Liam Farrell: Taking time to cut through the niceties

'Thanks, doctor,' said Joe, pocketing his protection money and getting up to leave.

‘Hold your horses,’ I said. ‘It has been ordained that GP consultations should last 50% longer.’

‘Really?’ said Joe, fascinated by the concept that I wanted him to stay a bit longer, he being well aware that when I tell him to ‘take care’ I actually mean ‘take off’.

‘Which gives you,’ I said, making a rapid calculation, ‘another 30 seconds.’

‘OK,’ said Joe, always happy to co-operate.

We sat twiddling our thumbs in silence; I’m happy with silence, I could listen to it all day, especially during surgery hours. But Joe was less serene.

‘This is nice,’ he said, uncomfortably.

By this time in a Zen-like trance, I did not respond, and Joe felt something further was needed.

‘Maybe you could give me some lifestyle advice,’ he said.

Irritated by having to return prematurely to planet Earth, I was a bit more brusque than usual. ‘No problem,’ I said. ‘You’re too fat.’

Joe was discommoded by my bluntness. ‘That’s not very nice, doctor,’ he said. ‘I thought doctors were supposed to be more supportive, less judgmental.’

It's a dirty job
‘Niceness doesn’t enter into it,’ I said. ‘To paraphrase W.B. Yeats, I do not tread softly for fear of treading on your dreams. It’s my job to tell it like it is; a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it.’

‘But shouldn’t you break it to me gently,’ said Joe. ‘Maybe I have a slow metabolism, or big bones or something.’

This, I had to admit, was a good point. ‘Big bones, big belly, big arse, you have the complete collection,’ I agreed.

‘You’re much too negative,’ he said. ‘I could do with a bit of positive thinking.’

‘To quote William Wilberforce,’ I said. ‘"Flatterers are not friends; nay sir, they are your deadliest enemies".’

‘Though,’ I hastened to add, ‘I’m your doctor, not your friend,’ drawing a little Venn diagram to demonstrate this dictum in a mathematical format; a circle labelled doctor and a circle labelled patient with a big space, a metaphorical desk, in between them.

‘So I’m fat,’ said Joe. ‘What should I do about it?’

‘Your time is up,’ I said. ‘Take care.’

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