Celebrate the smallest victory

Each day in general practice is a battle, so I feel some empathy for the great warmongers.

Every so often I look a map of Europe and wonder how Napoleon and Hitler didn’t look at the same map and say 'F*ck me, look at the size of Russia, and they say the weather ain't good either; no way we're invading that place, let's check out little Belgium again.'

A wise general chooses his battles carefully. Which is why I don't bother anymore trying to get old women off their tablets:

'Never get between a she-bear and her cubs,' the hunters say; 'Never get between an old woman and her tablets,' I reply.

If le Grande Armée couldn’t do it and ended up getting cut to pieces by the Cossacks, what chance have I?

But sometimes we can use this obstinacy to our advantage. Even the smallest victory should be celebrated.

Mrs Magee was retching noisily and theatrically, surrounded by a court of brow-beaten and whey-faced daughters-in-law. 'I'm dying, I'm dying,' she wailed.

But I knew there was bugger-all wrong; artifice is the ultimate expression of human genius, and there was no way a truly ill person could have come up with those incredible sound effects.

'Could I just check your tablets?' I said. This is a useful technique; it gives us a few minutes breathing space, and the turn of phrase implies that we already know exactly what they are taking (knowledge which would require a planet-sized brain) and that we want to ensure that compliance with their multi-drug regimen is correct.

A daughter-in-law wearily pushed in a small wheelbarrow, and I began to go through the bottles, a fascinating and multi-coloured cocktail of hypnotics, antidepressants, vitamins and analgesics, making small tut-tuts and disapproving grunts and occasionally murmuring: 'Mmm, very sickening could be that one, or this one, maybe, it could choke a horse.'

The retching sounds behind me slowly abated as Mrs Magee began to realise my out-flanking stratagem.

'I'm feeling a little bit better now,' she said, just the right amount of tremor in her voice.

I shook the wheelbarrow in a vaguely threatening manner.

'Much better, in fact,' she said, rising from the bed like a massive billowing Lazarus, taking command of the wheelbarrow; conceding the battle, but still winning the war.

Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Email him at GPcolumnists@haymarket.com

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