Saturday, 21 July 2012


      I belong to the 1963 vintage but somehow got asked to join this reunion.       I was born in Saigon, French Indo China ( now Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam ) with the City fast emptying in panic at the approaching Japanese invasion.       My mother was not allowed to board a boat until I was delivered.       After drinking a bottle of gin she drove a jeep over rocky roads and I was on the way.       A midwife had kindly stayed at the local hospital, which was otherwise empty and within one hour of delivery my drunk mother and I were whisked to the port to board the last boat that did not get torpedoed.        My American mother decided that the theatre of war was not interesting to her and we sheltered in California.       I survived a soricidal older brother who definitely felt my addition to the family was excess to requirements and has not changed his opinion.     On a recent visit to our home in Los Angeles, he realised when standing at the scene of the crime he had enacted when he was 6yrs old  that his intention had not been matched by adequate method.       He felt deep disappointment. 

        The end of the war saw us joining my father ( eventually Chairman of British American Tobacco Company ) in Cairo, where after two attempted kidnappings he sent us both to boarding school in England. At 6 yrs, I was too small for school uniform, had red hair and an American accent and was relentlessly bullied.     Before being thrown out of the school I managed to escape several times to the local hotel which had a swimming pool, and a distinguished resident in the form of a classic actress, Margaret Rutherford, who gave me cakes.      Some schools later I had perfected the art of legitimate escape in the form of sport ( hockey and swimming ) ,  singing, and acting, and collected lots of medals in County and Junior National sport, and various Arts Festivals, which I promptly lost.      Medicine was a mistake, born of my jealousy at a classy brainy girl who had chosen Arts and I did not want to compete.        Science was boring, but I learned about explosions and incendiary bombs which was useful.      By then my father had despaired of me, and my scholastic career was never a subject for discussion.      I chose Medicine flippantly, and to my immense surprise have loved it.  

    I have chaotic memories of Guys.       My father had retired and to save him money I spent most evenings, at first, in the Library so I would not have to heat my room. I could save a penny in transport by going to the City and walking from there.     I ate food people had left behind on their plates.      I then discovered the local pubs.          The dockers there were protective, and helped steal the canon from St Thomas’ to celebrate the Rugby match which we won.       I remember - writing the words to the songs in the annual pantomime - being the back end of a Pantomime horse - decorating the Wards at Christmas with huge plaster figures and elaborate design ( forget bugs or ‘elf and safety ) – riding a bicycle to deliver babies locally and once having my hair catch on fire from a gas lamp in the room - the forensic medicine lectures with Keith Simpson which were deliciously gruesome - developing the ingenuity required to escape the predatory attentions of rogue Consultants who felt they had a droit de seigneur – I loved and lost and never recovered – these were all rites of passage in a turmoil.  

   The year on the House – living in a tiny room with only Taffy, the porter to wake me up.      He usually threw water on the boys, and stripped off the sheets, but I was the first female for a while and he squatted by my bed with his thick pebble glasses saying softly “ please wake up Doctor” , not daring to touch me - down the corridor was a large room with ten basins and a single bath ( I learned to bathe at 4am drowned in bubbles ) – the anguish of my first fatal mistake – my understanding that Doctors lied to patients because they did not know how to tell the truth - Father Christmas jumping out of a top laundry cupboard and breaking his ankle with a loud string of swearwords, delighting the knowledgeable assembled local children.    Sister Crump thought it was part of the act.    The heroes - Polani, Evans, Brock, Houston, McArdle - and catching submandibular mumps, deceiving the RMO that I had a sore throat and could stay in Guys rather than go to the Fever Hospital. Houston recognised my ruse in a nanosecond and admonished the betrayed RMO “never trust a woman” . How did this prepare me to be a Doctor? I have no idea. But I learned quickly about the people who faced death, and forgave us when we failed them.    

      The rest.     The London circuit of House jobs and Registrar jobs, including two years back at Guys - disillusion  - then General Practice,  return to the Hammersmith as Neurology Registrar and then to the Queen Square – Barts SR rotation only to discover there were 26 time expired SRs and no jobs.    A definitive encounter with the unacceptable reality of NHS Hospital Administrators at Barts led to a charge of whistleblowing and my exclusion from the NHS.    After time in the US I returned to the UK and to Private Practice in the street of shame, Harley Street.     I am still working at 71, because I love it. I was lucky and life has been good, still to my great surprise.   And its not over yet.   
            The real heroes are the patients.                            Ann Coxon                                                                                                                                                          

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