Once I got a job in Maidenhead, I felt like a millionaire and my vitamin M deficiency, from which I had suffered all my life, was set to end.
My first month’s salary cheque amounted to 36 pounds, 17 shillings and six pence, all found and after tax deduction. When I saw it, I was like a man who had won the lottery, or to be topical, the football pools! In fact, I went on a spending spree — my first ever — to London on my next half-day off, which I got every week.
I picked a train to Paddington after lunch and travelled by Tube — cheap and easy to understand — to Harrods and Selfridges to do window shopping and to whet my appetite. My money was too hard earned and I could not afford to squander it on overpriced, expensive items.
Eventually, I bought a sports jacket from Dunn’s, a suit from John Collier’s and a pair of ‘K’ shoes. I felt like royalty. I toyed with the idea of buying an overcoat but I had grown fond of the ill-fitting brown one; it had served me well in my hour of need and I could not replace it for sentimental reasons.
In the words of Prof Higgins of Pygmalion, a classic by GBS, immortalised by the Sound of Music, I had “got accustomed to it”!
Britain had a glorious summer in 1955 and Maidenhead, which was set in the country by River Thames was the right spot to enjoy it. Lured by the serene waters of the famous river, I took long walks along its bank, simply watching the swans, with their glistening white feathers, gracefully gliding by.
On some warm sunny afternoons, I sat by the river watching the sailing boats, rowed by punters, barges, motorboats, leaving splashes of foamy water as they drove past, and big commercial boats, carrying tourists, waving frantically. I walked in the woods, enjoying the company of my solitude, listening to the birds, playfully twittering.
On these solitary walks, I was seized with loneliness, remembering my family in Karachi and visions of my life after Fellowship.
After six months of this heavenly bliss, while I was adapting to the British way of life and getting used to their understatements and their love for children and animals, Britain was imperceptibly growing on me.
By my own standard, I was a rich man and had saved enough money to pay for the Primary course, to be held at the Royal College of Surgeons, live in “digs” in London and take the Primary examination. In any case, the Casualty post was only for six months, recognised for the same period and it was due to finish at the end of August, including a month’s extension Maidenhead Hospital granted me.
The Primary course was not due to start till September, so I decided to stay during the interim period with Mrs Richardson in Farnham, Surrey.
Her contact was given to me by Dr Ranbhise of Miraj when I wrote to him to say that I was proceeding to England for my Fellowship. In his reply, he also mentioned that Rev Richardson was an evangelist and his widow had returned to their country after his death and looked forward to host alumni of Miraj Medical School.
He also said that the couple had adopted an infant girl named Anandi and had christened her Joy, a literal translation of her Indian name and that Joy was training as a nurse in Reading Hospital.
While doing the job in Maidenhead, I had visited Mrs Richardson, so when I wrote to tell her of the time-gap, she invited me to stay with her during the gap period.
This suited me because the Primary course was intense and I was advised to revise my Anatomy and Physiology to derive maximum benefit from the revision course. Farnham was the ideal place for the purpose.
Digressing a little, I paid a surprise visit to Mrs Richardson that December to take Christmas gifts to thank her for her kindness to me but when I rang the bell at 13, Menin Way in Farnham, Joy opened the door and announced that Mrs Richardson had passed away. “What did she die of?” I asked.
“From ruptured appendix,” she replied. “At the age of 80, her surgeon did not think of that diagnosis. It was a post-mortem finding.”
I quoted that case a few years ago in Surgeon’s Diary. It was in relation to a talk I gave to a woman’s group on breast cancer when I mentioned that though the disease occurs commonly at middle age, it is not wise to rule out the disease on that ground alone.
I set up a routine of study in Farnham, reading Anatomy in the morning and Physiology in the afternoon and socialising with my hostess in the evening. I was introduced to life in an English home and gave her a hand at housework, including washing dishes.
Come September and I found “digs” at 17 Gower Street, a walking distance from the Royal College and University of London.
True to character, once again I set up a routine for myself; walking to the college after breakfast, attending classes in the morning, having lunch in the college cafeteria, studying in the Anatomy museum until it closed at 5pm, then moving to the college library till it closed at 6pm, and then walking to the centrally-heated university library until it locked its doors at 9pm, picking up a Wimpy hamburger on the way to my “digs”, putting money in the meter and reading in bed till the heating lasted.
My money ran out in December so I found an orthopaedic post in Blacknotley for six months, presented myself for Primary examination while doing the job, and passed.
Armed with my Primary, I found a senior house-officers job at Horton General Hospital in Banbury, where I met my soul-mate and future wife in the operation theatre “behind the mask”.