Liam Farrell: From awfully bad to awfully better in one step

'I'm awful bad,' said Joe. 'How bad?' I asked, which I thought was a reasonable question.

'Awful bad,' he replied, perhaps thinking that this was being helpful, or more likely trying to be deliberately annoying. 'And the dog ate the car keys, so you'll have to come out to see me.'

'That's wonderful,' I said, feigning enthusiasm, on the general principle of Never Doing What the Enemy Is Expecting. 'May sweet angels nibble at your tiny toes.'

But Joe was an old hand and not easily impressed. 'Just don't be long,' he said, which was rather ungrateful, I thought.

On arrival I found him sitting on the edge of the bed, DVD and TV remote controls to hand, drinking a huge mug of tea and eating a jam doughnut as big as his head, and looking inappropriately healthy and obscenely comfortable.

'I've an awful cough,' he said, 'and I'm bringing up an awful phlegm.'

'That's awful,' I said, recognising that there was a thread to be followed and happy to enter into the spirit of things.

'What colour is it?' I further enquired, because I am sometimes a good doctor.

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say, and so, I guess, is a physical manifestation. Joe roused himself with a heroic effort and pointed to a revolting smudge on the floor, which I had just avoided treading in and which is another reason why doctors should never wear suede shoes.

'You can see for yourself, Doc,' he said. 'Here's one I prepared earlier,' (OK, I made that last sentence up) before hawking enthusiastically and theatrically into a chamber-pot, reminding me perversely of Robert Browning's wise thrush, who 'sings each song twice over/Lest you should think he never could recapture/The first fine careless rapture!'

I prescribed yet another antibiotic, and bacterial ingenuity being what it is, I expect one day to see a big green monster jump out of his lungs and run screaming down the road.

He rang a few days later; 'I'm feeling better,' he said.

'That's wonderful,' I said, but I knew something more was expected, some evidence of how much I care. 'How much better?' I asked.

'An awful lot better,' he said.

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