Liam Farrell: Heroic, agonised, improvisational: that was me

When I was a lad, medicine was still adhering slavishly to the traditional doctrine that the sickest and most vulnerable patients should be looked after by the most inexperienced and incompetent doctors; casualty consultants were unheard of and the other consultants would have laughed at them anyway.

Casualty then was sleeves rolled up, blood and muck to the knees, finger in the dyke stuff, and Saturday nights were like a war zone.

One night I was the only doctor on duty when the fight started, usually my signal to instantly flee (hey, someone had to tell the outside world). Go Tell the Spartans, I thought nobly, but unfortunately I had delayed too long, and the fight had already mushroomed and spilled throughout the department. All egress was blocked, what was a guy to do?

But learning to improvise is all part of a doctor's training.

I grabbed a baby from a cot and, holding it up like a talisman, began to thread my way through the mayhem, pausing only to wipe some blood from a passing meat-cleaver and smear it on my face. In those days, AIDS was only a distant rumour from the bathhouses of the west coast (GRIDs, it was called then) and the long-term risk of hep B was a poor second to the risk of brutal dismemberment.

'Watch out for the baby!' I shouted; the baby, obviously having read the script, and being a good baby, began to cry piteously.

Some conventions must be observed, and the fight parted round me like the Red Sea. Bursting through the doors into the main hospital, I realised a crowd had gathered, and that I cut a rather dashing figure. I also knew that a little bit of theatre was called for.

'Someone take the baby,' I said, with an air of weary heroism, 'I gotta go back in'.

Hands grabbed at me, just as I had planned.

'You can't go back in, it's madness, you're bleeding,' chanted the crowd.

'You don't understand,' I protested, the very picture of agonised and conflicted virtue, struggling to escape their clutches (but not struggling too hard), 'there may be more babies in there.'

'Don't worry, doctor,' said a nurse, looking at me with adoring eyes. 'You've done enough.'

Young and politically incorrect, I checked out her nubile young form. 'Maybe you're right,' I said.

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