My best Christmas present of 2021 was a subscription to Storyworth from my son & daughter. It required me to write a prescribed essay weekly for one year, at the end of which they will be published in book form. This is the first essay.
It was the summer of 1974. I was in my first job at Orpington Hospital in Kent, six weeks after graduating from the State Medical Institute in Moscow. I wanted to work in England as a doctor for a few years to gain experience. As a fall back, I had a two-year postgraduate course in Cardiology the Russians offered me, a Russian re-entry visa and a return train ticket back to Moscow.
I travelled across Europe by train to London in July and stayed at the Ceylon Students Centre. My bed in a shared room cost only £1.20 a night. The bed sheets were dirty and the bathroom had a tank of cold water and a bucket for a wash. I covered the bed with newspapers before I slept. The food in the canteen was excellent. A tasty rice & curry lunch followed by ice cream and tea cost only 30 pence and students started queueing up for it from 11.30 in the morning.
The General Medical Council accepted my Russian MD and registered me. I still had to undergo a month’s assessment by a hospital consultant before I could look for a job. I was almost out of money and was getting worried.
An old friend came to my rescue. He was working as a Senior House Officer in Orthopaedics at Black Notley Hospital in Braintree and persuaded his superior to accepted me for assessment. I was given a small grant and a room free of charge. I worked on the wards under supervision, played cricket in the weekends and had enough money to have a beer at the pub.
After only a week, the Orthopaedic Consultant gave me a certificate and said I was fit to seek employment.
The job in Orpington was only as a Locum and only for two weeks, but it gave me the opening I needed.
The NHS then was different. Doctors were paid very little but were well looked after. Accommodation was free, there was a Mess, breakfast was free and subsidised three course melas were served at lunch and dinner. Kitchen staff made tea and coffee and made bacon sandwiches whenever you wanted them. If you left your shoes outside your door at night, you found them polished in the morning. But you had to work hard. The average working week was 114 hours. “On Call” weekends start at 9 am on Friday and end at 5 pm next Monday. I had my English medical text books open and spread on the bed to check that I was doing things right.
My first ‘proper’ job as a Pre-registration House Officer in General Surgery and Orthopaedics was at the General Hospital in Kings Lynn. It was the only post I applied for and was thrilled when I was selected. The Consultant gave me a tour of the hospital and drove me to the railway station to catch the train to Kent via London. Two months into the job, I was fixing broken arms and assisting the Registrar during hip operations. A post in General Medicine was promised at the end of my first job. Rani & Dilu joined me in the winter of 1975, the hospital gave us a two-bedroom flat, I bought a second-hand Volkswagen Beetle and in July that year, we had a month’s camping holiday in Europe, driving all the way to Rome and back.
There was no looking back!