WHEN I was twenty-two I received simultaneously two communications by post. One, from an Insurance Company, was a printed notice to the effect that my application for life insurance had been refused. The other was in the neat handwriting of a doctor whom I had previously visited, asking if I would favour him with a call. These two communications upset me greatly. I have ever since felt grateful to this kindly old doctor, and, as he has long since departed this life, I see no reason why I should not mention his name it was Dr. Green, late of Friday Bridge, Birmingham.
I called on Dr. Green in due course. He greeted me with the words: “Mr. Cook, I expect you are wondering why I asked you to call. I know it is not in accord with usual etiquette, but I thought you might wish to know why your application has been refused by the Insurance Company, especially as it has been refused twice before. Out of kindness to you, I would like to tell you the reason. It is this. You have very seriously strained the main artery of your heart. Were you aware of this?”.
My reply was “No, I had not the slightest idea of anything being wrong with my heart.
“But what happens when you run upstairs? I suppose you realize you have a heart then?” “Yes, I know, it always seems to jump to get out of my chest.” “Quite so, have you ever done any rowing?” “Yes,” I replied, ” a lot as a boy in my grandfathers discarded heavy coal boat.” “Did you ever hurt your heart then?” “Not that I know.” “Well you would have known if you had, for you would have fallen backwards.
I think it most likely that the injury was done at the time of, or before, your birth.” My reply was, “Well I know nothing of that either. But what does it all mean doctor, am I likely to die soon?” “Not necessarily. It is he who thinketh he standeth that must take heed lest he fall. It may mean that you will live a lot longer than most of your fellows who suffer from no such disability.” “Then what am I to do?”.
The doctors reply was “It is of more important that I should impress upon you what you should not do, than what you should. You must not have a race to settle who can get to the top of the ladders first. If you do, you may find yourself at the bottom very quickly, or rather someone may find there what is left of you. You should do nothing to unduly exert yourself about anything.
You should partake of the least stimulating foods and drinks. Do everything possible to keep fit, so as to prevent any unnecessary strain being put on the heart.” “Would,” I asked, “a cold bath in the morning, on getting out of bed, be a bad thing?” “Yes, for anyone in your present condition.” I then said: “You state present condition, in the word present I see a ray of hope. You scientific gentlemen tell us that our body changes and that every particle is renewed every seven years. If this is so, is it possible for me to grow a new heart?” “Yes, it is possible, but highly improbable”.
I thanked the doctor, believing that he had rendered me out of pure kindness and without reward one of the greatest services any man ever had. I have never seen Dr. Green since, and I visited no other doctor for three years. During that time I commenced to put my house in order. I left off drinking tea and coffee, an action I found to be a godsend. I also discarded the use of flesh, fish and fowl (and have never taken any of these things since) and I lived on the simple fruits of the earth, most of which are grown in every English garden and field.
I replaced white bread by wholemeal bread, I also did everything I thought possible to get and keep fit. Having made these changes I found life far more worth living than I had ever done before, and I came to the conclusion that my health was as good as most other peoples.
I then made a further attempt to insure my life, but there appeared on my application form three black marks, representing three refusals. The examination proved to be much more severe than any of the other three. I was told to run up the doctors stairs and down again to test the hearts action and then to lay down on the couch when further tests took place. I was then told to run up again and again, and yet again, then to lay down as before. I was then asked “You have been refused before, have you not?” “Yes.” “Three times?” “Yes, three times in all.”
Then there was a pause and a further examination which ended with the remark: “Well, if all the doctors in Birmingham told me that there was anything wrong with your heart, I should not believe them.” He added: “I am afraid the Insurance Company will not accept you as a first-class life, in spite of my report to the contrary, in view of the previous refusals”.