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Friday, July 15, 2016

Making of a Child Psychiatrist: (42) Down to Work Sort of… (4)

From then on it became work, work, work. Lectures continued, as did the ongoing rotations through various medical ‘firms’. A sense that fun was over, and real life was beginning to get serious.
So something changed for me, and the pivot point was Poker. I played what was to be my last game in the smoke filled Med School common room. I had been playing for about an hour. Stud poker, the kind of thing you can now see people doing for a living on Foxtel Sports. I suppose I was getting tired, and had lost caution. I made a big bet on what I had in my hand (3 high hearts and a couple of rubbish cards – drawing rather hopefully to a flush). A big bet in those days was £10, but rashly I decided on £25 to get it all over with. Two of my colleagues decided to join me, and momentarily I stopped breathing. It had been a big group, and there was quite a lot of money already in the pot; I had no idea how much. A fourth card (these days known as ‘the street’ for some reason) was drawn and was also a heart. I now had the possibility of a straight flush – all the same suit and at this point sequential. I bet £50 and looked straight at my two opponents; no smile or anything. It was not what they call a poker face; I was just tired, unthinking and had had enough. I needed to go home. Inside I was quaking given, as you will remember, that my quarterly grant was only £96. This was a quarterly fortune that could go down the drain. There was a hush around the common room, given some common recognition that ‘something was up’. People moved in to take a look. One of my two opponents pulled out and trashed his cards. The other was someone from my year who was known to be not only a good player, but also very aggressive. I have no idea whether he was on a grant, or ‘came from money’ (as they say) as several of our year did. He looked at me and smiled. Then very quietly counted out £50, which went into the middle. Oh dear, what now? The dealer looked shocked, as did a number of others, but he dealt the last card (the ‘river’ card). I had my flush. Not a royal flush, but an Ace, King, Queen, Jack, Two flush. Good, or perhaps bad. What was I to do now? I bet another £20 (which was all I had on me). I knew I could be beaten, but only by a royal flush, four of a kind, or a full house. My colleague raised the bet to £50; way out of my league. I did not know how I would tell Jan if I lost. I would have had to have written a cheque on our rather penniless bank account. As I said, I was tired, and even more tired of Ken’s rather evil challenging grin. Those are no grounds for betting sums of money way in excess of what you can afford. But, finally, I said I would meet his bet, if he would allow me to write a cheque if I lost. He agreed, and we both laid out our cards. Ken had three Queens, and obviously had been trying to draw a full house. He had clearly believed he had the best hand, or perhaps that his last bet would chase me off (which it should have). But my flush was the winner. I was the winner. In the background, I could hear the discussion break out as people dispersed back to whatever they were doing. Others round our table muttered apologies or condolences or congratulations; I did not hear as I began to pull all the money toward me. Ken looked like thunder, grunted and marched off. I stuffed the money into my wallet and pockets, and started to breathe. Suddenly there was no-one around, the dealer being the last to have left. Bemused, exhausted, flat, and suddenly alone, I collected my bag from my locker, and headed home. I just told Jan I had got lucky and won some money, but it was about a year before I admitted it was more than £400.
I thought about the event a lot. In fact I thought about the whole situation of playing bridge or poker or blackjack almost every lunch break and into the afternoon. With looming prize exams at the end of the year, followed by the conjoint exams in about March, followed by the University degree exams in April, I knew I had a big hill or two to climb. I did not sleep well for a couple of nights. I avoided the med student common room for several days. Something had shifted in me. £400 was an enormous sum of money and I decided I did not want to just fritter it all away. I made a tentative decision to not play poker again.
About the same sort of time, I had also been betting on the horse racing from time to time. My mother used to bet once a year on the Grand National, flattening out the newspaper page with horses and riders, closing her eyes and sticking a pin into a random horse and jockey. She would place an ‘each way bet’ at the local bookmakers, and the family would listen to the race on the radio, whooping with delight if she had won, groaning if she had not. I don’t know whether I was influenced by that. A lot of time had passed since my mother’s 2 shilling bets. I had become what I thought of as ‘more scientific’. I scoured the newspaper in the common room, trying to understand the language, the ‘form’ of various horses, the different sorts of races, and the ‘form’ of various jockeys. I watched the television when I could to see the race and the results. I ended up following the ‘form’ of a jockey called Scobie Beasley, who seemed to do quite well. An Australian, he was reputed to have ridden over 100 winners in England every year from 1955-64. I guess perhaps he was past his prime, because at the end of a whole year of placing small bets every couple of weeks, I looked back over my record and worked out I had won exactly £1. It seemed an enormous amount of time invested, to regain £1. I guess I was lucky not to have lost. I understand Mr. Beasley gave up riding as a  jockey in 1968; so I guess he had seen the writing on the wall. Anyway, at about the same time I gave up betting at cards, I gave up betting on the gee-gees.
There was a small confrontation in the common room some weeks later when Ken demanded the opportunity to win back some of his money. I explained that I could not do that; I had made a decision to never play again. He was irate, and called me a number of names. Several of his friends joined in, suggesting I was no longer a gentleman. I guess the truth is, I had never been whatever that meant. I felt awful. But I have staunchly stuck to my guns. I have never played competitive poker for money since that time. Even playing with my children and grandchildren for matchsticks, I have an uncomfortable feeling between my shoulder blades. I guess if I had ever changed my mind, I would have had to get in touch with Ken and allow him to win his money back! I understand at some stage he migrated to New Zealand, so I guess the chances of unraveling the events is lost in the mists of time.
By the way, I have never bet on the horses since that time in 1966.

I guess you might well ask how all this relates to my later becoming a psychiatrist. Perhaps I learned something about lady luck in life. Perhaps I came to believe that my fortune would not be made in taking too many chances or risks, but I would only really be successful by applying myself to my career. Perhaps I learned something about decision-making, and the strength needed to avoid taking excessive risks, and avoid going back on your word (whether right or wrong).

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