'Dr Farrell speaking,' I said, my tone of unctuous concern reminiscent of those recorded messages we get from financial institutions. There was a silence from the other end.
The spinner dolphin, which apparently has the keenest hearing in the animal world, might just have fancied that he could hear a soft expectant breathing.
'It's you Joe, isn't it?' I asked.
And after another long long silence, a barely audible whisper, 'I've an awful pain.'
I know when I'm beaten.
'OK, Joe,' I said, 'I'll call, but lock that bloody dog away.'
As is traditional on visits to lonely farmhouses in the deep of night, it was raining heavily. A little hawthorn tree stood inconveniently in the middle of the barnyard, making turning difficult and quick getaways impossible; country folk respect old superstitions (apparently the fairies use the hawthorn tree for parties), especially when it suits them.
On getting out of the car, I was immediately ankle deep in mud, the steamy aroma proof that the mud was rich in organic material. At least, I thought, the dog is locked away.
Joe lay in bed, groaning and wheezing in the way that only someone with perfectly functioning respiratory and alimentary systems could.
I thought I should examine him, just to show how much I cared, but as I introduced Mrs Old Cheap stethoscope to Mr Matted Hairy Chest, a snarling ball of fur lunged at me from beneath the heavy, woollen blankets.
'Don't worry,' wheezed Joe, 'I've a good hold of him.'
The examination continued in this haphazard fashion. I would snipe in and out, palpating here, auscultating there, each time the slavering jaws snapping only inches away from my more sensitive body parts. Joe, despite his apparent infirmity, pretended to let go every now and then.
Getting out while still intact, I lobbed Joe some antibiotics (what else?) and left. On the way out I drove over the hawthorn tree. Bull bars on SUVs do have their uses.
- Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh.