How skiing was one of the reasons why I became a doctor

This a story where family pressure and my love for skiing jointly helped me to become a GP.

There is a long tradition of medicine in my family. My grandfather, father, my mother, many other relatives.

But as a child, being a doctor was the last thing I wanted to be. It did not seem glamorous or interesting, and I knew the practical implications- celebrating Christmas a day earlier when one of my parents was on call, and those weekends visiting my father in hospital where he was on call suddenly for a colleague instead of taking me to the promised zoo or a trip.

I was also never really interested in science. I am still not, apart from the “ need to know “ basis.

As a child, I read fiction with addictive intensity, and although I occasionally read biographies of famous scientists – Pasteur, Koch, Marie Curie, my heroes were writers.

Even as a child, I used to write poetry and stories, and when adults asked me who I wanted to be, I always replied “ a writer”. My parents were proud of those poems I used to win competitions with, but none of them considered literature a career. They were of course probably right.

Yet, somehow, I never doubted that one day, I will write a book. And now I did! Amazing!

When there was time to apply for university, I wanted to study languages, history, Czech or Philosophy. “ That is not anything useful, and languages is not a career, you need to know languages whatever you do.” said my practical mother, a woman who hardly ever reads and never really saw the point of studying arts.

I already spoke Czech, Russian, French, German and English.
But there was another, more important point. I was living in a communist country, Arts were political. This was soon after the Russian invasion in 1968, and I was passionately against communist ideology.

So I decided not to go to university at all. “I will go and work in a bank or a hotel.” I told my mother, who wanted me to study medicine. Her reply was simple. That is out of question. If you don’t go to university, move out”.

That was, of course, blackmail, and she knew it. There was a shortage of housing, everybody I knew lived in multi-generational flats. I would have nowhere to go.

I was pretty upset. “Medicine!? No way, it is boring and I do not like science!”

In the end, we made a compromise. I prepared for the rather difficult entrance exam, but I made my mother agree that if I don’t like the course, I can leave after a year“ You can always do History of Medicine,” my mother said, trying to make me less upset.

Hmmm, that sounded a bit better.

I kept my part of the deal. I passed the exams and got a place at Charles University medical school in Prague. I did not think I would last for a year. I looked at the first year’s subjects. Medical Physics , Biochemistry, Genetics, Anatomy, Histology. Brrrrr. I hated microscopes, always difficult to manage with my strong glasses. The only subject I thought was OK was Latin. I was good at languages.

The funny thing was, what helped me to become a doctor was my passion for skiing. In Czechoslovak universities, study groups were formed according to the sport you wanted to do. We all had two hours per week compulsory physical education. I still think that was a great idea.

So in September, when the semester started, my study group, 16 men and 5 women, were all skiers. I always found men easier to talk to than women. Most of them are still my good friends after all those years.

Readers of my book know that for years, I thought that skiing was much more exciting than sex. In my first year at medical school, I was still a virgin but I loved to ski.

I passed all those exams with average marks, despite not studying very hard, and spent most of the winter skiing. I had fun. I never found the study particularly daunting. I have a good memory and I read very fast. Reading the textbook three times right before the exam, first highlighting the important bits, then reading just those highlights worked for me. I passed the exam,and most likely have forgotten most of it very quickly. But then, I think most of us forget the majority of things we learn at university eventually.

So I did not leave after the first year, making my mother very happy. My exam results got better, and I still managed to have a lot of fun and ski at least six weeks a year. I had a boyfriend, and was no longer a virgin, but I still preferred skiing.

I still found the science and medicine not exactly boring, but not very interesting either. I accepted my medical career as something I had to do.

I graduated, and started working in a hospital. I did not enjoy my job. I cared for my patients, and worked hard, but my heart was not in it. I remember how annoyed I was when I asked a senior colleague practical questions like how to interpret an ECG, and instead of just telling me, he started teaching me how to find out. I wanted a short cut. An advice what to do. I often thought I’d rather work in a supermarket or hotel. Am I really going to do this boring job for life? Ward rounds, clerking patients, typing reports, going to x ray meetings?

And then another skiing coincidence happened that influenced my medical career for ever. A local GP broke his ankle in a skiing accident.

He was off sick for three months, and the junior hospital doctors reluctantly did his locum. They all hated it. I loved it. No ward rounds, having my own room, and the whole general practice. After a week, I asked my consultant if I could do the whole locum. Are you sure?” he asked. Yes, absolutely, I hate working in hospital.” He was shocked, but he agreed. He was glad he found someone who did not mind doing the locum.

So thanks to another skiing doctor’s accident, I became a GP.

I loved general practice, I still do. The puzzles, the fact that you never know what will come through the door.

It is an ideal job for a curious woman, people tell me things.

Those questions:

Why are they here?

What is wrong? ( Not always the same thing)

How will I find out?

What will I do about it?

And the most important questions of all: What if I am wrong?

I might still not be interested in science, but I am interested in people, their problems and their stories. I have been working as a GP for a very long time, and it is a work that suits me, knowing a bit about everything and being able to find out more on “ need to know “ basis.I am not afraid to say: I don’t know what is wrong, but I will find out or send you to a specialist.” My patients trust me because I never pretend to know more than I do.

And I care. Despite my reluctance to small talk or talking about the weather ( see my previous blogs).

Now I think about it, I never admitted to my mother that she was right, medicine became eventually a good career for me.

Still, I would not have become a GP if it was not for skiing.

Skiing, the cause of my choice of career and an activity which is almost as exciting as sex with the man I love.

I might not blog for a while- going skiing1

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