Trust me, I’m a Doctor

If I could live my life again there is very little I would want to change. My wonderful time with Annie, fantastic children who prefer now to be called adults, Sasha and my new life; I would keep them all. But if anything was to change it would be my career.

My choice of A levels, degree and then job were all based around two criteria. First, what I could do easily. Therefore, I wouldn’t have to work hard for success. Secondly, what gave me the most time to play rugby. In that sense it was never a career choice but necessity. It was just that Coopers offered me a job during my second year at university meaning I didn’t miss any rugby in my final year going for job interviews. That is why I ended up as an accountant, but I should have been something else. I should have been a doctor.

I have never thought as myself as an ailing and sick person, but I have been treated in hospitals a great many times.

It started when I was no more than 3 years old with three eye operations for a squint. Those were the days when even parent’s visits were limited to an hour in the afternoon and a Matron ruled the roost. They sorted the squint, but I still use my left eye much less than the right giving me a degree of monocular vision making it difficult to follow a fast-moving ball, such as in tennis. That is my excuse for being useless.

Then when I was eleven there was the operation to get rid of tonsils. I avoided an appendicostomy but not the week to reset a broken arm suffered during play time soccer. Then there was a hiatus until my late teens and early twenties when my relationship with hospitals resumed but this time it was professional and not medical.

Between finishing University and starting at Coopers & Lybrand I had a three-month gap. I didn’t do what subsequent generations have done and wander around Thailand but instead I phoned up Guys Hospital and volunteered my services to do anything where help was needed.

I thought I would probably end up as a porter but with a new degree in Statistics I was picked up by Professor Harry Keen and his wonderful colleagues to work in a research team into two diabetic drugs, tolbutamide and phenformin. This turned into an academic paper, which included my name, although I know my efforts didn’t amount too much.

While at Guys, Paul, a friend from school arrived as a trainee doctor and after work we would sit in the doctor’s mess for a drink although in his case, given the excessive hours doctors work, after hours could be any time.

Many of my early girlfriends were nurses and I mastered the art of sneaking unseen into the nurse’s home. At Guys Hospital that was not easy but if you knew your way around the tunnels under the main hospital, and could avoid the patrolling security, there was access from the basement lift which avoided the main desk.

I didn’t know Annie was a nurse when I first saw her, but it was always a big plus in our relationship. I didn’t fall in love with Annie because she was a nurse, but it was because she nursed the ill, I was always proud of her. That has never changed, and I knew what she did, always for a fraction of what I earned, was far more valuable.

At Guys I spoke to Professor Keen about a medical place. My schooling had been all about maths. I didn’t study either chemistry or biology. I would have to do my final school years again, and then a degree in medicine. I would then be at least five years behind all my contemporaries. I couldn’t face being behind the competition, but in retrospect I was wrong.

Many years ago, when Maddie was filling in university application forms, we talked endlessly about what subject she should study, and all these thoughts came back.

She has a broad range of A levels across science and the humanities, but the real question was between studying either what interested her or a more vocational choice leading to an obvious career.  It was always her decision although my advice was always do what you enjoy, and a career can come later.

University is as much about life learning as academic learning and Maddie chose to read Theology with the only temporarily concerned voice being my mother who thought she might be heading towards the priesthood.

Maddie started a job in insurance, didn’t enjoy it and has now nearly completed her two-year law degree. She may be a year or two behind those who studied and went straight into law, but she has wider commercial experience and more importantly she is now doing what she wants to do.

When I joined Coopers, among my intake group there was one of us who was far older. He had life experience in abundance. He had been a priest and in his very late twenties when he joined. Because of all his experience he progressed so much faster than all of us and soon that huge gap had gone and quickly he became a partner.

Like an elite sports team I enjoyed the professionalism and camaraderie of what I saw of the medical profession and my career indecision started when I was at Guys and never left me. Every decade I would enquire about transitioning into medicine.

It doesn’t change. With all the time in have spent getting eyes, tonsils, broken arms, cruciate ligaments, knee cartilage, removed or repaired not to mention a couple of dozen or more stitches in my head over numerous post rugby visits I am a huge fan of the NHS and the medical profession. I have more respect for all health care professional that I can ever express, and I still regret that I never added my contribution.

As I said to Maddie as she was filling in that application we all arrive at our predestined and final destination, whatever time, and age we start. I was wrong. You need courage as well. For that alone I am in awe of what Maddie is doing.