I'll never be one of the boys

A chance meeting I had recently would have left even Paul Simon bewildered, but you shouldn't expect lay people to understand.

What do they know?

I met my old lover just the other day; she looked so glad to see me she just smiled. Then she said 'I've got fibromyalgia and irritable bowl syndrome.'

She was straight in with her diagnoses, there was no messing, no intro, no time for small talk, no time for a gentle 'Hello' or 'Good to see you' or 'I see you've gone bald and put on weight' or 'Are you still a big stud?' or 'Let's get down to it right here, right now,' all greetings that I might have expected based on previous experience.

No matter how much we might try, no matter how much we might like to hang out with the lads and be one of the boys, GPs can't. We just have to accept it; we are different from lay people.

Once we qualify, once we get that little prefix before our name, everything changes; relationships with friends, family, casual acquaintances, enemies, all these will irrevocably alter.

Once we get the label that says 'doctor', every other person in the world gets a tiny part of the label that says 'patient'.

Every other person in the world will regard us differently. My ex and I had been students when I was laying golden cloths at her feet and kissing her toes, listening to Leonard Cohen late at night in a bedsit, as her pearl-pale hands made my heart burn and beat; now that I was a doctor, she viewed me in an entirely different light.

She no longer admired the cut of my jib: no longer was I a potential quickie. I had become something asexual, something in between an alien and a mutant - I was now just a handy second opinion.

I should have known better, yet I railed against this loveless fate; surely there was still some spark left between us, ready to spring to life again if I could only find the right words.

'You have become a glimmering girl,' I said, 'with apple blossoms in your hair,' and just for a second I thought I saw a softness in her expression, that old sweetness in her smile return, the summer stars in her eyes.

She took my hand, and for a long moment we stood there, as the city crowds milled around us, the sound of the traffic gentled into music.

'Can I have a prescription?' she said.

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

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