He coughed twice, just to show he could, looking very smug and pleased with himself, reminding me of Browning’s wise thrush ‘who sings each song twice over/Lest you think he never could recapture/That first fine careless rapture’ – and judging from the revolting sound-effects, this cough was very definitely productive.
‘Ooo 'ou ‘an ‘o oo’ a’ i?’ said Joe, holding on to wherever was unlucky enough to be in his mouth, a residence even a gob of sputum might find uncongenial. I interpreted this as ‘Do you want to look at it?’
I considered this. On the one hand, patient satisfaction; Joe clearly needed his suffering witnessed and validated (if you cough up green phlegm in the forest, and there is no-one there to hear it, who gives a damn?). On the other hand, my own mental health could be at risk.
‘It would be my very heart’s desire, Joe,’ I said eventually, on the rationale that (a) I try to be a Good Doctor, and (b) after the spectacle of Joe expectorating noisily and theatrically into a little jar, the day couldn’t get any worse.
We looked at the final result. In silence. It sat on the desk and looked back at us. It was disappointing; clear as a mountain stream it was.
Joe was devastated, he’d obviously been hoping for something leprechaun green, green as the meadows of Alt-na-Brocaigh after the farmers have dumped fertiliser upstream, which would have qualified him for an antibiotic.
‘It’s pretty clear, Joe,’ I confirmed. ‘So clear that Cleopatra could have taken a bath in it before hooking up with Mark Anthony.’
‘Would you like me to have another go?’ said Joe gamely, beginning to hawk violently again. As Samuel Beckett said, ‘Try. Fail. Try again. Fail better.’ Honestly, if Tony Blair had had Joe’s backbone, he would have refused to be Bush’s pet, and the Iraq invasion and the consequent mess might never have happened.
‘It must be only a virus, ain’t that great?’ I said, rubbing it in.
As Sun Tzu said in The Art of War: ‘Never give the enemy a second chance’.
- Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Follow him on Twitter@drlfarrell