After five long years waiting for my Blencathra hips to show some sign of improvement, having tried every form of stretching or releasing known to man, I decided to take advantage of the National Health Service and put myself in the hands of their experts. What I needed to know was simple – was I correct in thinking that a muscle, or group of muscles, had shortened to the point where previously easy, painless movements had become difficult; if so, which muscle, or group of muscles, was it; and what could I do to undo that tightness.
Wanting to see a physiotherapist meant I had to see a doctor first. She asked me to take my trousers off. This was a reasonable request, which I had anticipated by wearing a pair of close fitting pouch underpants. Rightly, I had assumed a doctor would want to move my legs about in my hip joints, and I had deduced this would take place on a couch. Whatever may be said for my collection of cotton boxer shorts, convincing genital containment is not their strong point. My pouch briefs, on the other hand, while not the height of fashion, could have been made for such an occasion.
The doctor, although I had never met her before, had presumably witnessed many underpant styles in her time, and didn’t seem perturbed that an otherwise suave gentlemen in stylish Rohan bags, Lakeland loafers and fleece jerkin should choose to wear dryland speedos. I felt I ought to explain my sartorial lapse, but couldn’t find the words. She moved my legs about, pronounced my hips ‘tight’, but went on to say that “all blokes have tight hips”, so I shouldn’t feel too bad. She implied there was nothing much I could do about it.
Visiting the physiotherapist, I wore much the same outfit, including the trusty pouch underpants. In the waiting room, a young girl came up to me with a clipboard. I assumed I was going to be asked whether I was satisfied with the service – did I think the hospital was clean; was I being treated well – but, no, this was my ‘expert’, in person. She can’t have been more than twenty, and I was just getting over my surprise, having anticipated a matron with jowls, or a crusty bloke with even tighter hips than mine, when she asked if I would mind a trainee sitting in on our appointment. Naturally, I was horrified at this suggestion, especially as the trainee was two steps behind, looking barely out of her early teens. Was I imagining it or were they suppressing giggles?
I was ushered into a small cubicle and the two girls crowded in after me. A brief discussion ensued. While I answered their questions and they wrote notes on their clipboards, all I could think of was whether I would have to undress, and what they would think of my underpants. Why, I asked myself, had I chosen the bright blue pair? On the other hand, black was little better, bordering on the sleazy. It was the way the pouch had been stitched that set the tone, along with the elasticity of the garment. It was so firmly contoured, it was almost like wearing a codpiece. Ordinary boxer shorts acted as a tent that hid its contents from view. Pouch underpants were hardly less revealing than a jockstrap. In fact, I might as well have been wearing a thong.
The cubicle was the size of a department store changing room. The two girls peered at me intently. I felt sweat glistening on my brow, and dribbling from my armpit. I knew I wasn’t imagining the faint aroma of old goat. I waited for the command to take my trousers off. Why had I worn red socks? What did red socks and blue pouch underpants say about me? Luckily, I could keep my sombre fleece on, so nobody need see my green shirt. Suddenly, I found myself wondering if they might do what I had not considered before, and ask me to strip completely, so as to get a really good view of my hips and groin. I realised I had emphasised the problem area was essentially at the inner border of the genital pouch.
I slid my trousers off when asked and stood and waited. When told – this wasn’t suggested; it was a decree – to also remove my fleece, I found to my dismay it had become statically inseparable from my shirt. Both came off together and I struggled for a while to peel them apart to get the shirt back on without losing what little composure I still had. Then I was asked to touch my toes – in other words, stick my bum in the air towards one or other of them. I was sure I could hear tittering, masked by their scratching pencils. I then had to bend forwards, backwards, sideways, and finally stand on one foot and then on tiptoe. By this time, I was dripping with sweat. Imagine my predicament: perspiring freely, standing on the toes of one red stockinged foot, wavering unsteadily in green shirt with flapping arms, blue pouch underpants revealed in all their glory, while being scrutinised by juvenile ‘experts’. How could I not feel a prat?
As the doctor had done, they fiddled about with my legs, and the way they articulated at the hip joint, and then pronounced their verdict. I had a tight lower back, and possible arthritis of the hips. My salvation, they would explain at a subsequent visit, after more detailed examination.
The question uppermost in my mind, as I rapidly dressed, was whether I should return for a second examination. I wanted to give the girls the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they had a scheme in mind. If I did go, though, what on earth should I wear? Exactly the same? Boxers instead of pouch? A thong, for a joke? No underpants at all? Shorts? Certainly, a sombre shirt, and dark socks. Maybe long johns.
I could imagine the scene in their staff tea room, assuming they had one. The physiotherapist girl glances up from her copy of Hello magazine and says “who’s next?” Her ‘trainee” looks at her clipboard and intones my name. They look at each other quizzically. “Remind me”, says one. The other titters the word “pouch”, and they both convulse in laughter.
I did go for a second visit. Happily, the trainee was not present. I was not asked to undress again. Instead, I was told nothing could be done for me. What I was suffering from was severe wear and tear. Gravely, we peered at an X-ray of my hips. With much sucking in of air, my ‘expert’ explained the joints were essentially shot. I asked about exercises. Well, I could do them, I was told; but to what avail? Pressing the matter, I inquired which particular exercises might best target the muscles that were holding my hips so tightly bound. My expert didn’t have the answer to this. She said I could do any exercise I liked; they would probably do me no harm; but there was no cure for arthritis. Her final suggestion was a referral to the more advanced muscular skeletal unit.
That evening, I was surprised to receive a call from a doctor who wanted to discuss my X-ray. He introduced himself, calling me Mr Hardy. I explained who I was, and he said, yes, of course. As we spoke, I could hear the sound of his keyboard working furiously. This, I thought, must be a new initiative. Engage with a series of patients by phone, utilising half a brain, while catching up on administration in the office – or even from home!
Sadly, he could offer me no hope. My X-rays were amongst the worst he had seen. He could scarcely believe I could have deteriorated so badly at my age. All he could suggest were stronger painkillers or a hip replacement. I tried to interrupt but this form of consultation evidently required little input from me. I did, however, eventually manage to explain that not only did I have minimal pain, and therefore no use for conventional pain killers, I was very happy with my existing hips. All I wanted was to know what muscles were unusually tight, and how best to loosen them. He mumbled something about physiotherapy having a very good success rate with arthritic hips, and then more or less cut me off. His last words, as he furiously pounded his keyboard in the background, were how much he had “enjoyed talking to you, Mr Hardy”.