Liam Farrell: I didn't get where I am today by telling the truth

'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?' asked Shakespeare, but if he was a GP his Dark Lady might not have considered this a compliment; nothing says 'Summer is here', like the smell of stinky feet in the surgery.

The distinctive heady aroma would have choked a horse, but years of slow torture in the surgery have not only gifted me a disposition of extreme equanimity (which is occasionally misinterpreted as apathy, don't know how that happens) but also an insensitivity and immunity to all repulsive things.

Mrs O'Toole was unashamed.

'A lot of doctors have looked at that toe,' she said, wiggling her pinky proudly, and with an unmistakable air of defiance.

To me it looked unremarkable; I ain't the Toe Fairy, but I've seen a lot of toes in my time, and this one looked nothing special. But I didn't get where I am today by telling the truth; in the great tapestry that is family practice, hard facts are a luxury and telling the truth has a very limited place. Her toe was obviously very precious to her and it wasn't my job to rain on her parade by rating it as distinctly average.

'It's a lovely toe, a veritable aristocrat among digits,' I said; after the first big one ('Of course, I love you'), lies trip easily onto the tongue.

'I think so too,' she said, looking at it fondly.

'You really should let our chiropodist have a look at it; you never know, she might want to enter it for a show or something,' I suggested, as I have great respect for our colleagues in the foot-care business.

'Chiropodists,' she snorted dismissively, 'what do they know about toes; what do they know about feet?'

This curt repudiation of a whole branch of medicine rather intrigued me, so I teased it out further, wondering what other sacred cows she would consign to the garbage.

'What do you think of physiotherapists?' I asked.

'Bugger all use; it's all ritual,' she said, 'their evidence base is minimal, they're full of quackery, doctors are far better.'

I was surprised by such unexpected loyalty, especially after our collective and abject failure in The Case of the Fascinating Toe.

'And what's more,' she continued, 'physiotherapists can't sign sick certs or passport forms or driving licence applications.'

'Yeah,' I said, 'I'll bet they're sick with envy.'

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