GPs are ready and waiting for the unexpected

The festive season has been and gone again; Santa has shimmied down chimneys in defiance of his unhealthy BMI, and on Christmas morning, homes all across Britain and Ireland echoed to hundreds of little voices crying, 'Is this all I got?'

I used to love this time of year, but I loved it too much and it could never live up to my expectations. What was particularly irritating was patients coming in mid-month for 'their' cert. Low back pain, for four weeks, enough to see them comfortably into the New Year, lots of free time to do their shopping and then put their feet up.

'Merry bloody Christmas' I'd snarl, folding the cert into a paper plane and throwing it at them, hoping to hit them in the eye and, if I was lucky, give them a corneal abrasion.

So rather than continue to endure such annual disappointment I turned my back firmly on the festive season.

'Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December; And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.' Around the time Edgar Allen Poe wrote those lines I was still on a one-night-in-two rota and the holiday period was nothing but a prolonged torture, a succession of long winter nights, all the time acutely aware that normal people were out enjoying themselves.

Sometimes the local church choir would come around, mugging immigrants and singing carols and collecting money for Sister Eucharia's hernia operation; 'Get out of my face before I hurt you', I'd say kindly, though in the end I'd relent and give them the traditional prescription for antibiotics, what with it being the time of giving and all.

Then, this year something strange happened. I answered a midnight knock on the door and saw a middle-aged man with a magnificent beard and a 'why me' expression on his face, a young woman sitting on a donkey, a squad of shepherds and three old guys with big parcels under their arms.

As a GP you have to be ready for anything; I'd read the book, I knew the score.

'There's a stable out the back, plenty of straw, no smoking please, a few appropriate barnyard animals, not too much manure, should suit you nicely,' I said.

'That's not why we're here, doctor,' said the magnificently bearded man, 'the Child is pulling at his ears ...'

Liam Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Email him at

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