'You know what the trouble with you is, don't you?' snarled a colleague.
I presumed that this was a rhetorical question and he was shortly going to supply the answer himself, but just in case I took a quick personal inventory. Sleazy, sarcastic, avaricious, deceitful, superficial; I have been aware of these defects for years, but as La Rochefoucald observed: 'We are more often loved for our vices than our virtues.' However, fessing up was not in the spirit of the game.
'You're just too bloody nice,' he accused. 'It's always, "you're like a breath of spring", "come back and see me anytime", "what about a cup of tea and some fancy cakes?"
'You make me sick. The only thing more nauseating than your use of banal cliches is your insincerity.
'And while you are being "nice" and warm and cuddly, the waiting room is filling up, and the rest of us are busting our buns taking up the slack and shaking down the punters for points. Let me say it now, buddy, I'm not "nice"; I'm a high-powered professional. Being "nice" doesn't earn any points; it's not recognised by any targets; it can't be measured or graded; it's irrelevant to appraisal or revalidation; even the RCGP doesn't give a shit about whether you are "nice" or not.'
Being a nice person, I did not consider this offensive, and chose to dwell on the bigger picture, partly because there is a deeper truth, but mainly to goad him even further.
'So what you are saying,' I said in a soft, non-confrontational, yet deliberately annoying tone, 'is that there is no longer any value placed in the human qualities of kindness and compassion.
'It's not, I presume, that you actually advocate this medical dystopia, this subversion of the great traditions of family practice, but you surmise that because these admirable yet intangible virtues can't be measured or quantified or pigeon-holed that they have become wholly superfluous.'
Uproar; my outraged colleague slashed at me with a complementary letter-opener.
'Meeting adjourned,' cried the practice manager over the din. 'Have a nice day, all.'
- Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Email him at GPcolumnists@haymarket.com