Liam Farrell: John Wayne would have dealt with swine flu..

How John Wayne only won a single Oscar was a mystery to me; it's probably because he never made any of those fancy foreign films or anything with subtitles. Critics may have alluded to his lack of range as an actor but to cinemagoers across the world he was every bit as believable as a tough cowboy with a heart of gold as he was a tough soldier with a heart of gold.

And his films were not just mindless entertainment for the masses; they had important messages for the discerning viewer, from his searing indictment of American imperialism in The Green Berets, to his polemical rage against misogyny and the exploitation of the common man in Big Jake.

He even had relevance for GPs; in Chisum as the eponymous hero, the Duke fearlessly faces down his arch enemy (played by Forrest Tucker, also the sergeant in F Troop, I'm amazed I actually know this kind of stuff) and tells him to forget all the legal complexities and political chicanery; in the end, says the Duke, it will come down to just the two of them, head to head and horn to horn.

And in the same way we knew it would happen to us as well, we knew in our hearts it would come down to this, at the last, at the end of all.

Because now it's just us and the swine flu, mano y mano (and the patient, of course, we can never forget the patient, we always have to put patients first etc etc blah blah blah); it's no good looking for outside support; yet again we are on our own. There will be no cavalry riding over the hill tootling its horns encouragingly, offering urgent serological confirmation, putting a finger on the elusive Mexican connection; from now on the diagnosis of swine flu will be purely a clinical decision, based on the exclusive and never-to-be-emulated criteria of cough, snuffles, headache, temperature symptoms (or maybe not), diarrhoea (or maybe not), and muscle aches and pains.

After all the hype and headlines, after all the international conference think-tanks were exhausted, after the public health specialists had finished jetting off all over the globe, after all the contact tracing and immigration controls, after all the talking was over, the message about swine flu has been whittled down to those three basic and unforgettable little words: call your GP.

Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Email him at

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins


Already registered?

Sign in