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‘Sorry for bothering you, doctor’

Dr Pat Harrold

Dr Pat Harrold writes about the peculiarly Irish trait of not wanting to put people to any trouble

It’s an Irish thing. Most nationalities don’t care if they bother you or not. (‘You are being paid for it, aren’t you? So I am bothering you? Now give me the tablets.) But not the Irish; we prefer an oblique run-up.
I worked in practice years ago in what they now call a ‘rural area’, but was then called the ‘back-end of nowhere’. I would bid goodbye to the last patient. I would then finish up whatever bits of paperwork that had to be done, replace charts, close down the computer, set the heating, put on the alarms, and swiftly exit, locking the doors as I left. I would go out to my car to find a handful of punters standing respectfully around it. They would sidle forward and mutter requests for prescriptions, forms and the divil knows what else.
So I would have to open up the whole bloody place again and get out their notes.
“Why,” I would ask, “did you not just come in?”
“Ah, I didn’t like to bother you, doctor.”
Maybe it is like much else — a post-colonial hang-up.
Many years ago, in my student days, my pal Joe and I went to London.
“Never go to England the first time,” an old man told us on the Holyhead train, but it was too late by then. On arrival, we went to the job centre, where I got a start with an Irish building company of dubious repute. “The Irish are the worst to work for,” the old man said to us. (He started telling us about a horse coming in 18-to-one but as we looked bored, he started talking to a tall young man with bad teeth instead. Wonder what became of them?) Anyway, Joe impressed them enough to be offered a job in the dole office .
I found myself working with terrifying men of superhuman strength, all as tough as lumps of scaffolding iron.
Joe saw a different side to these same people.
“In the last week, I must have seen nationalities from everywhere and the most shy, polite person you could meet is a man from the west of Ireland,” he said.
These giants would stand about three feet from the hatch and whisper, “I would like to enquire about signing on please.” This explains a lot. Put a person in a place of authority, and we still treat them with respect.
Maybe we treat them with too much respect. It is as if it is the height of bad manners to discuss the real reason they are talking to you at all.

He does not have the form. He has not got his glasses, although he drove here. He has not seen the optician, although he should. All these things would be too organised and would fall into the category of ‘bothering you’


I once tried to buy a bit of land I saw advertised in an auctioneer’s office in the West. It was what I wanted, the price was right and I had the money. So I went to the auctioneer and offered the full amount. He said he would approach the farmer and strike the deal. As I had not heard from him in several weeks, I went to his office to enquire what the blazes was happening. He was most put-out. He had not actually contacted the farmer at all.
“How was I to know that I wouldn’t bump in to him?” he asked indignantly. Years later, I can see that he thought I was a complete savage who expected him to actually ring or write to the farmer, instead of creeping up to the man after Mass and muttering in his ear in the accepted manner.
It lingers, the ‘not bothering you’. You can see it in the behaviour of the man who comes into your office and after discussing hurling, the weather, politics, showing you his varicose veins that he does not want anything done about, brandishing the mark on his arm that has not changed in 40 years, shuffling to the door and putting his hand on the handle, turns and tells you that his driving licence is up.
He does not have the form. He has not got his glasses, although he drove here. He has not seen the optician, although he should. All these things would be too organised and would fall into the category of ‘bothering you’.
I am used to it. I have enough people telling me what they want, and they want it now. He can come back and we will run through it and have him safely driving another day, and he was quite informative about the hurling. I suppose you could say I am not bothered.

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