Liam Farrell: Battered yet unbowed

I have long been a devotee of the Marx Brothers, from their earliest films, The Coconuts and Animal Crackers, funny but with primitive production values, to Duck Soup, their masterpiece, to the fading and elegiac glory of A Night in Casablanca.

I often ask myself in complicated clinical situations, what would Groucho do?

'Hooray for Captain Spaulding,' I carolled as the door opened, which I thought was quite droll, because his name, can you believe it, was Joe Spaulding.

But even the infectious bonhomie of Groucho paled against the horror to come; Joe was turning his back and pulling down his trousers before the door was even shut.

'Hold it right there, pal,' I said, but it was too late, and the cattle prod was on the blink.

'What do you think?' he said.

An ambiguous question, so I deliberated for a moment. I considered and rejected: 'You have beautiful soft skin,' before I settled on, 'I wish I was lying on a beach with a young lady massaging aromatic oils into my rippling muscles.' I am not totally opposed to complementary medicine.

But this was the incorrect response; Joe started to reverse, inch by dreadful inch. Denial is a powerful mechanism, but I could deny it no longer; Joe wanted me to peer closely and intimately between his buttocks.

I have always had a sensitive disposition, I do not like actual physical contact - except certain types of complementary medicine - anyway the physical examination stuff is overrated. It's for theatrical purposes only (to show How Much We Care); I'm a great believer in the primacy of history.

'I've this awful rash ...' the bare cheeks mimed, edging ever closer.

I retreated, but the quivering mass kept coming, past desk edges, over a landmine (can you believe, I won it in a raffle).

'Alright, alright,' I sobbed, 'I see it, I see it, it's a rash, a rash.'

'What kind of rash?'

'An awful rash, oh God it's awful, I'll give you some cream.'

'And?' The buttocks now right in my face.

'Antibiotics, you need antibiotics,' I screamed, frantically scribbling a scrip with averted eyes. And as a drowsy numbness pained my senses, with a final defiant gesture, I signed it 'Hugo Z Hackenbush'.

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

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