Liam Farrell: When you have nothing more to give

'The second law of medicine,' I read, disbelievingly, 'no-one cares how much you know till they know how much you care.' No, seriously, some do-gooder actually wrote that, and it's hard to read without gagging.

Next time you’re having your prostate examined, look over your shoulder and say, ‘You do care, don’t you?’

I want someone dispassionate and clinical, and I’d prefer it not be done in an empathetic and affectionate manner (that’s reserved for special friends only, know what I mean?). Glib medical truisms mean nothing.


‘Those tablets made me want to vomit,’ said Joe, making charming retching noises to emphasis the point.

It was the end of long day, and my usual sunshine disposition had been stunned to muteness by the realisation I was fighting a fundamental law of the universe; Joe would want tablets to correct the vomiting caused by the previous tablets.

The new tablets, in turn, would also cause vomiting, and so on ad infinitum; I was looking at a Dante-esque vision of hell, stretching before me down the ages, an eternity of tales about Joe’s vomiting. I was in despair, defeated. I had nothing left, nothing more to offer, nothing I could do for this man.


And then, suddenly, just when the battle seemed lost, I remembered that magical bullshit phrase; ‘No-one cares how much you know till they know how much you care.’

‘Joe,’ I said, affecting a tremor in my voice while clandestinely sticking a fork in my testicles so that genuine tears welled up in my eyes. ‘You poor tortured soul; how awful, you’ve been vomiting, and you kept this all to yourself, fought this battle on your own for, like, three whole days.

‘And I know just how you feel,’ I continued. ‘Broken-down, battered; my dog died this week and my wife left me for another.’

‘Really?’ said Joe, fascinated despite his utter self-centredness. ‘What was his name?’

‘Sally,’ I sobbed. ‘So you see, I understand your pain; I empathise.’

Amazingly, Joe seemed satisfied that I was even more miserable than him and departed sans prescription, a miraculous and unprecedented state.

Gosh, I thought, if you can fake empathy, you’ve got it made, I’ll have to try this again.

Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand.

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

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