Liam Farrell - When words fail you, get the 'buck' out of there

Ireland used to be the land of saints and scholars, but when you English came along you stole our land, despoiled our relics, cut down all our ancient trees, opened branches of Marks & Spencer, introduced grey squirrels, drank our whiskey, bribed our planning officials and pillaged our women, especially the better looking ones.

But we got the better of you; we loved every minute of it. And as a bonus we got the English language, the heritage of Shakespeare and Milton, with all its capacity for bombast and subtlety, pageantry and nuance. Even so, the vagaries of general practice can yet leave us lost for words; the skill of extemporaneous dissembling is not taught in the textbooks.

'I'm bucked, doctor,' said Jimmy from his sick bed.

I was caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of trying to reassure him without actually telling lies; anyway, to paraphrase John Belushi in The Blues Brothers, it's not really lies, it's just ... bullshit.

'The fluid tablets will help your breathing,' I said, 'and the antibiotics will take care of the chest infection. You'll feel much better in the morning and I'll see you then.'

I went outside to find the whole family assembled.

'How is he, doctor?' asked his wife anxiously.

I paused, aware that they were hanging on my every word. I was also aware that words were inadequate here. Even the English language in all its meandering glory and richness of texture cannot quite seem to convey that there is a sick old man in there, body falling apart, all systems are failing, heart, lung, kidneys, brain, you name it.

Although I'm doing my best to keep him comfortable I don't really know what's going on, only that doing nothing heroic is the right thing.

But most of all I don't know how to explain my sense of uncertainty and inadequacy because I know it's not what you need to hear right now. You want someone strong and certain and positive, someone who knows what is happening, someone in control, someone like John Wayne.

'Mary,' I said gravely, placing a firm, supportive hand on her shoulder, in the hope that my body language might help disguise the poverty of my words. 'I'm afraid he's bucked.'


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