life has probably been as exciting as the one in the comic strip, maybe
with the exception of several significant events; like the fall of Communism;
starting a family and a few meaningful encounters and conversations. However,
I still see it as an adventure, which I owe solely to the unusual people
whom I met along the way. There was one Extraordinary Person, who left
a very special mark...
1: The Tools
was 1987. I came back to work after a two-week holiday in Yugoslavia. I
had an impressive tan, which made me stand out among my colleagues. It
was noticeable for three reasons. First, in those days very few Poles travelled
to the warm countries. Second, the white medical coveralls contrasted splendidly
with my tanned skin. Third, my position in the professional hierarchy was
rather low; a junior assistant with a short working experience and a small
salary. I was therefore not too surprised by the question, ‘So how much
did this tan cost you?’, dropped causally by a fellow surgeon during a
morning visit. I really didn’t want to go into the details of how my wife’s
ingenuity and resourcefulness made our holiday possible. The vacation had
cost us a Zenit camera, a used gas bottle, a two-ring gas cooker, my father-in-law’s
four old suits, two brand new vacuum flasks, two sleeping bags and a camping
set of four chairs and a table. Yugoslavians would queue in front of our
tent to buy those goods. Due to the complexity of the problem, I thought
it best to leave the question unanswered.
which did not yet see the tragic and fratricidal war coming, appeared to
me as paradise on Earth. Especially when compared with the dullness and
hopelessness of the Polish People’s Republic.
sunny day I was sitting on a rocky beach and chatting with a Pole, whom
I met on the campsite. He might have been one or two years younger than
do you do for a living?’, he asked.
will name some of the tools that I use at work and you try to guess my
hammer and a chisel…’, I began.
a carpenter? Go on, then.’
screwdriver, forceps, and a drill...’
I’m not an electrician.’
and threads’, I added, just to make it a little bit harder for him. He
don’t you tell me what material you work with?’
it’s mainly skin and bones’, I replied truthfully.
know!’, he exclaimed triumphantly. ‘Craftwork!’
but not quite there.’
had to explain to him that I was a bone surgeon. Then I was asked a revenge
riddle about my fellow camper’s job, which I also failed to guess. His
profession was connected with extreme sports, huge risk and car racing…
he was an ambulance driver.
how do you become a bone surgeon? It probably begins with a vocation to
be a doctor, then there comes the passion for a particular specialty. Well,
my story was slightly different. I could probably say that I was prompted
to choose my career by the government of the People’s Poland. In the course
of my studies, I was repeatedly haunted by doubts concerning my choice
of profession. I experienced a number of vocational crises, which increased
proportionally to the amount of alcohol that I was consuming rather too
frequently at that time. I didn’t feel comfortable in the company of medical
students; I thought that they took their lives and their future far too
seriously. My ‘party gang’ were three students from The Technical University
of Kraków: my old school friend, Kuba and two indigenous residents
of Kraków, Jasiek and “Little” Jurek.
I was going through one of my vocational crises, a great opportunity came
my way. Thanks to some family connections, I had a chance to find a job
and to settle in Norway.
platforms on the North Sea; here I come! Behold a new life! When I earn
enough money, I will buy a recording studio and will earn a living by making
my own music and selling millions of copies of my albums.
I needed was a passport…
how could you get a passport back in 1976?
had to fill in two enormous sheets of paper, substantiate the reasons for
your trip and present an invitation from Western Europe. You also needed
to submit ’a permit’ from a workplace or a university and a few other documents.
Then, you had to queue your way to the headquarters of the Citizens’ Militia.
After a month-long, thorough analysis of the citizen’s life, the People’s
Government would either appoint the date of issuing the passport, or turn
down the application. Students had their best chances of going abroad during
their summer holidays, as the People’s Government was highly supportive
of young people who wanted to see the world, preferably as part of
the Polish Socialist Youth Union. Private invitations also worked most
of the time.
two options: I could either wait eight months until the summer (which was
an eternity), or I could try to get the invitation and present a convincing
justification for my trip, which was more risky, but worth giving it my
best shot. I managed to get an invitation from West Germany and then I
had to lie about the reason to leave in the middle of the academic year.
I can’t remember if I came up with a wedding or a funeral that I had to
attend in West Germany, but it worked – I got the dean’s stamp! I submitted
my passport application in Nowy Targ, the nearest Militia Headquarters
to my home village of Rabka. After about a month, I was on my way to Nowy
Targ to receive the passport. When the ‘blue bus’ was crossing the Rdzawka
River, I gazed up at the mountains and said goodbye. Then I thought about
my medical career and said goodbye to that too, only with no regret. Two
hours later, I was on a similar blue bus, heading in the opposite direction.
I gazed at the mountains and said ‘hello again’. My application had been
turned down! My world had ended!
platforms—‘goodbye’, Medical Academy—‘I’m back.’ It took me several days
to recover from my disappointment in the company of my faithful friends
from The Technical University. Eventually, the crisis passed and I continued
the People’s Government have known what was best for me?
wavering vocation was finally solidified by my wedding vows to a medical
student, Julitta and by the birth of our son Wojtek. We both wanted to
settle in Western Europe after graduating from the academy, which made
the choice of specialty obvious for me; it would be anaesthesiology. A
degree in that field could easily be granted recognition abroad and there
were a lot of jobs for anaesthesiologists in Western Europe. I started
working at a Children’s Intensive Care Unit and it caused me an indescribable
amount of stress. I found it hard to work out the dosages of tiny portions
of strong drugs, I couldn’t get used to watching children die, and the
worst thing was frequently having to inform the parents of their child’s
death. On the other hand, the operating room made me feel like a ‘fish
in water’. I considered anaesthesiology the queen of medical sciences and
started to grow more and more big-headed. I learnt to anaesthesize in no
time and quickly became very confident. Whether the surgery was going to
happen or not was up to me! I had only been working for a year, and yet
the experienced surgeons, not to mention the head of the ward himself,
had to ask me if they could start operating. It was a gratifying feeling
which compensated for the stress that damaged me in the ward.
2011 Andrzej Solecki
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