THE YEAR THAT

Sir Peter Gluck­man

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS -

In 1972, I spent the first three months of my first year as a doc­tor in pae­di­atrics with Bob El­liott, and fin­ished that time con­vinced I’d be a pae­di­a­tri­cian. Back then, pae­di­atrics was seen as a mi­nor branch of medicine. When I told my pro­fes­sor my plans, he was against it. He said: “You’ll throw your ca­reer away. You’ll never do any­thing good.” I think I did all right in my ca­reer.

Then in April, my wife Judy was in a ma­jor ac­ci­dent just down the road from the hos­pi­tal. We’d only been mar­ried about a year and she ended up in trac­tion for three months.

When she was out of hos­pi­tal I got sum­moned by Kaye Ib­bot­son, who was pro­fes­sor of en­docrinol­ogy, and asked if I would I like to go to the Hi­malayas.

“Ed Hil­lary came to me two or three years ago and said we need to do some­thing about th­ese peo­ple with cre­tinism and goitre,” he said. “Per­haps you would like to do some re­search.”

So I aban­doned my time as a ju­nior doc­tor to spend nearly three months in the Hi­malayas. Be­tween her time in hos­pi­tal and my time in the Hi­malayas, it meant my wife and I spent six months apart that year.

Every­one else from my class got reg­is­tra­tion and I was months be­hind them when I got back, but that time in the Hi­malayas was very for­ma­tive.

One, it was very in­ter­est­ing to be in such a re­mote place. This was be­fore tourists had dis­cov­ered the area. I got to know Kaye Ib­bot­son very well and be­came con­vinced re­search was the ca­reer I wanted, rather than clin­i­cal prac­tice.

It was a slow jour­ney, not an epiphany. I was a good doc­tor. I had good di­ag­nos­tic and bed­side skills, but I was in­trigued by in­tel­lec­tual dis­cov­ery and want­ing to know more.

And it was nice to be with Ed Hil­lary for a few weeks and see this great man at work with his schools and hos­pi­tal.

One day he looked at me and said: “Did you do maths?” “Yes.” “Right. That makes you an en­gi­neer.” And he sent me off with a Sherpa for a day and a half to in­spect a monastery he had built.

It seemed all right. So, I had my ran­cid, salted yak but­ter and wan­dered back with the Sherpa. Halfway back there was an ab­so­lute white-out and we couldn’t see any­thing. I started talk­ing to him and dis­cov­ered he had prob­a­bly been to the top of Ever­est more times than any other hu­man. I asked why he wanted to climb moun­tains. He said it was a job.

For me it was a very valu­able time. I met a bright sci­en­tist and in the dis­cus­sions we were hav­ing over camp­fires — it sounds ro­man­tic, but it wasn’t — I came to learn about what was then called the sul­fa­tion fac­tor, which later be­came the hor­mone that I spent 10 years of my life work­ing on and did my the­sis on. I came back con­vinced I’d do one year as a house sur­geon then go into a re­search ca­reer. Without that time, I’m not sure how my ca­reer would have de­vel­oped.

It was a slow jour­ney, not an epiphany. I was a good doc­tor. I had good di­ag­nos­tic and bed­side skills, but I was in­trigued by in­tel­lec­tual dis­cov­ery and want­ing to know more.

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