As I cycled home this afternoon I realised that I have been a doctor for 20 years. That is, if you leave out the two years I worked at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney after I graduated. Intern 1985, Resident Medical Officer 1986. Then I decided to drop out. I had had enough of medicine and set off to travel the world, to rediscover myself, find out what I was really meant to be doing in this world.
But medicine holds on to you with strong cords. Within three months of dropping out in 1987 I was working as a GP in a small mission clinic in Tonga, and not long after that I found myself working in a hospital in Venda, one of the former homelands of South Africa. I tried to drop out again when I joined Youth With a Mission in 1988 but after a year out I found myself back in Tamworth in 1989 working at the Base Hospital. One thing led to another and I ended up a GP, always wondering if I should be doing something else: I had always wanted to be a missionary doctor, but somehow it didn’t happen. The closest I came was when we went as a family to join Mercy Ships, living on board the Anastasis for two years from 2001-2003.
But then it was back to general practice in Tamworth, until we decided to come to Sweden, and I knew I would not immediately be able to work because of the language, and somewhere deep down I hoped that maybe I could seize the opportunity and do something completely different, perhaps something in travel medicine, or international health, or something a little more exotic than good old general practice.
But Socialstyrelsen (the Swedish Medical Board) has other ideas. My experience is in general practice, they said, so I must prove myself in general practice if I want to be registered as a doctor here at all. So after another year out, this time struggling to learn Swedish, I find myself starting all over again in general practice. But its hard after twenty years to be starting all over again, and in area of medicine that I was never really passionate about (though I have enjoyed it very much over the years).
So despite all my efforts to do something else I am back in medicine, and back in general practice. I have always thought there was something else for me to do. Believing, as I do, that “God has a plan,” I have always assumed it was something else, but now I am beginning to wonder if this might be it. What a thought! I’m not sure that is what I want! I have always thought general practice was a preparation for something else. But there is a danger in always preparing for something else. A danger that we might not be really living, just getting ready to live. And then one day we die, and did we ever live the dream?
My brother Stephen says this is the adventure, that this is the dream. It is not something up ahead. I guess he’s right. Even if sometimes it feels more like a nightmare than a dream. There are not many who get the chance to live and work on the other side of the world. To soak in a different language and culture, to the point where one day maybe we will be able to call it our own… like Maria already does. The kids are well on the way. I am lagging behind a bit, but it is coming “så småningom” (little by little). One day I will look back and say, “I’m glad we did that.”
But right now, after another day at work feeling like a total beginner, another day spent well outside my comfort zone (and comfort, I realise, become more important as I get older), another day struggling to get my mouth around these strange foreign words, I just want to escape…