Hearts & Minds …& Teeth

You’ve got to make the most of what you’ve got. I have a wayward brain, an unruly heart and an entirely absent inferior vena cava, and all have come in useful this week.

On Wednesday, I spoke to a roomful of researchers from Bart’s NHS Trust on the subject of ‘innovation’. What do I have to say on that subject? Very little, I thought, until Isaac Asimov rescued me with this quote:

The most exciting phrase in science, the one that heralds the most new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny…’

Funny, reader, is what I do, and comedy is an industry like any other (except we call our customers ‘audience’, our IP ‘jokes’ and our R&D ‘sitting around slagging off bad gigs in the hope that some chink of humour will shine through and give us an idea for a routine.’) I covered some of the big innovations in science and technology, why Michael McIntyre is (perhaps counter-intuitively) a game-changing innovative comedian, and my top three rules on how to innovate. The PhDs appreciated the break from hard science that I was able to give them, and over wine and nibbles afterwards I ended up talking to a pathologist called Jo who told me a story about being on a train when the announcement was made, ‘Is there a doctor on board?’ ‘They asked me what was wrong with the patient,’ said Jo, ‘and I thought, From my perspective? She’s warm and moving about.‘ This might seem a little unkind, but the attraction of pathology is that it takes the first line of the Hippocratic Oath – ‘first do no harm’ – very seriously indeed.

‘You’re a comedian,’ someone said, ‘so tell us a joke.’ I didn’t mind: doctors and comedians both get a tough time at parties, so in exchange for a gag, I brought up my curious physiology, relating to my left atrial isomerism (Google is your friend). We talked about my missing inferior vena cava (‘Embryology,’ announced Jo, enigmatically) and that I was due to have my wisdom teeth out at Guy’s in the coming weeks. Conversation turned to mortality figures. Reader, I took my leave.

A week later, I was entering Guy’s hospital, ‘the tallest in the world!’ according to the hoarding, in lieu of death statistics, and having my mouth poked about by students in readiness for the consultant. It’s difficult to lie there with two attractive bright young people and not think Why are clever, pretty people like you working so hard to qualify for such an unpleasant job? but I suppose most dentists my age drive a nicer car. They questioned the Citalopram I’m taking: a low dose to take the edge off the bad moods and anxiety I always get at this time of year and am thoroughly fed up with. I know one dicks about with neurotransmitters at one’s own peril, but I don’t drink when I’m on meds, so even if I don’t cheer up, I might lose a few pounds in time for my birthday.

Enter the consultant who asked the killer question: if the patient doesn’t have an inferior vena cava, how does the blood get back from the legs and abdomen to the heart? The long silence and frantic looks that followed, known to students and teachers through the ages back to Hippocrates himself, manifested itself as the trainees floundered for an answer. Eventually I broke the silence. ‘Don’t look at me,’ I said, ‘nobody tells me anything.’

Happily, my brother’s hideous experience of wisdom tooth extraction had put me off for so long, the teeth were fully exposed and so doctors wouldn’t have to burrow about in my jaw to extract them: a local anaesthetic, a squirt of sedative and I’ll be done. ‘It’s going to be easy. You’ll need a friend to take you home afterwards,’ said the consultant. I immediately thought of someone who has time in the day, a car – and since a head injury, such bad short term memory, I don’t mind him hearing what nonsense I burble while I’m sedated. The burble I write in my blog, dear reader, is alas here FOREVER.

    ‘Business Lessons from Comedy’ covers branding, innovation, customer service, entrepreneurialism and more – and works as a conference or after dinner speech. Call or email for further details, availability and testimonials.




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