Liam Farrell: A real crowd pleaser of a death

Joe had been ill for a long time, and his death expected.

My arrival was met by a vast crowd of grieving relatives; sandwiches were already being made (egg and onion is a staple) and glasses, mugs and politically incorrect trays of cigarettes were being set out on the table, in readiness for the upcoming festivities. I could even hear the raw scrape of a fiddle being tuned.

With all these harbingers, confirming death was not difficult. As usual, the end of the bed was close enough, but some conventions must be observed; check for a pulse, a little bit of theatrical auscultation, a sad sigh.

When I emerged from the bedroom, wearing an appropriately sober mien, all activity ceased.

'Is he gone, doctor?' they asked.

'He's gone,' I confirmed, facts at my fingertips.

'What did he die of?' they enquired. They were all family, so confidentiality was not an issue, and I felt they deserved the truth. The problem was that I really didn't know. Joe was old, and had been in bed for years, had multi-infarct dementia, peripheral vascular disease, COPD et al. Investigating for a precise cause would have been unnecessary and cruel, so picking out the cause of his ultimate demise was impossible.

But I fielded the question gracefully, feeling like George Bush at a White House press conference, though without the stumbling incoherence.

'It was his heart,' I said. 'His heart stopped,' I stonewalled, playing a blinder.

'His heart stopped,' came the muttered Greek chorus.

'But, underneath it all, he was as strong as a horse,' I said, believing that a little praise goes a long way.

'Strong as a horse,' droned the echo, the chorus nodding and smiling at each other at this objective medical compliment to the animal vitality of their seed and breed.

'He had a great engine, that's what kept him going so long,' I continued, going with the flow, intent on further crowd pleasing.

'A great engine, a great engine,' hummed the room, the atmosphere becoming almost celebratory.

'And Dr Farrell should know,' said a voice from the back, 'because he's a very good doctor.'

And not a bad orator either, I thought.

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

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