Gong Gong says

This is a posthumous blog of our father's (Lim Kok Ann) life. When our father passed away on 8 March 2003, he left behind an unpublished autobiography. We'd like to celebrate his life by sharing his autobiography through this blog.

"I have dredged these anecdotes from memory just to pass the time; if they amuse my grandchildren their purpose will have been served; if they provide any instruction, it will be a happy coincidence; that they are disjointed is probably to be expected.

Aurora was the name of my grandfather’s house in Kulangsu.   Amoy, where I spent the first five or six years of my life.   I still have vivid memories of events that took place when I was barely three years old.

Lim Kok Ann
October 1996"

Friday, August 01, 2008

2:2 Edinburgh Medical School

As Britain awoke to find itself in yet another war with Germany, I set about the business of becoming a medical student. The Anglo-Chinese School had no Science laboratories, and thoughtook General Science as a supplementary subject when I was in the Special Class, it was entirelytheoretical. To remedy my ignorance of laboratory procedures, I had taken night-classes in Chemistryat Raffles Institution. I believe they were conducted as remedial classes for students doing poorly inschool because of poor teaching or poor facilities in their schools, and I found the going difficult, orperhaps I did not pay enough attention to the work. I scraped together enough know-how to pass thePre-registration test in Physics and Chemistry that was required of medical students.

I don’t know how I did it , but perhaps the examiners were lenient because of the war-time situation. (What would they do with a reject? Send him home?). I only understood later what a duffer I must have been when I realised that I should have diluted my test acid solution 1/10 before using it in titrations (the end-point went past zip with one drop), and that my physics, learned from my father’s old text dated 1910, were a bit antiquated. Still, much of Physics was Mechanics in Advance Maths that I knew well.

The first year subjects in British medical schools were Anatomy and Physiology, and students were required to have passed Physics, Chemistry and Biology at A Level before entering medical school. Edinburgh University provided a solution for students without such qualifications, and there were quite a number who had attended schools that did not have science laboratories, or who had taken Arts subjects and then decided later that they would study medicine. Such students enrolled for a double degree, in Science and in Medicine, taking courses for Science which at the same time qualified for the medical course, or subjects in the medical curriculum that were considered Science subjects as well. In the latter, I had to pass with Credit to score as a Science student. The majority of those who signed up with me for a double degree abandoned the science business as soon as they were established as medical students. I remember only James C. Gould, later the director of the Scottish Public Health Laboratories, who took the double degree with me and went the whole way.

First Year Science was Physics 1, Chemistry 1, Zoology 1 and Medical Botany (required on]of medical students). Those who took Chemistry in school had the advantage over me as the first term covered what they had learned in school, but after that we were on level ground. It was a grind, but I did well enough to score credits in all but Medical Botany. Phaik Lin did not do so well, and at the end of the year went to study at the Royal College of Surgeons which awarded a recognised medical qualification, but whose teaching was more practical than academic.

We University students tended to look down on the students at the Colleges but the prejudice was unjustified. The Colleges were the professional institutions whose senior qualifications were mandatory for medical specialists, but which retained the historic antagonism between physicians and surgeons in their respective domains. To be a consultant physician one would have to become a Member of the Royal College of Physicians, and to be a consultant surgeon one had to become a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons. There is a rank of Fellow in the College of Physicians, but it is an honour conferred on distinguished Members and cannot be earned by examinations. The teachers in the Colleges held honorary consultant posts in the Edinburgh Infirmary and other teaching hospitals, alongside the University professors, and all had their own private practices where they earned their real income. Professor David Dunlop, our Professor of Clinical Medicine told us that there were three ways of getting rich as a doctor: “The first and easiest way for the lucky,” he said, “is to inherit money, the second and very tedious, is to work your butt off, the third and possibly enjoyable, is to marry money.” This always brought the house down because the students knew that Dunlop had married the heiress of McEwan Beer, a beverage popular enough to enable its proprietor to give Edinburgh the McEwan Hall, a large auditorium where concerts, conferences and graduation ceremonies were held. Professor Dunlop was gently pointing out to us that if we were not lucky in selecting either parents or spouse, then we jolly well had to slog.

Though we had shared the same lodgings and attended the same classes in my first year, i did not see so much of Phaik Lin when she went to study in the Colleges. When she moved, Chong Eu came to stay in my lodgings with me. My second year of study was my first year in medicine and my class-mates were those who came straight from school to University. They were at the age liable for military service, and Britain being at war, all were subject to conscription. During the First World War, enrolment in the army was voluntary at first and the flower of British youth perished in trenches and battlefields of France, amongst them Rupert Brook, the poet. At the outset of WW2 British government designated a number of essential services whose personnel were exempt from service because they were considered contributors to the war effort. Medical students, as budding doctors, were exempt from the general call-up provided they remain students. When they failedannual examinations, they were “sent down”, and soon after called-up for military service. Thus it was that from time to time a classmate who had flunked the examination we sat together would disappear from our ken, only to reappear some weeks later in uniform, usually to bid us farewell as he vbe posted overseas. The fear of failing my examinations never bothered me too much, I was so sure I was more than a match for my examiners. But I anticipate.


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