Lost innocence or just modern stupidity

Garrison Kiellor's essays were the ideal companion for long car journeys; nothing else could quite while away the hours like his soft mid-western drawl (I had the whole set on cassette tapes, but now cassettes are ancient history, cars don't have tape-decks installed and my collection is redundant, rather like general surgeons).

His essays are mostly about his childhood in the mythical town of Lake Woebegone in Minnesota. The humour is understated, and there is always an underlying sense of sadness for a lost innocence. His great sin, he admits, is nostalgia.

I also yearn for the old days, when the only things we had to worry about (apart from seeing patients and trying to make them better) were vaccination and smear targets.

I remember the fun we used to have harassing the recalcitrant families. Playing loud music outside their houses, tipping over rubbish bins and sending them horses' heads.

Persuading the reluctant virgins of rural Ireland was a more formidable task; the same virtue that had preserved their chastity in defiance of the modern world's rampant promiscuity also rendered them impervious to rational argument. It required finesse and no opportunity could be allowed to pass.

She was about three months post-partum, and had requested the oral contraceptive; she was also due a smear, we were still hovering just below the magic 70 per cent and even with the benefit of creative accounting, the figures were not quite adding up.

'We must organise your smear soon,' I said, trying to make it sound like a joint decision.

'Oh, no,' she said, her face screwing up in distaste, 'I wouldn't like that at all, I've heard it isn't very nice.'

Because I am sometimes a good doctor (and I wanted to make a few quid) I pointed out that every sexually active woman should have regular smear tests, and that these would ensure early detection of cervical cancer.

'But I'm not sexually active,' she said.

'Look,' I said, feeling that logic was on my side, and that it might prove useful during a consultation, 'you've just had a baby, and you have requested the oral contraceptive; you must be, like, sexually active.'

'I'm not,' she replied firmly, 'I just lie there.'

Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Email him at GPcolumnists@haymarket.com

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