Brian Edwards Media

Take Two Washers and Call Me in the Morning


 My dear friend Ivan Strahan and his gorgeous wife Claire, who live in Donaghadee,  have both been unwell and have found themselves thrown upon the tender mercies  of the medical profession. Since they are understandably feeling a bit low, I thought I would send them this column, which I wrote 23 years ago for what was then the Dominion Sunday Times,  to cheer them up. A case perhaps of  ‘Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’.

Take Two Washers and Call Me in the Morning

A case for Fair Go.

Mrs Green, an elderly widow, calls Jones the plumber to fix a leaking tap in the bathroom. Jones arrives. He is wearing crisp, clean overalls, has an agreeable manner and gives every appearance of knowing what he’s doing. Mrs Green leaves him to it.

He emerges from the bathroom half an hour later, says, ‘Let’s see how that goes,’ and proceeds to write an account for $47 – labour, materials, callout, mileage and GST.

‘Give us a call if you’ve any further trouble,’ he says as he pockets the cheque, and drives off into the night.

‘What a nice man,’ thinks Mrs Green as she opens the bathroom door. The tap is still leaking. 

Jones returned the next day. He told Mrs Green they’d been experimenting with these new washers. They weren’t always effective, so he’d try something else.

‘See how that goes,’ he said, writing out another account.

After the fourth visit, Mrs Green’s dander was up. She insisted that Jones fix the tap or find someone who could.

‘Look,’ said Jones, ‘the truth of the matter is you can’t fix these taps. No-one has ever invented a washer that will do it. We don’t know why they leak. Sometimes they stop leaking for no reason at all. Then, maybe in five years time, they start all over again.’

‘But this is absurd,’ said Mrs Green. ‘Are you telling me I’m stuck with this leaking tap for the rest of my life?’

‘Possibly,’ said Jones, ‘but it won’t kill you.’

Well, the end of the story was that Jones referred Mrs Green to a mate of his who was an expert on leaking taps. He spent a lot more time than Jones examining the tap and charged a lot more too. He couldn’t fix the leak either. He was even more reassuring than Jones. Thousands of people had these leaking taps and had learned to live with them. They weren’t serious. They certainly wouldn’t kill you.

So Mrs Jones lay awake at nights listening to her leaking tap.

Sometimes she cried into her pillow.

If Mrs Jones had written to Fair Go, they’d have said that Jones clearly wasn’t fit to call himself a plumber, that he was a conman, a rip-off artist who was fleecing old ladies by pretending to have knowledge and skills he didn’t possess. And as for Jones’ ‘expert’ mate, well, he was obviously in league with Jones and an even bigger tealeaf. Both of them were charlatans and should be behind bars.

There are thousands of tradesmen in this country doing exactly what Jones and his mate did. They aren’t behind bars. On the contrary, they’re held in high regard by the community and financially rewarded accordingly. They’re called doctors (and specialists).

I came to this startling realisation at a dinner party last week.

There were two doctors at this function, friends of mine. (Well, they were!) We were joking about how useless most doctors are, when one of them said: ‘Yeah, I reckon we can fix about two percent of the people who come to see us, on a clear day!’ And he wasn’t joking.

I thought back over my own medical history and realised he was right. Except for purely mechanical stuff like sprained ankles and broken arms, no doctor had ever actually fixed anything I had wrong with me. OK, I tend to hypochondria, but in half a century I must have had something wrong with me that was real and could be fixed. Nothing ever was. My illnesses either went away by themselves, or they didn’t.

What I’d like you to do is check this out with the guests at your next dinner party. I’m going to predict that no-one there has ever been fixed by a doctor. And I really mean ‘fixed’, as in:

‘Doctor, this hurts.’

‘Let’s see. Ah yes, a leaking tap. Take these two washers.’ 

‘Thanks Doctor, that’s wonderful, it doesn’t hurt anymore.’

 I’d willingly pay a hundred bucks for a consultation like that.

But it doesn’t happen anymore. Doctors dispense reassurance these days, not cures. I don’t want to be told that it isn’t going to kill me or that millions of other people have learned to live with it. I want it fixed. Isn’t that what doctors are for?

Now the doctors are going to reply that you can’t compare the human body to a leaking tap – living organism, far more complex, waffle, waffle, waffle. I’ll buy that, but I still want the answer to two questions: Exactly what business are you in then, Doctor? And why are you charging people money to fix things which you already know you can’t fix?

No, fellow sufferers, the truth of the matter is that the bugs have got ‘em beat. The bacteria have become resistant to the antibiotics and the viruses are having a field day. The medics have lost their magic. That’s why we’re all heading off in droves to the new witchdoctors – the chiropractors, the acupuncturists and the holistic healers. Sometimes what they do works.


Note 1: The General Practitioner Society was not amused by this column and formally complained to the New Zealand Press Council.

In its complaint, the Society rated the column ‘the most malicious attack on the doctors who make up our membership that we have ever read … We think he should be told that he can’t get away with it.’

The Press Council disagreed. It ‘did not accept that this light-hearted, though exaggerated piece exceeded the bounds of tolerance traditionally accorded columnists, or that it would have  lowered the esteem in which the medical profession was held. The  Council considered that, if members of the profession had read the column with a reasonable sense of humour, they need not have been offended by it.’

Note 2: I have a wonderful doctor here in Herne Bay. Indeed I have two of them. I’m feeling much better now, thank you.



  1. Lovely. I remember the original column very well and the when dealing with the medical profession I often think of it and of the plumber telling the client “that you’ll just have to live with it”.

    Some of your other columns from many years ago, including some that you’ve republished here are also embedded deeply into my subconscious. I remember you talking about a hypothetical politician who admitted mistakes and apologised for them, and sometimes decided the right thing to do was to change his or her mind (i.e. the dreaded U-turn). “Wouldn’t you vote for someone like that” you wrote. Yes I would I thought.

  2. Hmm, I’ve had exactly the same sort of dealings with alternative practitioners who always say that if I keep going back on a regular basis then they will ‘fix’ me. Of course this means a constant income for them and, in my experience, not necessarily a ‘fix’ of my problem.
    Can’t help but feel that if only I could totally believe that they, or the doctor, would fix me then they probably could. Trouble is I tend to concentrate more on my money disappearing and don’t believe they will fix me and, of course, they don’t!
    Oh, and I definitely would vote for that politician who admitted mistakes and changed their mind, but unfortunately they seem to remain hypothetical!

  3. I am sure there are good doctors (I have met one or two) but what gets up my nose with my present doc is that he seems to think he is my life-coach rather than a pill-dispenser. I would like to divorce him but I don’t know how.

  4. My experience so far has 9 good doctors and 2 bad ones(not including Dr Edwards).The bad ones reputation was well known.
    Out of possibly 20 plumbers (qualified)I have one I continue to use.

  5. 5

    Dear Dr Edwards

    Please I beg of you to the most highest of entreaties to exercise restrainment and not excite the carnal desires of un-married women by publishing the picture such as of the one of the half naked man. All women everywhere must honour their purity and modesty from the temptations of lustfullness and moral abandonments.

    Thank you for your kind indulgences and sincerest fulfillments.

    • Please I beg of you to the most highest of entreaties to exercise restrainment and not excite the carnal desires of un-married women by publishing the picture such as of the one of the half naked man.

      Just a little plumbography.

  6. I trust that the ‘carnal desires’ of Judy Callingham have not been unduly excited by the photograph.

    • I trust that the ‘carnal desires’ of Judy Callingham have not been unduly excited by the photograph.

      You may be right – she begged me not to use ‘that disgusting picture’. Clearly reverse psychology.

    • I trust that the ‘carnal desires’ of Judy Callingham have not been unduly excited by the photograph.

      I hate this photo, and protested long and loud when it was put up!

  7. @ JC – “I hate this photo, and protested long and loud when it was put up !”.

    Yeah, sure you did, JC, sure you did. Like Hell ! I suspect the last sentence in BE’s 10:59 comment is a little closer to the shameful truth.

  8. the picture is the plumber? oh,i thought it was the doctor.

  9. He’s the patient, waiting for the doc and his rectal thernometer.

  10. I like the idea of a red light illuminated in the surgery window … with the doc’s responsibility being that of keeping all of his patients healthy and alive … if a patient dies, then the light is extinguished.
    Sorry, I’m not sure what happens next …

  11. actually that stunning photo was the only reason I found your blog.
    I google searched “unmarried woman, carnal desire” and searched google image.
    I now come and look at that pic daily.

    …To remind myself not to marry! :D

  12. Over the years, and backed up by personal experiences, I’ve acquired a somewhat cynical view of the medical profession. As a result, I’ve become a reluctant and infrequent medical services customer. Curiously (well, not surprising really), I’m much healthier for it.
    The way I see it, the objective of the “health industry” isn’t to make the punters healthy, it’s rather about keeping the business going.
    Because health – it should come as no surprise – is bad for this business sector.

    • Over the years, and backed up by personal experiences, I’ve acquired a somewhat cynical view of the medical profession.

      Somewhat cynical indeed, though there is a view that our increased life-span and generally improved health (in developed societies at least) has more to do with plumbing, sanitation and better diet, than with the medical profession. On the other hand, as a diabetic, my life would undoubtedly be shortened without the help of the medical and pharmaceutical professions.

  13. You’re right, and it I would be foolish of me not to acknowledge the positive impact of medical intervention in instances where things need fixing or managing. I’ve had a few interventions that undoubtedly improved my quality of life.
    But on the whole, I agree with the sanitation argument you mention … and remain unconvinced that the health system actually has my best interests at heart.

  14. Absolutely, cant argue that logic.
    However if you die we cant make more money off you. A fine balance keeping people alive yet miserable.
    Off I go to work.

  15. Cole, who cares =D