Doctor in the House
The Easter recess is over and the Eoin O’Duffy Memorial Infirmary is returning to full operations, in more ways than one. Hospital master Leo Varadkar prepares for a delicate procedure on a visiting American, with the help of a committee of assistant surgeons.
Varadkar: What’s this guy’s name again?
Surgeon Timmy Dooley: Kaplan, I think. But we just call him Mr Facebook – it’s easier to remember
Varadkar: Okay, Mr Facebook. We need to carry out a small probe of your interior. It may involve some “scraping” of data, as you call it in the States.
Facebook: Will it hurt?
Dooley: We certainly hope so.
Facebook: (panicking): What?
Surgeon Lawless (James): The gloves are off, pal.
Varadkar: Put the gloves back on, Lawless, you’re not in Kildare, or whatever bog you came from, now. (To Facebook, handing him a document) We need to sign this consent form, sir. Preferably without reading it first.
Facebook (studying form in horror): But it says here you reserve the right to share some or all of my organs with third parties?
Varadkar: Gosh – does it?
Facebook: Yes. I’m not signing that!
Dooley (to Varadkar): I told you we should have made the small print smaller.
Varadkar (taking form back): Okay, maybe we’ll try again later when the anaesthetic has kicked in. For now, let’s operate.
Facebook: Before the anaesthetic takes effect?
Varadkar: Don’t worry – you won’t feel more than slight discomfort. Isn’t that right, Nurse Naughton?
Hildegarde Naughton: Yes, we’re famously gentle on Americans who invest billions in our hospital.
Varadkar: The truth is, we just need to make you squirm a little – for public relations purposes. And we don’t need you to sign for that. (He produces another consent form). Your boss Mr Zuckerberg has already given us the go-ahead.
Elsewhere in the hospital, later. During an inspection of wards with Dr Harris, the hospital master is pleasantly surprised by the lack of overcrowding.
Varadkar: According to the hospital newspaper, there were 26 people on trolleys here yesterday. Now I see only three?
Harris: Well, you know what the press is like – they always exaggerate. But there’s an ebb and flow to these things anyway. Yesterday might have been unusually high.
Varadkar: And yet the same thing happened the last time I was here. The paper had reported 27 on trolleys then. There were only two when I arrived.
Harris: Well, it is the Our Lady of Lourdes ward. You’d expect some miraculous recoveries.
Varadkar: May I be candid with you, Dr Harris? (He looks him in the eye). I’m hearing there’s a phenomenon known as the “Leo dip”. It means that whenever people hear I’m about to visit a ward, the number of patients on trolleys there drops mysteriously. How do you explain that?
Harris (looking shifty): Er, it could be that you yourself have supernatural powers?
Varadkar: Right. And how exactly would they work
Harris: In some cases, hearing of your approach, people on trolleys may undergo otherwise inexplicable recoveries. Or if they’re really sick, the beds available might suddenly multiply.
Varadkar: Hmmm When you put it like that, it seems plausible. Keep up the good work, everybody. I’ll be back for another surprise visit this time next week.
A hospital corridor, later. During a walk and talk with his deputy master, Simon Coveney, Dr Varadkar notices a familiar figure lurking.
Varadkar: Don’t look now, but see that old, dishevelled guy near the coffee machine, talking to a TV camera? He’s been all over the place recently – who the hell is he?
Coveney: He’s Bertie something, claims he’s a former master, back when this place was run by the Order of St Luke’s.
Varadkar: What’s he doing here this week?
Coveney: It’s the 20th anniversary of some historic operation he claims to have overseen, apparently. Somebody’s doing a documentary on it.
Varadkar: Let’s eavesdrop. (He stops by the coffee machine, ordering a skinny half-caff flat white).
Ahern: …And of course dere was a lotta of setbacks along de way. I lost me patience a few times, I can tell ye, ha, ha. Aldough I covered it up well. But finally de whole ting came togedder. Den we took Articles Two and Tree out. De rest was histry.
Varadkar (walking away with coffee): Did he really say he lost patients and covered it up?
Coveney: That’s what I heard too. He seemed to find it funny.
Varadkar: If I thought for a moment it was true, I’d report him to the medical council. But he’s clearly just an old fantasist.
Coveney: Probably. I mean, not to be snobbish about it, but he doesn’t exactly sound like one of us.
Varadkar: No. Not that we sound the same, Simon – you’ve got one of those regional accents, obviously. And yet somehow it’s almost as posh as mine.
Varadkar: I’m sure he’s harmless enough, but still. (To nearby security man) Keep an eye on that old guy over at the coffee machine, will you? Don’t let him near any of the places we keep drugs or money.
Doctor in the House
It’s another busy morning in the Eoin O’Duffy Memorial Infirmary, aka Blueshirt General. But hospital master Leo Varadkar takes time out of his busy schedule for a walk-and-talk with his head of strategic communications.
Varadkar: So I’ve decided I’m shutting the unit down, John.
John Concannon: I feared as much.
Varadkar: I still think it was a good idea. I mean, we still need to communicate better. Doctors’ handwriting is as bad as ever, for example – people still can’t read our prescriptions.
Concannon (lowering voice): By the way, we had another pharmacist on this morning about one of yours. You wrote “aspirin” but it looked like “arsenic”, apparently.
Varadkar: Oh no! Did the patient…?
Concannon: He’s expected to recover – more or less. And don’t worry, if the press hears about it, we’ll just blame the Russians.
Varadkar: Good thinking. But as I was saying – the SCU. Instead of controlling the story, it became the story. My enemies have been using it as a stick to beat me with.
Concannon: Yes – it’s unfortunate, but disbandment is probably best.
Varadkar: Of course, the critics will gloat about that too.
Concannon: Relax. We’ll find a way to bury this news.
Varadkar (noticing activity in the corridor ahead, where nurses and paramedics are surrounding a prone figure): What’s going on here?
Nurse: It’s Doctor Coveney. He’s had a turn.
Varadkar: Another one? That’s his fourth turn this week.
Nurse: This one’s more serious. He was rushing in two different directions while thinking about the abortion issue and, basically, met himself coming back.
Varadkar: Ouch – probably concussed so. (To Coveney). How many fingers am I holding up, Simon?
Coveney (struggling to focus): And f**k off to you too, Leo!
Varadkar: No Simon, it’s three fingers I’m giving you, not two. You’re disoriented from all those u-turns. (To nurse) See that he gets rest. And maybe give him a couple of aspirin.
Concannon (To nurse): That’s A-S-P-I-R-I-N. In case he didn’t make himself clear. Again.
Varadkar (noticing another familiar figure being pushed past on a trolley). That’s Mr Ross, the head of the ambulance unit, isn’t it? What happened him?
Paramedic: Attacked by a Woulfe.
Varadkar: A wolf? Seriously?
Paradmedic: No, a Woulfe – with a ‘u’. (He reads from note) Seamus Woulfe, it says here.
Concannon: The hospital’s legal advisor. They had a disagreement over a legal document about judicial appointments.
Ross: It’s one of my hobby-horses.
Varadkar (peering under Ross’s hospital gown and grimacing): Gosh. Those are big teeth marks.
Ross: He accused me of being responsible for a dog’s dinner.
Varadkar: Looks like he thought you were the dinner. (He walks on) Ah, here’s Dr Harris. You look worried Simon?
Harris: We ran blood tests on Dr Coveney. He seems to be suffering the effects of some kind of nerve agent.
Varadkar: Nerve agent? Has he been in contact with any Russians lately?
Harris: Well, there’s that new Nurse – Tatiana. She’s pretty hot, I must say. I wouldn’t mind being in contact with her myself.
Varadkar: I’ll have to take your word for that, Simon. But in terms of Dr Coveney’s nervous system – what are we talking about, exactly?
Harris: Well it seems to be a slight loss of nerve so far.
Varadkar: Hmm. I suspect he’s just worried about this big operation we have scheduled for May on – what’s that patient with the mad Irish name again?
Harris: Bunreacht na hÉireann?
Varadkar: Yes, that’s the one. The nearer we get to trying to remove this Eighth Amendment, the more nervous I get too, to be honest. It’s the riskiest thing the hospital’s ever done. Are we nearer a date yet, by the way?
Harris: Yes, I was about to tell you. It’s all systems go for May 25th.
Varadkar: Really? Wow. (To Concannon). At the risk of teaching grandmother to suck eggs, we could announce this and the SCU thing at the same time?
Concannon: My thoughts exactly.
The operating theatre, later.
Paschal Donohoe: Thanks for helping me out here, Leo.
Varadkar: Don’t mention it, Paschal. I like keeping my hand in with a bit of surgery – it takes my mind off other things.
Donohoe: Can I leave the stitching to you? I’m more of a cuts man myself.
Varadkar: Of course. I love stitching people up – it reminds me of how I beat Simon to the top job that time.
Donohoe: (laughing) Your wit is almost as sharp as my scalpel.
Varadkar (pulling thread through patient’s stomach with a final flourish): There we are – all done. Another satisfied customer. Maybe you’d tweet a pic of that, John?
Concannon (searching pockets): Has anyone seen my phone?
Varadkar: Where did you use it last?
Concannon: Here. Just a moment ago. Wait – where’s that ringing noise?
They realise the noise is coming from inside the patient. They stare at each other in horror for a moment, before bursting into laughter.
Varadkar: Good work, John. That’s one way to bury news.
Doctor in the House (ON TOUR)
It’s St Patrick’s Week in the Eoin O’Duffy Memorial Infirmary, aka Blueshirt General. As a skeleton staff keeps things running at home, hospital master Leo Varadkar visits the US on a promotional tour. First stop is a press conference in Washington with a celebrity former patient.
Varadkar (to media): I hope President Trump won’t mind me telling this, but it’s a funny story so here goes.
Trump: Is it about the time I was in Ireland and had the, uh, wind problem?
Varadkar: That’s the one. (To media) So Mr Trump had this wind problem – or to use the medical term, flatulence. (Nervous laughter from US reporters)
Trump (making funny face and pretending to wave away smell): So embarrassing!
Varadkar: And I happened to be staying at the same hotel. (To Trump) Doonbeg golf resort, wasn’t it?
Trump: The one I own, yes. That was the other thing about my wind problem – holding it in was putting me off my game.
Varadkar: So I was asked if I could do something. And at first I thought it was a piss-take. (More nervous laughter from US media, causing the hospital’s communications director to intervene).
John Concannon: I should explain that Dr Varadkar is referring to a procedure that’s quite common in Irish medical practice, but outside his area of expertise. If a “piss-take” had been required, Mr Trump would have needed a urologist.
Varadkar: Eh, yes – that’s what I meant. Whereas wind is a specialty of mine. So I rang up Fáilte Ireland, who I should explain for Americans is our tourism board….
Trump: Right. They’ve got 100,000 Fáilte’s in Ireland, but if you’re a resort owner who wants something done, the other 99,999 are useless.
Varadkar: Fáilte Ireland were managing Mr Trump’s trip. So I asked what they were feeding him. And suffice to say, there was too much of one Irish specialty – cabbage – in the diet. So they had a word somewhere and, basically, we made Mr Trump’s wind problem go away. Of course, the downside was that he had constipation after that…
Melania Trump (under her breath): And he’s been full of shit ever since.
The back of a chauffeur-driven limousine, later
Varadkar (to Concannon): That went well, I thought.
Concannon (studying phone): Eh, no. It didn’t. The use of the term piss-take has gone down very badly here. And you’re in trouble over the Fáilte Ireland thing too. Apparently the chef was let go soon afterwards – now he’s blaming you. And the cabbage growers association is up in arms. So are the vegetarian lobby.
Varadkar (while tweeting something): Jesus. Who would have thought a little flatulence joke could backfire? Excuse the pun.
Concannon (checking Twitter feed): It’s getting worse. Now you’re being accused of unpatriotic activity. The cabbage is a symbol of Ireland, apparently – some people want you tried for treason.
Varadkar (hitting “tweet” button): So what do we do now?
Varadkar: Good idea – I’ll tell the bastards nothing.
Concannon: What? No, I mean the Stonewall Inn – the famous gay bar in New York. It’s next on our itinerary. Although now you mention it, keeping your mouth shut from here on except when reading scripts might be wise. (He frowns at phone). On which subject, did you just tweet about St Patrick’s Day?
Varadkar: Yes – why?
Concannon: With an emoji of the Ivory Coast flag? The one that goes orange-white-green?
Varadkar: Oops, yes. Not my day, is it?
Concannon (sighing): You should try being your communications adviser.
Meanwhile, back at the short-staffed Blueshirt General, Dr Shane Ross helps out with emergency surgery.
Ross (to nurse): Scalpel, please. (To assistant surgeon). So, did you watch the rugby at the weekend?
Assistant: Of course.
Ross: Tremendous achievement by the guys. Did I tell you I got a picture with two of them? Hold this nurse. (He hands the scalpel back while getting his phone). Look. That’s me with Johnny Sexton and Dave Kearney.
Assistant: Er, that’s Rob Kearney. Dave’s his brother. He wasn’t playing.
Ross (puts phone away, retakes scalpel): Really? So that explains why all those people on social media were laughing at me. (He resumes cutting). Oh well, sport’s not really my thing anyway. Nor is this for that matter.
Assistant: You’re not a surgeon?
Ross: Not exactly, no. But I’ve always found that self-confidence is the key to any profession. I have lots of that. (He removes an excised organ from the patient and places it in a tray held by the nurse). Right – that’s the kidney out.
Nurse (in horror): Kidney? It was supposed to be his appendix.
Ross (momentarily embarrassed): Damn – I always get those two mixed up as well. We better put that back in so. (To the assistant). Let’s hope the scamps on social media don’t hear of this one, eh?
Nurse (suspiciously): May I ask you a question, Dr Ross? Could you pinpoint the location of your lateral epicondyle for me?
Ross: Of course. (Slaps his buttock). It’s here, next to my funny bone.
Nurse: Just as I feared, Dr Ross. You literally don’t know your arse from your elbow.
Doctor in the House
As the Beast from the East descends, the Eoin O’Duffy Memorial Infirmary, aka Blueshirt General, is on emergency footing. Meanwhile, hospital master Leo Varadkar learns of a more worrying development from his Strategic Communications Unit.
Varadkar (answering phone): Yes John. What ingenious wheeze for publicising our heroic work have you thought of now?
John Concannon: I’m afraid it’s bad news this time, Leo. There’s a storm coming.
Varadkar: Yes, I saw the forecast.
Concannon: Not that kind of storm – a shitstorm. Remember our big PR operation on Project Infirmary 2040?
Varadkar (lowering voice): The one where we injected large amounts of funds into ailing newspapers, keeping them on life support in return for puff pieces disguised as journalism?
Concannon: Yes. Well, the puff pieces have blown up in our face.
Concannon: Some people think it was unethical. A blurring of the lines between medicine and journalism. There’s talk of the Hypocritic Oath.
Varadkar: Oh dear. Could I be (gulp) – struck off?
Concannon: God no – it’s not like anybody died. But there’ll be a lot of crap coming your way shortly.
Varadkar: How bad?
Concannon: Pretty bad. We’re forecasting Storm Marylou will be gusting to Force 10 by Wednesday, and that simultaneously there could be a major dumping on us by the media who weren’t paid off. If so, we’ll be dealing with major accumulations by the weekend.
Varadkar: What should I do?
Concannon: As head of your communications unit, I’d advise you to launch a review into the workings of the communications unit. That’ll buy time. The other thing that’ll help is the bad weather – always good for hospitals.
Varadkar: Bring it on.
The A&E unit, later in the week. Amid chaos, Dr Varadkar calmly tends to the many arrivals, watched by an admiring group of invited journalists and press photographers.
Varadkar (studying the X-Rays of a patient bandaged head to foot): You’ve been in the wars. How did that happen?
Patient: Me satellite dish went on the blink in the snow. It was just before the Arsenal game and I’m a big Gunners fan. So you know yourself – I went up on the roof… How bad does it look, doc?
Varadkar: For Arsenal? Pretty dire. But you’re not in good shape either. We can save you, but it’ll cost an arm and a leg.
Patient: You mean money?
Varadkar: No, the actual limbs. But don’t worry – you’re in good hands.
Patient: Jayzus. Can I have a second opinion?
Varadkar: Of course. Ask one of these journalists.
Journalist: The doctor’s right – he’s doing a great job.
Concannon (stepping out from behind Varadkar) : Although we should point out – that message may have been paid for.
Varadkar: It sounded pretty sincere to me. (To patient) What about a selfie for Twitter? (He leans in) Big smile! Great.
Concannon (drawing Varadkar’s attention to another trolley): We have a celebrity over here, Leo.
Varadkar (surveying an elderly patient, also bandaged): Can’t say I recognise him, John.
Concannon (to patient): Do the voice.
Patient (weakly): Today’s bread today.
Varadkar: Old Mr Brennan! What happened him?
Concannon: Stampede at the bakery, apparently. People are starting to panic about food shortages.
Varadkar: Jesus! That’s how revolutions start. (To Mr Brennan) OK, we’re not gong to keep you here long. Just a quick selfie. (He leans in and smiles. Then, to nurses) Whatever it takes, get this man fixed up and back to work within an hour.
Nurses wheel Mr Brennan into ICU while paramedics rush another trolley past.
Varadkar: Was that Noel Rock.
Concannon: Yes. I hear he was having a go at some looters in Tallaght, and shot himself in the foot.
Varadkar: Phew. It’s mad in here. How’s the other storm going, by the way?
Concannon: Still pretty windy out there with serious precipitation – your approval rating’s down three points since Monday. But the worst is over. (Checks phone) And I predict you’re about to make a complete recovery.
Varadkar: What is it?
Concannon: We need to get you to the maternity wing – now. An emergency of the happy kind.
Holles Street, minutes later. Varadkar holds a new-born baby while taking selfies.
Varadkar: Genius, John. It’s the mother of all photo ops.
Concannon: Thanks. But, er, speaking of mothers, maybe you should have the baby in the picture too.
Varadkar: Of course. (He hold his phone out a little further). There you go. Smile!
Mother: Can I have him back now?
Varadkar (handing her the baby). Ha, ha. Spoken like a true Irish mammy. So, wow. Is this really is a great-grandson of Garret FitzGerald?
Mother: Yes. We’re calling him Max.
Varadkar: I love it! Very 2018. Well he’s a beautiful, bouncing baby – isn’t he, John?
Concannon: He certainly is. (Lowering voice and leaning in) And speaking of bounces, you’re back up to record popularity levels. Operation Snow Job seems to have worked.
Varadkar: Hurray! (To baby). From one Max to another – gimme five! (He attempts to high-five the baby, but in the absence of a response, turns it to a wave, looking slightly embarrassed).
Doctor in the House
It’s an exciting day for everybody at Eoin O’Duffy Memorial Infirmary, AKA Blueshirt General, as hospital master Leo Varadkar unveils Project Infirmary 2040: a €116bn plan for the next two decades and beyond. MC John Concannon oversees the media Q & A.
Concannon: Ok, folks. Dr Varadkar is a busy man, so we only have time for one more question Yes, you, the jaded-looking hack at the back there.
Jaded hack (holding up the report): Thanks, guys. There’s about 300 pages in this thing – we can’t seriously be expected to read it. So if you had to condense it into a couple of keywords, doctor, what would they be?
Varadkar: Gosh, you’re putting me on the spot there. But all right. I would say the crucial terms are “vision” and “long-term”. Too often, hospitals are fixated on the present: coping with the latest emergency or epidemic. From now on things will be different. With this plan – at the risk of sounding like Captain Kirk – I intended to lead us boldly where no hospital has gone before: to infinity and beyond.
Concannon: All right folks. We’ve gotta get back to work here. Thanks for coming.
Varadkar (to Concannon): Well, how’d I do?
Concannon: Great. Loved the bit about long-term vision – that’s always important. Although on social media, it’s the next 15 minutes that really matter. So what I love even more is that you’ve got 500 likes already. (He presses button on phone). Make that 501.
Back on the wards, later. Stopping by a patient’s bed, Dr Varadkar picks up the chart.
Varadkar: Who have we got here? Oh right, I see you’re a random northsider.
Northsider: Bad circulation. I believe I’m having something fitted in me arteries that’ll improve it eventually.
Varadkar: Ah, yes. The new “Metro North” treatment as we call it. It’s all in our 2040 plan – I remember you now. (He replaces the chart. Then, to a nurse:) Check his prostate as well, while you’re at it.
Northsider: Why do I need me prostate checked?
Varadkar (winking at patient) You know yourself. We always like to look after the, er, southside too. They move on to another bed.
Varadkar (reading chart): Ah it’s our old friend Rural Ireland, yet again. What are you in for this time?
Rural Ireland: The usual. Chronic neglect.
Varadkar: But we seem to have been discussing your condition forever here.
Rural Ireland: Yes, that’s all ye do – discuss it. Meanwhile, I’m dying. I’ve been dying for years.
Varadkar: So I’ve heard. Yet you’re still here, more or less.
Rural Ireland: Give it to me straight, doc. How long have I ?
Varadkar: I don’t know to be honest. But read this (he hands the patient a copy of the 2040 plan).
Rural Ireland: Will it make me better?
Varadkar: Not really. It’s just that in the unlikely event you reach the end of it, death won’t seem so unattractive anymore. (A student nurse, looking stressed from overwork, approaches in a hurry.)
Nurse: Dr Harris asks if you could drop by the Eye and Ear Department as soon as possible. He has a patient he’d like you to look at.
Varadkar: Ok, will do. You’re one of those student nurses who will be getting permanent job offers soon, aren’t you? You must be thrilled?
Nurse (sarcastically): Yes, it’s an exciting opportunity to work longer than I would in other countries, for a lot less. And If I took on a second job – say prostitution – I might even be able to rent an apartment in Dublin eventually.
Varadkar: Oh well, look on the bright side. A job is still a job, eh?
Nurse: You’re right. I’m starting one with the NHS in Liverpool next week.
Varadkar: Er, I’ll go see Dr Harris now.
Later, in the Eye and Ear Department.
Harris: So this old guy here claims to be having some sort of vision. But we know it’s not real because he’s chronically short-sighted. Can’t see further than his nose.
Varadkar (reading chart): Bertie Ahern? Where have I seen that name before? Wait! Wasn’t there a Bertie Ahern who used to be master here once, way back when it was run by the Order of the Creepin’ Jesuses or something?
Harris: Yes, he mentioned that too. But this vision of his…
Bertie (reading from a 300-page document): “We now have a 20-year framework for planning that will match people, places and potential across this entire hospital. It will mean an end to the short short-termism that has blighted our outlook in the past. It is, in short, a vision for the next two decades: taking us to 2020 and beyond…
Varadkar (grabbing the document and skimming through it): This all looks oddly familiar.
Harris: What should we do?
Varadkar (handing document to nurse): Burn that for starters. As for him, don’t let him talk to the media. And whatever medication you have him on, increase it.
Harris: We’ve been treating him for senile dementia, basically.
Varadkar: Good. If he doesn’t develop that naturally, try hitting him on the head.
Attending the annual World Medical Forum in the Swiss Alps, Dr Varadkar and his chief finance officer, Paschal Donohoe, host a reception for potential investors and other guests.
Bill Gates: So, Dr Varadkar, I’ve heard a lot about your hospital – it’s quite famous in America. You’re doing some real cutting edge stuff there, I believe?
Varadkar: Yes, cutting international investors’ tax bills, especially. But our approach is all based on traditional medicine. Your know yourself (he winks): An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
Professor Emmanuel Macron (from the Sorbonne University Hospital in Paris): Ah, but apples are supposed to keep you – ’ow you say in English? – “regular”, Docteur. And there is nothing regular about what your hospital does in this respect. If I ’ave my way, the European Medical Union will enforce ’armonisation of this area soon, and zat will be the end of your special apple arrangements.
Donohoe: With all due wespect, Professor Macwon, I think you should concentwate on your own speciality: economic sclerosis. You have enough pwoblems there. In the meantime, we at Blueshirt General will continue to do what we consider best for our patients.
Professor Macron (growing angry): But what you are doing is a race to the bottom!
Donohoe: Exactly. Isn’t that the whole point of eating apples? To speed everything up down there?
Back in Dublin. At a meeting of the Blueshirt General ethics committee, Dr Harris outlines plans to remove the controversial Eighth Amendment from the hospital’s constitution.
Harris: So, basically I propose that we bring this to the board of management in May, which is in 12 weeks.
Simon Coveney: I’m opposed to 12 weeks.
Coveney: I need more time.
Harris: Jesus – you’ve had years to think about it already. We need to terminate this endless argument now.
Coveney: I’m also opposed to terminations, except in extreme cases.
Varadkar: Such as?
Coveney: Well I wouldn’t mind terminating your leadership, for example.
Varadkar: Yes, that’s what this is about really, isn’t it? You’re just appealing to the hospital’s traditional wing.
Coveney: Very appealing, according to the polls.
Varadkar: Remember the Hippocratic Oath, Dr Coveney?
Coveney: I do, Leo. And I also remember the Hypocritic one – you know, the one you used to make whenever the subject of the Eighth Amendment came up?
Harris: This thing could split the hospital, Simon.
Coveney: Oh well. We’re medics. We can always stitch it together again afterwards.
A corridor in the semi-autonomous Left Wing, later. Dr Varadkar meets the new head of the so-called Shinners (and other leg injuries) Unit: Dr Mary Lou McDonald.
Varadkar: Ah, Mary Lou. Congratulations on your promotion. I’m sure you’ll be a big improvement on that beardy guy who used to run this area. What was his name? Gerry-Atric or something?
McDonald: Gerry Adams, as you well know. A highly respected physician who will still play a valued role in retirement. I’m sure I’ll be consulting him about my patients for many years to come.
Varadkar: Yes, well, by all accounts, he helped turn many of them into patients in the first place. He must know a lot of stuff the rest of us don’t, all right. (Noticing a familiar face in a nearby bed) That’s the other Gerry, isn’t it? What’s wrong with him?
McDonald: He had a clamp removed, without anaesthetic.
Varadkar: Gosh. How did that happen?
McDonald: I’m afraid I can’t comment.
Varadkar (pointing to female patient): And what about her? She looks like her nose is badly out of joint.
McDonald: It is. She was suspended by the ard comhairle.
Varadkar: That sounds painful.
McDonald: She’ll get over it.
Varadkar (noticing the approach of another doctor): Who’s this guy? Haven’t seen him before.
McDonald: This is Philippe, who’s just moved here from Paris. Say hello to Dr Varadkar, Philippe – it’s because of him that we have such a crap medical system here, not like yours in France.
Varadkar (shaking hands): Enchanté, Philippe. Sorry about the rugby, eh?
Philippe: I still don’t know ’ow we lost zat game. (He hands McDonald a file). This patient needs a head injury assessment.
McDonald: Another one? (she reads file) But it says here he was knee-capped.
Philippe: Yes, maybe. But I recommend a head injury assessment just to be on the safe side.
Varadkar (leaning in to McDonald and winking): I’ve heard they do this a lot in France. I’ll leave you both to it. Good luck.
Doctor in the House
It promises to be a momentous year for the Eoin O’Duffy Memorial Infirmary, aka Blueshirt General. As Dr Varadkar continues to wrestle with his conscience on abortion reform, he gets a visit from veteran consultant Frank Flannery, who shows him part of the hospital he hasn’t seen before.
Varadkar (entering empty ward where everything is covered in dust): Gosh. What’s this?
Flannery: The old Garret FitzGerald wing. Closed since the 1980s. God, the times we had here.
Varadkar: Who was Garret FitzGerald?
Flannery (shaking head): You kids. Don’t they teach you anything at school these days? He was the guy who made Blueshirt General what it is today. A bit eccentric. Absent-minded. Wore odd socks. His speech was like his prescriptions: indecipherable. But he kept the place going on a shoestring in the face of near-permanent emergency.
Varadkar (peering into a press marked Dangerous Substances): Er, why is a press full of Durex marked “dangerous”?
Flannery: It was the 1980s. You had to be there.
Varadkar (Picking up a thick, dust-covered file, opening it): The Kerry Babies?
Flannery: Oh God – that.
Varadkar (five minutes later): This is mad stuff. What the hell is “superfecundation”?
Flannery: It’s a condition whereby senior gardaí – that’s the “super” bit – let their imaginations run away with them. It was quite common in 1980s sex cases.
Varadkar (closing file with a shake of his head): Must have been a grim decade in general?
Flannery: It was. If you look in some of those presses, you might find reports on the search for a cure for homosexuality. That was still hope for that in certain quarters then.
Varadkar (shuddering involuntarily): And this FitzGerald guy? He was a reformer?
Flannery: He tried to be. But the fundamentalists controlled the asylum. And not just the asylum – the maternity wing too. That’s when they put the abortion ban in the hospital’s constitution, although many of us warned against it.
Varadkar (forcing open a window with rusty hinges and coughing as a gust of air blows dust in his face): Gosh. It’s windy out.
Flannery (thoughtfully) It’s the wind of change, Leo. (They exchange meaningful glances). So. Are you going to back Repeal?
Varadkar: Probably, but not yet. A little bird tells me Meehole, I mean, Dr Martin, is issuing a statement this week. I might let him go first, and draw the wrath of the fundamentalists.
Flannery: That’s good thinking. (A phone rings somewhere).
Varadkar (startled): What the hell is that?
Flannery (with a knowing smile): A thing called a landline telephone. That black object with the dial beside you.
Varadkar (picks up receiver uncertainly): Hello?
Voice in receiver: Hi Taoiseach. This is the 21st century calling. We need you in A & E now!
The A & E department, moments later. Paramedics are pinning a man to a trolley, despite his efforts to get up.
Varadkar (to man pushing trolley) What’s going on?
Mattie McGrath (for it is he): This patient needs a backbone transplant immediately.
Micheál Martin (sitting up) No I don’t. There’s nothing working with me.
McGrath (pushing him down): Yes he does. He has absolutely no trace of a spine. It’s a wonder he was able to stand at all.
Éamon Ó Cuív (restraining Martin): Not that he ever did stand for anything, really.
Varadkar: You can’t just put a new spine in someone. If he’s not used to one, he could reject it. But bring him to X-Ray and we’ll have a look. (He peers around the ward) Where did all these walking wounded come from? Was there a riot somewhere?
Triage nurse: It was a meeting of something called the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party. Someone started a row about abortion. It’s back-stab wounds, a few general kickings.
Varadkar: All right. Just keep them under observation for now.
Hospital corridor later. Dr Varadkar and Dr Harris walk and talk.
Varadkar: I see lots of patients on trolleys in your ward, Dr Harris.
Harris: Yes, well it’s flu season. You had a lot of them too when you were in charge here, remember? And we’re dealing with a particularly virulent strain this year.
Varadkar: Right. Speaking of strain, are we near a final wording on the other thing yet?
Harris: The other thing?
Varadkar (checking over shoulder, lowering voice): Er, abortion.
Harris: Oh yes. Still taking legal advice, but I hope to bring a formula to the January 30 meeting of the Board of Management. I see Dr Martin has already declared his support. That was quite brave, I thought.
Varadkar: Yes. Brave. Or foolhardy.
Harris: Can we expect a statement from you now too?
Varadkar: Oh, I think I’ll wait and see the final wording first. But don’t worry. I’m sure we’ll be at one on the issue. In the meantime, keep up the good work.
Doctor in the House
A new year dawns in the Eoin O’Duffy Memorial Hospital, aka Blueshirt General. During a round of the wards, hospital master Leo Varadkar gets a progress report from his Chief Finance Officer.
Paschal Donohoe: As I said when introducing my budget last year, it’s all about steady and sustainable progress. But even so, with effect from midnight, patients will benefit from a whole raft of small but noticeable improvements in care.
Varadkar: Remind me?
Donohoe: Well, the 0.1 per cent decrease in out-patient charges is probably the most far-reaching change. But we also have 2.5 new beds opening today in St Luke’s Ward. Plus we’ve begun repainting some of the corridors. Only an undercoat for the moment. I may provide for colour next year, if the fiscal situation allows.
Varadkar: I see. Anything else?
Donohoe: Yes, the new step-down facility for patients being discharged comes into effect today too.
Varadkar: Oh – that’s big. A whole new unit for formerly acute patients on the mend but in need of rehabilitation?
Donohoe: Eh, no. This is more of a literal step-down facility. A footstool, for patients with short legs getting out of bed.
Varadkar (sighing): Right. Well, as you say, it’s about steady and sustainable improvement. We can’t return to the bad old, irresponsible days, when the Soldiers of Destiny Military Hospital, as it used to be, went bankrupt.
A group of paramedics approach urgently, pushing a patient on a trolley, with drip and cardiac monitor attached.
Nurse (to Varadkar): This man needs life support now, but the intensive care unit is full.
Varadkar (to Donohoe): Anything we can do?
Donohoe (checking papers): Hmm. I’m planning a new bed for ICU all right – let’s see. No, unfortunately for this man, it’s being phased in over two years, starting in 2019.
Paramedic (checking monitors urgently): We’re losing the patient.
Donohoe: Sorry about that. But as I was saying to Dr Varadkar, my emphasis is on steady, sustainable improvement. (He and Varadkar continue down the corridor). Did I mention that the new children’s hospital becomes fully operational today?
Varadkar: Let me guess? A Fisher Price one, for the waiting room in A&E?
Donohoe: Lego, actually. 300 pieces – very expensive. But you have to push the boat out occasionally.
Croke Park, later. Dr Varadkar is guest interviewee at an event to launch the Healthy Ireland 2018 initiative.
Varadkar: … So in conclusion, I would urge all of you to put your iPhones down more often this year, and take more physical exercise. Remember, small steps can make a big difference to your health. You just need to start.
Kathryn Thomas: I’m sure that’s good advice, doctor. You’re quite a fitness fanatic. What’s your routine?
Varadkar: Well, I try to get to the gym most days before work. That’s when I risk being photographed in figure-hugging tank tops as I arrive at high-profile events (laughter form the audience). I’m always morto when that happens.
Thomas: Ha, ha.Thanks, Doctor. I know you have to rush back to Blueshirt General now, so we better leave it there. A big hand for Dr Varadkar, ladies and gents. (The audience applauds)
Varadkar walks over to his communications adviser, who is composing text messages.
Comms advisor (typing away): Very good. Loved the bit about you being embarrassed by press photographers.
Varadkar: You know, you should take my advice about putting your iPhone down occasionally. You’re always on it.
Comms advisor: Yeah, I will in a moment. I’m just letting all the picture desks know you’re cycling back to the hospital. I have your extra-tight Lycra shorts in the bag there, by the way.
Back at Blueshirt General. Dr Varadkar is greeted with chaos, as the corridors are packed with groaning patients on trolleys. Stressed duty doctor Simon Harris struggles to cope.
Varadkar: What the hell happened? Terrorist attack? Natural disaster?
Simon Harris: Just the usual post-Christmas rush, exacerbated by Aussie Flu.
Varadkar: Aussie flu? I hope you don’t get that from being the outdoorsy, active type?
Harris: No, it’s a standard flu, but the most virulent in 50 years. So big a threat to old people that bishops are banning parishioners from shaking hands as a sign of peace.
Varadkar: Gosh. There’s always something. Well, I’ll leave you to it – you’ve got your hands full.
Harris: Don’t look now, but here’s Matron Foster. She looks like she’s on the warpath again.
Varadkar (turning around): Ah, Arlene! How are things in the old lunatic asylum?
Foster: It’s the Edward Carson Memorial Hospital to you. And it will remain so, despite your provocative statements about making it the northern wing of a new, expanded Blueshirt General.
Varadkar: With the consent of a majority of patients, of course.
Foster: Over my dead body.
Doctor in the House
It’s a tense morning in the Eoin O’Duffy Memorial Infirmary, aka Blueshirt General, as the hospital prepares to carry out a groundbreaking operation to separate Siamese triplets. In the glare of the world’s media, Dr Varadkar holds a press conference.
Reporter: Hi Doctor. I can’t remember your name, but I’m Kay Burley, from Sky News. Can I ask why you’re wearing a sleeveless tank top?
Varadkar: Am I? (He checks himself out while accidentally-on-purpose flexing his biceps). Gosh. I was doing my usual two-hour gym session earlier – must have forgotten to change. (To photographers) That’s not the best angle, guys. Here, try this (he strikes a pose). Or this. (To the other media reps) Carry on with the questions, people.
Second reporter: What’s so historic about this operation, doctor?
Varadkar: Well, not only is it an attempt to separate Siamese triplets – that’s always challenging. But in this case, we’re dealing with three very different levels of development. The patient we call “EU” is the dominant partner. “UK” is rather smaller, although still adult-sized. But in between them there’s “NI”, which is a dwarf really, and entirely dependent on one or both of the others – we won’t know until we go in. So it’s complicated. But we have a team of top surgeons, including Dr Juncker – he’ll be in charge of the EU side of the op – and Dr May from London. We think it’s doable.
Third reporter: What about red lines?
Varadkar (Smiling): It’s surgery, folks. There are always going to be red lines afterwards. But they usually fade away. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have history to make.
A corridor outside the operating theatre, hours later. Door-stepped by reporters, Dr Simon Coveney gives an impromptu briefing on progress.
Coveney: We think it’s going really well so far. The patients are very comfortable. And certainly from our point of view, all the aims of the surgery look like being met. Yes Tony?
Tony Connelly, RTÉ: I’m hearing from well-placed sources that NI will remain in full “regulatory alignment” with the EU after the operation. Is that true?
Coveney: Well, let’s just say we’re happy that there won’t be any hard borders between NI and EU … (A loud melée in the background, as a woman with a northern Irish accent grapples with hospital security).
Arlene Foster (for it is she): I’m the next of kin – I demand to be admitted to the operating theatre. Noy! (She wrestles three security men to the floor and barges through the doors)
Another press conference, days later. Dr Varadkar explains what went wrong, while expressing confidence that a breakthrough may yet be achieved.
Varadkar: So we were disappointed that, just when it looked like the UK was stitched up, we had the needle snatched from our hands by a demented Nordie. But I still think we’ll get there eventually – maybe tomorrow.
BBC reporter: Any truth in the rumour that Dr May lost a limb during Monday’s fracas? We’re hearing that she was left – and I quote – without “a leg to stand on”.
Varadkar (smiling): I think that may have been just a metaphor. Anyway, Mrs Foster has patched things up with her since. They’re very close now – you could even say they’re joined at the hip. Really impressive needlework, by the way.
Sky News, Saturday. In the wake of the historic operation, Adam Boulton interviews Simon Coveney.
Bolton: So do you think this week’s kerfuffle was really necessary, or are you Irish feeling a bit guilty now over what you put the British side of the operating team through?
Coveney: Well, maybe that’s the briefing you received, Adam. It’s not the way we saw it. Our job was to ensure the health of the Irish/EU patient. We had enough to worry about on our side of the op than to be concerned about what was happening on the British side. With respect, that’s a no-brainer.
Bolton: Well yes, speaking of brains. Is it true that, in the final carve-up, the GB and NI patients were left with only half a brain between them, while the EU patient got the other 2.5?
Coveney: I think that just confirmed the pre-existing allocation of resources, to be honest. It might explain why the GB patient hadn’t thought this whole thing through before voting for separation.
The weekly meeting of the hospital board. Dr Varadkar delivers his post-op debriefing.
Varadkar: So the good news is that the operation was a complete success as far as we’re concerned. We’ve met all our objectives. The surgery has cost the British side an arm and a leg, plus several other vital organs. Whereas the EU/Irish side has emerged fully intact.
Simon Harris: What’s the bad news?
Varadkar: The bad news is that the Brits now say the whole thing was just a statement of intent. They claim the stitches are non-binding and that the organ-distribution can be revisited at any point.
Harris: So we may have to do it all again next year?
Varadkar: Seems likely. Oh well – here, have some sweets. (He passes a box of chocolates around the table). Dr Juncker brought them from Brussels.
Harris: Yummy – what are they?
Varadkar: What else? The great Brussels specialty: fudge.
Doctor in the House
It’s another busy morning in the Eoin O’Duffy Memorial Infirmary, aka Blueshirt General. Hospital Master Dr Varadkar makes a round of the wards in the company of Head Matron Frances Fitzgerald.
Varadkar (studying his Twitter feed): Gosh – look at this. A surgeon claims to have carried out the world’s first human head transplant during an operation in China.
Fitzgerald: What – on a living patient?
Varadkar: No, only a corpse. But “announcing the breakthrough, controversial surgeon Sergio Canavaro said a similar operation on a live patient is now imminent”.
Fitzgerald: It sounds monstrous.
Varadkar: Maybe. Still, march of science and all that. Maybe we’ll think of it as normal some day. But here comes Spin-Doctor Concannon in a big hurry. There must be trouble somewhere.
John Concannon: We need you in SCU, Leo. Pronto. Seems we have a major emergency on our hands.
Varadkar: What is it?
Concannon: I’m not sure yet. It looks like the winter vomiting bug, but more serious. We’re in danger of losing patients.
Varadkar (smiling): I’m always in danger of losing patience. But excuse me for joking. Alright, I’m on my way. We’ll finish our tour later, matron.
The SCU department, shortly afterwards.
Concannon (giving Varadkar a face mask): Here, you’ll need this. Whatever it is, it’s highly contagious.
Varadkar (donning mask and reading patient’s chart): Nausea. Panic attacks. High temperature. Mysterious itchy rash on posterior. Let me guess: is this patient a member of the political profession, by any chance?
Concannon: Yes, I think he’s what they call a backbencher. Have you seen this before?
Varadkar: No, but I read about it in med school. It’s called Election Fever. But it’s the worst kind of Election Fever: one that breaks out in December. Hasn’t happened in Ireland since 1918.
Concannon: Really? And what happened then.
Varadkar: It wiped out an entire generation of politicians. The moderate ones, anyway. It attacked Redmondite Blood Cells in particular. All the older patients lost their seats.
Concannon (grimacing): Ouch. That explains the rash.
Varadkar: We need to find out what’s causing this, and fast. There must be somebody spreading the infection.
Concannon: Well, that’s the thing. I’m reluctant to say this, but…
Varadkar: What? Spit it out, doctor. There’s no time to lose.
Concannon: The only thing the affected patients seem to have in common is that they were all in contact with the matron.
Varadkar: What? Matron Fitzgerald? It can’t be. She’s forever washing her hands. She’s so clean she squeaks when walking.
Concannon: Maybe. But Dr Martin seems to think she’s connected. And by the way, he wants a meeting with you. He says it’s urgent.
Dr Varadkar’s office later.
Varadkar: You’ve lost what?
Martin: You heard me. I’ve lost confidence in the matron. I’m tabling a motion to that effect, unless you get rid of her.
Varadkar: You can’t seriously blame Matron Fitzgerald for starting this. She’s cleaner than a nun’s knickers. I’m not throwing a good woman under a bus for no reason.
Martin: It doesn’t have to be a bus. It could be a tram. And you could make it look like an accident.
Varadkar: What? Jesus! The bus was only a metaphor, for Christ’s sake.
Martin: Ha, ha! I know. Just letting off steam, Leo. I’m under pressure too. I don’t want to risk election fever in mid-December either. But you have to suspend the matron. Or I’ll have to advise closing the hospital for safety reasons.
Varadkar: Okay, let’s not do anything rash. Let me think about it. There must be some way we can resolve this without losing face.
The hospital corridors, later. Dr Varadkar and Matron Fitzgerald resume their round.
Fitzgerald: I heard you stood up for me in the showdown with Dr Martin. And of course in those radio and TV interviews. Thanks.
Varadkar: Of course I did.
Fitzgerald: But to think they’re blaming me, of all people, for causing this outbreak. It’s preposterous.
Varadkar (looking shifty now). Yes. And yet, it is a striking coincidence that you seem to have been in the room immediately before all these patients first showed symptoms.
Fitzgerald: But to use your own word in one of those interviews, that’s no excuse for “decapitating” me. What a strange term, by the way. You must have been thinking of that mad surgeon in China?
Varadkar: Yeah. Eh, speaking of which. (Two men in white coats take Fitzgerald and lead her into the operating theatre).
Fitzgerald: Get your hands off me. What’s going on? Oh my God, Leo – you’re having me decapitated!
Varadkar: Don’t be silly. It’s just a head-matron transplant in this case. And it’s only temporary. Maybe.
Fitzgerald is dragged away screaming. The credits roll.
Doctor in the House
Grafton Street, mid-December. Staff of the Eoin O’Duffy Memorial Infirmary, aka Blueshirt General, gather for their annual carol singing for this year’s charity, the Simon (Coveney) Community, a group offering counselling to merchant princes from Cork who had expected to be running the country this Christmas.
Leo Varadkar: “In the bleak mid-winter…”
Paschal Donohue: “Come, they told me, pa-rum-pa-pum-pum…”
Noel Rock: “The First No-el…”
John Concannon (of the government’s Strategic Communications Unit): Wait! What the hell’s going on here?
Andrea Pappin (also of the SCU): They’re not singing from the same hymn sheet, that’s what.
Concannon: But I gave them all identical scripts. (He takes the sheets from Varadkar and Donohoe, then looks suspiciously across the street where Gerry Adams, master of a rival hospital specialising in lower-leg injuries, aka Shinners, is leading his group in a mass choral version of Happy Christmas (War is Over), while smirking). I think we’ve been sabotaged.
Pappin: Luckily I brought extra copies of the original.
Concannon: Good thinking, Andrea. Okay folks, let’s start again. By the way, Leo, we’re not doing any bleak mid-winters here. Our message is upbeat – about a successful economy, the return of the boom, and all that. So it’s all Jingle Bells and Joy to the World. Now, after me, everyone – one, two, three: “Dashing through the snow…”
The hospital, later. Christian members of staff, including Nurse Michelle Mulherin, erect a traditional crib in the foyer. But Dr Varadkar and the SCU are not pleased.
Concannon: I’m afraid you can’t do that.
Pappin (with a sigh): What were you thinking, Michelle?
Mulherin: I suppose you’re going to tell me it’s politically incorrect to have a crib? It’s all that Happy Holidays crap, now, isn’t it? In case we upset Muslims or Hindus? (To Varadkar). No offence, doctor.
Varadkar (smiling): None taken, I assure you. No, there’s no problem with a crib, per se. If I guess our SCU friend’s thinking correctly, the problem is the way your little presentation deals with homelessness.
Concannon: Exactly. I mean, it’s a very important issue. But it’s also very complex and we at Blueshirt General get a lot of unfair criticism for not providing simplistic solutions. With this “no-room-at-the-inn” and “whole-family-accommodated-in-single-outhouse-with-farm-animals”, you’re giving critics another stick to beat us with.
Mulherin: But it’s part of the Bible’s story.
Varadkar: Stories can be told in different ways, Michelle. We need a way of telling this that reflects better on the hospital.
Simon Coveney (arriving with large box): I have just the thing, Leo. It was intended for the children’s wing. But we have lots more thanks to my unprecedented house-building programme. (He unpacks a Sylvanian Families Grand Hotel edition and gives it to Mulherin). I think you’ll find there’s plenty of room at this inn, Michelle. (Mulherin and friends proceed to rehouse the Holy Family in the hotel’s penthouse suite).
Concannon: That’s much better. Same story, basically. Just a more harmonious rendering.
Christmas Eve, the children’s wing, aka Phoenix Children’s Health. The hospital’s youngest patients are wide-eyed as a jolly fat man with a beard climbs down the Santa-friendly chimney, and emerges from the real-coal-effect fireplace, switched off for the occasion.
Santa: Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas, children. I’ve checked my list twice and, for the first time in history, I can confirm that all of you, without exception, were good this year. So you’re getting everything you asked for. Ho, ho, ho.
Concannon (smiling indulgently, to Varadkar): We gave him a basic script, obviously. But he’s very good.
Varadkar: Yes – who is he, anyway?
Santa (passing with a wink and pulling his false beard down to reveal a real one and the features of James Reilly): It’s me, Leo. No hard feelings. I had to support Simon in the hospital master campaign for old time’s sake. I think you’re doing a great job.
Varadkar: Gosh, thanks James. That’s a great disguise. I’d never have recognised you. (Reilly continues to distribute toys to the excited kids, while staff drink a champagne toast to the new wing. Twenty minutes pass. Then suddenly, there’s a scream from the office of Nurse Zappone, matron of the children’s department.)
Zappone (Shrieking): The Grinch has stolen christmas!
Reilly (emerging from her office, having refilled his bag with something, and tearing off his consume to reveal another one, this time green): Not exactly, Zapper. But I’ve stolen your portfolio, because it’s rightfully mine. I’ve got my old job back! (He sprints across the ward, disappears up the chimney, dragging the bulky sack after him while emitting evil laughter. Then the laughing stops, grunting noises begin from near the chimney top.)
Varadkar (looking up the flue): Are you stuck, Santa?
Reilly (in a muffled voice): Help!
Varadkar (turning to the rest of the staff, with a grin): What do you say, people? Do you think he can rise from the ashes?
Reilly: No I can’t.
Staff and children in unison (conducted by the SCU): Oh, yes he can!
Vardakar (turning on the coal-effect fire): I hereby declare the Phoenix Children’s Wing officially open.
Doctor in the House
It’s another busy morning in the Eoin O’Duffy Memorial Infirmary, aka Blueshirt General, but hospital Master Leo Varadkar somehow finds time to record his weekly promotional video.
Varadkar (to camera): …and finally, as you all know, it’s Halloween. I haven’t heard what costume Paschal Donohoe will be wearing yet. Something scary I’m sure. But I’m looking forward to that. In the meantime, happy bank holiday everybody. I’ll see you next week.
Director: And cut! That’s a wrap.
Press officer: One take, every time – you’re such a natural, Taoiseach. Excellent ad-lib about Paschal, by the way. Speaking of which, he asked you to drop by his ward later: he has one of those banker patients he needs your opinion on.
Varadkar: Will do. First I have to inspect our new children’s wing – or should I say “Phoenix Children’s Health”? – with Nurse Zappone here.
Katherine Zappone: Thanks, Doctor. Yes, it’s important to use the correct name. Branding is everything these days. Love your Halloween costume. Bob the Builder, right?
Varadkar: What? Oh this? (He points to hard hat). I forgot I was wearing it. No, it’s not a costume. I’ve just been attending so many sod-turning ceremonies this week, I forgot I had it on. It’s surprisingly comfortable.
Zappone: I can imagine. The man-of-action look suits you.
Varadkar: I’ve been thinking: maybe the rest of the hospital needs a rebrand too. Are there any other mythical creatures we could name it after?
Zappone: What about Pegasus Health?
Varadkar: A winged horse, to represent the way we took a sick nation back in 2011 and miraculously restored it to health? Yes. Remind me to run that past the consultants next time they’re in.
Paschal Donohoe’s ward later. Dr Varadkar studies X-rays of a patient’s stomach.
Varadkar: Good lord. What is it?
Donohoe: It’s a giant pile of other people’s cash.
Varadkar: Another of these so-called tracker mortgage cases?
Donohoe: Yes. And I know we should probably extract it surgically without an anaesthetic. But for some reason, I’m reluctant to do that.
Varadkar (to patient): How are you feeling? Bloated? Racked with guilt?
Patient: Surprisingly good, actually. But then, I am a banker.
Varadkar (studying X-rays again): Yes, I see you had your conscience removed some years ago. (To Donohoe). Just keep him under observation for now, and add some laxative to his diet. Maybe we can get the money back naturally. Failing that, you can always come in with your Halloween costume and scare it out of him.
Donohue: Ha ha! I like your outfit, by the way. Bob the Builder right?
The A & E department, Halloween Night. A scene of controlled chaos, supervised by ward sister Regina Doherty.
Varadkar: My God, it’s even madder than usual.
Doherty: Yes. Some local scamps were so inspired by the symbolism of our new Phoenix Health unit, they lit a bonfire under it. But it’s mostly just minor burns, thank God.
Varadkar (noticing Luke Ming Flanagan being wheeled in on a trolley): What happened him?
Doherty: He was playing a prank on a journalist and it blew up in his face. We’re not sure we can save his beard. By the way, I love your costume. It’s Bertie Ahern, right?
Doherty: The hard hat. Bertie was always wearing one during the Celtic Tiger years. Before the crash.
Varadkar (suddenly embarrassed, taking hat off and putting it away): Er, no. I just had it on for a photo-op earlier and forgot. Actually, I haven’t decided what I’m dressing up as yet. Maybe Dracula.
Doherty: Paschal beat you to that one, I’m afraid. Here he is.
Donohoe: Hi Leo, Hi Regina. Love the sexy nurse costume.
Doherty (frostily): It’s not a costume, Paschal. It’s my uniform.
Varadkar (to Donohoe): Ha, ha! Way to go, Harvey Weinstein.
Donohoe (blushing): Vewy sowwy, Regina. I didn’t mean it that way.
Varadkar: The blood transfusion unit is a funny touch, Paschal. You went all out with the Dracula theme.
Donohoe (lowering his voice): Actually, that’s not just an outfit. It’s why I’m in here tonight. You know how I was saying we’re very short of blood donations?
Varadkar: Er, yeah?
Donohoe: Well I’m planning to extract some from sleeping patients. I got the idea from that banker chap.
Varadkar: But is it ethical?
Donohoe: What patients don’t know won’t hurt them. And sure if they do notice, we can always return their deposits at some future time.
Varadkar (looking around furtively, and dropping voice to a whisper): Well, I suppose we do need the blood.
Donohoe: That’s my thinking. And if this works, who knows? (Cue sinister music and closing credits) Maybe we could do the same thing with organs.
Doctor in the House
Goldenbridge Cemetery, Dublin. It’s a sad day for staff of the Eoin O’Duffy Memorial Infirmary as they say farewell to a former hospital director, Liam Cosgrave. Following the cortege, current master Leo Varadkar chats with Charlie Flanagan.
Varadkar: He was before my time, obviously. But I’m told he was one of the great surgeons.
Flanagan: Yes, my father used to say so anyway. Him and a guy called Richie Ryan. They were a famous double team in the theatre, always cutting things. And this was the 1970s, remember, so they didn’t have anaesthetics back then. The cuts must have been pretty painful sometimes. But Cosgrave was a no-nonsense guy. He had no time for sentiment or screaming. He just got on with the job.
Varadkar: The hospital was smaller then, I presume?
Flanagan: Yes. The bit we call the Right Wing now was the entire thing in those days, just like in Eoin O’Duffy’s time. It was a later master, Garret Fitzgerald, who built the new Left Wing. My Dad would never go anywhere near that.
Varadkar: Ha, ha. He was old school?
Flanagan: Yeah. So was Cosgrave. But times were changing and he didn’t change with them. That’s why he had to retire as master so early.
Varadkar: And never practiced again? What happened? Did he lose a patient?
Flanagan: He lost the entire country, near enough. The so-called ‘Jack Lynch’ virus of 1977. It started in Cork, but turned into a national epidemic. We had no defence against it.
Varadkar: Gosh. Cork – that’s where we’re going on next week’s charity outreach mission.
Flanagan: Yes, so I see. Anyway, poor old Dr Cosgrave. His likes will not be seen again.
The hospital’s A&E department, next day. As a patient suffers cardiac arrest, Dr Varadkar and his team swing into action.
Varadkar (checking monitor, urgently). The patient’s flat-lining! We need a defibrillator here now! (He looks over his right shoulder.) Where’s the nurse?
Katherine Zappone (appearing from his left): I’m right here, doctor. (She clamps defibrillator pads to the patient’s chest and shouts “Clear!” The patient jolts from the shock and opens his eyes. They all look anxiously to the monitor, where the heartbeat returns to normal.)
Varadkar: Good work, Nurse. It’s Ms Zappone, isn’t it? So that’s why everyone calls you “Zapper”?
Zappone (sternly): They do?
Varadkar: (blushing slightly): Sorry, I thought you knew. (Their eyes meet and her frosty exterior melts into a smile)
Zappone: I suppose it’s not the worst thing I could be called.
Varadkar: So what has you over in this part of the hospital? I thought you were mainly located on the Left Wing?
Zappone: Actually I’ve been spending more and more time here on the Right. And I must say, I’m rather enjoying it. It seems to be where the real action is.
Varadkar (in mock whisper): It is. But don’t tell your Lefty friends that. We like to pretend that what they do matters too.
Zappone: So, might there be a permanent career position over here for an ambitious nurse like me?
Varadkar: There might. (He picks up the chart from the end of the revived patient’s bed and reads the name) Mr F.G. Dunne-Leary? Hmm. That gives me an idea for a role for you that might suit. (They walk off down the corridor, deep in conversation).
A mobile clinic in Cork, some days later. Dr Varadkar addresses staff.
Varadkar: Ok, first I want to thank you all for volunteering for this charity mission, which is part of our commitment to Médecins Sans Frontières. I think it’s important, especially for those of us from Dublin, to visit places like Cork occasionally and be reminded that not every is as fortunate as us.
Simon Coveney: Less of the sarcasm, Leo.
Varadkar: But we have job to do here too, which is to inoculate locals against this dangerous little chap. (He points to a screen showing a picture of Micheál Martin). Yes, I know it looks pretty harmless. But believe me, this can do a lot of damage if it goes viral. Our challenge is to nip it in the bud at base, where it incubates.
Frances Fitzgerald: But isn’t it in Dublin, already? (She holds up a newspaper). They’re predicting a major outbreak in the RDS this weekend.
Varadkar: That’s precisely why we’re here, in its native breeding grounds. To use a non-medical term, we’re going to upstage it. Our colleague Dr Donohue has been busy in the laboratory all week, working on a vaccine called the “M20”. This is where it’s going to go. (A wavy red line appears on screen).
Fitzgerald (squinting): What is it?
Paschal Donohoe (looking smug): I call it the Cork-Limerick interconnector. But it’s a major artery, basically.
Varadkar: We’ll be treating the locals for other things too while we’re here, of course. (He glances at Coveney.) Malnourishment, fleas, the effects of centuries of in-breeding, and so on. But the M20 is the main thing, because it reminds this chap (he taps the picture of Martin again) who’s boss. Any questions? (There are no questions.) Ok, people. Let’s go.
Doctor in the House
It’s another busy morning in the Eoin O’Duffy Memorial Infirmary, aka Blueshirt General. Hospital master Leo Varadkar tours the wards, accompanied by matron Frances Fitzgerald.
Varadkar (stopping by a patient’s bed and examining chart): Who do we have here?
Fitzgerald: It’s the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.
Varadkar: Strange name – although who am I to talk? What’s it’s problem?
Fitzgerald: Crisis pregnancy. We think the foetus has the potential to threaten the life of the mother… (she lowers her voice and leans into Varadkar) and possibly of the hospital as well.
Varadkar (performing ultrasound scan while studying screen): I can’t see anything.
Fitzgerald: Well it’s still very much in the embryonic stage.
Patient: Can we take it you’ll support us whatever decision we make, doctor?
Varadkar: Yes, probably. Although it’s a complex issue, so I’d like to get a second opinion. And, as it happens, my second opinion is no.
Varadkar: Yes, I’m officially in two minds. But I’ll tell you what. Let’s just wait until we see the shape of this thing (he pats the patient’s belly). I might make a decision then.
In the operating theatre, a patient is undergoing emergency surgery, between screams.
Varadkar (to surgeon): What happened him, Dr Ross?
Shane Ross: Poor chap. Something blew up in his face. I’ve been extracting bits all morning.
Michael O’Leary (for it is he): Ouch!! That really hurts, Doc. When is the anaesthetic supposed to kick in, anyway?
Ross: You were expecting anaesthetic? Sorry. You’re booked in for the no-frills surgery.
O’Leary: Ah, for f**k’s sake! Ouch! All right – I want to be upgraded to the full epidural, now.
Ross: You’re out of luck, Mick. All our anaesthetists are on holiday – we had a problem with the annual leave backlog.
O’Leary: Arrgh! F**k!
Ross: But look on the bright side – our operation’s very cheap.
Varadkar (laughing and heading for the door): Don’t forget to charge him extra for the stitches, doctor.
In a ward on the hospital’s left wing, Dr Varadkar turns suddenly sarcastic after listening at length to a female patient complaining about her treatment.
Varadkar: May I take this opportunity to compliment you, Deputy McDonald, on the flawless delivery of your script?
Mary Lou McDonald (for it is she): I beg your pardon? Varadkar: The pauses, the intonation, everything. You must have spent ages rehearsing?
McDonald: Maybe you’d just answer my questions, Mr Smarty-Pants?
Varadkar: I thought you left-wingers had all the answers already. You’re always so good at diagnosing society’s problems and saying how you’d cure them. So check your script – all the information you need is probably already in it.
A group of hospital (law and) orderlies burst into applause nearby.
Fitzgerald: Keep it up, Leo. The Blueshirt grassroots love it when you have a go at lefties.
McDonald: Anyway, who are you to talk about people being scripted? Mr PR himself. It’s a wonder you still have time to turn up here. Surely there’s a photo op to attend?
Varadkar (looking at watch, startled): Gosh, you’re right, Mary Lou. My weekly spontaneous video presentation is in five minutes and I haven’t learned the lines.
The A & E department, later. The place is full of alcoholics and binge drinkers suffering the after-effects of a rough weekend.
Varadkar: This is why the hospital’s new campaign to reduce alcohol intake in the community is so important. By the way, is that Doctor Twomey, who used to work in St Enda’s? I didn’t realise he was back with us?
Fitzgerald: He’s not. He’s the medical director of something called Drinkaware now – it’s an industry lobby group.
Liam Twomey: (handing Varadkar his card): Hi Leo. I’m just here to tell people to drink alcohol sensibly.
Varadkar (noticing patient with hatchet in his head): The advice is a bit late in his case. Wait. Isn’t that Ciaran Conlon who used to work for us too?
Twomey: Yes, he’s doing some work for the Responsible Retailing of Alcohol in Ireland group. Similar line of business.
Varadkar: And that guy over there. Wasn’t he part of Dr Coveney’s staff?
Conlon: Yes. I think he’s lobbying for IBEC’s Alcohol and Beverage Foundation.
Varadkar: Jesus. I knew this job drives a lot of people to drink eventually, but this is ridiculous.
A man dressed as a bishop limps past, badly bruised and with a mitre wrapped around his neck.
Varadkar (to Dr Harris, who is treating him): Don’t tell me – a drunken fancy dress party?
Simon Harris: No, he’s a real bishop. He just made some unfortunate comments about the HPV vaccine.
Varadkar: So somebody beat him up?
Harris: I did it for his own good.
Credits and music roll. Varadkar and Fitzgerald look at each other wryly.
Varadkar: We’re working in a mad house, matron.
Doctor in the House
At the hospital’s annual “think-in” in Clonmel, Dr Varadkar reflects on his first 100 days as Master.
Varadkar: …So to sum up, these first three months have been an unqualified success. We’ve taken giant strides towards making Blueshirt General a truly world-class infirmary. And don’t just take my word. (He holds up a document) I can reveal that, according to new public-approval rankings to be published this weekend, we have now pulled eight points clear of our nearest rivals, St Meehawl’s. Plus my self-satisfaction rating has reached an all-time high of 79 per cent! (The assembled doctors and nurses give him a standing ovation).
Varadkar (continued): Anyway, enough of patting myself on the back – you can all do that for me later. We also have some serious work here this weekend. But first, as we always do at our annual think-in, I would ask you all to pause for a minute’s silence as we think of old friends and colleagues who are not with us this year. Speaking of old, we particularly remember Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan, who couldn’t be bothered to attend because they’re semi-retired now and didn’t have sufficient team ethic to show up as a gesture of solidarity. (The audience bows its head in silence for a minute, which is cut short after 15 seconds)
Vardakar: Ok, that’s enough dwelling on the past. But by the way, speaking of team ethic, the weekend won’t be all work. We’ll also have a fun team-building exercise tomorrow (several members of the audience groan audibly). It’s a sort of survival-course thing, where you have to work together in mutual trust, while suppressing the usual urge to stab each other in the back. Participation is voluntary, of course. But if you don’t think you can make it, just let us know, so we can make a note in your personnel files.
Two days later. En route back to Dublin, Dr Varadkar and chief matron Frances Fitzgerald make an emergency detour to Thurles, where an outbreak of election fever has been reported at a venue called The Ragg.
Varadkar: What an odd name for a pub and restaurant.
Fitzgerald: It’s a relic of the War of Independence, apparently. Local safe houses used to fly rags from their windows as signals to Republicans on the run. The name stuck, except that over the years, for no reason, a second ‘g’ was added.
Varadkar (Smiling): Well, let’s try not to lose the Ragg here, shall we? Or indeed any of our patients. How many are there?
Fitzgerald: Seven. (She hands him a file, marked “Tipperary Fine Gael Selection Convention”). Their symptoms are all fairly similar. Ambitions running high. Prospects worryingly low.
Varadkar (reading): Gosh, yes. These vote count figures from last year are positively anaemic.
Fitzgerald (handing him a MRI image, in the shape of Michael Lowry): Here’s the problem.
Varadkar: Hmm, I read about this chap in medical school. Very unpleasant. And resistant to all known antibiotics, apparently. (One of the patients approaches)
Tom Hayes (for it is he): What are my chances, doc?
Varadkar (taking his pulse and frowning): Not good, to be honest. But don’t worry, we’ll save you, if it’s possible.
Fitzgerald (quietly): What can we do?
Varadkar: Just give them all a couple of aspirin for now. We may have some new, experimental treatments that can eliminate this Lowry thing for good. But they’re expensive. I’ll have to talk to Paschal about his budget plans first.
Two days later, in Croke Park. Minutes after the All-Ireland Final, a man collapses in the VIP lounge. A crowd gathers around him.
Varadkar: Let me through – I’m a doctor. (He recognises the patient) Oh, it’s you.
Enda Kenny (clutching his chest): Am I finished?
Varadkar: Only as a leader. (He applies his stethoscope to the patient’s chest, in various places, looking increasingly puzzled).
Kenny: What’s the prognosis?
Varadkar: Your heart seems to be broken. And quite badly. It’s in several different pieces now.
Kenny: That’s what following Mayo does to you.
Varadkar: I can imagine. I’m more of an oval ball man myself, but even I could see that you chaps were unlucky today. You couldn’t possibly have come closer to winning.
Kenny (raising himself onto one elbow): We were pretty heroic, weren’t we?
Varadkar: Yes. And you know, all the Gah-heads say this Dublin team is the greatest of all time. So even if Mayo keep losing narrowly, that must make them the second-greatest?
Kenny (sitting up and looking healthier): When you put it like that, we probably shouldn’t be so disappointed.
Varadkar: No. And Mayo seem to be getting closer to Dublin every time. Who knows, maybe next year, they’ll win with the last kick?
Kenny (back on his feet now and straightening his tie): You’re absolutely right. Thanks Leo – I feel much better now. (They shake hands and Kenny walks away).
Paschal Donohoe: Wow – that was a miraculous recovery. What did you give him?
Varadkar (Smiling indulgently, as a warm musical soundtrack begins to play): A little thing called hope, Paschal. The most powerful medicine known to mankind.
Donohoe (Also smiling, as the music grows louder): And he fell for it, the poor bastard.
Doctor in the House
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.
Doctor in the House – On Tour
The County General Hospital, Chicago. At the start of his visit to North America, Dr Varadkar gets a guided tour of the home of a famous TV medical drama.
Varadkar: So this is where they shot ER?
Guide: Yes, sir. All 331 episodes over 15 seasons. Longest running prime-time medical series in TV history.
Varadkar: But I always thought the hospital was fictional?
Guide: Yes it was, sir.
Varadkar: So how are we walking down this bustling corridor full of busy nurses and doctors, just like in the series?
Guide: I guess anything’s possible in America, sir.
A female tourist approaches, wide-eyed.
Female tourist (to Varadkar): Oh my God! It is you, isn’t it?
Varadkar (puzzled): Er, I think so…
Tourist: George Clooney! Or should I say Doctor Doug Ross?
Varadkar (embarrassed): Well, actually no – although I do get compared with Clooney lot.
The woman faints. He picks her up and carries her to a nearby trolley, where he administers first aid. Just then, a man in a white coat (but with a Blueshirt underneath) rushes in.
Government spin doctor (for it is one): Sorry to interrupt, Leo, but we have an emergency situation developing on social media. We need you now.
Varadkar: What is it?
Spin doctor: Remember that waitress last night who didn’t recognise you and gave you a crap table? Then when she found out who you were she was morto and asked you to pose for a selfie? Well, she’s posted the whole story on Twitter. It’s going viral.
Varadkar: What should we do?
Spin doctor: Everything – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat. We think you’ll get some softball radio interviews out of it too. This could be big. You need to be all over it, like a rash.
Varadkar (to tour guide): Where’s the best Wifi here?
Guide: Funnily enough, it’s in the operating theatre.
The operating theatre, later.
Varadkar (applying the last key-strokes to his smartphone): All done, I think. What’s the prognosis?
Spin doctor (studying monitors): The vital signs are all pretty good. Nice touch spelling “gr8” like that, by the way. You’ve got 500 new Twitter followers in the last 30 seconds, mostly teenagers. And we’ve already had an interview request from Spin 103.8.
Varadkar: My fave! And how’s the patient?
Spin doctor: She’s doing well. Made a complete recovery from her embarrassment about not knowing who you were. Now The Late Late Show have booked her and she’s got job offers from 10 different restaurants in Chicago alone.
Varadkar: It’s the American Dream.
Spin doctor: And all because she mistook you for an average Joe.
Varadkar: But as I told her, it’s nice being treated like an ordinary person sometimes.
Spin doctor: Yes – except when you’re in an Irish hospital!
Varadkar: Ha ha. Totes hilaire, but true.
Spin doctor (checking watch): Anyway, enough of the bants. We need to get to the airport – we have a flight to Montreal to catch.
A day later. Dr Varadkar and a Canadian colleague, the renowned heart-throb specialist Justin Trudeau, march together in the Montreal pride parade. During a quiet moment, they fall to discussing the ethics of abortion referendums.
Varadkar: So that’s why I’d like to get it out of the way early next year, if possible.
Trudeau: While you’re still in your first trimester as hospital director? Yes, that would be best.
Varadkar: But it’s not an easy decision.
Trudeau: Of course not. Still, surely women’s health – mental as well as physical – is the paramount issue?
Varadkar: Well no. In Ireland, we also have to consider the health of others: the unborn baby, the Government and so on. And traditionally, abortion has been very detrimental to those.
Trudeau: But you’re the new guy, right? You’re young, smart, almost as good-looking as me. You can do anything you like, can’t you?
Varadkar: I don’t know, Justin. My board of governors is still very conservative on this issue. And if we do go ahead with the, er, procedure, then whatever the outcome, it’s sure to be divisive. There’ll be a lot of healing needed afterwards.
Trudeau: Well, healing is our business, Leo. We’re not like Donald Trump. Have you invited him to Dublin yet?
Varadkar: No. Not sure I want to, either. It’s such a circus everywhere he goes.
Trudeau: And that’s the answer to your abortion problem; go ahead with the operation next spring or whenever. Then, straight after have Trump visit the hospital. He’s sure to do or say something stupid. Then everyone will be talking about that for a week. They’ll forget the other thing completely.
Varadkar (in deep thought): Hmmm. You know what? That sounds like a plan.
Doctor in the House
It’s another busy morning at the Eoin O’Duffy Memorial Infirmary, aka Blueshirt General. Hospital master Leo Varadkar tours the wards, accompanied by his matron, Frances Fitzgerald.
Varadkar: (stopping by a bed and picking up the chart) Who do we have here?
Fitzgerald: That’s Dáil Éireann.
Varadkar: Funny name – although who am I to talk? Remind me what he’s in for?
Fitzgerald: Severe constipation. Twelve months and counting.
Varadkar: As yes, the “Do-nothing” Dáil – now I remember. Has he passed anything at all recently?
Fitzgerald: A few bits of minor legislation, but it’s always painful. We haven’t seen anything worthwhile for weeks.
Varadkar: Weeks? Ouch. (He winks at patient) That’s a long time to be caught between two stools.
Dáil Éireann: (glumly) Very witty, doctor.
Varadkar: (replacing chart) Right. Whatever the current laxative dose is, matron, double it. We’ll get him moving eventually, somehow.
(He moves on to the next bed where, as well as being heavily bandaged, the patient appears to have a hatchet stuck in his head).
Varadkar: Not you again, Murphy!
Paul Murphy: Yes, it’s me. Another garda hatchet job.
Varadkar: (removing plastic joke-shop hatchet) I’ve told you before: you’re not the victim here. Get out of my hospital. Orderlies!
Murphy: (being manhandled away by men in blue shirts) This is more brutality – we’re living in a police state! (He exits noisily).
Varadkar: (moving on to yet another patient) This one looks familiar. What’s his problem?
Fitzgerald: Complete memory recovery.
Varadkar: You mean “memory loss”?
Fitzgerald: No, I mean recovery. He’s planning to write his memoirs, in two volumes. Volume 1 will only get him to the age of 30.
Varadkar: (to patient) Is this true, Mr Shatter?
Alan Shatter: (busy writing and irritated by the interruption) Yes. What about it?
Fitzgerald: (whispering to Varadkar) We have reason to believe that his recollections could be bad for our health, if you know what I mean. But obviously we’d be more concerned about Volume 2.
Varadkar: Yes, quite. Okay. Well, keep him under observation. If he doesn’t develop amnesia by then naturally, try hitting him on the head with a mallet.
The Master’s Office, later. Dr Varadkar is interviewing candidates for an independent consultancy position.
Varadkar: (reading CV, dubiously) So you’re a doctor now, eh?
Brian Cowen: (for it is he) I am, yeah. As certified by the National University.
Varadkar: And what’s your speciality?
Cowen: Eh, dealing with crashes.
Varadkar: Yes, I see you had a very senior role at St Bertie’s at the time of that national emergency in 2008. How well do you think you coped back then?
(Cowen mumbles something incoherent)
Varadkar: I didn’t quite catch that?
Cowen: Sorry, it’s the nasal congestion again. I was saying that I did my best in difficult circumstances.
Varadkar: So what makes you think you’d like to work here, now?
Cowen: Well, I saw your launch of that “Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery” drug strategy there recently, and it inspired me to think I could make a contribution.
Varadkar: (reading) Yes, I see you yourself are recovering from a bit of a “having the craic” habit?
Cowen: (shrugging) We all partied.
Varadkar: (closing file) Well, I’m sure we can find a role for you here somewhere. Leave your contact details on the way out and we’ll be in touch.
A hotel in Wicklow, that night. Dr Varadkar attends the wedding reception of his junior colleague, Simon Harris.
Varadkar: (to Fitzgerald) Fancy meeting you here. Were you at the church service earlier – I couldn’t make it.
Fitzgerald: Of course I was. I’m Simon’s matron of honour, don’t you know. Normally, that’s just for the bride. But as his long-time mentor, I was given a special role.
Varadkar: And his new wife is a cardiac nurse, I hear? She obviously knows the way to a man’s heart.
Fitzgerald: Yes. (Noticing James Reilly passing en route to the bar, she gives him a puck in the midriff) It’s not through the stomach, apparently.
Simon Coveney approaches.
Coveney: Hi Leo. Glad you could make it, eventually. Enjoyed your weekly video message today. You’re getting better at it. It wasn’t nearly as lame as last week’s.
Varadkar: Thanks, I suppose.
Coveney: Mind you, I was reaching for the defibrillator at one point. That bit about all the things the hospital has achieved in the last year. It was one fib after another.
Varadkar: (reading phone text) Well it seems to be working. Have you seen our new approval ratings from Millward Brown?
Fitzgerald: How good?
Varadkar: We’re now the most popular hospital in Ireland. And my personal numbers have shot up to 49%. People love me.
An uneasy silence descends. Simon Coveney sips his drink, then tries to change the subject.
Coveney: Where’s the honeymoon, by the way?
Varadkar: (smugly) I don’t know yet. But I’m definitely having one.
Doctor in the House
It’s another busy day at Blueshirt General. Doctor Varadkar is doing his rounds, in the company of senior nurse Frances Fitzgerald.
Varadkar: (stopping by patient’s bed and picking up chart): What’s the story with this guy, matron?
Fitzgerald: An incident with a helicopter. Nothing serious: just a bit of whiplash and we think his nose is out of joint.
Vardakar: He looks familiar.
Simon Coveney (for it is he): You know perfectly well who I am, Leo. I’m the man who should be running this hospital instead of you.
Varadkar: Ah, it’s yourself, Simon – I didn’t recognise you with the red face. Yes, I read about your little helicopter mishap in the papers. Very embarrassing.
Coveney: Not as embarrassing as those pictures of you in your novelty socks.
Varadkar: Don’t drag my socks life into this, Simon – it’s not the first time you or your supporters have tried that. Now, show me your tonsils.
Coveney (opening his mouth, impatiently).
Varadkar (peering in): Hmmm. Were you by any chance born with a silver spoon in your mouth? That might explain your impatience with helicopter pilots reluctant to fly you wherever you want to go. (To Fitzgerald) Keep him under observation, matron.
Another ward, later.
Varadkar (to patient): Open wide and say “Ah!”
Patient: Aaah! And then I heard Paul Murphy TD ask somebody: “Will we keep them here for the night?”
Varadkar (to Fitzgerald): Extraordinary. That’s the third one in a row on this ward who’s said that. Have you seen they all raise their right hand while talking? Who the hell are they?
Fitzgerald: They’re all gardaí, apparently. But they claim never to have met before.
Varadkar: It must be some sort of auto-suggestion thing. I wonder is this what happens when people see moving statues?
Patient (raising right hand again): No, your honour. The statue couldn’t move, because it was a prisoner. I heard Paul Murphy saying: “Don’t let that statue out of the car.”
Varadkar (Shaking his head in puzzlement and moving on to the next bed): And who’s this?
Fitzgerald: It’s Nóirín O’Sullivan. You must remember her.
Varadkar: Yes of course. What’s she in for, this time?
Fitzgerald: She had an accident with her own sword.
Varadkar: You mean she fell on it?
Fitzgerald: No. She’s supposed to fall on it, but she keeps missing and hitting the floor instead.
Varadkar (checks watch while pressing index finger to O’Sullivan’s wrist): Wow! Her Pulse system readings are still unbelievable.
O’Sullivan: Don’t worry, doctor. I’ve ordered an internal review.
Varadkar: Speaking of which, open wide and say “Ah!”
O’Sullivan: Aaah! And then I saw Paul Murphy…
Varadkar: Ok, that’s enough. (To Fitzgerald). I’d be very concerned if the symptoms these patients report are not in line with the facts, or with video evidence.
Fitzgerald: Er, you can’t say that.
Varadkar: It’s all right. I’ve taken legal advice on the matter … (He sees an incoming text on his mobile). But you’ll have to excuse me matron – I have an emergency call-out.
Fitzgerald: An accident?
Varadkar: Even more urgent. My PA has found me another celebrity jogging companion. Luckily, I always bring my runners to work.
Pelican House, later. Transfusion staff are surprised by the arrival of Dr Varadkar and a glamorous stranger, both in running shorts.
Varadkar: This is my friend Justin. Where do we go?
Nurse (on verge of swooning): For what?
Vardakar: To donate.
Justin Trudeau: Leo tells me visiting VIPs in Ireland have to be photographed having a pint. But we’re new-generation leaders, so we thought we’d give a pint instead. (He
holds his arm out, smiling). I’m O Negative. (Nurse faints).
Later Dr Varadkar is on a hospital trolley.
Varadkar: (regaining consciousness): What happened?
Simon Harris: Nothing to worry about. You had a weak spell.
Fitzgerald: Plus you had a violent collision with a poll.
Varadkar: You mean a “pole”?
Fitzgerald: No, a poll – Red C. Your approval ratings were lower than you hoped.
Varadkar: I don’t understand.
Harris: That would be the concussion.
Varadkar (sitting up): No, I mean, in general. I’m young and exciting. I go running with celebrities. I’m the new face of Blueshirt General. Why am I not feeling a “bounce” yet.
Harris: Well, I’m only a doctor, not a psychologist. But maybe you’re trying too hard.
Varadkar (regaining his feet, unsteadily): I suppose I can seem a bit much sometimes.
Passing patient (noticing Varadkar struggling to stand up draws Fitzgerald’s attention): He’s off his trolley, nurse!
Fitzgerald (to the patient): Yes he is – I’ve thought the same thing for a long time.
Doctor in the House
It’s another busy morning in the Eoin O’Duffy Memorial Infirmary, aka Blueshirt General. New hospital master Leo Varadkar makes his rounds, accompanied by deputy master Frances Fitzgerald. They pass the operating theatre, from which a hospital press officer emerges:
Press officer: Could we have you in here a moment, Dr Varadkar?
Varadkar (stepping inside and noticing a large gathering of medics around a bed, where a patient named Joe Public is waiting to be stitched up). Gosh. What kind of op is this?
Press office: Just a photo op, actually. We need you to pose with all your new junior doctors. Smile for the cameras, everyone!
Fitzgerald (looking on, unimpressed): There’s a shocking lack of women in that line-up.
Varadkar (Between clenched grinning teeth): Really? I’m so gender neutral I hadn’t even noticed. But diversity is not all about men and women, you know. I had to balance other things. Religion. Sexual orientation. Different competencies. (He notices Mary Mitchell-O’Connor beside him). Or lack of competencies, as the case may be. Ouch!
Mitchell-O’Connor: Sorry for standing on your foot with my stiletto heel there, doctor. It was an accident – I was aiming for your back.
The hospital corridors again, later.
Fitzgerald: Dr O’Connor’s still very annoyed at being demoted, clearly.
Varadkar: She’ll be even more annoyed when she doesn’t get that super-junior bonus I promised to ease the blow. The board wouldn’t have it, unfortunately.
They drop into a specialist head injury ward, where senior consultant Charlie Flanagan is treating a patient.
Varadkar (to Flanagan, quietly): Is this the case you were telling me about?
Flanagan: Yes. I’m at something of a loss with her – I’d appreciate your opinion.
Varadkar (reading patient’s chart): So how are you today, Nóirín?
Nóirín O’Sullivan (for it is she): It’s Commissioner O’Sullivan to you. And if by “how are you today?” you mean am I resigning, the answer is no. I have complete confidence in my ability to lead An Garda Síochána.
Flanagan (leaning in to Varadkar and speaking very quietly): I’ve never seen anything quite like it. There seems to be some sort of progressive sclerosis of the sub-cranial region, accompanied by a strange bronzing of the skin.
Varadkar (nodding): Yes, it’s called “brass neck”. It’s just a lot more advanced than I’ve ever seen. (Reading the chart) There are some unbelievable figures here. The pulse rate, for example – 295 beats a minute?
Flanagan: She supplied that figure herself. Apparently the gardaí have their own PULSE computer system. She insists the figures are perfectly in order. So you’ve dealt with this neck thing before?
Varadkar: In a patient called Kenny. Amusing old guy from Mayo, but also shamelessly attached to his job, despite his position being clearly untenable. It’s the condition. (He points to the back of his own skull) It impedes the transmission of signals to the part of the brain that normally allows for feelings of shame or inadequacy.
Flanagan: But you cured him?
Varadkar: Eventually. (He puts the chart back). Let’s just keep probing her for now. If there’s no sign of embarrassment by next week we’ll consider something more drastic.
Fitzgerald (reading phone text): Sorry to interrupt, Dr Varadkar – but there’s a developing emergency in A & E.
They dash out the door, and sprint to the A & E department, where an ambulance has hit the glass doors.
Varadkar: What the hell happened here? An accident or terrorism?
Nurse: A protest, apparently. The driver threatened to bring the whole hospital crashing down. Luckily, the porters managed to restrain him before he could do serious damage.
Varadkar: What’s he protesting over?
Nurse: He shouted something about the hospital’s chief legal adviser being appointed a judge. Sounded very angry.
Varadkar: Yes, well we had to get rid of Máire somehow. (He approaches the driver, who has been placed in a straitjacket). What’s the meaning of this?
Shane Ross (for it is he): The judicial appointments system is rotten and I’m not putting up with it anymore!
Varadkar: Maybe it is, but what’s it got to do with you? You’re a driver – you’re only responsible for transport.
Ross: I can’t help it. It’s just an issue that really bothers me.
Varadkar (feeling his brow): Normally in this situation I’d suggest someone had been working too hard. But not in your case, obviously. (To the nurses) Give him a couple of aspirin and get him to lie down for a while. He’s running a temperature – let’s just hope he runs it better than the transport service.
(Everybody smiles indulgently at the Master’s witticism while the nurses lead Ross away).
Varadkar (to Flanagan, surveying the cracked glass doors): Sigh. There’s always something to fix around here.
Fitzgerald: Oh well, look on the bright side, chaps. At least your glass ceiling is still in place.
Doctor in the House
It’s another busy morning in the Eoin O’Duffy Memorial Infirmary, aka Blueshirt General. Hospital Master Leo Varadkar makes a round of the wards, accompanied by his senior nurse, Regina Doherty.
Dr Varadkar (stopping by a bed and picking up the patient’s chart): Who’s this, nurse?
Nurse Doherty: We think he’s a garda – he came in wearing uniform. But he seems very confused. There may be some head trauma involved.
Varadkar (raising his right hand towards the patient, with three fingers extended): How many fingers am I holding up?
Patient: Five hundred thousand.
Varadkar (raising his left hand this time, with four fingers): And how many now?
Patient: 1.5 million.
Varadkar (studying the patient): Do you by any chance work in garda crime statistics?
Patient: Yes! How did you guess?
Varadkar (to Doherty, replacing chart): There’s nothing wrong with him, nurse – just keep him under observation for a while. (He hands the patient a whistle.) You may need this. Whenever you feel the urge, just blow it.
They walk on, passing some nuns.
Varadkar (smiling): Good morning, sisters.
Nuns: Good morning, Dr Varadkar.
Varadkar (to Doherty, under his breath): What the hell are they doing here? I thought Harris got rid of them.
Doherty: They’re pastoral care. They’re just visiting.
Varadkar: Well, keep an eye on them. Don’t let them near my office. (They stop at another bed.) Who do we have here? (He studies the chart and looks up, surprised.) Ah, it’s the famous Joe Public. I’ve heard so much about you.
Joe Public (grumpily): I’ve heard plenty about you too. I want a different doctor.
Varadkar (Distracted by a bleep from his pager and reading message): Incoming emergency at A&E… two patients airlifted from Northern Ireland… critical condition. (He returns Joe Public’s chart, and nods to him). I’ll be back. Follow me, nurse.
The A & E department, moments later.
Varadkar (to paramedics attending the first patient, who is wearing a suit and a “Vote SDLP” rosette): Where did this guy come from?
Paramedic: Altnagelvin. They couldn’t do anything for him there.
Varadkar (checking the man’s pulse and not finding one): I doubt we can do much for him here either. (He shouts to the nurses). Defib now! (They clamp paddles to the patient’s chest while Dr Varadkar turns on the other arrival, who also sports a rosette, and is being attended to by renowned cardiologist Dr Charlie Flanagan).
Varadkar: Where did this one come from?
Flanagan (performing CPR): Belfast Royal – I do consulting there as you know. I flew in with him on the helicopter.
Varadkar (reading rosette): “Vote Ulster Unionist”? What the hell is it with moderate Northern politicians? (He looks at the heart monitor which has just flatlined.) Damn.
Flanagan (giving up, with a sigh, and turning to the paramedics attending the SDLP man): Any luck there?
Paramedic: We’ve just lost him, doctor.
Flanagan (shaking his head sadly and quoting poetry): Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.
Varadkar: Ah, yes. Yeats.
Doherty: I didn’t know Ivan was a poet?
Flanagan: Sometimes I think I’m getting too old for this job.
Varadkar (Patting him on the arm): Don’t blame yourself, Charlie. (Lowering voice.) But funny you should mention it because, between ourselves, Dr Coveney has been asking me about the possibility of his taking over your role.
Flanagan: Has he now? The two-faced Langer. And I was only playing golf with him the other day.
Varadkar: I need to carry out a bit of a reorganisation around here, as you know. But we can discuss that later. (To the paramedics.) Keep those two hooked up to life support for a while, just in case – maybe the nuns can work a miracle. If all else fails, we might be able to harvest organs.
Back on the wards, later. Dr Varadkar renews acquaintance with Joe Public.
Varadkar (reading files): So the x-rays tell us you have something you shouldn’t have.
Public: What’s that?
Varadkar: Unemployment benefit and a medical card.
Public: What makes you think I shouldn’t have those?
Varadkar: An anonymous tip-off by a concerned member of the public. (He taps the x-ray file.) Confirmed by our investigations.
Public: Bleedin’ touts.
Nurse Doherty (wagging finger at patient): Welfare cheats cheat us all.
Varadkar: Exactly. That’s why I’m recommending immediate surgery.
Public: I demand a second opinion.
Varadkar: OK. Here’s Dr Martin. Give him a second opinion, Dr Martin.
Micheál Martin: Well, if I were in charge, I might do it differently. But in the spirit of new medicine, and under the terms of our confidence and supply arrangement, I reluctantly agree with Dr Varadkar.
Vardakar (to waiting orderlies): Take him to the theatre.
Public (being wheeled away): I’ve been stitched up!
Varadkar: You will be, I promise. (He walks on, masterfully, as a ray of sunlight suddenly fills the ward. Then he notices Nurse Doherty staring after him, in an apparent trance.) What’s the matter?
Doherty: You’re just… (she sighs deeply)… so darned handsome.
Varadkar (smiling): Yes, I know. But you need to pull yourself together, nurse. We have work to do.