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Getting your hands dirty

This week, the Large Hadron Collider was switched on again after a two-year pause. There have been photographs of jubilant scientists buzzing around the internet and good luck to them I say, job well done, so long as they don’t open up a black hole and end the world in their search for the Higgs boson and other particles.

Speaking of black holes, I had to go into one today. It was dark, grimy and somewhat claustrophobic and it took some doing getting inside. It was a relief to get out again with only minor bruises.

I had go into the practice boiler room, or as we call it, The Engine Room. It’s slightly more complicated (and certainly deadlier) than a warp drive from Star Trek and, come to think of it, probably a Large Hadron Collider as well.

We have an unwritten rule that the senior partner in my practice takes on the mantle of DIY & Heating Engineer and the black art of the boiler, heating and hot water control fell on my narrow shoulders at the beginning of this year.  

The previous incumbent of this role kept the briefest of instructions on multiple post-it notes stuck randomly on various control panels.  

But over the years the constant heat had not only darkened the paper, but also faded the handwritten instructions a calligraph spider would have been proud of. 

To make things worse he steadfastly refused to explain how everything worked.  

‘Read the manuals,’ he would reply when asked.

My plan was never to touch anything unless it went wrong – a bit like practicing medicine – and all was well until today when the staff reported there was no hot water coming from any taps in the whole building. 

Bugger, I thought, I bet that sodding Hadron Collider has caused a rift in the space-time continuum and fried a control panel in the warp drive.

Despite my well-laid plans, I had to venture into the ‘engine room’ and get dirty.

It was touch and go for a while as I tried to decipher the spiders’ writing and various parchment-like instruction manuals but I’m proud to say I fixed it. There was an air lock in one pump that supplies the hot water to the taps, a few skilful tweaks on the motor speed control and, hey presto, hot water restored after a few impressive gurgling noises. 

If only general practice was this easy.

And, if the Hadron Collider does detect a Higgs boson this week, I suspect my fiddling with the boiler might have had a small influence on the space-time continuum so I’ll take a part of the Nobel Prize, please. That would be nice – you get sod all praise for being a GP these days.

Dr Hadrian Moss is a GP in Kettering, Northamptonshire. You can tweet him at @DrHMoss.