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The best-laid plans of mice and men

Strip-lighting illuminates an anonymous laboratory, in the latest 'Through the K hole'

The technician's face, pallid and featureless, loomed like the glazed surface of the moon.

He held up one of the research mice by its tail and slowly rotated it in the light with a pair of gleaming forceps. He leaned in more closely and squinted his eyes, frowned and carried the mouse's warm, vulnerable body over to the other side of the lab. He set it down on a shiny zinc counter and weighed it. He then stretched out the delicate paws and tail and measured them with calipers.

He took swabs and clippings of fur and compared the animal's iris to a standardised colour chart that he kept in his top pocket. Everything was neatly recorded and the technician soon became lost in a greasy haze of bureaucracy. He nervously thumbed through a reference book in order to make sense of his measurements.

Eventually, satisfied that everything had been calibrated, the scientist, anonymous and abstracted behind his surgical mask, stamped the mouse with a unique validation number. He lowered it carefully back into the communal pen where it stood as still as a sculpted stone.

As the strip lights of the lab flickered off and as the heat lamps came on for the night, the mice began to stir. Some of their number had been taken away, disposed of, but they never talked about the 'disappeared' and referred to them in hushed, allegorical whispers.

They saw no purpose in the measurements, no reason for their suffering and as far as they could tell the data that was collected was arbitrary and shifted like dunes in a godless landscape.

They had caught whiff of a rumour that one day the cruelty would be over, that the sheer pointlessness of the interrogation would end. But the mice were realistic. They realised that this was far from the end and that they inhabited a far from perfect world.

After all, they said, the best laid plans of mice and men, which includes revalidation, often go awry.

Written in response to Copperfield's blog Good riddance to revalidation. Dr Kevin Hinkey is a GP in Aberdeen.

Click here for more from Through the K hole Through the K hole - credit HaPe Gera, Flickr