Ancient chains bind us GPs

In this column last year I described how I had to perform a catheterisation with neither gloves nor lubricant nor dignity on a flight from Florida.

Since then I've become a jinx; a footballer defied the laws of anatomy and swallowed his tongue and I had to make a pretence of extricating it (I felt the crowd expected it of me, and to tell him to pull himself together would have been inconsiderately detumescent); an over-enthusiastic lady dislocated a shoulder whilst throwing her panties at an Elvis impersonator; and my Auntie Mamie dislocated her patella falling off a seaside donkey (at least that was funny).

There is no escape from this duty. We are doctors, and we wear chains of our ancient profession wherever we go; if we are called, no matter how inconvenient it is, we gotta go, that's the deal.

But one common thread runs through all of the above emergencies. My credentials as a doctor have never been questioned, despite my not looking much like a doctor, my lack of gravitas (you've either got it or you haven't, and I haven't, you can't learn it) and my nipple-rings attracting some curious (though admiring) looks.

Like you, I'm sure, I carry nothing that definitively identifies me as a doctor. It's not on my passport, not on my driving licence. It's not etched on my forehead nor tattooed on my butt (my actual butt tattoo was a result of one of those always to be regretted postgraduate japes; the night we qualified, the lads and I went on the rip and I woke up the next morning with MRCGP on my left cheek. To retain my street cred I explained it to my girlfriends as a secret Iron Maiden codeword, a Satanic message in archaic Latin; they seemed to buy it, my girlfriends weren't usually very bright).

So we are immediately taken at our word and allowed ultimate and absolute authority, except, of course by the mandatory idiot who always barges in through the crowd and shouts ‘Don't move him!' or for the real enthusiast ‘How many fingers am I holding up?' It's a hoaxer's wonderland. After fumbling with the victim's genitals in the incident at the top of this column I could have jiggled them about and said: ‘By the way, I'm not really a doctor at all. Wheeeee!'

We just introduce ourselves ‘I'm a doctor' and everyone else steps back and breathes a big sigh of relief, so alarmed by medical emergencies that they are only too delighted to hand over responsibility to somebody who is probably insured.

After all, if something goes wrong, who better to take the blame?

- Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh.

Email him at

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