The Sister I Didn’t Know I Had by Colin Cotterill

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‘What gender would you prefer?’ she asked.

I walked back to the reception area to make sure I hadn’t stumbled into the organ realignment clinic by mistake. No, it was clearly written on the door, HEALTH CHECKUP. I returned to my nurse.

‘What choices do I have?’ I asked. She gave me one of those looks.

‘Male or female,’ she snarled. I guess she could tell I’d missed something so she started again, slowly. ‘Do you want a male or a female doctor?’

‘Yes. Most certainly,’ I said. 8 am on a Saturday obviously wasn’t her optimum humour zone.


‘Male.’ I find male doctors generally have warmer hands than female. Too bad they didn’t give me the ‘age’ option. If they had I would certainly have ticked the 50 to 60 box rather than 12 to 17. My doctor was barely old enough to ride a bicycle without a training wheel. His voice reminded me of Gwyneth Paltrow pretending to be a man in Shakespeare in Love. (It was in-flight. I don’t usually…well, you know.)

I was in Bangkok on a stopover after a conference in Khon Kaen. I’d decided to take advantage of the Male Over Fifty package of Twenty-Seven Greatest medical tests with free luncheon voucher as offered in the popular press by a reputable hospital. I felt it was ironic that I send my truck for a complete check up once a year but don’t afford my own ageing chassis the same courtesy. I’d always had a soft spot for women in white ankle socks so I thought a couple of hours of prodding and poking and having gel applied to my abdomen might be fun.

It started badly. Even before they got under my bonnet I was in for a shock. I’m a centimeter shorter than I used to be. Where did it go? And despite losing that substantial piece of myself, I was two kilos heavier than our smiley face digital bathroom scale told me I was. It hurt to think that smiley has been lying to me all this time. The conclusion of this initial test was that I am officially overweight. I tried to argue that my feet are heavier than those of the average person but it was too late to stop the woman committing it to computer. And it got worse. I don’t know about you, but I get a sinking feeling when the ultrasound technician says, “Uh oh!”

‘Yes? What is it?’

‘You’ve got a sister in your kidney.’

In Thailand you find that people perched on certain echelons of society refuse point blank to speak to their foreign clients in Thai, even when their own English is less than comprehendible. Lawyers, high-class escorts with MBAs from Berkley and medical personnel are good examples of this. So I had a sister in my kidney.

‘It’s nothing to worry about,’ she said.

In my book, nothing to worry about is…nothing. If I had nothing that wasn’t there when I rolled off the production line I’d be a happy little Morris Minor. But to find that I had a close relative living in my kidney left me feeling overcrowded.

‘A lot of people have them,’ she said.

‘Well, yes,’ I thought. ‘But not living in an organ.’

‘Why is she there?’ I asked.

‘Nobody really knows,’ she said.

So, if a lot of people have them and they’re nothing to worry about, what cruel vindictive spirit possessed this woman to tell me I had one? Of course it makes a difference.

That afternoon I played pool. Whenever I missed a shot I told my opponent, David, that it was because I have a sister in my kidney. That the doctor said it wouldn’t be long before I have a couple of cousins and an aunt in there with her. ‘It affects my balance,’ I told him.

‘I’ve heard of that,’ said David. ‘A doctor once told me I had a herniated dick in my spine. I couldn’t pot anything for a month after that.’

Apart from slightly elevated blood sugar levels which I can put down to the fact that we ate every chocolate in Germany when we were away, everyone agreed I’m in remarkable shape for a man of sixty-nine. Irrelevant that I’m only fifty-eight. Yet all the good news didn’t do a thing to compensate for the fact that I have a sister I didn’t know I had. All I can do is play loud rock music and replace her toothpaste with hemorrhoid ointment and hope that by the time I go for my next check up in a year, that she’s moved in with a boyfriend.

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