After the drama of the marathon operation to remove the 8th Amendment, life is returning to normal in the Eoin O’Duffy Memorial Infirmary, aka Blueshirt General. For hospital master Leo Varadkar, it’s a chance to get out and about again, first with a visit to the Phoenix Park.
Simon Harris: Remind me what we’re doing here?
Varadkar: Promoting fruit and vegetables, basically. It’s something called the Healthy Ireland initiative. “HI”, for short.
Harris: The old “apple a day keeps the doctor away” thing?
Varadkar: Gosh, I hope not. We have a livelihood to defend. What’s the story, John?
John Concannon: Don’t worry – we warned the HI people you wouldn’t endorse apples. It’s mostly cherries, tomatoes – that sort of stuff. Avocados too, naturally.
Varadkar: And oranges, I see.
Concannon: Yes. Which reminds me. Don’t forget you have an early start tomorrow – your trip to Nordie Land.
Harris: Where are you going?
Varadkar: Darkest Belfast. Humanitarian mission with Médecins Sans Frontières.
Harris: Wow. Hope you got all your shots?
Varadkar: Yes, they gave me the full works last week in the Tropical Medicines Bureau. Haven’t had so many shots since my graduation party.
Belfast Airport, next day. As Dr Varadkar passes through the arrivals area, he meets a familiar figure.
Varadkar: Nurse Foster! Fancy meeting you here.
Foster: Why wouldn’t I be here? This is my home. But what brings you to foreign – and I emphasise “foreign” – parts?
Varadkar: Doing a bit of volunteer work for Médecins Sans Frontières. You know – Doctors Without Borders?
Foster: Without borders, eh? Sounds like another Fenian conspiracy. And where would you be planning to do this nefarious work, exactly?
Varadkar (consulting schedule): Our first stop is some place called “The Falls”. I don’t know where that is, but it sounds dramatic. Is it like the Zambezi Falls?
Foster: Very similar. A lot of crocodiles there. I hope you’re not planning to go swimming with them?
Varadkar: It’s strictly work, nurse. And after that, we’re visiting a tribe of so-called Orangemen somewhere.
Foster: That’ll be interesting for you. Just be careful they don’t have you for dinner.
The Orange Heritage Centre, later. Dr Varadkar studies a patient in the company of MSF’s permanent representative in the region, Simon Coveney.
Varadkar: Fascinating. So that’s where they get the name – from this distinctive orange rash around the neck?
Coveney: It’s not a rash – it’s a sash. It comes off – although not during July, usually.
Varadkar (to patient): could you lie down a moment, please? I need to check your blood pressure.
Orangeman: I think I’ll stan’, if you don’t mind. It’s only Croppies lie down aroun’ here.
Varadkar: Okay, suit yourself. (He straps the patient’s arm, inflates, and checks dial). Gosh. 16/90. I’ve never seen a blood pressure reading like that before.
Coveney: Yeah, it happens during what they call the Marching Season. Everything goes back to 1690 then.
Varadkar (to patient): Could I ask you to step onto this treadmill?
Orangemen (on treadmill, walking fast and singing): “It is old but it is beautiful, and its colours they are fine. It was worn at Derry, Aughrim, Enniskillen, and the Boyne…”
Varadkar (Checking dial again): Amazing. Even during vigorous exercise, while belting out ballads, it’s still 16/90.
Coveney: It’ll be like that until August at least.
Varadkar: But I love the sash. Remind me to get one in the souvenir shop. I am SO wearing that at Dublin Pride this year.
Coveney: Er, if you say so, Leo.
Monday morning. Back in the hospital, Dr Varadkar marks his first year as master by launching yet another major development: Global Infirmary 2025.
Varadkar (reading brief): So it says here this will double the hospital’s “global footprint”. What does that mean?
Concannon: Basically, you’re hiring a second reflexologist.
Varadkar: You mean a practitioner of that pseudo-science whereby all sorts of serious medical conditions are supposed to be treatable by foot massage?
Conconnon: Don’t knock it, Leo. It’s popular.
Varadkar: I didn’t even know we had a first reflexologist?
Concannon: Yeah, she’s operating out of a converted broom cupboard somewhere. That’s the other advantage of alternative medicine. It’s a lot cheaper than the real thing.
Varadkar: Fair enough. But what about the rest of this stuff? About massive expansion of our presence in the world.
Conconnon: Don’t worry. It’s all pretty vague and long-term. It sounds good now but nobody will remember it in six months.
Varadkar (reading) I see we’re committing ourselves to the UN target of 0.7% overseas development assistance?
Concannon: Yeah, but did you check the deadline?
Varadkar: 2030? I take it that doesn’t mean half-eight this evening?
Concannon: No – ha, ha. It’s the other 2030, by which time Simon Harris will probably have your job.
Varadkar: Fair enough. I’m fully committed so.