It's a thankless profession

A few years ago, while on a flight from Florida, I had to perform a catheterisation with neither gloves nor lubricant (nor dignity; trust me, it doesn't get any more squalid than kneeling over a stranger's private parts in the galley floor outside the airplane toilets).

Since then I’ve become a jinx; when off duty, I am  a magnet for medical emergencies.  

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 deny them would have been inconsiderately detumescent); an over-enthusiastic (and over-weight) lady dislocated a shoulder whilst throwing her panties at an Elvis impersonator (what I was doing there in the first place I still don’t know); and my Auntie Mamie fell off a sea-side donkey (at least that was funny).  

But there is no escape from this fate. We are doctors; if we are called, we gotta go, because that’s the deal we signed up for. And 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 gravity or you haven’t, you can’t learn it; I haven’t got it and even worse, I’ve fallen because of my levity) and my nipple-rings attracting some curious (through 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 license, it’s not etched on my forehead nor tattooed on my butt. We just introduce ourselves ‘I’m a doctor,’ and everyone else (air crew, paramedics, cops, clergy, relatives, friends, casual bystanders or friendly neighbourhood skinheads) steps back and breathes a big sigh of relief, so alarmed by medical emergencies that they are only too delighted to hand over responsibility (especially to someone who is insured).  

We are immediately taken at our word and allowed ultimate authority. It’s a hoaxer’s and pervert’s wonderland; after fumbling with the victim’s genitals in the incident at the top of this column I could have said: ‘By the way, I’m not really a doctor at all!’  

Not that we ever receive any gratitude, nor do we expect any; that’s also part of the deal. For example, after catheterising the unfortunate gentleman on the plane, thus preventing the plane from having to turn back, I was given a cruddy bottle of wine and asked to sign a form indemnifying the airline against any consequences.  

As Mae West said, ‘It pays to be good, but it doesn’t pay much.’  

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

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