by Dr Bashir Qureshi MBBS, FRCGP, FRCPCH, AFOM-RCP, Hon FFSRH-RCOG, Hon FRSPH, Hon MAPHA-USA. Author of Transcultural Medicine, dealing with patients from different Cultures. Expert Witness in Cultural, Religious & Ethnic Issues in Litigation.
My first Christmas in England, on 25 December 1964, was a white Christmas for me, in true sense. I was born in India, medically qualified in Pakistan. I started work in Whipps Cross Hospital, London, on 1st September 1964. On Xmas day, I saw for the first time that:
• The ground, cars, trees, rose bushes and buildings were covered with snow.
• The patients, other doctors, the matron, nurses, some nuns who were nurses, paramedics, porters and all other staff including cleaners were white.
• There were some male nurses. This was new for me. A charge nurse was called “Mr Rowbottom." He was a cockney, born in east London within sounds of Bow bells.
• Pearly kings and queens came to hospital, sang carols and danced. I saw western dancing for the first time. England was so peaceful, no war. Everyone looked happy and praised the Lord. I thought it was akin to what, I had been told, is in heaven.
• The ward sisters waited for a male consultant to cut a turkey and cake, for Christmas lunch. He wore a Father Christmas costume. The scene was magical.
• On the Christmas day ward round, as a houseman, I was pushing a trolley, full of bottles of wines and spirits. The consultant poured every patient’s choice in a glass and the ward sister, with unusual smile, offered it to each patient, including the one with alcoholic cirrhosis, with a greeting “Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year.”
• I joined nurses in carol singing, without opening my lips. I did not know carols and the singing tone, but I joined in. Since then, I am skilled in tactful team working.
• Traditionally, some ward nurses, called “sisters” were very powerful under the Matron’s rule. They even influenced consultants in decision making. Ironically, I observed that one in three ward sisters were unkind to house doctors, especially to female doctors. However, their staff nurses were extremely nice. They were all nicer at Christmas time. Fortunately, I was alright, as I am cheerful, careful and tactful.
• Charge nurses were merrier at Christmas. I was amused, bemused and confused. What a new white world. As a child, I learnt that angels were white, made of light.
• A Charge nurse, advised me on my first night of ward round on the 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.” Then he winked at me and said “If you keep their bowels open, they would keep their mouths shut!”.
• I was taken aback as I knew that winking, by a male or a female, is a sexual gesture in the East! I was startled to see that a Charge nurse was winking at me; a strictly heterosexual soul. I learnt later on that “winking” is a benign friendly gesture in the West. No Easterner needs to worry. This was the beginning of my strong interest in pioneering new disciplines of “Transcultural Medicine” and “Transcultural Litigation”.
That Christmas, I had thick black hair, a moustache turning upward, slim figure, and no sense of humour. I was a typical Easterner, but nurses thought that I was very handsome. As a result of my age and westernisation over last 54 years, I shall not need a comb this Christmas. I am not a slim guy anymore, but I have acquired a British sense of humour, including satire. I enjoy western music and dancing. I like helping people. Yesterday was history, tomorrow is mystery, I enjoy today. I hope to remain a jolly good Fellow for many Christmases to come. I wish readers a very merry Christmas 2018 and a happy new year 2019.
Dr Bashir Qureshi