As usual, Santa Claus had let me down. ‘Dear Santa,’ I’d written. ‘Please come down the chimney and take away all Joe’s tablets.’
So as the New Year dawned, Joe arrived with the traditional shopping list of medications. Resigned, I was filling in page 1(of 4), when he surprised me.
He leaned closer, his dog-like face only inches from mine (I was backed against the computer, and could recoil no further); my keen investigative instinct informed me, for once, he hadn’t had curry for breakfast. Also, and this was really weird, I noticed that he’d moisturised.
‘I was thinking,’ he said. ‘Maybe all these tablets aren’t a good idea, that I should start an exercise programme instead. Which would you think is better?’
It was like asking, which would l prefer; silk or pubic hair? But I was silent for a moment; sometimes silence can be eloquent, and this silence was making a passionate speech that the chances of Joe making lifestyle changes was the same as a vulgar, uninformed narcissist becoming President of the USA...
The silence grew louder, and more disbelieving.
‘Honestly, doc,’ he said. ‘I don’t want any more tablets; I’m going to take up the bike, start taking exercise.’
This was a kind of psychic earthquake; plaster didn’t actually fall from the ceiling, but it was close. I felt like Thomas Hardy hearing the Darling Thrush; ‘At once a voice arose among/The bleak twigs overhead/In a full-hearted evensong/Of joy illimited.’
‘I’m still young,’ he continued, his voice soft, a faraway look in his eyes. ‘I’m suddenly realising that these are my golden hours, but that all things must end. Our ultimate future holds only loss and death and decay, and with each passing year the grave yawns a little wider.’
I was ashamed of my cynicism; when someone is fighting for his soul he needs his friends to believe in him. And if, like Joe, you don’t have any friends, a doctor is the next best thing.
There was only one possible solution; my duty was clear.
‘Get back in your pod, you alien,’ I said. ‘I want my Joe back.’
- Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Follow him on Twitter @drlfarrell