Welcome home, it's good to have you back

When Joe left the practice I danced a little jig of despair, thinking of all those pointless consultations which I would now be spared. Our parting, alas, was not on good terms, and he rode into the sunset sticking up two fingers in a graceful gesture of farewell.

But, like many Irish emigrants before him, Joe found that the green of far-off fields was the bloom of algae growing on the effluent of a sewage plant. The other practices, unused to his eccentric genius, expected him to actually make an appointment and turn up on time, and the other doctors, insensitive to his unique metabolism, seemed to share my reservations about doling out industrial amounts of antibiotics, hypnotics and sick certs.

But we Irish are a simple people and the savage heart beats for its native shore, so one soft autumn day, there was a timid knock on the door, and Joe came in and asked if I would take him back. His expression was sheepish, but then Joe always had a curious sheep-like quality. I have returned from the wilderness, it seemed to say, where it was bloody cold, I can tell you.

Other doctors might have exploited the situation, might have used it to deliver a stern lecture about practice policy on prescribing and the importance of punctuality.

However, as a senior colleague once told me: 'Keep them on the hop, lad,' he said. 'Never let them know what you are thinking; always do the unexpected.' That was some time ago, and he may have been talking about his experiences during the Vietnam War when he was working for The Man selling black-market napalm and Agent Orange, but the message remained the same.

The prodigal son had returned, and I had the fatted calf ready, and beginning to realise that all the extra grub it was getting had a downside.

'Wait till mom hears about this', it used to say to itself, as it received yet another portion of juicy silage while the other poor calves were being turfed out into the field.

'Don't worry', it would call to them condescendingly. 'The cold weather will harden you up - hey you, mind how you're swinging that axe.'

'The mother ship has called you home, Joe,' I said. 'I have your prescription ready.'

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