Sunday, October 4, 2015
Making of a Child Psychiatrist (25): Med School (3)
Back to reality, we began a detailed examination of the leg in the dissection room. There were intense discussions within our group as to what muscle was what. The demonstrator would expect us to have a grasp of the function of various muscles. In sessions we had to demonstrate our knowledge (or lack of knowledge to the mirth of the others). There were from time to time ribald jokes to release tension and make the process easier. Some would call this disrespectful of the dead, but within our group we needed something like that to help us come to terms with what we were doing. At times there would be practical jokes. A student would come in having travelled on the underground with the hand of his skeleton in his jacket top pocket. Someone came across a set of false teeth in one of the cadavers, and they became part of a rather odd conversation with the deceased. Demonstrators had a fund of old jokes to release tension if necessary.
Elsewhere we kept on with our physiology experiments. On the 1st March I recorded a meticulous experiment on “Isometric Contraction of Frog Muscle”. “The gastrocnemius muscle/ sciatic nerve preparation was used. The knee joint was clipped in the clamp and the tendon attached to the lever with thread. The sciatic nerve was laid across the stimulating electrodes…” There followed a detailed description of repeated experiments with graphs and tables showing the results, and then a conclusion: “From the graphs, it is shown that the optimum resting length for this frog muscle is about 2.67 cms. This gives both the best total and the best active responses”. And then a concluding comment: “It has been shown that muscles in the body are usually stretched to their optimum resting length”. You see, you all needed to know that, didn’t you?
I have said that my meticulous work must have been because I was finally doing something I wanted very much to do and do well, but it was also in part related to the fact we were doing something practical, visually satisfying, and part of a productive team process.
King’s is known for its religious underpinnings. There is a strong Department of Divinity, and many of my colleagues took the opportunity to do religious studies towards becoming an Associate of King’s College, with the right to put the letters AKC after their name. As the King’s online site tells us: “The Associateship of King’s College (AKC) is the original award of the College, dating back to its foundation in 1829 and reflecting the College’s motto: ‘sancte et sapienter’ (with holiness and wisdom). The 1829 Royal Charter states that the purposes of King’s College are to maintain the connection between ‘sound religion and useful learning’ and to teach the ‘doctrines and duties of Christianity’.” I chose not to do this, despite my years of church choir activity, and my one time leaning toward a career in the church. I would guess that derived from my experience of the year before with the local Vicar and his wife. I am fully aware of the holiness of the human body, and the wisdom needed to manage a career in medicine. But I have come to believe that it is important to be authentic in all things. The vicar and his wife had shown me their lack of authenticity in the contrast between what they preached and how they lived and treated not just me, but also their own family. So, I never did take up the option of the AKC.
Perhaps more surprising, I played with the idea of joining the King’s drama group, but just never seemed to have the time to join, and was fairly certain I would not have the time to rehearse. Similarly, I played with the idea of joining the choir, but made a distinct decision not to on the basis of the joyful immersion in what I was doing.
So my extracurricula activities were focused on getting to see Jan as frequently as possible, and taking a full part in the activities of Halliday Hall.
We played bridge in one of the larger rooms, at least once a week. There were probably enough card playing medical students for two tables (ie four people each), but often someone would be away, so actually getting to play was special. It took some weeks to find my way into a four after I had been asked the question. But I did appear to be able to hold my end up, and contribute to a partnership, so as time went on I became a regular. We played sometimes incautiously well into the night, and slept on the underground, arriving for lectures somewhat worse for wear. But there were some events that could intrude. One of these was the boxing match between Cassius Clay and Archie Moore (Thursday November 15th 1962). We dutifully interrupted our game, and trooped off to the room of a fellow med student who had his own black and white television. Luckily the fight only lasted four rounds, and we rushed back to the real meaning of life. Towards the end of our first year, there was an even more important fight for we Englishmen. Cassius Clay versus ‘Our Enery’ Henry Cooper (Tuesday 18th June 1963). No bridge that night, even though this fight only lasted four rounds as well and, despite Clay being knocked down at one point, was stopped when Cooper got a severely cut eyelid (unbelievably a TKO to Clay).
The Hall had its own rhythm with a burst of communal activity around dinnertime and after in the bar. At weekends there was less activities with many people finding exciting things to do, or going home to family. A feature of both the years I was a resident was ‘That Was The Week That Was’ (or TW3) headed up by David Frost. The show took aim at politics and mistakes or infamy of those in the public eye. It aired on a Saturday, which meant I sometimes missed episodes sadly. But on the days I was there, it was hard to find viewing space amongst a crowd of slightly drunk engineering, divinity and medical students laughing raucously.
One sad event that interrupted one of the shows, was the assassination of President Kennedy (November 22nd, 1963). The atmosphere changed in seconds from raucous to being able to hear a pin drop, as we listened to what detail was available, and repeatedly watched the video coverage. This was one of those historic days in your life when you lose something – perhaps innocence, perhaps a piece of your faith in humanity, or perhaps a piece of your own humanity. It was outrageous that an essentially good politician and international leader, who had done such good in changing the atmosphere of the world, could be cut down in his prime. There were some lessons there that we all learned that day: Life can be short, and death can come unwanted out of the blue. We are not immortal. It does not matter how good a person we strive to be, and how much good we try to do in the world, death comes to all of us. Get on with life; it may be cut short. Make the most of what you have; it may be all you have time to get. Be kind to others, and try to be authentic; your legacy and peccadillos can all be made public after your death.