We are still hell's gatekeepers

Hardy: 'My wife says I think more of you than I do of her.' 

Laurel: 'Well, you do, don't you?'

Hardy: 'Let's not go into that.'

We are the thin brown line; like Horatius on the bridge across the Tiber, like the 300 Spartans at the pass of Thermopylae, defying the might of Xerxes.

The hordes are out there, waiting just outside the surgery door, like the Huns ravaging Europe, like the Mongols cutting a bloody swathe though imperial China, like the Visigoths plundering the treasures of decadent Rome.

Freedom ain't free; its price is eternal vigilance. It is a thankless duty, yet no less noble for that. If a deed is valiant and brave, does it matter that the minstrels do not make a song of it? We stand at the barricades, between the candle and the darkness; those we protect know nothing of our sacrifice.

'Gatekeepers,' they demeaningly describe us as, as if we are standing at a booth handing out tickets and selling ice creams, but though they may be dull and slow-witted they are just one referral, just one tiny slip of paper, away from foes who would freeze their hearts and bore them stiff.

Yet we do not begrudge them their innocence and ignorance. If we slumber, if we let our guard down, if we let them through, the soft underbelly of hospital medicine would be quickly overwhelmed, consultants and junior house officers metaphorically disembowelled in the corridors, their guts glistening on the walls.

Like Hardy, we GPs don't like talking about our feelings much. At meetings we are courteous but reserved. We don't have any flags or old school songs or terrace chants. We don't wear robes or uniforms or hoods (except for academic GPs). There is no palpable team spirit, no esprit de corps.

But we aren't New Labour, we don't need these superficial things because our bonds run much deeper than any lines written on page. We are part of something greater, a greater brotherhood. Somebody has to do it, and for us, every day is St Crispin's Day. We are the few, we are the happy few, we band of brothers.

Now what about some more money?

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

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