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The lifetime race to retirement

Unlike other professions, early retirement for doctors is simply a pipe dream

First it was the Guards. You were invited to a 50th. Don’t tell him, said his wife. Just show up before he gets there. He would love to see you. He often tells me how you were such pals in school and he used to cog the maths off you. Grand job. You’ll do your best to make it. But the next sentence nails you.

“Of course, it’s a retirement do as well. He will be getting out next month.”

After the Guards it was the civil servants. You discover that they had gone already, but in their quiet civil servanty way they had not mentioned it.

You remember when it started. There was a Junior Ex. You hadn’t gone yourself, but a few took it and were enlisted there and then. When you got to first year some more disappeared before Christmas. They took the civil service. It had the definitive ring of taking the boat or the soup. Some of the hurlers went for the Guards and got it.

You met them when you went home at Christmas: The cadets; the shopkeepers’ sons; the Guards; and civil servants. The difference was that they had money and you didn’t. When you cycled into town they had already parked their cars. They were crappy little yokes, but they were cars.

A few years later they have better cars and one picks you up as you hitch home. At this stage the BAs and the BSCs and even the Dips had left college and you were trudging around the wards in a white coat being treated with less respect than you had got when you were doing the Intercert. The big shiny car pulls up and you get in out of the rain to meet the boy who cogged your maths a few years before. He proffers a fag. He has a nearly full 20 and another unopened packet on the dash. You have a nearly empty 10 in your combat jacket.

You stop for a pint. He buys one. You buy one. He offers another. Sure no-one would stop him, now he’s a full Guard. You decline. He won’t be out later. He’s bought a house. He’s getting married.

He’s getting married. And you’re still pissing about with ten major in your pocket. You know that he shakes his head as he drives away and tells the fiancée later the poor hoor, the state of him in his combat jacket on the road, and the brains that fellow had. The only ones you can look down on are the barristers. They are hungry looking in their suits, like hunting dogs in too big collars waiting for the hunt to start. They mumble about the price of everything and they quiz you on how much an intern makes and are a bit scary, so you drink up your pint and go to the jacks and then slip out a side door.

Then you’re qualified. There is no race, no comparisons now. You have a car yourself and can afford to smoke, but you’ve given them up. Then they start retiring.

The Guard, of course, doesn’t see it as retiring at all.

“Well, I have all the houses to maintain. I might stick up a couple of more.” And you know he’ll say to the wife: “The poor hoor and him with all the brains. The state of him still working.”

The civil servant just looks old. When you think of it he looked old when he was young. He has been looking to get out since he got in.

The ones who never got away, not even to Templemore, whose daddies had the shops now have handed them over to their daughters. “You build a business that keeps you, you don’t keep the business,” they say. You don’t accept another. You have to be up in the morning.

Your doctor friends, who traipsed the wards with you and shared your 10 cigarettes when times were hard and consultants mean, have forgotten everything except the job.

“You’ll have to shoot me they say.” The GPs linger on: Old, bald, grey, and battered and no replacements in sight.
“Sure what would the country do without us?” The barristers come to town on court day. They are bursting out of their suits and are like lions after the kill. You bump into them at lunch and briefly chat about the old days, but they are not interested. No profit in that. They go to the jacks and don’t come back

You see the retired ones in the morning as you drive to work. They walk in their tracksuits, they go to the gym. They go on long, long, holidays and smile sadly when they see you.

First the Guards. Then the civil servants in their quiet civil servanty ways. You drive on. Sure what would the country do without us?

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