Liam Farrell: Sympathy? I'm afraid it has just left town

If one could get past all the endless demands for antibiotics and sleeping tablets and X-rays and brain scans, the surgery had been quite enjoyable.

To a true connoisseur's eye, maybe it lacked a few pointless requests for sick certs. In addition, I hadn't been sprayed with any noxious body fluids or drained of my life force by an annoyingly young drug rep with nauseatingly cheap cologne, but by now the mind-numbing tedium had me bordering on a level of insanity which would have qualified me for any number of highly influential NHS administrative positions and pining for those happy days when I'd been hunted down by wild dogs in a sandstorm and savaged by a school of hungry piranha in a cesspit before becoming a hostage captured by terrorists.

Then I became aware of a charming sensation, like a dozen red-hot spear points sticking into my eyeballs, a sensation which usually heralded Joe's arrival.

Sure enough, his sweatshirt (essentially just a shirt, he provided the sweat himself, in ample quantities) was garish enough to induce a little vertigo; the style looked late Flower Power, with just a hint of New Romantic decadence, but frankly, there were too many tomato sauce stains for a proper fashion critique. 'I've been a bit deaf lately,' he said.

Sympathy is one of the cardinal virtues of every doctor; it's a pity they can't test for it in those UKCAT and BMAT thingies, but I guess they're too busy adding another level of totally unnecessary and expensive bureaucracy.

Those of us who coughed up hundreds of pounds as penniless junior doctors for the virtually meaningless diploma in obstetrics and diploma in child health will be all too familiar with this practice; extracting money from young people is an ancient and honourable medical tradition.

But I was fresh out of sympathy; avarice, gluttony, envy, lust, sarcasm, I had plenty of those left. As La Rochefoucauld so memorably said, we are more often loved for our vices rather than our virtues, which is a seventeenth century version of good girls, bad boys.

'Deaf?' I said to Joe, 'And I thought you were just stupid.'

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