Emergencies are a way of life at the Eoin O’Duffy Memorial Infirmary, aka “Blueshirt General”. But when the patient is a close friend and colleague, in this case the Director General of the Health Service Executive, staff must still remain calm and professional as they go about their life-and-death work.
Tony O’Brien (in bed, looking around him, dazed): What’s happening? Where am I?
Leo Varadkar: You’ve had a bit of a turn for the worse, I’m afraid. But don’t worry. You’re in the hands of the Irish health system.
O’Brien: Oh no! My worst nightmare! Get me out of here.
Simon Harris: Just try to relax, Tony. We’ll make you better. Maybe.
Varadkar (to Harris): Don’t call him Tony. You get emotionally involved that was – not good for you when they die.
Nurse: He’s flatlining, doctor!
Varadkar: Damn. How do you know?
John Concannon: It’s all over Twitter. There’s zero sympathy out there.
Harris (checking phone): They’re right, Dr Varadkar. We’re losing him.
Concannon: And even worse, we’re losing control of the narrative.
Nurse: There must be something we can do.
Varadkar (Checking phone): No. Looks like he’s toast all right.
Patient: What? Jesus!
Varadkar: Okay people, I’m calling it. Where’s the plug?
Patient: But…you can’t withdraw my life support like that!
Varadkar: Don’t worry. You’ll get a €140,000 golden handshake and six months’ pay in advance. It’s a pretty good deal, all things considered.
A churchyard in Killiney. At the funeral of Monica Barnes, the current hospital master bumps into his predecessor.
Enda Kenny: Well, young Varadkar. I hope you’re bearing up under the pressures of the job – as you’ve probably found out by now, it’s not as easy as I made it look.
Varadkar: It has its moments, certainly.
Kenny (shaking his hand): Sorry for your troubles, by the way.
Varadkar: What? Oh I didn’t really know Monica, to be honest. She was before my time.
Kenny: I meant Tony O’Brien. It’s never easy when you lose one of your own like that.
Varadkar: Oh yes, Tony. Very sad. Difficult decision, as you can imagine.
Kenny: You did the right thing. Remember the Hippocratic Oath: In a crisis, always save your own arse first.
Varadkar: Er, I don’t think that’s quite the version I learned in Medical School. But I’ll take your word for it. Anyway, remind me who this Monica Barnes was exactly?
Kenny: She was a highly-respected matron back in the day. Worked over on our old left wing – insofar as we had a left wing then. It was 1980s Ireland – you probably never heard of it.
Varadkar: I wish! I can assure you that 1980s Ireland is still very much with us, the cantankerous old bastard. In fact, we’re having it in the hospital again next week for a big operation.
Kenny: Yes, I heard. You’re removing the 8th Amendment?
Varadkar: That’s the plan, anyway.
Kenny: Well, good luck with that. You’ll need it.
Varadkar: I suppose you’re still pro-life yourself?
Kenny (winking and shaking his hand again, in farewell): In this case, Leo, I’m pro-retirement.
Pathology Department later. As more senior HSE staff go the same way as the director general, attention turns to the search for a cause of this sudden outbreak of accountability.
Pathologist: We’ve traced the epidemic to a series of memos prepared when the CervicalCheck problem first emerged. Have a look.
Varadkar (squinting into microscope): So this was a deliberate strategy?
Pathologist: A so-called “communications protocol”. Yes.
Harris (studies the slide): When was this strategy put in place?
Pathologist: Between March and July 2016.
Varadkar (exchanging nervous glances with Harris): Gulp. So anyone who came in contact with it then or since may be infected?
Pathologist: Yes. Nobody who touched this is immune.
Varadkar: Gosh. Okay, well, thanks for letting us know. (Catches Harris’s eye, nods to the corridor. They walk and talk).
Harris (quietly): Do you think we’re at risk?
Varadkar: I’ve never seen or heard of that strategy until now, I swear.
Harris: Even though you were head of the relevant department back then?
Varadkar: Luckily, I’d been warned beforehand to have as little contact with administrative staff as possible, or I’d be sure to catch something from them sooner or later.
Harris: Yes, you told me the same thing when I took over. So you think we’re both clean?
Varadkar (stopping by a hand-sanitiser): With any luck. But let’s not take any chances. Even that microscope could have had germs.
Harris (taking turns with the sanitiser): Good thinking. I’m told this accountability thing can be horribly contagious when it takes hold.