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‘Once you step into Farrell’s world, it is not easy to return to your ordinary day’

Title: Are You the F**king Doctor?:
Tales from the Bleeding Edge of Medicine
Author: Dr Liam Farrell
Publisher: Dalzell Press
Reviewer: Dr Lucia Gannon

“You spend all your time looking at your computer instead of me,” he complained. “Listen buddy,” I said. “First of all, you’re no oil-painting… Secondly,” I continued, “To input the precious information you disclose, I must look at the computer… so tell me, why you are here today?” “I have an awful pain in my arm,” said Joe… “Okay,” I said. “I shall now attempt to type that in without looking at the computer, to try to express how much you are suffering, whilst all the time staring into your baby-blue eyes.” I then invited Joe to inspect the results, preserved for all eternity in his electronic health record (which I understand is somewhere up there in ‘The Cloud’). “Awful pain in the arse,” it read.

I first became familiar with Liam Farrell’s writing in the early 1990s, when I would awaken on a Saturday morning to the sound of my husband’s laughter, as he sat up in bed reading the latest Farrell BMJ column. Sleep was precious and it was a brave man who disturbed mine, but even I could not resist the bizarre, biting humour and manic imagination of Farrell’s literary nonsense. In the intervening years, Farrell has continued to write for medical journals and newspapers and it is a selection of this writing that has recently been published in a book called Are you the F***king Doctor? Tales from the Bleeding Edge of Medicine. I would advise buying a couple of copies, as once it appears in your house or surgery, everybody wants it and I just spent two days trying to find mine, only to discover that my daughter had ‘accidentally’ taken it away. The trouble with this book is that you think you will just dip in and read one or two stories, but once you step into Farrell’s world, it is not easy to return to your ordinary day and the temptation to read just one more is difficult to overcome.
Part memoir, part short story and part essay, this book is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates — ‘you never know which one you are going to get’. Anyone old enough to remember the Myles na gCopaleen ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’ columns in The Irish Times, or who has read a collection of those columns, will be struck by the similarity of style; the flights of fancy, the mythological references, the constant mingling of the ridiculous and the sublime. You will meet Joe, a member of the Dunning-Kruger club, a club who only admits people who are so stupid that they do not know how stupid they are. You will meet Josie, Beattie and Mamie, the religious fanatical aunts, who reappear throughout the book, making this read more like a memoir than a series of independent columns. But before you meet any of those people, you will meet Dr Liam Farrell himself.
In the first chapter, ‘Transient Pleasure, Prolonged Pain’, we join Dr Farrell in his dimly-lit bedroom as he prepares to inject morphine into his arm. This is not for medicinal purposes or on the advice of any medical person. This is the action of a doctor who cannot remember what led him to self-administer his first injection, but who can now think of nothing but the pleasure he will get from the drug. In this minute-by-minute account of the actual process of ‘using’, we begin to understand what drives an addict to take the next fix; the all-consuming nature of addiction; the power it wields over its victims; and the high price that must be paid for such transient pleasure — if indeed it could be called pleasure, so fleeting is the reward. We are reminded of how easy it is for medical doctors to start using drugs and become addicted. But it is also inspirational and hopeful, as we know that Farrell has overcome this addiction, remained connected to his family, maintained his career and can still entertain with his writing.
Rather than read about it, why not dive right in and see for yourself. Perhaps it will inspire your own flights of fancy, awaken the memory of some long-forgotten encounter and imbue it with new meaning, or provide an apt retort, should you perhaps find yourself in a tricky situation. There are many to choose from within the pages of this book.
“Madame,” I said. “My feelings are irrelevant. From your perspective, I am not a man, I am a doctor. You may consider me an asexual robot, the damnably handsome kind.” “So our love can never be,” she said. “Never,” I agreed. “Oh well,” she said. “Can I have some antibiotics then?”

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