Liam Farrell: Christmas home visits in a winter of discontent

The Dickensian Christmas is a thing of the past, so to speak; global warming may be bad news for polar bears, but it's no picnic for GPs either.

Christmas-time home visits have long been an integral and much-cherished weave in the great tapestry of general practice, as far back as the day Aesculapius would quaff a slug of ouzo from his amphora and say: 'Are you absolutely sure you can't come to the surgery?' But the aesthetic balance has been irrevocably altered, and now it's just mud and misery from October to April.

Gone forever are the days of rich beds, bright fires, big mugs of tea laced with whiskey, freshly baked scones and the scent of cloves and honey-roasted hams. House calls then were a wonderland: grateful patients offering home-made Christmas puddings, barnyard animals smiling over the fences as if ready to burst into song, like being in a Disney movie starring Dr Finlay and James Heriot, and getting jiggy with Julie Andrews as the final credits rolled.

So instead of tap-dancing through the farmyard on a magical white carpet of freshly fallen snow, I was in muck to the knees, and it wasn't just non-organic cow muck.

It was a cocktail of steaming malodorous ordure that would have given even the mighty Hercules pause for thought: 'Not more bloody cows,' he'd have said, remembering his bad experience in the Augean stables. 'Give me the Nemean Lion any day.'

I squelched to the door.

'Now is the winter of our discontent made summer by this glorious ...' I began, as a bit of scholarship usually goes down well with our stout yeomanry, but I was interrupted; the traditional warm Irish welcome had become, with bitter irony, much colder.

'Are you the f***ing doctor?' I was asked.

I was rather taken aback, so I explained carefully that I was just an ordinary doctor, to be a f***ing doctor required further qualifications, years of arduous postgraduate study culminating in a demanding final examination in which the crucial element was, obviously, the oral; after which you were awarded a magnificent diploma and a jar of antifungal foot cream.

The consultation, suffice to say, was short, and ended with a prescription for antibiotics.

Global warming or not, some things never change.

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

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