Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b3351

“You’re a marvellous doctor,” she said.

I shuffled my feet uneasily. We Irish are a modest race, but this is a veneer only; as La Rochefoucald observed, “To refuse praise is to wish to be praised twice.”

And “You’re a marvellous doctor” was, I felt, quite inadequate to describe the wonder that is me; I wanted a parade, a brass band, Mickey Mouse, stars climbing the dew dropping sky just to light my passing feet, Angelina (Jolie) weeping by the phone the next day because I hadn’t called her.

“And little Johnny thinks you’re wonderful,” she said.

“Children have a way of seeing things clearly, don’t you think?” I allowed.

“Just one thing,” she said, “that outfit may scare him. He’s very sensitive.”

The swine flu protective gear was a bit intimidating, I had to agree, I looked as if I had been driving through plutonium.

“So,” she continued, “if you could take it off and then come to the window where Johnny can see you put it on again he’ll know it’s dear old Dr Farrell, not some monster fixing to burst out of his stomach. In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have let him watch Alien.”

The wonderful and so easily manipulated Dr Farrell could hardly refuse such a request, and I began to disrobe. It had been a serene summer’s day, but a capricious little squall displayed precise timing. My cap flew off into a nearby leylandii; a startled flock of pigeons exploded out, venting their outrage by strafing me with guano. One apron cord got tangled in an overhead power cable, there was a fizzing noise and my hair caught fire; a passing eucalyptus went up like a torch.

The bib flapped over my face as the other apron cord sneakily wrapped itself round my legs. Blinded, dazed, in agonising pain, and stinking of guano, I blundered across the garden, smashing headlong into the bird table, which had been thoughtfully stocked that very morning. A cascade of seeds, nuts, and mealworms (for robins, apparently) rained down upon me, followed by a second wave of ravenous tits, wrens, chaffinches, and a crazed and disoriented woodpecker (there are no woodpeckers in Ireland).

By this time the whole neighbourhood had gathered in goggle-eyed fascination to swop a few tinnies and see what I’d do next; an ice cream van, sensing a commercial opportunity, tinkled a merry tune. Someone cranked up a barbecue + the smell of roast pork graced the air.

Fortunately a torrential shower intervened, dousing the flames and disappointing the crowd. I discarded the pathetic remnants of the protective suit and went in to examine little Johnny.

“Don’t worry, my lad,” I said, “You’re going to be fine,” I told him.

“Who are you?” he replied.


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