Retired doctor pursues new career

John Snagge, Alvar Liddell-these quirky names mean nothing to most Canadians. But I grew up in wartime Britain, and these BBC newsreaders inspired me with news from the battlefront.

Unconsciously, I emulated their distinctive voices and acquired a “BBC accent,” incongruous in my native Merseyside. When asked that perennial question “What are you going to be when you grow up?” I’d answer “A BBC newsreader.”

Calm voice an asset
We mature, childhood dreams fade and we follow other careers. I eschewed classics and became a doctor, an anesthesiologist-a paradoxical choice for one who loves language and conversation.

But dreams, although forgotten, lurk deep in our minds to emerge unexpectedly. Fate took my hand and guided me to Canada into a subspecialty, obstetric anesthesia, in which most patients remain awake, frozen with local anesthetics.

Conversation becomes important, the calm voice an asset.

The perennial question changed to “What will you do when you retire, doctor?” I developed a standard flip response-“I really wanted to be a newsreader, but my parents made me go into medicine. I’d like to do something in radio.” &l;/>

Grateful women, pain-free, assured me I had the voice for it.

When I retire
Some years ago, I heard author Audrey Thomas speak at a Halifax literary convention. She told of a neurosurgeon who had buttonholed her at a cocktail party.

“What do you do?” he asked. “I write for a living,” she offered.

“How interesting. When I retire, I’d like to become a writer.”

“Very interesting,” Thomas rejoined. “When I retire, I’d thought of becoming a neurosurgeon!”

Next page: In late February

In late February, I visited King’s College in Halifax to obtain an application form for my stepdaughter, who was thinking about taking journalism. While there, I asked tentatively about the one-year Bachelor of Journalism program.

“I thought I might be interested in taking it.”

“You?” A pause as the kindly desk clerk scanned my aging features, then, “Go for it,” she said.

“The applications closed in February, but they might accept them up to March.”

My future career
Five months later, I’m writing this on my first day of retirement. In two weeks, BJ studies commence.

Two days into the course, I’ll celebrate my 67th birthday. I aspire to freelance broadcasting and feature writing. A Doctor Writer (after all, I come by that title honestly!).

Already, I’ve met some classmates. Most are 20-somethings, fresh from undergraduate degrees. It promises to be a challenging year.

Audrey Thomas, if you read this, how’s neurosurgery going?

Desmond Writer survived his first intensive eight weeks of journalism school “boot camp” and secured an internship with CBC Radio in Halifax.