He had been retired for many years, but enjoyed accompanying me on house calls. He’d looked after our patients for over fifty years, battling ceaselessly through the dark times of the Troubles, bearing unfailing witness to the joys and sorrows that are baked into the clay of which the world is made, and I always felt very fortunate to be accompanied by his wisdom and knowledge.
He was a great big laughing man, always in good form, vital and vigorous, and his patients would say they felt better just looking at him; coming in to see him, they weren’t just coming to see any doctor, but someone who knew their seed, breed and generation. The comfort of being listened to and understood, the warmth of a smile, these things can’t be seen or touched or counted or measured, but they are very, very real. A lot of important things are like that.
I reflected on my good fortune; too many of our older generation are allowed to dream away their valuable experience while nodding by the fireside.
I’d never had a mentor, perhaps because I was too obnoxious; but also I never thought I needed one, and it was an epiphany, after all the years of medical school and hospital and GP rotations, to encounter someone I could really admire and really want to emulate.
Without his guidance and example I would have missed many things; how good it is to be needed, that it was better to like my patients than have them liking me, and most of all, the importance of being kind.
In his eighties, made weak by time and fate, we took a day-trip to Cheltenham National Hunt Festival. We left at the crack of dawn, took an early flight, had a wonderful day, walking the course beforehand, meeting the legends of the turf, relishing the gladiatorial atmosphere.
Exhausted, I dropped him back to his front door just before midnight, and then he turned to me, as if to strive, to seek, and not to yield, and said: 'That was great, young fella. Next year we’ll go for the whole three days.'
Dedicated to Dr Jack Crummie
Liam and Dr Jack Crummie at Cheltenham Racecourse
- Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Follow him on Twitter @drlfarrell