Liam Farrell: The best lesson is not always out of a textbook

My intern post involved a rotation, the first six months in my teaching hospital, then a second six months out in the sticks.

In the teaching hospital, interns were treated like dogs and were strictly at the bottom of the pecking order, below student nurses, assistant social workers, porters, janitors, clinical photographers, men who cleaned the toilets, clinical photographers; there was nobody who couldn't kick us around and enjoy doing it.

Then suddenly I was transported to rural Ireland, where there was just me and a consultant, a nice doddery old gent strolling towards retirement. He was absent most of the time, apart from the occasional ward round, where he would stand at the end of the bed, looking faintly puzzled, before murmuring 'not much we can do here'.

When leaving for the day, usually in the late morning or early afternoon, he would pat me on the shoulder and said 'don't be afraid to call me, at any time', in a kindly, reassuring tone. But the subliminal message was quite different: 'Don't call me,' it went, 'even if the local orphanage goes up in a nuclear explosion.'

So, with one bound, suddenly I was the man, the top banana - and nurses, phlebotomists and radiographers jumped at my every call. 'How high, master?' was their only question. 'Try harder,' I would reply.

It was a heady, intoxicating experience. I remember doing procedures at night in the ICU, in front of an awestruck audience of nurse and relatives, procedures which in a normal society would have been considered GBH, aided only by The House Physician's Handbook, which was small enough to be surreptitiously consulted. Our years as junior doctors were supposed to be a learning experience, and I learned those lessons well.

House calls to Joe, though short, were never pleasant, largely due to his doubtful personal hygiene. They only took about 60 seconds, but it was a minute longer than you'd care to spend there, just long enough to hear his latest trivial complaint and check that nothing was seriously wrong, apart from unrelenting indolence and rampant hypochondria.

Not much I can do here, I thought, and then, aloud, in a kindly, reassuring tone: 'Don't be afraid to call me, at any time.'

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins


Already registered?

Sign in

Follow Us:

Just published

£20 notes spread out

VAT trap for PCNs could strip millions of pounds from general practice

Tens of millions of pounds could be stripped from general practice because work carried...

Talking General Practice logo

Podcast: Is the BMA representing GPs effectively, why GPs face a pension tax hit, and views on the workload crisis

In our regular news review the team discusses representation of GPs, a new survey...

Man sleeping

NICE guidance on insomnia backs app to replace sleeping pills

Hundreds of thousands of people with insomnia could be offered treatment via a mobile...

Health worker prepares a dose of COVID-19 vaccine

JCVI backs autumn COVID-19 booster campaign for high-risk adults and NHS staff

Frontline health and social care staff and adults at increased risk of severe illness...

GP consultation

Government accused of 'misleading' claims on general practice workforce

GP leaders have accused the government of making misleading claims about the general...

Consulting room door

LMC calls for enhanced access to be scrapped after abuse forces practice to close reception

A Midlands LMC has backed a practice forced to close its reception desk after abuse...