned about not being taken seriously by the nurses. I checked his temperature, which was normal, and did a quick examination which revealed no signs of any illness. I was just about to write down “somatisation disorder” when he whined at me again, “At least see if I have malaria.”
He had a point. I requested the test and he turned around to leave the consultation room. The back of his shirt had “Bellamy” written across the shoulders. “He’s got previous,” the referee in me thought. “Like player, like patient.”
Maybe when buying a football shirt, people choose the player whose character matches their own. If I were him, I would have gone for Stevie G, of course (brilliant, hard working, extremely skilled, mature, top of his game – need I go on?). Can you see the connection? But there again, the only shirts left in the pile might have been Bellamys.
He was the last patient this morning, so I did a bit more daydreaming while waiting for the result of his malaria test. Six weeks ago, I learned from rugby fan that players have biosensor-chips sewn into the back of their jerseys which relay important physical information to their coach. From this information, the coach can see if the players’ performance is deteriorating so they can be substituted.
I don’t think soccer players have this facility in their shirts yet, but perhaps in ten years time, health workers with computers will be able to pick up diagnostic biological data from the second hand football shirt worn by the patient sitting in front of them. “No, it will never happen,” I thought. “Those sensors will never survive African laundry techniques.”
There was a knock on the door which shocked me out of fantasising about football shirts. He was back with the result and it was negative. I sent him away with a prescription for a homeopathic amount of paracetamol (we always run out of this drug, so patients just get nine tablets, one three times daily).
Almost everyone supports one of the big four – Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United, in order of popularity. Young men are taking more interest in Manchester City because they have won the Premiership twice in a row, and they have some prominent African players, such as Yaya Touray. Their merchandise has not yet hit the second hand clothing markets in Zambia, so it is more difficult to display your allegiance.
There are “sports bars” in Cropping village which screen the latest soccer matches from Europe. Here at the lodge, there isn’t a television so the staff keep up with the results on the internet. To my dismay, their website of choice is the Daily Mail On Line.
The sister in charge of our clinic is a keen soccer fan and probably has satellite TV at home. She has a favourite team in every European league. She was devastated when her German team, Bayern Munich, were trounced at home by Real Madrid in the Champions League play offs.
She was philosophical when she told me about it the following morning. “Well, when the second goal went in, I wasn’t having any more of this. I went to bed. I am overweight, have hypertension and I’m likely to die soon of a stroke or a heart attack. I don’t want to waste what’s left of my life watching Bayern concede another soft goal.”
And when championship contenders Liverpool threw away a three goal lead against Palace in the last few minutes of the match, she was totally deflated. “What’s the world coming to? How could they throw away their title chance so carelessly?” she asked. “Well, that’s football, Grace,” I replied. “It isn’t over until the fat lady sings.” Luckily, she didn’t seem to pick up on that comment, so I didn’t have to apologise and explain.