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It was a white Christmas, whiter than I could have imagined. It was 1964, and I had come to the UK from Pakistan a few months previously.
The ground was white. The cars, trees and buildings were all white outside Whipps Cross Hospital in east London.
On Christmas Day, the ward Sisters had prepared a turkey and waited for the consultant to serve it. He was dressed as Father Christmas.
One of my jobs, as a house doctor, was to push a trolley full of bottles of wines and spirits around the wards.
The consultant poured every patient’s choice of drink.
No one was excluded, even those with alcoholic cirrhosis.
There were carols and I tried to join in with the nurses, even though I knew neither the tunes nor the words. Some Pearly Kings came to the hospital and this was the first time I had seen Western dancing.
The nurses were friendlier at Christmas. At other times, the ward Sisters could be unkind to house doctors, especially the female ones. I was as cheerful, careful and tactful as I could be with them. It was very peaceful, although this wasn’t just owing to good fortune. I had been advised by a charge nurse on Christmas Eve: ‘Doctor, write a laxative for each patient and the night nurse can choose to give it, without waking you up to write it.’
He then winked at me and said: ‘If you keep their bowels open, they keep their mouths shut.’
More than his advice, it was the winking I noticed. Where I had come from, it was a sexual thing. I had to learn that in England it was usually just people being friendly. Perhaps this was one reason why I have had a lifelong professional interest in transcultural medicine, the most appropriate way to deal with patients of different cultures, ethnicities and religions.
My hospital, my new home, and the whole country was at peace. I was a young man with thick black hair, a moustache turning upward, slim figure, and no sense of humour.
I was a typical easterner and the nurses thought I was very handsome. Fifty-four years later, I am no longer slim or need to trouble a comb but I’ve acquired a British sense of humour and I enjoy western music and dancing.
I continue to help people and I hope to remain a jolly good fellow for many Christmases to come. I wish all readers a merry Christmas and a happy new year.
Bashir Qureshi was a practising GP for 47 years. He is an expert witness, and has written and lectured on transcultural medicine and clinical negligence
This was a lovely humorous read, thank you.
After 30 years in the NHS I’m now a white, Christian Dr working in a Middle East country where Christmas Day and New Years Day are just normal working days, but everyone is wishing me Happy Christmas just the same!
Transcultural medicine is a fascinating subject not well understood.
I learnt fairly early on in my working life that offering a cup of tea to my UK patients aids decision making no end. If they say yes and want one they are probably not that unwell but be wary of those that decline!
Similarly I think many Asian women in their 30-40s are over investigated for “chest pain” with angiography etc when their “heartache “ may be due to other causes.