Another busy morning in the Eoin O’Duffy Memorial Infirmary, aka “Blueshirt General”. As hospital Master Leo Varadkar chairs the weekly conference of senior clinicians, sharp differences arise over the use of the Human Papillomarvirus (HPV) vaccine.
Varadkar: So, Dr McGrath, I understand you have some concerns about the HPV jab, even though it’s hospital policy?
McGrath: Well, I had concerns last year, yes. But that was before I started working here. I was a mere independent consultant at that time.
Simon Harris: You didn’t just have concerns then, Dr McGrath. You said – and I quote from one of those wacko social media pages that feature your comments approvingly – that the vaccine should be withdrawn “as a matter of priority”.
McGrath: Yes, well, that was my position then. I only want what’s best for my patients. In this as in everything, I’m guided by the Hippocratic Oath.
Harris: The Hypocritic Oath, more like!
McGrath: Take that back, you young pup.
Varadkar: Gentlemen! Let’s not resort to the language of the barroom here. What people may or may not have said last year needn’t detain us much. What matters is now. So Dr McGrath, can we take it that from here on, you’re at one with us on this?
McGrath: As I’ve been saying in the media, I accept that such vaccines are an important part of hospital policy.
Harris: Accepting is not enough, Dr McGrath! We’re supposed to be promoting them against a wave of unjustified public scepticism.
McGrath: People have a right to ask questions.
Harris: Not when they don’t know what they’re talking about. The medical experts back this vaccine. Everyone else should butt out.
McGrath: And when did you become an expert, Dr Harris? If I remember correctly, your degree was in (spits the word) journalism. Where did you get your medical licence – the Internet?
Varadkar: Now, now, Dr McGrath – no need for that. We’re all highly qualified professionals here. (He glances at his watch). But I’m afraid I’ll have to leave you to your argument, gents. I have an appointment in SCU.
Frances Fitzgerald (puzzled): SCU?
Varadkar: The Strategic Communications Unit – my latest initiative. It’s important for hospitals to get their stories out first these days. Otherwise those pesky journalists (taps Harris on the shoulder) will do it for us, and not always so sympathetically.
En route to SCU. Dr Varadkar sees a patient he recognises being pushed on a trolley into A&E. He follows.
Varadkar: That’s Patrick O’Donovan, isn’t it? Our junior from Limerick? What happened him?
Paramedic 1: A terrorist incident. Or rather a series of them.
Varadkar: Gosh. What? Shooting? Stabbing? Explosives?
Paramedic 2: All three.
Paramedic 1: First he shot himself in the foot during an interview in which he claimed the 1974 Dublin-Monaghan bombings were carried out by the IRA.
Paramedic 2: Then later, he did a second interview to clarify this. And even though he was in a hole, he kept digging, and stabbed himself in the other foot with a spade.
Paramedic 1: After that, he wrote to victims’ relatives, apologising, but kept referring to the events as having happened in “1973”.
Varadkar (sighing): Alas for human frailty.
O’Donovan: Give it to me straight, Leo. Are my injuries life-threatening?
Varadkar: Career-threatening, maybe. But you’ll live. (He carries out a quick examination.)
The Strategic Communications Unit, later.
Varadkar: So, as we discussed, John, I don’t want this to be a mere Spin Shop.
John Concannon (SCU director): God forbid.
Varadkar: And I certainly don’t want it to add to perceptions of what some people are calling the “Cult of Leo”.
Concannon: Perish the thought.
Varadkar: Although if any legitimate human interest story arises in that line – say, an elderly patient claims to have been cured of something just by touching the hem of my garment – naturally, we would should share that with the public.
Concannon: Of course.
Varadkar: But it won’t be all about me. (He sees hospital personnel pass: Finian McGrath, Shane Ross and Mary Mitchell O’Connor – he frowns). You’ll have to deal with a lot of other sometimes colourful characters too. You need to make them all sound like they’re reading from a coherent script.
Concannon: I can do that.
Varadkar: You were the guy behind the branding of the Wild Atlantic Way, weren’t you?
Concannon: Yes, that was mine.
Vardakar (still watching the group as they continue down the corridor): So you took an anarchic jumble of loosely-connected highways and byways and, with clever signage and marketing, convinced people they were all going the same direction?
Concannon: That’s one way of looking at it.
Varadkar: I knew you were the right man for the job.