We finally got our Medicare cards, so I went to see my doctor yesterday. He’s not really my doctor, of course. He works for the University of Melbourne health service, sees a lot of patients, a cross section of students, professors and dependents. I told him I was giving him an opportunity to brush up on his geriatric skills. He gave me an odd look and informed me I hadn’t quite entered that category, as far as he was concerned. After all, I had come to him to get permission to join a gym.

To use the facilities at the Windy Hill Fitness Centre you must first obtain a medical clearance if you are over the age of 45. It is age discrimination, but I can understand their concern. I did have my one and only heart attack in a gym. After reassuring himself that I was straining my heart more on my bike than I would inside the walls of the gym, my doctor produced the required piece of paper.

And then we talked. That is the extraordinary thing about Australian physicians. They seem to have time for patients. I wanted to know about the prostate gland. About tests and potential problems, about biopsies and drugs and tests etc. And he explained things, admitting that the state of the knowledge was not very good and that the approaches in the US differ from those in Australia and Great Britain. That the design of the prostate gland itself was not very good. Now, that is an odd notion.

We are not meant to live this long, he said. It is perfectly fine for creatures who live just long enough to reproduce, but we have moved well beyond that. The average Australian male lives to be seventy-six or seventy-seven. Hold on, said I. Is that all? When you are sixty-two years old it isn’t hard to do the calculation.

I had raised the ticklish issue of mortality. I asked him at one point if he had a second major in philosophy. He chuckled. Medicine is an intellectual discipline, he said. Glancing at me as if he expected me to challenge his assertion. At least it has been, historically. Money may be changing that. I reflected on that. May be? I wonder what Michael Moore would have to say about that.

Besides bringing on a sudden confrontation with mortality, the visit reminded me of a bizarre story we heard in France. A Canadian colleague of my wife (who was teaching in Paris) had been offered an opportunity to teach a course of comparative law in California. Immigration required him to produce his academic qualifications at the port of entry, which was Montreal.Arc de Triomphe

“You’ve got a PhD,” said the American immigration officer. “Yes,” said our friend. “Two, actually.” “What?” “I have two PhD’s.” “That stands for Doctor of Philosophy, doesn’t it?” “Yes,” said our friend, humoring the immigration officer. It is always a good idea to humor immigration officers.

“So, what gives you the right to teach law?” My wife’s colleague stared at the American, somewhat dumbfounded. “I have a doctorate in law,” he said. “Doesn’t say so here,” said Mr. Immigration. ” Says you have a doctor of philosophy.”

Fortunately, our friend was able to have someone at McGill University fax a letter to the immigration officer stating that he did, actually, have the credentials to teach law. They faxed his BA to the immigration office.  It was enough to indicate that he had studied law.   True story, so help me.

Now, if only my doctor would take that back, about the life span, I mean.