Post 4 Upsetting our European Friends!


It is very much my hope that this blog will develop into an ‘open forum’ to which everyone can contribute so if you have a memorable story, anecdote or notable reminiscence, whether as a carer or perhaps as a patient, please get in touch. First contact should simply be with the gist of the story, perhaps just a couple of hundred words; we can flesh it out jointly later. Stories welcomed from any area of healthcare but ideally should centre on patients or staff.

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The contribution which follows comes from an old friend of mine who, for the purposes of this tale, we will call John Stephens. He wishes to remain anonymous for reasons that will become apparent as you read his story.

Thought for the day

Alcohol ......  enables Parliament to do things at eleven at night that no sane person would do at eleven in the morning.

                                                   George Bernard Shaw    1856 - 1950

Our first year at Medical School had been tough - in fact very tough. For three long terms we had been required to memorise a vast amount of factual information, mainly anatomical detail which, incidentally, proved to be of little relevance when we pursued our future careers. Frustratingly, we had yet to meet a single patient.  I was disillusioned, dispirited and broke. 

Needing a complete change, something to refresh me before resuming my studies after the summer vacation, I decided to take a break, to go abroad, learn a language and earn some money ..... but also and importantly to have a good time!   Knowing it would be more fun if I had company, I persuaded my good friend and fellow student Ben Dyson to come with me. Together we applied for posts in a number of European countries but in the end settled for positions as ‘Practical Nurses’ at the Burgerspital, the main hospital in Basel, Switzerland.

 It proved to be a rewarding experience. We weren’t allowed to carry much responsibility but we learned a lot, generally made ourselves useful and became familiar with ward routine - something which made life easier for us when we returned home and were introduced to clinical work.

We spent eight weeks there and on our last night we had a party with our new found Swiss friends to say ‘goodbye’. The party proved to be a lively affair, much strong Swiss bier was consumed and a good time was had by all. At the bitter end, in the wee small hours of the morning, Ben and I found
ourselves on the roof of the eight storey building, in our scrubs, looking down at the ambulances in the courtyard below. Quite how we got there, I do not recall but I confess that we were both the worse for wear. Dimly, through bloodshot eyes, we saw two flagpoles, each bearing a flag. One was the Swiss national flag, the other the flag of the canton of Basel. As one does when one is young, irresponsible and drunk, we pulled the ropes to lower them and seeming to find our scrub trousers in our hands, we tied one pair to the Swiss flag, the other to the Basel flag. We raised both flags again, now with our pants dangling from them, then crept through the corridors in our underwear and went to bed.

Next morning we were up early to make the journey back to the UK but before we departed I took a photo as a souvenir of the two ‘flags’ flying proudly over the Burgerspital. We then jumped on the tram to the Bahnhof, boarded the train to Calais and went home.

 End of story – or so I thought!

 Some 35 years later, I was at a Past President’s Dinner of the European Gastroenterological Society in Stockholm. There were about 20 of us around the dining table and after the meal, during the easy conversation that follows when old friends are reunited and have been generously wined and dined, I mentioned what we had done all those years ago, just for fun. There was a sudden exclamation from a Norwegian physician, Jacob Erikssen, a man whom I knew well.
“Johan!!” he asked.”When was this?” 

I did some quick arithmetic in my head.
“Probably towards the end of August, 1972,” I replied.

He stood up suddenly looking pale and shocked. The room fell silent.
“Oh my God” he exclaimed, “Oh my God, it was you!!!   Do you have any idea what happened that day??”

I said I hadn’t a clue.
He explained that he had undertaken his medical training in Basel and one Friday morning in August 1972, the whole school of 250 or so students had been summoned to the main lecture theatre and told to sit and wait. At 10am the Dean of the Medical School entered, accompanied by the Mayor and the Chief of the Basel Police. The Dean explained that during the night a criminal act, indeed an act of treason had occurred.

The National Flag of Switzerland and the Basel Cantonal flag of which they were so proud, had been defiled. They had concluded that this must have been the work of a medical student. Angrily they stated that whoever had done this dastardly deed would be expelled. If they were a foreign national, they would be deported! They were informed they would remain in the lecture theatre until someone owned up, all day if necessary.

After three hours, when no-one had confessed, a process of individual interviews was started. These lasted till 6pm when, angry and frustrated, the three officials relented and allowed the students to go. They had been allowed no food to eat and only water to drink.
“We were really scared and fed up,” Jacob said. “It was a terrible day. I still remember it clearly.
And, oh my God, they were right. It was medical students, but not Swiss students, they were from MANCHESTER!! It was YOU!!”

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    1. Pleased that you enjoyed it. Do SIGN ON to receive future stories direct to your in box (free of course)
      All the best Peter

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