Each spring 450 eager doctors meet together in the forgiving town of Vernon BC to study the medical implications of playing hockey with 449 doctors. It is not a pretty site nor is it a good idea to attend such an event if you prefer to deify your doctor as a dignified diagnoser of diseases, dispenser of drugs or deliverer of diaperdudes. Whoopee cushions, Jello and slingshots sell out weeks in advance. Hotels hire attack dogs. Dinner rolls and other potential culinary projectiles have been banned from the banquet. Hells Angels shake their vacuous heads in disgust. As one astonished, intimidated teenage ref squeaked while attempting to restrain a vascular surgeon after he and a gynecologist had dropped the gloves (dropping a glove not something you want your gynecologist to make a habit of) and began pummeling each other “I thought you guys were supposed to be doctors.” Fists, insults, hockey sticks, Ben Gay all flying about in anger. Testosterone, tequilas and test tubes. Hippocratic hockey.
Frankly nothing terribly inspiring about the medical profession is to be found at these tournaments. Until I met Dale. A medical student, slogging through the intense grind of 187 hour weeks performing hospital scut work, studying neuroanatomic pathways in the shower, 2AM breakfasts of cold pizza, whipped cream and Red Bull, pranks with pancreases, premarin and pinworms. Being a med student is, without a doubt, the domain of the young and rest-less restless. But Dale is 52! Ran his own parasailing business for 15 years, worked construction building custom homes, studied Spanish in Guatemala where he volunteered with the Red Cross during the earthquake of 2000, was a deep sea diver, an entrepreneur, and even spent a few years gittin ‘r done as Dale the cable guy. But this small town Saskatchewan boy who grew up 60 miles from the nearest doctor (and was so awestruck by medicine that he actually remembers the first doctor he ever saw at age six) wanted to be that very man from whom folks came from all around the countryside to obtain balm of Gilead. He applied to medical school at ages 44, 45, 46,47 only to be given the message to stick to the cable gig. So, of course, he applied again at age 48. But this interview turned out to be more than either he or the interviewers bargained for. Out in force that day were campus protesters angrily protesting whatever needed to be protested. Wanting badly to be the center of attention they started barricading stuff and people. They kept Dale in the interview room, for seven hours, with one of the interviewers! Once the protesters dispersed for cookies, naptime and mace repairs the interviewer invited Dale to reschedule for a proper uninterrupted interview to which he replied, “After seven hours of huddling together under a table, if you don’t know me by now then you’ll never never never know me.”
And so 48-year old Dale Gatenby, a true modern-day inspiration, parasailed right into classes in the fall of 2002… only to fail his first exam, histology. Histology is the rather dull study of tissues like membranes and kidneys and Kleenex. So he failed. Looked into a microscope and probably saw the infamous black spider that all first year students see. One that moves every time they blink. Sobered by an early flunk he buckled down right then, put away the excuses and got out the cold pizza. So when UBC’s 2006 medical convocation comes around look for Dale the doctor, survivor of medical school, earthquakes and even… Vernon.