The growing pains of a GP

Kids, don't you just love the little darlings, I could hug them till their tongues turn blue.

I flatter myself that I have an excellent relationship with my young patients. I think they consider me a kind of father figure. Not the cuddly kind, I'll admit, not the Santa Claus or Rolf Harris huggable type either, more a stern, gruff, Victorian, 'I'll thrash you to within an inch of your miserable lives' type, but a father figure nonetheless.

Something to give a sense of stability in an ever-changing world. Lindsay Lohan may have ended up in rehab and Britney branded an unfit mother, but Dr Farrell will always be grumpy.

Although that's not quite the true picture. I'm not always grim and forbidding, and sometimes me and the kids can have a lot of fun together.

For example, while mum is out providing a urine sample, that's the ideal time to organise a quick party game.

I'll point out all the sharp and potentially lethal objects in the surgery, then we'll play a game of blind man's bluff, the winner being the one with the lacerations least likely to lead to long-term scarring and disfigurement.

A bit of brain-freezingly unforgettable terror and excruciating pain is an essential part of the magic of childhood, and will also provide them with a healthy aversion to ever coming back.

Demonstrating the different needles we use for injections also fascinates them and gives them a lot to think about.

Balloon figures in the shape of the fallopian tubes are a perennial kiddies' favourite, not just for fun but educational as well. Although the pre-schoolers can look a bit confused sometimes.

I'm also good with older kids. OK, they may look tough drinking cheap cider and hanging round street corners in gangs, but when they come into the surgery it's a different story.

They are lost and lonely, like the sad heart of Ruth, sick for home amid the alien corn, and they need kid-glove treatment and assurance that the changes to their bodies and the strange new feelings are quite normal and all part of growing up into an unemployable adult.

'Take off that hoodie, you nauseating adolescent,' I'll snarl kindly, 'How else am I expected to assess your acne?'

And maybe a few years later he'll return, metamorphosed into a fine young man.

'I've an awful pain in my back,' he'll say, 'Can I have a sick note?' and I'll wipe a little tear from my eye. They grow up so quickly, don't they?

Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Email him at GPcolumnists@haymarket.com.

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