Try to relax in front of patients

She stopped as she was turning the door handle. ‘By the way,' she said, ‘I've had this awful…,'

‘Too late,’ I interrupted, the regret poignant and aching in my voice, neatly disguising the satisfaction that this ‘by the way’ had been headed off at the pass. ‘I’ve already rung the bell for the next patient,’ I said.

My expression, which I have refined over many years of being dumped on, was sombre, troubled and gravid with deceit and gloating enjoyment. ‘I’m terribly, terribly sorry,’ it implied, ‘Nothing would give me greater satisfaction than to have you sit back down in that already well-warmed chair and regale me with even more amusing and gratuitously colourful anecdotes about your endlessly fascinating and volatile bodily functions, but hey, I’ve rung the bell now, so what can I do? The Rubicon has been crossed, my hands are tied, the next patient will soon come a-knocking on the door, and those few precious moments we are sharing together will be violated by crude reality and the lumpen proletariat. I’d cut off my arm if I could take back that bell, but I can’t, so why don’t you come again tomorrow. I’m away unfortunately, I’m taking a short sabbatical castrating bulls in Cordoba, trying to get in touch with my feminine side. But don’t worry, my partner will be here and he’s a lovely man. He’s always got plenty of time to listen, he just loves to chat, in fact he’s famous for it.

‘In any case, I feel you should be shared around a bit because it would be both selfish and greedy of me to keep your uniquely charming and stimulating conversation and repartee all to myself; to paraphrase Anthony Trollope, you have delighted me for long enough.’

This facial expression is a well-learned response to my very own Pavlovian bell, but I must emphasise that it requires practice; appearing to look interested and concerned is not the easy option it might first appear, but rather it is a huge effort on my behalf, and takes a real commitment, because my default expression is looking bored and apathetic and as if I’m wishing I were a million miles away having my toenails stapled together by a Gurkha. It relaxes the facial muscles and is ergonomically much more efficient, the kind of energy-saving device that will probably contribute in its own little way to the worldwide initiative to alleviate global warming.

But for my patients, I’m always willing to go that extra mile, and for once the future of the planet and of our children and our children’s children must take a back seat. Bono might not approve, but our patients must come first.

- Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh.

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