Colleen Adnams, Carolyn Baigrie, Bob Baigrie, Brigitte Brice, Sally Candy, Dinesh Chavda, Nicolas Crisp, Lynette Denny, Andrew Fleming, Janet Giddy, David Goldblatt, Hassan Goolam, Grahame Jelley, Kenny Keet, Tim Kerry, Anthea Klopper, Leslie London, Janella van Beeck, Keith Maart, Trish Moores-Pitt, Liz Murray, Wendy Orr, Penny Pivalizza, Harold Pribut, Steve Reid, Gill Riordan, Arthur Roberts, Barbara Robertson, Elvira Smuts, Rolanda Steyn, Carol Thomas, Althea van Zyl, Shirley Venter, Derick Vermeulen, Paul Whitehead
(Click on the image to see a large version.)
A wild, wet and windy weekend in early December 2003 greeted the Class of '83 as they assembled in Cape Town for their 20-year reunion. The reunion started, as is the custom, with welcome drinks at the Medical school, before the serious business of the days tour began. Name badges were the key to the success of the first hour of the reunion, and surreptitious glances at the left breast broke the ice for us all. For most, the twenty years that had passed had not done much damage, although crows feet, baggy eyes, sagging bottoms and droopy breasts were in evidence, but that was just Bob Baigrie. The reunitees were then taken on the well-trodden "reunion" tour (see above) of the library, private wing at Groote Schuur Hospital and transplant museum. Except we were different, and after 2 minutes in the foyer of the private wing, decided unanimously to go straight on to the transplant museum (were we pushed or did we jump?). Really, all we wanted to do was talk and catch up with each other's lives, so the finger lunch in the Tafelberg Room, high above the Cape Flats was an opportunity for a "gesels". More opportunity for talk occurred at the evening's cocktail party where JP van Niekerk, Dean in '83, welcomed us. An impromptu, but lively debate then followed, loosely structured on the following question "Are you a UCT medical graduate or a medical graduate of UCT, and, either way, does it matter?" The wine was very nice too.
Saturday morning, at the unlikely hour of 9h00 (it was Saturday after all, dammit) we assembled for the academic forum. Eight of our class had volunteered to talk about their work (or their lives) and a fascinating morning ensued. Lynn Denny kicked off with a rollicking account of Pap smears and cervical screening techniques that might eventually revolutionise cervical cancer in resource poor settings. Her passion and commitment were obvious and reflected in the 30 minutes she used for her 15-minute talk. Images of the cervix at 9h05 were heavy going, but later on we were to thank her for not allowing the colo-rectal surgeon to speak first. David Goldblatt followed with a talk about paediatric vaccines and some of his projects in Durban , Ghana , Zambia and Kenya that compensate for him living in London . He was muscled off the podium by Bob Baigrie ('83), who (at 9h45) had already removed a colon and was hungry for more. Bob described his new techniques for reaching parts of the colon and anus that no one had reached before. This explicitly illustrated talk was a challenge so close to breakfast. Mercifully his videos failed to successfully transfer from Mac to PC and a relieved audience crawled out for coffee.
Emotionally, the next speakers where hugely challenging. Janet Giddy ('83) and Steve Reid ('84) gave an inspiring talk, loosely centred on Rural Health, but far more focussed on life, decision making, family, spiritual guidance and outdoor surgery. Wendy Orr ('83) inspired with an off the cuff, unscripted account of life as a District Surgeon in the mid 80's. Even knowing how her story would end this was gripping stuff! Leslie London ('83) followed in a similar vein talked about ethics and the medical profession, posing the question "Who is your master?" Andrew Fleming ('83) then described his experiences as a Plastic Surgeon in London , and elaborated, in some detail, on how he injected fat into people to change their shape. Finally, Penny Pivalizza ('83) described life in Texas and her work in developmental paediatrics. Several of us have now self referred our own children as a result of this talk.
The evening saw the 37 reunionees attend the, now traditional, dinner (rack of lamb) at the Hildebrand on the Waterfront. A wonderful evening of food and drink was made special by the interweaving throughout the evening of a roll call of all of our class mates (the largest class ever to graduate from UCT, although size is of course not important). As each name was called shouts from corners of the room told us where they were and what they were doing. Amazingly almost every single person was accounted for and, to our knowledge, all were still alive. This also gave everyone in the room an opportunity to say a bit about themselves (and not just the big mouths who volunteered to talk at the academic forum). Most did.
So, we learned many things that weekend. While the raw statistics tell us that about half of our class are still in South Africa and that the most popular specialities turned out to be Paediatrics, General Practice and Anaesthetics, what we really learned that weekend was how connected we are to others who went through an extraordinary experience that was medical school between 1978 and 1983, such a turbulent time in South Africa's history. That connection is profound, and our only collective regret was that more did not attend the reunion. During our roll call, we discovered about 10 classmates who were in Cape Town as we dined, yet declined to come and meet with us. Lets hope in 5 or 10 years time more of us can reconnect in a safe and peaceful South Africa.