Liam Farrell: When we doctors should strike back

We crossed a small but significant Rubicon last week. Physical attacks on doctors have been increasing, the armour of our non-combatant status shedding its potency more and more with each day that passes.

There are times when such attacks might be predictable - a night call down a dark alley, a drink-crazed lager lout in A&E, an overly territorial sheep. But how about this for an unlikely scenario? A football stadium, 50,000 in attendance, millions more watching on TV.

At the All-Ireland GAA football quarter final, in Croke Park in Dublin, between Donegal and Armagh, the Donegal doctor was sent flying by an Armagh player. The doctor displayed admirable equanimity, picking himself up with what was left of his dignity and refusing to complain either during or after the match.

But was this the right response? Must we always turn the other cheek? I'm a lover, not a fighter, but as is often the case in medicine, there is no right thing to do, just the least wrong thing. It's time to make a stand.

If I'd been the doctor, I would have got up slowly, waited until the player's back was turned (he was a big lad), then slugged him from behind, before beating a quick retreat to the safety of the dug-out. Inside I'd be screaming like a baby, but as Muhammad Ali, the toughest man who ever lived, once said: 'He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.'

Unprofessional behaviour, I hear you say, but no, this would have been preventive medicine at its finest. Attack a doctor again, it would say, and see what you get, when your back is turned, you are doomed - dark things come out at night and your lifelong terror will be perfectly reasonable.

We'd explain our actions, of course; keeping patients informed is a cornerstone of the doctor/patient relationship. Sometimes the things that are good for you in the long run, we'd say, hurt for a little while when you first get them. And it won't hurt too much, we're using a blunt needle, see? We would never condone violence in any form.

Except when we do it, naturally.

  • Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh.

Follow him on Twitter @drlfarrell

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