LETTERS TO THE HOUSE DOCTOR
by Steve Ross
Planet Magazine is pleased
to premiere this new feature for our readers. All questions will
be answered by our "House Doctor," Rob Vila, M.D., former host of "This Old Body," chief
homeopath at the Rickel Hospital and Editor Emeritus of "The New England Journal of
Renovation and Repair."
Our attic ceiling recently started to show water stains that get bigger after every rain.
A contractor inspected our roof and said that we need new shingles, but I'm reluctant to
give the go-ahead. My wife's never had shingles, but I had a pretty bad case in the late
70s, and they were no party. Besides, the contractor who did the inspection had no medical
training whatsoever. What would you advise?
-Shingle-Free and Happy in Crown Point
Dear Shingle-Free and
It has become increasingly common for rooves to develop the viral infection called
herpes zoster, or shingles. You could try covering it with tar, but this is really a
short-term remedy that doesn't get to the underlying virus. Instead, you should have your
contractor apply several coats of a topical antiviral ointment, using paint-rollers and
My wife and I have raised five children in our home, but recently we have been
experiencing difficulty with our male/female coupling, and as a result have not been able
to turn on each other's lights in over a year. I personally think that her outlet receptacle
is eroded, but she says that my plug is probably malfunctioning. In addition, our circuitry
is pretty old, and I'm worried about blowing a fuse. Any suggestions would be greatly
-In the Dark in Tuscaloosa
Dear in the Dark:
It sounds to me like you need an extension cord. No matter what they say, length is
important; after all, if it can't reach the receptacle, a live plug's no better than a bump on
a log. As far as the age of your circuits is concerned, our resident specialist on such
matters, Dr. Ruth Westinghouse, feels that you shouldn't worry, that you should do what
feels right. However, you should probably keep an extra fuse handy, ready to screw in, just in case.
Every time I think of doing any work on or around the house, I get a headache that
knocks me flat so all I can do is sit on the couch, watch television, and munch out. Would
you please explain, for my wife's benefit, that this is possible? Thanks, guy.
-Pabst in Pittsburgh
The condition you describe is known in the medical community by its original French
name, pomme de terre de chaise longue ("couch potato"), and is so widespread that it is
practically a cliché. It is also the reason why home repair professionals such as myself
have been able to make such a comfortable living.
I love my house, I really do. I've replaced her aging details and supported her sagging
floor; I've sealed and joined her with rabbets and dadoes when nails would've been easier
but less attractive; I've reinforced her corners with gussets and then covered them because
I know she's shy. In short, I've sanded and shaved and polished and maintained her, through
up and down real estate markets, and all I've ever asked for in return is fidelity. I'd
always felt confident about it, but lately, well, I don't know. On three separate occasions
I've walked into a room and found studs where they didn't belong. Last week I noticed the
stains of a penetrating sealer in her tongue-in-groove flooring. And then, this past
weekend I was looking for something in the attic, and I found distress marks on her collar
beams. Now my coping saw is on its last teeth, my spirit level's down, and I feel unhinged.
At any minute I might just grab my rivet gun and power drill and, well, you can imagine
the rest. Am I awl wrong, reading the signs incorrectly? Do you think I'm mistaken?
-Carpenter Cuckold in Kansas City
Dear Carpenter Cuckold:
I'm afraid I can't help you. You need either a psychiatrist or a private eye.
I'm writing you because we have, well, a leakage problem in the bathroom. I am
concerned that it might be my husband's prostate, since my Uncle Lou had a similar
problem some years ago, but our plumber claims that it's a common problem for people
with rotating-ball faucets, and that a new washer might do the trick. Should we replace
the washer, or get a new and different faucet?
-Drained in Detroit
Your plumber is both right and wrong. Single-handle rotating-ball faucets are fairly
recent inventions, and one of their advantages is that they replaced the outdated and
problem-prone prostate with a cam-and-ball assembly that is, unfortunately, subject to
leaking. A new washer is indeed a short-term remedy, but new piping might be needed to
address the chronic underlying condition. Urethra-width copper piping, sealed with Teflon
tape instead of sealing compound, is the most suitable replacement. In addition, a diverter
valve with hose clamps will provide your husband with greater control than he's probably
ever experienced; he can even have a pressure valve installed that would give him enough
power to knock a bottle off a fence post from fifty yards.
Story copyright © 1994 Steve Ross
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