“An Englishman, a Scot, and an Irishman were drinking at a bar.”
Not another joke.
This was Sister Margaret’s idea. “Go interview Dr. Michael Murphy,” she said. “It will help you to interview someone who has worked in the area of your chosen, future profession.”
Sister Margaret knows I want to become a hematologist. It has been my dream ever since my father died when I was child, but this interview is going nowhere. For the last thirty minutes, all I have heard is jokes. There is no way this inebriated figure practices medicine.
“Dr. Murphy, I came to ask about your profession. Why did you go into medicine?”
“Who are you again?”
“Caitlin McCarthy…from Trinity College. Remember, I called you about this interview.”
“Wait. Just wait. An Englishman, a Scot, and an Irishman were drinking at a bar. A fly came along and landed in the Englishman’s drink. ‘That’s disgusting’ the Englishman said, and he got up and left. Another fly landed in the Scot’s pint. The Scottish gent grabbed the insect and threw him to the floor. ‘That’s better,’ he declared and went on sipping his brew. Soon another fly landed in the Irish fellow’s beer. Quick as a wink, the Irishman scooped up the bug by its wings, held it over his pint, and said, ‘All right, spit it out you little thief!’”
I manage a smile. It’s an old joke, but being Irish myself, it always strikes a humorous note—at least compared to the previous selections he has offered.
“Dr. Murphy, why did you decide to practice hematology?”
Instead of answering, Dr. Murphy sits back, closes his eyes, and begins to snore!
Exasperated, I leave the pub and head over to Sister Margaret’s office. She has to assign me someone else. I find her in and quickly explain her error in assigning me Dr. Murphy to interview.
“Pardon me, Sister, but he’s an alcoholic.”
“Well, Caitlin,” she responds, “that’s a quick diagnosis from someone who has never practiced medicine.”
“Sister, his eyes are yellow, his speech is slurred, and he set up our interview in a pub!”
“Dr. Murphy does drink too much. I’ll grant you that. He no longer practices medicine, but you can still learn from him.”
“Learn what, how to tell jokes?”
“Dr. Murphy was once a talented and respected hematologist.”
“Why is he not still practicing?”
“Are you familiar,” Sister responds, “with the tainted blood scandal that occurred in the 1980s? Almost 5,000 people were infected with hepatitis C and 1,200 more got HIV.”
“Yes, the blood was contaminated. My father had hemophilia. He was one of those patients. He died in 1992.”
“Well, Dr. Murphy was the Director of Blood Procurement for the National Health Service in the 1980s.”
I can’t believe my ears. Did Sister Margaret actually send me to interview the monster who perpetrated the disaster that eventually cost my father his life?
“The blood products,” Sister continues, “came from the United States. Dr. Murphy had no way of knowing they were contaminated. It wasn’t till months after they were administered that people became ill. By then, it was too late.”
“He should have known.”
“How could he? Like everyone else, he thought the plasma was safe. When he learned the truth, he was devastated. Caitlin, do you have any idea what it has been like for him? Watching patient after patient succumb. Almost 1,600 people have passed from these infections and many others remain terminally ill. Dr. Murphy watched many die personally, until he couldn’t take it anymore. He stopped practicing, but there was no escape. To this day, he scours the obituaries in the morning paper worrying who else he will find.”
“Sister, how do you know all this?”
“My brother had hemophilia. He also was infected and died in 1990. I loved my brother so much. For years I questioned why it had to happen, but in time, I recovered. For Dr. Murphy, there is no recovery. Each death is a new horror for him.”
“Is that why he drinks…to forget?”
“He drinks because he can’t stop remembering.”
“Why the jokes?”
“He compensates with jokes. Tragedy and comedy can be closely related.”
“Okay, Sister, I may have judged him hastily, and I’m sorry…but what does Dr. Murphy have to do with me? I want to be a doctor to help people…to make them better.”
“You have an admirable goal, but I sent you to Dr. Murphy to learn about making mistakes. Doctors are human beings, and like all people, they make mistakes. Sometimes factors are out of their control, and other times the mistakes come from their own doing. Can you, Caitlin, live with the mistakes you will make?”
Never once have I thought about this.
“Medicine,” Sister continues, “is a demanding profession. It can be fulfilling, but also draining. I want you to be certain you know what you’re getting yourself into and that you can live with any mistakes you may make.”
I cannot imagine hurting one person, let alone several. Even more unimaginable is living with the guilt and shame. I’d be haunted by any mistake I made, especially if it resulted in the loss of someone’s life. I finally understand where Sister is going with all this. Is it possible she knows me better than I know myself? Perhaps, I’m not ready for the pressure and responsibility of a medical career.
“I’m not sure, Sister. I’ve never thought about medicine this way. You’ve given me something new to consider.”
I leave Sister’s office and return to the pub. Dr. Murphy is drinking with another man. Watching him, I consider that physicians heal others, but perhaps many cannot heal themselves. Would I be in the latter group? Maybe my dream is not based in reality. I have a lot to think about.
As I turn to leave, I hear Dr. Murphy say, “Did you hear about the doctor who walked into a bar? He should have spotted it.”