Liam Farrell - The differences run too deep to put into words

I've been writing for GP for more than 10 years now, and it is has been both a privilege and a continuing challenge.

My column is surrounded by well- written, well-informed and technically excellent articles on the subject of medicine, and making mine different and therefore worth reading is demanding and difficult.

In contrast, I've written columns for the lay press in the past, and it was a peach. Everything else in the paper would be non-medical news and comment, so I had the field to myself.

All I had to do was pick a disease of the week, look it up in any text book or, in later years, Google it, and translate it into short and understandable words.

So I thought I would try a Dr Finlay-type novel, as the public seems to have an insatiable appetite for that kind of stuff and I am a slut and will do anything for money.

I'd even chosen what I reckoned was an appealing and appropriate title - Thirty years a Crossmaglen Butcher. But when I sat down to write the book, I realised it just wasn't in me. Twenty years of writing for my colleagues about the many bitter trials and vicissitudes of medical practice has made me too aware of the differences between doctors and lay people.

I just can't write cuddly stories about home visits to poor old Joe and receiving a Christmas cake every year from Granny Arbuckle, and a bunch of freshly picked wild flowers from her buxom niece Sally. I've become too hardened, too cynical.

And lay people won't get it; they won't understand what I mean when I write about the Christmas antibiotic, they may misinterpret a good-natured ribbing as sarcastic condescension.

They want Dr Jekyll, what they'll get is a balding middle-aged Mr Hyde. Because the more bleak the outcome, the more callous medical humour becomes.

It's a way of coping with tragedy; disarm it by reducing it to an object of derision. We can't be frightened of something we have just made ridiculous.

In my world, poor old Joe runs a profitable sideline blackmailing gay farmers, and Granny's Christmas cake has cocaine in it.

And buxom Sally nearly gets me struck off.


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