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A note to my younger self

Dear Anthony,

Happy 15th birthday. Don’t look so puzzled.

Einstein was wrong. Subatomic particles travel faster than light, which makes time travel possible and provides a plausible scientific explanation for why you’re holding this letter from me, or rather, from you, thirty-odd years down the line.

You make it into medical school after all, and you don’t get found out as the kid who shouldn’t be there. You’ll have figured out from the letterhead that you end up being a GP in Essex. I’ll leave the details of the route from there to here for you to discover, but to get the important stuff out of the way, your acne clears up, you find true love, you always have a job and your family never goes hungry.

You’ll forget all the Latin, history and algebra in the textbooks you’re currently poring over, but it won’t matter. And pretty much everything they’ll teach you at medical school will turn out to be useless as well.

You’ll spend hours memorising the names, actions and side-effects of drugs that will be superseded by drugs with even longer names, a wider range of actions and a whole new set of side-effects. The time you spend learning to examine patients on the wards will be made redundant by computerised scanning techniques you couldn’t begin to imagine.

Ah, computers. If I remember, you’re going to evening classes in computer programming. A waste of time, but don’t give up on the course – you’ll meet your first serious girlfriend in the college bar. There’ll even be a computer on your desk at work. Surprisingly, you’ll grow to hate it. Apart from that you could bring your current GP to visit and he’d recognise almost everything in the room.

The NHS staggers on despite successive governments’ attempts to knock it over by centralising control, then devolving it locally, then centralising it again. At the moment they’re planning to hand responsibility for the purse-strings to GPs, so we can take the flak when the system eventually breaks down completely.

There’s a Chinese saying about ‘living in interesting times’ you might want to check out, which means getting that dictionary of quotations down from the bookshelf. They invent a much quicker way to look things up, by the way. You’ll be surprised what you’ll find.

You never get an atomic car, a personal jet pack or go into space, but you do build up a fantastic record collection. Which reminds me – tell Dad not to give it to the church jumble sale while you’re away at college.

Of the hundreds of thousands of funny lumps and bumps that you’ll examine and diagnose over the years, only one will turn out to be something really, really nasty. That’ll be the low point of your career. Well, so far. But you get over it. The Blues even win the FA Cup again.

And Mr Taylor, the English teacher who said you might make money writing one day? He was right.

All the best,

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex