Liam Farrell: Let us live according to the Art

The Ryanair attendant, desperation in his eyes, was trying to flog me a scratch card, while the gaudy blue and yellow paint was offending my sensibilities and making me nauseous.

Ryanair takes this miracle and turns it to dross; this miracle of hurling a hundred tons of metal into the air and yet landing it safely again.

Ryanair may do it better than anyone else, but really we are all guilty; we take the miracles of science for granted and then complain when science doesn't have all the answers. Of course, it is totally our fault for expecting that it should.

For most of the patients I see every day in the surgery, cold science and cool reason have only a minor part to play; there is a good reason why Mr Spock was not medical officer on the Enterprise. The emotional and vulnerable McCoy was a better choice - plus he had a little pen-thingy which was a cracking diagnostic aid.

Science needs a problem to solve; often we doctors do not actually know what the problem is, nor who actually has the problem. No clinical textbook is of any use for these indecipherables and imponderables.

We doctors live on the cusp of uncertainties, we dance on the edge of knives. Science takes us only so far, but then the maps stop - 'here be dragons', they say, the grey areas of intuition and imagination and feelings.

Fortunately these are powerful weapons; I learnt more about the human mind from Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment than I did from any psychiatry textbook. We understand human frailty because we also are human and frail, and the art of medicine is to appreciate and respond to these frailties in the right way.

Every one of us has suffered, so we can empathise with Van Gogh's self portrait - the artist and the observer and the shared experience, the doctor and the patient and the mutual understanding.

In contrast to the cold and hard-earned truths of scientific medicine, this is all vague and uncertain; it has to be learned by bitter experience, it can't be taught, it needs sensitivity and empathy.

I'm going out now to look at the sunset; it always makes me want to cry, especially when I am flying home with Ryanair.

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