The right to bare arms

The right to bare arms

The new medical guidelines have their skeptics.

The waiting room is much like every other waiting room the world over – bland paint on the walls, too-bright lights and uncomfortable plastic chairs. The receptionist wears a sunny smile whatever the weather, although sometimes she must want to smack some of the people that walk in complaining. There’s a fish tank. Even the fish look bored, as if they’ve seen everything before. They probably have.

Amongst the pamphlets and educational posters, the newest additions gleam. Posters designed to evoke the ‘Rosie’ images of the last World War, but with her sleeves rolled determinedly down rather than displaying her muscular arms.

These are the source of some consternation – the people huddled in the waiting room can hear the commotion coming from Room #2.

Within Room #2, walls the same shade of almost-not-quite-peach as the waiting room, Doctor Martinez points to one of the posters. His voice is the patient calm of someone plotting a homicide, if only he could figure out a way to dispose of the body afterwards.

“The new guidelines, and they are just guidelines, are in place for your benefit, Mister Williams. I assure you that they are not at all onerous, and I ask that you at least give them some consideration.”

Mister Williams, proud owner of six handguns and a highly modified off-road vehicle that revs almost before the engine is ignited, barely fits on the plastic chair. He towers over the Doctor, his beer-belly gut added to by years of maple-glazed bacon burgers and cheese, and his eyes narrow at the other man’s words.

“But doc, I know I need the Vitamin D, right. And everyone tells me that to get it, I should be wearing short sleeves and gettin’ as much sun as possible. You tellin’ me all that medical advice is bad now? It was on the radio and all.”

“There are pills, supplements, you can take for that. Given your history, it really is safer for you to cover up more.”

Williams snorts derisively. “Hah, Big Pharma! ‘Sides, it gets real hot around here, an’ you can’t be telling me that overheating’s not a real risk? It’s dangerous; you want me to get sunstroke, doc?”

“Wear light materials like cotton, or go inside to air-conditioning. If you’re really concerned in the moment, then by all means roll your sleeves up, but I would strongly advise that your default option should be to wear long sleeves whenever possible.”

“Ah, so even you admit that I might have to roll the sleeves up sometimes! What’s the point of wearing them in the first place, then?”

Doctor Martinez stifles a sigh. He can hardly wait for his lunch break. Three glasses of water and some high-strength Aspirin is just what the doctor ordered. “Studies in places like Australia have shown—” he begins, but Williams scoffs loudly.

“Oh, are you gonna say they’ve got lower levels of melanoma after implementing these ridiculous guidelines? Well, I googled it, and my naturopath agrees, and they still get other kinds of cancer, so these guidelines are completely pointless.”

“I… see.” Doctor Martinez resists the urge to bang his head into the table. “May I enquire, just generally, as to what degree your—”

“Hah! Degrees? Worthless pieces of paper. Huge conspiracy by Big Pharma and the government to throttle honest progress and ancient, natural cures! Lemon juice and Himalayan rocks salt lamps purify the body and free it from most diseases, but you don’t see that in the news, do you? No, it’s all chemicals with names twenty syllables long.” Williams’ words only serve to send what feels like railroad spikes stabbing into Martinez’s brain, somewhere just behind his eyes. Acetylsalicylic acid is relatively short, as chemical names go, and he’d really like about twenty tablets of it.

“But I’m sure you’d agree that just wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt would hardly be supporting ‘Big Pharma? It’s a… natural solution, Mister Williams.”

Williams snorts derisively, belly jiggling beneath his singlet. “Bah! Natural my ass. Natural is the skin you were born in, doc, or didja come outta your ma wearing that blouse?”

Martinez tugs at the hem of his shirt self-consciously, but as he opens his mouth to suggest that being tailored does not automatically make a garment a ‘blouse’, Williams continues speaking. “Stifling personal liberty and expression, the lot of them. I should be allowed to wear whatever I please and the government should keep its nose out of my business.”

“They are merely suggestions, not ultimatums. If you are determined to flout the new recommendations regularly, may I at least suggest regular check-ups to ensure your health remains optimum?”

“And give you more of my money? I’m not running a charity here, doc, and there ain’t no earthly reason I need to see you more often than I’ve ever done before. Worn short sleeves every summer of my life and it ain’t killed me yet.”

Doctor Martinez resists the urge to roll his eyes. Or possibly slam his own head into his desk – would a concussion make the headache worse or would he be too woozy to feel it properly? Knowing his luck, he suspects the former. Instead, he pulls up Williams’ family history with a few clicks of his mouse.

“I see here your paternal grandfather died of melanoma? Both your grandmothers, too – metastasis to the bone and lymph nodes?”

“Bah! Gramma Laurie got hit by a truck – that mean I shouldn’t cross the road too, doc?”

“No, but you should probably look both ways before—”

“Exactly! Doesn’t mean I’m gonna die of it. So stop whinging, just let people wear what they want. It’s not doing any harm.”

“I feel you’ve missed—”

“Geez, yak yak yak yak yak, doc! Whatever. I’m outta here.” Mister Williams ponderously lifts his bulk from the plastic seat, which creaks concerningly beneath him. As he waddles out of the door, his sunburnt arms glowing like an alarm light or a STOP sign, Doctor Martinez sighs. The door to Room #2 slams shut in Williams’ wake, and the doctor finds himself staring at on of the new posters, tacked to the back of the door.

The header reads ‘The right to bare arms: an invitation to danger!’ with the tagline, below the modern-day Rosie saying ‘Limit arm exposure – limit the risk of death!’

 A field of sunflowers

A field of sunflowers