Saturday, December 22, 2012
Shake Your Head!
The last permissible opportunity for us to be publicly uncouth was the Freshman Parade in downtown Winnipeg in September 1953. My friend Larry, Mel and I were appointed by the class as the parade committee for the Medicine Float in the Freshie Parade of that year. The theme of each float was to reflect, in some way, the ethos of each faculty to which we were ostensibly to become devoted. Let the gestating Engineers hang Volkswagons from bridges, the Aggies sit on their straw bales and milk a plastic cow, ours was the Sex Machine in full production. To allocate the portrayal of the dignity and image of Medicine to a callow group of youths, not yet baptized in the rigor of the course, must have shaken the heads of the faculty. Having interviewed, in the last few years, applicants for Medicine at UBC, I saw the quality of goodness and mercy, at least presented to us by them, bore no resemblance to the unihibited attitude we unfortunately displayed. It seems scary to me now. Christine Jorgensen, once George Jorgensen, was the first person known to have a sex change operation. The procedure, an amputation and vaginoplasty, was done in February 1953, and she was an instant celebrity from then on. Taking advantage of a topical, and somewhat, then permissibly mentionable topic, was an idea we thought was timely, edgey, and colourful enough to win the first prize for the best float in the parade. Our advantage was that two members of our class were identical twins. One would enter the Sex Machine dressed as a man and the other twin would immediately walk through the exit on the other side, dressed as a woman. The committee had a great time building the sex machine out of plywood on a flat bed truck and embellished it with levers and wheels with all sorts of dirty labels describing the surgical activity within the box, augmented by fireworks and smoke issuing forth from the machine thoughout the duration of the parade. Rather than winning the prize for the float, we were castigated by the Winnipeg Free Press for unbecoming behavior and immorality. Curiously, we were never sanctioned by the Medical Faculty, though we did receive a significant series of lectures on ethics, dignity and grace necessary to the practice of Medicine. Thank goodness for me, in 1953 the entrance criterion was entirely based on marks. There was no interview process for putative medical students at that time. I suppose the possibility of taking raw material; intelligent, but still in the stage of a lump of clay; demonstrably human and unrestrained; callow but honest; posed a interesting challenge for faculty. Better the students that would have been too dumb to lie, than those who are often facile during the interview. Still, I do have to shake my head.