Liam Farrell: The real difference between GPs and consultants

'These young junior doctors,' said Joe. 'They're so full of energy, so passionate, so enthusiastic, so idealistic. How is it then that they all turn into fat complacent consultants who only heart's desire is a big shiny car and a reserved parking spot. Is it like that Kafka novel, Metamorphosis, where a man wakes up one day as a cockroach?'

‘You are utterly mistaken Joe,’ I said, momentarily discommoded by Joe’s unexpected display of literary scholarship.

‘Your image of consultants is completely based on the Sir Lancelot Spratt caricature. I admit that some of the noxious breed may still exist in dark corners, usually identified by the word emeritus, but I assure you that all the consultants I know are hard-working, diligent, and deeply committed to the NHS, yet under more and more pressure each day from increased expectations, reduced resources and ever-expanding bureaucracy.’

‘But that last one you sent me to,’ said Joe. ‘He wasn’t very nice.’

‘Alas,’ I said. ‘Being nice to you is not in his job specification; being nice to you is one of the many bucks that stop with me. It can be an onerous burden, but one that fate has ordained I must carry alone.’

‘And when he examined me, he was very rough.’

‘Rough?’ I enquired.

‘Rough compared to you, I mean,’ said Joe. ‘You were very gentle.’

I shuddered; I’d repressed the memory of having to examine the Congo of Joe’s body. Repression is how we Irish deal with things, and it’s all the fault of the British, Before you invaded we were a bawdy, uninhibited, licentious folk, but you left us a crippling legacy of Victorian prudery (especially regarding sex).

What Joe had interpreted as ‘gentleness’ had instead been a cocktail of fear, timidity and revulsion. ‘My God,’ I remembered thinking (there are no atheists in fox-holes). ‘I am going to have to actually, like, touch him.’

And now the memories came flooding back as my sub-conscious gave up the unequal struggle; inside I was screaming like a little girl, like I’d been speed-reading Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, but I repressed that as well, determining to take it out later on a bottle of vodka.

‘By the way, doc,’ said Joe, his new-found literary sensitivity alert to my vulnerability. ‘I think I have the crabs again.’

  • Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Follow him on Twitter@drlfarrell

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