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And suddenly I am a doctor

July 24, 2012

Father’s banner for my passing Finals

When it came to finding out the results of my Finals I bottled it and asked a friend to read the list for me. Results were posted on the notice board by the refectory and you had to check your name wasn’t on there. Luckily for me medicine was a pass/ fail degree, no firsts, two ones and the like. Just yes or no you’ve made it.

She rang me at the flat where I was living in Peckham. The twelfth floor of a council tower block. The lifts would hardly ever work and stank of urine anyway. But carrying the groceries up twelve floors was tough even in my early twenties. The young black lads on the estate would play street hockey in the corridors and the noise as the ball banged in to the metal front doors or lifts was deafening. Towering over me with their rollerblades on and their hockey sticks flying fast and loose I should have been nervous of them but I wasn’t. They never bothered me apart from the noise on the doors and they had nowhere else to play. At least they were getting some exercise.

And so, on about this day thirty years ago, I waited for the call from Jane . The phone rang. And she said ” Can I speak to Dr Morgan?” and we both screamed.

On the radio was Captain Sensible singing Happy Talk. I completely love that song because it reminds me of that moment. It transports me back to that sitting room with the green corduroy foam bed settee and the dawning realisation I had done it. I had actually managed to qualify in medicine. Hoo-fucking-ray! Go me!!

Pretty fucking pleased with myself at passing

I already knew where my first job was. I had applied to move out of London to try to see more common conditions rather than all the exotic stuff that gets referred to London when the provinces were stumped. I chose a non teaching hospital so I wouldn’t be contending with students and others to do the procedures. So I was going to be a surgical houseman in Northallerton, North Yorkshire.

In those days all new housemen , as they were called, started work on August 1st.  The year I qualified that happened to be a Sunday. So I thought I’d get up there for the Saturday evening ready to start work the next day. I had bought a car from my uncle. An old maroon Peugeot estate with cream leather seats. I don’t remember how I actually got it as my uncle lived in Bristol. I think perhaps he drove it up to London for me. My memory is of my first trip in it being all the way from London to Yorkshire.

I set off and about a hundred miles later broke down. I called the RAC having been banned from The AA after my Avenger broke down so many times they refused to renew my membership. (I only had the car a year and gave it to the Salvation Army after the prop shaft sheared off on the M2 . They said they had mechanics who could fix it and it would be great for visiting all the homeless people they helped).

Anyway, I had to wait about six hours altogether for them to turn up. They hadn’t been able to find me and of course there were no mobile phones in those days so I was sitting on the side of the A1 and had to walk miles to a phone box every time I contacted them. And no sat nav to tell them exactly where I was, just the location inside the phone box and where I thought I was on the map. Then all the way back to the car to sit and wait. And it got dark and I was still waiting. Eventually they turned up and repaired it and off I went, only to break down again about 20 miles later. I wasn’t phased at this point. I just rang them again and at least they knew roughly where I was And they came within an hour or so. But by now it was late. And midnight by the time the car was hitched up to the rescue lorry and we were ready to go.

I arrived at the Friarage Hospital Northallerton with the yellow light of the tow truck flashing. We stopped at the main entrance and I asked the porter where the Doctors’ Mess was. I would be ‘living in’ for the following year. “They were looking for you earlier” he told me helpfully and handed me an envelope with my room details and key and gave me my pager. The wards would ring switchboard and then switchboard would ‘page’ the appropriate doctor who would then ring back to the ward that wanted them. It was 4 am and I just wanted to go to bed. I would be starting my first day on the wards in a few hours. He pointed me in the direction of the Mess and I unloaded my bags and let the driver take my car to a local garage for repair.

I went up to my room and found a note stuck to my door: August 1st started at midnight. You are late.

Of course it had. I hadn’t thought about the realities of hospital medicine. That someone would have to be on call from midnight onwards. The previous incumbent would have another job to go to. Also potentially starting at midnight. And even if he or she wasn’t starting at midnight ( not everyone has to be on call at the same time- its done on a rota basis) , he or she would have to get to their new hospital in time to settle in and start Monday morning.

I felt terrible. I had planned on arriving early evening so in fact if it had gone to plan I would have been able to be on call from midnight. As it was,someone else must have had to do it for me. I was already owing and I hadn’t even started.

I unlocked my room and rang switchboard. “Do you know if the surgical houseman is on the wards?” I asked.  ” Hang on  I’ll ask the Night Sister.”  I was feeling slightly sick with the tension of it all. “No, it’s all quiet at the moment. Are you the one who arrived in the breakdown truck? ” Word obviously travelled fast. “Yes” I said. “You were meant to be on call. It’s Mr Whittaker’s take and you’re working for him on my list here” ” I don’t know” I said. I hadn’t read the letter yet that was on my bed, along with two highly starched and beautifully folded long white coats. ” Well I’ll tell the wards to call you now if they need anything shall I ?”  ” Yes please” I said, but wanted to say no thanks.

I slept fitfully until I was woken up a couple of hours later by the phone ringing. Could I come to ward 4 and write up some painkillers for one of the patients and re-site a drip. Oh my God. This was it. I really was going to start practising medicine.

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7 Responses to “And suddenly I am a doctor”


  1. […] all simply so relieved to have qualified they could have called us anything. I blogged here https://sarahspoutsoff.wordpress.com/2012/07/24/and-suddenly-i-am-a-doctor/ about the moment I became […]

  2. georgiemcclarke Says:

    Great post, though what a traumatic experience!

  3. Anonymous Says:

    I have had days like this (wifes birthday forgotten, row, father disclocated hip, aunties funeral, car engine blew up, AA relay home at 3am following day comes to mind). As my birthday is on August 2nd, that day in 1982 is a lot less clear in my mind than yours due to post party effects. However I do remember getting my MICE pass through pretty clearly in 1987(another story). I think i’m going to have to start writing it down somewhere while i can still be bothered.


    • Yes! Join me blogging! It is rather therapeutic – and as my mum got dementia I am battling to keep my memory working -and I rather enjoy this way.
      MICE. I’m guessing Membership of the Institute of Civil Engineers?????

  4. gitchorama Says:

    Dr. C – this is one of your best pieces yet (against tough competition!)–an excellent balance of humor and “showing not telling” (as my high school English teacher, Mrs. Campbell (bless her!) would demand). Keep it up, please!


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