Liam Farrell: Fighting the war against unreason and wasted resources

'Dr X is no good,' said Joe. I perked up at this, a sudden sprinkle of fairy dust in my day; to paraphrase La Rochefoucauld, 'There is, in the misfortune of other doctors, something not entirely unpleasant.'

Dr X is a fine chap, and a trusted colleague, but it’s always a relief to know that some other poor sod will be finding a cow’s head at the bottom of his bed (the Irish version of a mafia threat).

In medicine there’s always a choice. The options might really suck, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a choice; sometimes what’s right and what’s necessary aren’t the same thing.

I first considered appeasement - give Joe the antibiotics/sleeping tablets/vitamins, whatever was top of that week’s hit parade i.e chicken out; and anyway, patient care is being replaced by customer satisfaction, isn’t it?

But that would be disloyal to my colleague, and even worse, encourage Joe’s help-seeking behaviour and mark me down as soft touch.

And during every surgery there is something to be won. We may be only small soldiers, but we are still soldiers, the heirs of Galileo and Copernicus; the war against unreason and wasted resources is unending. We fight the long defeat, a thankless duty, yet no less noble for that. Unknown, perhaps, and unrenowned, but yet worthy of honour. If a deed is valiant and brave, does it matter that the minstrels do not make a song of it?

Joe coughed loudly, in the way only some with a perfectly functioning respiratory system could cough; I’ve had sex (sometimes with other people) which was less vigorous and required less physical dexterity.

‘Antibiotics,’ I explained, ‘are like F-words. One or two is fine. Forty-five is bad.’

Joe coughed again, more expressively this time. A bodily function is worth a thousand words.

‘Delayed gratification is so often the key to success,’ I continued. ‘Someday you will really need an antibiotic, and eschewing it today may mean it will save your life then. As Holly Johnson sang, "Relax, don’t do it/When you wanna go to it." Okay, that came out a little more homoerotic than I intended.’

‘Homoerotic,’ said Joe, savouring the word like it was some new and suspiciously foreign dessert. ‘If it’s homoerotic I don’t want it.’

Result, I thought.

  • Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Follow him on Twitter @drlfarrell

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