With a leap and a bound he was free

And, with a leap and a bound, he was free

You must wallow in the ...

I’m sitting at the back of the lecture theatre. When I dreamed about being a medical student the images were all from Hollywood and it didn’t cross my mind that I’d have to come to classes. Still, now that it’s happened, I get up everyday and come to school. Obviously I’d rather be on the main campus at the outdoor swimming pool instead of this prefabricated room with rows of benches occupied by so many serious faces.
This is South Africa before the rainbow nation so mixing of any sort is unusual. I sit with students from my high school, some have splintered into a faction trying to link up with other left-leaning intellectual types to form a new group which has become known as the Gypsy Left. Naturally they’re opposed to apartheid but the particularity of their focus seems to tend towards clothes, sex and drugs. Their dress uniform is slightly weird, at least to me, involving colourful garments of ethnic design and jewellery. Definitely lots of bracelets and bangles, even for the men. Beads aren’t obligatory but they’re nearly ubiquitous.
Sitting across the aisle is CathSoc, serious political activists and probably serious about their religion too. There are other clusters too, any number, because everybody must belong somewhere - apartheid is quite Victorian in its determination to settle every person in a designated group. The Asian students seem to be divided although because I’m white and Jewish the fault lines aren’t clear to me. Probably something to do with Muslim and Hindu, maybe more religions; rich and poor; tacit support for apartheid versus overt political activism. I don’t know. Before I came to university I’d never met anyone outside the faction defined by my school and nothing much seems to have changed.
Anyway, here I am in the lecture, sitting on the back of my chair to get a good view. This is our introduction to clinical medicine and we’ve been given our stethoscopes. The drug companies get in early and sponsor the first, most precious, gift. I’m not sure what they’ll persuade us to do with this low level bribe but it certainly makes us happy.

The lecturer is a tall, spare man. He’s well known as a radio doctor and his electric form is bristling with energy as he paces on the platform at the front of the room. No need for the microphone or lectern, his voice reaches every corner of the dingy room. All around pens are poised to take down words of wisdom. I’ve thought this through, too much effort to make notes and if something’s worth writing down it’s already in a textbook. Which is why I’m feeling free and easy. I can see myself in the white coat, stethoscope around my neck like a medal even if I don’t know enough to imagine what kind of medicine I’ll practise. It’s all going to happen the same way as the rest of my career. I’ll drift into something, I’ll be a doctor. All so simple.
The lecturer’s voice booms around the class.
‘ You will soon be doctors …’
That’s what we like to hear.
‘… You must wallow in the secretions and excretions of your patients. Their urine, their saliva and their crap.’

No comments:

Post a Comment