A Good Start is Half the Work

Tús maith leath na hoibre.

“A Good Start is Half the Work”: Irish phrase translated into English

“Tús maith leath na hoibre.”: Irish Phrase

“Toos mah lah neh hib-ra”: Pronunciation of the Irish Phrase

“Kwe, I respectfully acknowledge this land on which I now live and which provides me with joy and shelter as the ancestral homelands of the Beothuk, whose poignant history is now under revision. I acknowledge the island of Ktamqamkuk (Newfoundland) as the unceded, traditional territory of the Beothuk and the Mi’kmaq. And I acknowledge Labrador as the traditional and ancestral homeland of the Innu of Nitassinan, the Inuit of Nunatsiavut, and the Inuit of NunatuKavut. I recognize all First Peoples who were here before us, those who live with us now, and the Seven Generations to come.

Birmingham Children's Hospital - Wikipedia
The Birmingham Children’s Hospital

This post is dedicated to the memory of our adopted parents, Máire Kathleen and James Diarmuid Scully, to my beloved sister, Theresa Scully, my beloved late husband, Dr. Châu Nguyên and parents-in-law Trần Thị Kinh and Nguyễn Nhân: 15-5-2003.

When, in 1985, I left my beloved family members and friends in Ireland to travel to Toronto, Canada, I hoped that while training in Canada, I would miraculously transform from a cygnet into a swan. At twenty-seven, I was an extremely idealistic, socially awkward trainee pediatrician.

To avail one of the cheapest flights, I flew from Dublin to Paris and stayed with a good friend. My friend is French. She arranged for me to stay overnight in Amsterdam in her sister-in-law’s apartment. Somehow, this gave me a better rate on an Air Canada flight to Toronto. As I left Dublin, my mother was weeping and very sad. In 1985 we had no cellphones. Phoning long distance was expensive. I phoned our home in Dublin from Paris and our mother was still weeping. I phoned from Amsterdam and again from Toronto; she was still weeping.

Our darling mother received treatment for anxiety, depression, and agoraphobia for years. I had travelled before, and she had never been so upset. I felt tremendous guilt, and I spent a huge amount of money on phone bills to Ireland over my first few years in Canada. My journey to Canada began in some ways after a good friend of our mother, Annette Geale, arranged for me to spend time on elective at the prestigious Ladywood Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, England.

As a medical student in Dublin, it was extremely rare for a Consultant or Attending to speak to me. In the hallowed, shiny hallways of the Mater Hospital, our ward rounds were carefully choreographed. At the time, some of the consultants wore pinstripe suits, and others favoured a sports jacket. None were female, and I had never heard of gender variants. I was totally ignorant about this important aspect of being human. All the other members of the team wore white coats.

Mater Misericordiae University Hospital

As our consultant strode down the corridor, he might engage in conversation with the senior registrar. When I was a medical student, these were extremely knowledgeable and skilled physicians. The rest of the team followed in a file. Registrars were followed by Senior House Officers, who in turn were followed by interns and then medical students. As a medical student, if we needed to take an elevator, I was expected to press the button and hold the door open for my superiors.

Apart from this, my opinion was rarely sought. Every now and then, I would be invited to examine a patient. I do not remember anyone ever commenting directly on my embarrassing habit of blushing a deep crimson whenever I became the center of attention. In July in Birmingham, I was amazed when an elegant woman carrying a briefcase asked me to join her at the side of a little patient and then proceeded to include me as she reviewed all the notes and explained that she hoped to enroll this little boy in an important research study.

I was fascinated as she carefully explained how leukemia was the most common non-infections life-threatening illness to affect children and how the types of leukemia seen in children differed from those seen in adults. She then reviewed the research study’s design and endpoints. The reality that this was a national study and that all across the mighty United Kingdom collaborated to cure childhood leukemia using science fired my imagination.

My experience at the Dudley Road Hospital in Birmingham was character-forming. My consultant was ill on the day that I arrived as a student intern. I was paid for my efforts. I took copious notes as the visiting consultant surgeon and his team took me to see the patients who had been admitted overnight. The covering consultant, a Scot, had a reputation for being an outstanding teacher, and I learned a lot. As he and his team left, I was handed a list of 106 patients to follow. Follow them, I did, day and night for the next few days. I found, examined, and wrote notes on the last patient on day 5.

When I returned to Dublin, I announced to my long-suffering parents that I was going to become a pediatric hematologist and cure children with leukemia, and it was ultimately this ambition that led to my arrival in Toronto on June 25, 1985.

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