Sticks and stones are nothing

I have learned many things in my 25 years of general practice...

that bendrofluazide does not bring down blood pressure, that everyone should get antibiotics all the time, that everyone should be immediately admitted to hospital, and that I am not Mother Teresa.

But most of all, I have learned that people who are sick and infirm can be just as selfish and obnoxious as anyone else.

Doctors learn to live with insults; it’s part of the onerous burden that society has ungratefully foisted upon us. The buck stops with us; when shit happens, someone has to take the blame and we are an easy and convenient target.

We are a safe target as well, as they know we won’t hit back; as yet, despite much provocation, I have never actually punched a patient in the face (well, not on purpose; there was that broken nose incident but it was a total accident, I swear, I am rather theatrical and I was using my elbows to illustrate a complex point, and anyway there were no witnesses, you can’t prove anything).

Not that insults bother me too much, equanimity and/or apathy being one of my strong points when I am being used as a verbal punch bag.

You might as well punch a feather pillow for all the good it will do you and hey, if it makes you feel better and think that you’re a tough guy, well, whatever, that’s quite alright with me.

If people who are afraid and vulnerable, and also objectionable, want to strike out against the unfairness of life, I guess I can understand that, I’ll be busy counting the dots on the wallpaper or spending time in my happy place, a place which heavily features golden sands, piña coladas, bronzed bodies and lots of oil.

But even my, by now legendary, equanimity/apathy was slightly disturbed by this particular encounter.

‘Your disgust me,’ he snarled, contempt in his expression and venom in his eyes.

‘You’re fat, you’re bald, you’re ugly, you slobber like a hyena, you stink of cheap cologne, you sweat like a longshoreman, you dress like a pimp and you have a rhinophyma the size of Argentina.’

‘Hey, can’t argue with any of that,’ I admitted with a shrug, ‘you’re a pretty good judge,’ but he was not to be mollified.

‘And I’d like to leap over this desk right now, rip out your stinking lily-livered guts and shove them down your throat.’

Gosh, I thought to myself, the appraisal process ain’t what it used to be. 

Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Email him at

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