N. Paramaesvaran, Past President MPA
My good friend Dr.Gopalkrisnan, a retired Anaesthetist who lives in Perth, once met His Holiness Sai Baba in India and asked His Holiness his views on retirement. Sai Baba looked him straight in the face, and with a cheeky smile said “The word my good friend is ‘re-tyre’. You then set off on a new path” He then walked away leaving Gopal astounded by this man’s take on a subject that we all dread. When I heard this story from Gopal I realised in many ways it describes my present thoughts on this subject of retirement.
After graduating in 1960, I have spent most of my time in Paediatrics, first as an acting registrar, then as a registrar in the Paediatric Unit in Penang G.H. and later as a consultant, 3 years as Kelantan’s first Paediatrician (see ‘My Kelantan Connection’ in the E-BERITA 2010) 5 years with the Penang G.H. and later for 29 years with the Gleneagles Medical Centre (GMC) in Penang.
All I can remember of my working life, was running a Paediatric Unit, and most of the time single handed, and being on daily call, with my family hardly ever seeing me. There were so few paediatricians in the early 70’s. Many states were without one, and paediatrics was then managed by adult physicians. I still remember having to cover Alor Star when I was in Penang.
I joined the G.M.C in 1977 and once again it was a one man show. After 5 years working alone day and night, I had a heart attack. My wife contacted Dr.Rama who was then in Seremban, and managed to persuade him to join me. Thankfully he accepted the offer and we had a good run sharing our calls until 1995 when I needed a CABG. The management felt that we should take in a third Paediatrician and we were fortunate to get Dr. Jessica a delightful girl with neonatal experience -my bane.
Life was less stressful now that I was sharing the first calls once in three days. Even so we were called up at least 2-3 time at night when ever we were on call. That was because the M.O.’s recruited by the centre had no paediatric experience and were reluctant to manage paediatric cases. We saw all our admissions, clerked all our cases and did all the procedures.
In 1982, I decided to send my children to Sydney for their education. Unfortunately the separation began to take a toll, especially on my wife, who kept ‘bugging’ me, and wanted to know when I was going to emigrate to Australia and start a practice there. Unfortunately in 1992 Australia closed the door to foreign graduates. My registration with the G.M.C became null and void. I now had no choice but to wait until it was time for me to retire.
I first promised my wife that I would make the move in 2000, but when 2000 came I started to stall again. I still remember, with tears streaming down her cheeks, she said “I know you Para. You will never retire. You are a workaholic”. And she was right. The thought of retirement was unthinkable.
Then it finally happened. The decision to move was made for me. In 2006 my daughter, a Dentist, was expecting her second child. She was desperate as she knew she needed help to look after her children to allow her to work. I realised the time had come for me to call it a day. I promised her that we will be there to help her out. I was almost 70 and I realised I had a ‘good run’. In any case the night calls were killing me. My partners tried to persuade me to stay back and offered me a less stressful roster. I refused because I knew it would be unfair to them. I needed to make a clean break. I can still remember my last day on call. I was hoping it would uneventful. At 6.00am my phone rang. Emergency Caesar. AB dropping rapidly. Dr.Kana is on the way. Come immediately!! I rushed over praying that the baby would come out screaming, but as luck would have it the baby came out flat. In passing nurses hate to be on when I am on call. They insist that all the problem cases seem to turn up then. Any way, thank God the baby, after some heroics by me, came through alright. I remember as I walked back to my apartment (I live 10 minutes walking distance from G.M.C) I was so relieved that it was my last call day! Hurrah! No more calls. After 46 years of night calls I felt I had done enough.
And thus began my re-tyre-ment. We had sent all our worldly ‘possessions’ to Sydney, and spent the last few days in Penang in a Hotel. We attended the many farewell parties given to us with mixed feelings. Having spent most of our life in Penang where all our friends were , we knew it would take us sometime to get over this move. But awaiting in Sydney was our family. We knew it was time to re-tyre and start on a new path.
Reading through this rather long preamble, it is obvious that each of us will have our own reasons, our own time frame, when to make this monumental decision to our life and believe me it is truly a monumental decision!!
In my case, my child’s cry of anguish for help was the deciding factor. I was however fortunate to start this new phase in my life in Sydney which offers so much both in culture and entertainment, apart from being one of the most beautiful cities in the world- the spectacular Harbour, Sydney Bridge and the magnificent Opera House.
I soon fell into my new routine. Helping to look after a six month old baby was a challenge but very rewarding. I also started visiting the local library, which is ten minutes from where I live, with excellent books and started reading some very interesting books- Mahathir the Malaysian Maverick, Chin Peng, Robert Mugabe, and introduced myself to Award winning Indian Authors like Arundhati Roy, Aravind Adiga , Mishar Pankaj, Shashi Tharoo and numerous biographies of interesting people. The book that that touched me most was Waris Dirie, the Somalian Supermodel, who has campaigned for the abolition of F.G.M. (female genital mutilation). I now read 2-3 books at one time and find it very rewarding changing from serious reading to a nail biting thriller by Jeffry Archer.
I also had a go at writing and hence my two contributions to the Berita and my earlier tear jerker “Rambong” –the story of how I met my wife and our early days, for the benefit of our children.
I have also continued my passion for golf by playing regularly a round with my wife who is an avid golfer, at our local golf club. I walk daily at the Centennial Park which is 15 minutes from where we live. This park was given to Sydney by Queen Victoria in 1905,and is maintained as it was in 1905.Walking around the tall majestic trees with delightful overhanging branches, watching and feeding the beautiful black swans, and the Cokato’s with bread crumbs as they gather around me , seeing the odd hare scamper about in delight, and spending time at the exotic Rose garden with its heavenly bouquet, is a very special experience.
I attend the weekly Grand Rounds at the Sydney Children’s Hospital and the yearly Paediatric Course in March. This keeps me abreast of the recent developments in Paediatrics. The internet helps to fill in the gaps.
Having a special interest in wine, and having been a member of two wine clubs in Penang, I started a wine club with my friends. We are group of 7 couples with my daughter and we meet every 2 months rotating the venue amongst the seven of us. We even went to Penang and had a Tasting/Dinner at the E&O in Penang last year. I do the minutes, and the logging, and the tasting notes and the photos of the wine bottles. Its a new skill I have developed.
The best part of re-tyreing is being part of seeing my 2 grand children grow up and being part of all their activities-their school concerts, attending grand-parents day at their school (in passing I never got to attend any of my own children’s activities in school-no one to cover for me) and celebrating their birthdays. The little 6 months old baby we helped to look after is now attending regular school.
Was retyreing easy for me. The answer is no! It took me almost a year to get my tyres adjusted, fine tuning the alignment to my wheels to stop the constant wobble, as I drove down my new path.
I have been often asked if I have regrets or do I miss any part of my professional life. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to serve the M.P.A. and the Penang Medical Practitioners Society as it’s President and to travel to countries like Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Philippines, Bangkok, Taiwan, India, Beijing, Egypt, Spain, France, and America to attend the various Paediatric Meetings with fellow Paediatricians (special mention of my dear friend Sam and the hilarious fun we had with him) and working with these committees, and organising the Annual Meetings was challenging but exciting. Yes I do miss these special moments.
I also miss the challenge of grappling with a difficult Paediatric cases, the early morning rounds with my two colleagues discussing cases, when my patients charge into my clinic screaming “Dr. Para I want two lollipops, one for my little brother, and one for me” the innocence of children (my reason for opting to do Paediatrics) but most of all I miss the special moment when a grandmother brings her daughter, whom I looked after as a child, carrying now her grand child and smiles and says “Dato, this is my first grand child. I want you to be her Paediatrician”. That is a very special moment.
I now realise there is no fast rule as to when to retire, why you need to retire, what you will miss most. Each person must make the move at the right time and for the right reasons. But having made the decision, the rule Sai Baba advocates applies- retyre and set of on a ‘new path’ and never look back.
As I watch my two grand children screaming and fighting over whose turn it is with the Nintendo S, as we sit as a family enjoying our Sunday Lunch with my wife’s exotic Penang Hokkien Mee, sipping a glass of St. Clair Sauvignon Blanc, as I curl up in my favourite chair enjoying Shashi Tharoo’s brilliant book ‘The Elephant, The Tiger and the Cell Phone, Reflections of India’, as I sit at the grand round at the Sydney Children’s Hospital listening to Adam Jaffe discussing some new thoughts on Asthma, as I walk around the Centennial Park marvelling at the beautiful leaves changing colour with the season, , as I sit in the Sydney Opera House in my favourite seat, looking down mesmerized by the brilliance of Lang Lang as he plays Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto No 2, as I walk around The N.S.W Art Gallery enjoying this years Archibald paintings, as I take a ferry ride around the Sydney Harbour, watching the hundreds of sailing boats weaving their way around, as I watch a new Cruise Ship making its way into the Harbour and my wife reminds me of the Baltic Cruise we will be doing this July, I feel blessed to have this period of Retyrement. These experiences ‘guild the sunset of my life’
Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1885 gave a brilliant speech on the pleasures of ageing. I would like to end with her beautiful poem which captures the spirit of this special period in our lives.
“ For age is opportunity, no less,
Than youth itself, though in another dress
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars invisible by day.”
Dato Dr. N. Paramaesvaran