This is quite alright with me, managing uncertainty being one of the core skills of general practice. But it was not always this way.
‘Doctor, I think I’m gay.’
It was a cry from the heart, a long time ago in deepest rural Ireland.
He was a young man, lost, cast adrift, alone and afraid, like the sad heart of Ruth, sick for home amid the alien corn.
Well, he’d come to the right man. This was many years ago, long before the Celtic Tiger, and I was young myself, and so laid back I could hardly see over my pelvis. We had a long chat.
I assured him that he was quite normal and had nothing to be ashamed about.
I put him in touch with a few support groups, we discussed safe sex in a frank and open manner, and I also advised extreme discretion in case he was hunted out of town.
As he left I shook hands with him; I wanted him to know that here he would always find Dr Cool, a sympathetic, understanding, non-judgmental ear.
But, in my efforts to go that extra mile and win the Olympic Gold medal for empathy, I held on to his hand just a fraction, just the slightest tad too long, and I could suddenly sense him looking at me in a new light.
This, I reckoned, was going a bit too far in broadmindedness; perhaps he had misinterpreted my professional concern.
I felt threatened. After all, I was young and idealistic and not yet sunk too deeply in the Slough of Despond that is general practice which renders us to be apathetic to care about what anybody else thinks, an attitude which is often mistaken for self-assurance.
So when he next came to see me I immediately launched into a lurid spiel in a crude and ultra-laddish kind of way. I regaled him with how many pints of stout I’d sunk and how many birds I’d rogered over the weekend.
It felt as if I was compensating for something.
He seemed unaffected by this catharsis, and then demonstrated that at least one of us had come to terms with his sexuality and was ready to enter the real world.
‘I’ve an awful sore throat,’ he said, ‘can I have an antibiotic?’
Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh.
Email him at GPcolumnists@haymarket.com