Views & Reviews The Best Medicine

The dance of death

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 24 July 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e4956
  1. Liam Farrell, retired general practitioner, Crossmaglen, County Armagh
  1. drfarrell{at}

“So,” I asked, “how did it happen?”

“Well,” he said, “I was at a wedding and I got up to dance—that’s when I felt the pain in my chest.”

I was curious; for the third time in a matter of weeks a man in his 50s had had an infarct while at a wedding. The risk factors were obvious: overweight, unfit, suddenly hurled into intense physical activity, but could there be something more going on, something sinister?

“What song was the band playing at the time?” I asked. The experienced clinician knows that the devil is in the details.

“‘Dancing Queen,’” he said. “And what can you do? It was like an outside force taking over my body—my feet started tapping, my hips twitching, resistance is futile, I just had to join in.”

“‘Dull would he be of soul who could pass by,’” I agreed.

On a hunch, I pulled the files, made a few calls, and, sure enough, on each occasion “Dancing Queen” had been playing. The potency of cheap music, I reflected. Noël Coward was right.

Then, with a chill of horror, I realised that there was another wedding on that very day.

I dashed out of the surgery and drove headlong to the reception, stopping only to pick up a bottle of Pimm’s, almost running down a lady with long blonde hair and a curiously appropriate spangly, sparkly jumpsuit.

Se vart du ska, idiot,” she said.

Du kysser din mamma med den munnen?” I inquired (“You kiss your mother with that mouth?”)—I’d picked up a smattering of Swedish during my years as a eurotrash porn star.

I burst in through the door just as the song was reaching a climax with that immortal, almost Shakespearean lyric, “Feel the beat of the tambourine, OH YEAH . . .”

As the crowd punched the air in a pagan frenzy, a short fat man collapsed on the floor. I cradled his head in my arms, as he whispered his dying words: “Diggin’ . . . the dancing queen . . .”

“Damn you,” I cried, shaking my fist at the heavens (in time with the beat), “Damn you, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, damn you.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e4956