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RTA delivers healthy lesson in multiculturalism

By Barry Cohen - posted Friday, 22 October 2010

Our doctors and nurses come from across the world.

I owe my life to the Roads and Traffic Authority of NSW, which is surprising considering the grief I caused them during the construction of my wildlife sanctuary near Gosford. It appears they don't harbour grudges.

It began when they wrote informing me that as I was about to turn 75 I required a health certificate to prove I was still capable of driving a car. This caused some jocularity among the local peasantry until I asked those with an impeccable driving record to hold up their hands.


Outraged by the impertinence of the RTA but realising there was no alternative, I reported to my GP, who filled out the forms adding I should also have a blood test. No worries I thought, remembering the words of the great Tony Hancock, "Pure Anglo-Saxon with a dash of Viking thrown in." I expected to pass with honours.

Next day I was at the bank when my mobile rang. The bank manager asked, "Are you all right? You've gone pale."

There are many things that can cause the colour to drain from one's face and one is to hear the doctor say, "I want to see you immediately."

With trepidation I reported to my GP, a delightful fellow from Afghanistan, who made me aware of how multicultural our health system had become.

First the good news. "You're a type two diabetic and your prostate-specific antigen is too high." "What does that mean?"


"It means you're going on a diet and having a biopsy and an ultrasound." While I was not surprised at the diabetes, previous blood tests had shown my PSA levels to be normal. This time he was not so encouraging. "It has a 50 per cent chance of being cancer but it could be a half-dozen other things. The good news is that you're more likely to die with prostate cancer than die from it." "Oh! Goody."

So here I was, 26 years after a heart attack and five years after a hip replacement, standing with my trousers down facing a po-faced doctor with a rubber glove.

"Let's begin with the prostate," he muttered. Unfamiliar with Afghan humour, I resisted the temptation to joke about the fickle finger of fate and the Khyber Pass.

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This article was first published in The Australian on October 20, 2010.

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About the Author

Barry Cohen was Minister for the Arts, Heritage and Environment in the Hawke Government from 1983 to 1987. He currently runs an animal sanctuary in Calga, NSW.

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