Liam Farrell: When the day of judgment arrives

When we die, after having CPR and a few complimentary broken ribs, religious folk believe that we present ourselves at the Gates of Heaven, there to be judged on whether we were naughty or nice.

It would seem more efficient if patients provided their medical records at that time; though not a indicator of morality or lack of (there are many more aspects to patients than just being patients), they are a womb-to-tomb record, from which St Peter might make appropriate inferences.

In Joe’s case, when he turns up with his records in a celestial wheelbarrow, St Peter will say, 'I don’t know about you yet, Joe, but your doctor had a saint’s patience.'

Pick your patients more carefully than your friends, I say, because your patients will be with you longer.

‘Of all that is written, I love only what a person hath written with his blood,' said Nietzsche. He would have simply adored Joe’s medical records, which have been laced with my blood, spiced with a generous helping of sweat and the occasional tear as well, in fact every possible body fluid except semen. They could be read in a fortnight or two (or three), if that was your idea of a good time.

When I retired, I realised I was handing over Joe’s case to another doctor, and I danced a little jig of despair. If I’d wanted to be really helpful, I could have put a (removable) sticky on the front of that fat file; 'Ignore everything inside,' it might have said. The case summary would read, ‘Joe always thinks he is sick, but is always well; just keep telling him what he doesn’t have; whatever really important things are in here are drowned in a sea of irrelevance.'

But then I remembered all the dark days, when I laboured in the valley of shadow of death, and how my heart would sink when that huge set of notes (and that was volume six only) would come thumping down on the desk in front of me (I’d feel oddly disappointed that the desk didn’t actually collapse) as Joe sat down and engineered one chubby knee over the other.

'Just let me go outside to cry for a moment,' I’d say to him. Joe’s multitudinous complaints were reliable and consistent, and even, in an ever-more rapidly changing world, sort of comforting. Only not very.

I’d suffered, and now it was someone else’s turn; to paraphrase La Rochefoucauld, there is something in the misfortune of other doctors which is not completely unpleasant.

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

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