Thursday, September 29, 2016
Making of a Child Psychiatrist: (46) Working in Medicine (2)
That first year of working as a doctor was momentous. Being a medical student had been enthralling; full of unexpected experiences and new learning, but it was always tainted a little by the hand to mouth existence of living on a grant, even after Jan began bringing in a wage. Earned money arriving in the bank every fortnight was seriously meaningful. I felt different, more confident, and more assured that we had a good future on front of us, whichever way the fates took us. My depression of the previous year disappeared as my sense of competence and meaning in life grew.
While I missed Jan on the two nights a week I was on call, it was also a special experience to be working alongside colleagues who were sharing parallel learning curves. Cases were discussed in great detail, and then filed away somewhere in the personal archives of my brain. As a group our sporting activities fell by the wayside, but our awareness of, and interest in, sport more generally out there in television world burgeoned. Tottenham beat Chelsea 2-1 in the FA Cup. We cheered anyway, and a couple of soccer fanatics explained the game to those of us who had no idea. Celtic became the first British team to reach a European Cup final beating Inter Milan 2-1; always good to beat the Italians I was told. Francis Chichester completed his single-handed voyage around the world in Gypsy Moth 4, and was feted. John Newcombe and Billy Jean King won their respective finals at Wimbledon.
I had continued my friendship with Andrew Stanway, who was in the process of finishing his own degree, but continued as the editor of the King’s College Hospital Gazette. I had an idea for a small article for each issue to reflect the lifestyle in the Medical Officers’ Mess. I only ended up writing about 5 episodes of about 3-400 words apiece, but it was a way of continuing my ongoing need to write, allowing me a small creative endeavour to wind down from the complexity of a days’ work. I imagined the Mess as a foreign planet (which it had been when I first arrived there), and pretended to be a reporter from ‘ResMedOff’, describing events and daily life in allegory. A silly idea really, but some people found the pieces amusing. I have no idea whether they survived. They were of course typed up on an old typewriter, so the only record might be deep in the archives, wherever they are.
Of course, there were other ways of gaining release after the majority of work had been completed for the day. Emerging from my cocoon of listening to classical music and jazz, I was told about some guys called Keith Richard and Mick Jagger who had been jailed for possession of drugs. The Rolling Stones were probably aptly named, and gaining a reputation for being bad boys, but they played pretty good music. The Beatles had only recently released Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and not only was the music played repeatedly (and sometimes too loudly), but people began to adopt some pretty weird clothes.
And young doctors can be naughty. So over a few weeks, there was talk of something called Marijuana and, being a smoker, I took some notice. One night was planned as a special night in one of the shared quarters for a group to sit in a circle, listening to psychedelic music, and ‘share a joint’. I was curious, and wanted to be part of the group. So I set aside my slight disgust at smoking something soggy that had been passed from lips to lips, and duly took a drag. When another joint came round the circle, I repeated the experience. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and thought it was all a bit disappointing. I did notice several people looking a bit dopey, and swaying to the music a bit more, but I really felt very little. That is until an hour later, when I began to develop the king of all headaches; a real thumper. All I could do was politely excuse myself from the group, though I am not sure anyone noticed. I went to my room, took some aspirin, and tried unsuccessfully to get some sleep. Waking in the morning felt like hell, and the headache was still there; nothing would relieve it until it had run its course after about 24 hours. I struggled through a ward round, and then absented myself as ‘having a migraine’. I went back home to Jan, but nothing I did seemed to help; it just had to take its course.
I guess I was lucky, in a sense. I had no idea what the headache meant, but I have always valued my ability to think and feel, and perhaps have a need to be in control of my own daily life and destiny, so I made a decision then and there never ever take anything like that again. I have kept to that for the rest of my life, and count myself fortunate for having that early adverse experience. I am not necessarily down on people who seem to enjoy drugs. If anything I find myself on the one hand admiring them, but then on the other wondering why they would bother. Some of these attitudes were further developed a bit later when I was doing psychiatry at a drug clinic, but I will explore that in its place in my narrative.
The group process with its music and occasional mayhem concluded at the end of the year with a Friday night Christmas party where the mode of dress was definitely hippy with headbands. Someone had organised a light show with a projector and multicoloured bubbles lowing across a wall. The atmosphere was sweet and heavy, and alcohol flowed freely. We danced gently into the small hours of the morning and then wandered down Denmark Hill to recover at home for the weekend.
Actually for some months we had been taking life a little more carefully. Jan had announced that approaching the grand age of 24 we were going to be parents with an expected delivery date of February. She had enjoyed her pregnancy, mostly feeling well throughout and certainly looking terrific. I know that she was anxious about the process to come, but even more anxious about what would happen to her job, and our newly positive bank account. Luckily, my salary increased with each job. I had begun at £800 per annum, then this was to be increased as a senior house officer in my second year to £1100 a year, as I finished my first medical job and took on a joint Diabetes and Pathology job.
The other major anxiety was accommodation. We were only allowed to rent the hospital flat for one year, so we had increasingly urgent discussions about where to live and how to manage. Our old flat at Camberwell Grove was unavailable, and might not have been appropriate given its position on the second floor.
I had been loosely promised the opportunity of a junior registrar in psychiatry job for October 1968, which would increase my salary to £1400 a year. Lots of ifs and buts, and Jan was very keen to continue her own work at King’s, planning to go back to work as soon as they would take her. The department, luckily, had found out that Jan was a treasure, and offered for her to be half time for as long as she would be able to manage with a baby in a pram.
I am not sure who actually found our first house, but it was a recently refurbished tiny two storey terraced house in East Dulwich. It had a next to nothing front garden, and a pocket-sized back garden covered in new lawn; and there was street parking. It was cute and we loved it. So we went to Lloyd’s bank in Westgate-on-Sea where we had always banked to see whether we could get a loan. These were never easy to gain in those days, with banks falling over themselves to avoid any risk at all. Somehow $5,000 was seen as an enormous amount of money to lend to two 24 year olds with uncertain salaries, even though we were professionals in the making. It felt like we were back in Paris, begging for £10 for petrol to get us back to England on the Vespa. Luckily, Jan’s father (who had occasionally played golf with the bank manager) agreed to be our guarantor. On that basis, we had a home, and the family rallied around to transport our meager furniture. Welcome to 5, Henslowe Road. Welcome to 1968.