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 Edward Hamilton PATERSON




Edward Hamilton PATERSON

Doctor of Social Sciences
honoris causa

Your Excellency Mr Chancellor, Mr Vice-Chancellor, Honourable and Distinguished Members of this Congregation:

To me has fallen the pleasant lot of responding on behalf of the new graduands to the action of the University of Hong Kong in awarding these honorary degrees. The list of such awards over the years show a wide catholicity, and if there are people who sneer at universities as ivory towers far removed from daily life, then it is equally clear that within the University of Hong Kong, there are wise men who peer across the elephant-toothed battlements, and discern matters which interest them in industry, commerce and community life. For this we express our admiration and gratitude, as we thank the University for the Signal Honour which it has chosen to confer.

Speaking for myself, I feel that these resplendent robes are ill-served by the humble saw-bones within, whom they partially conceal, and I can only hold up my head if everyone understands that the robes are honouring a whole body of hardworking colleagues who have together created something worth in our land.

Medical men are commonly supposed to be without education in the finer points of life, and you may imagine that I conform to that model. But let me assure you that there are times when I too ponder on philosophy, on history and on some of the strange things that my fellow-men have done, are doing and will do in this strange and unique world of ours. Let me share with you one puzzle which exercises me greatly.

I sometimes think back to the England of 350 or 400 years ago, to the incredible flowering of genius that took place within such a short time, leaving the pages of the history books littered with names which still excite admiration so many centuries later. Of course one thinks first of Will Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, Ben Jonson and Kit Marlowe pouring out eternal poetry, with William Byrd laying the foundations of English music. There were the trader-adventurers like Walter Raleigh, no mean poet himself, and the English sea-dogs whose names so conveniently run down the alphabet - Drake, Effingham, Frobisher, Grenville and Hawkings. There was the father of modern medicine William Harvey, and another William who founded English physical science, William Gilbert. There was the prince of philosophers, Francis Bacon, and so one could go on. And if the ladies raise objection to this masculine role-call they have the perfect foil in Gloriana herself, the first Elizabeth, stronger steel than any iron lady of later years, for I firmly believe that if I contest be staged, Bess versus Maggie, Bess would emerge by far the stronger.

But what has all this to do with our Hong Kong of today? Just this odd thought, that the population of Hong Kong today is about the same as the population of England as that far-off time. Statistically one would expect genius to flower here, if not in quite such profusion, at least on a comparable scale. Where, then, are the Shakespeares of today's Hong Kong, where the Harvey's Gilberts and Bacons? Are there any names amongst us which will still excite admiration in the year 2385? And if not, why not?

Of course no one really understands what concatenation of circumstances may cause such a flowering of talent, what juggling of the genes, what happy accident of education. It is not within our power to engineer a repeat performance. But it might be open to us to prepare the ground, and sow the seed.

In the two hospital with which I am connected, about twenty babies are born every day. I sometimes stand beside the cot of a newborn baby, and reflect on the incredible miracle by which a cell is transformed, without the aid of computer program or act of Legislative Council, into a living human infant. I may further reflect on the amazing bundle of potentialities wrapped up in each tiny body, which might flower if only the right nutrition is supplied, the right training given, the right opportunities occur, and if sickness of mind and body can be kept at bay. Here might lie the potential Shakespeare whom we seek, here the creative genius for which future men will praise our age.

But alas the truth is only too plain. None of these babies will receive anything like an ideal infancy and childhood, none will be free from the damaging effects of heredity and environment. Even if an ideal state were attainable, there is no guarantee that the wayward gift of genius would alight on their heads, for fairy godmothers are female, and their ways obscure, at least to this poor male. Yet the challenge continues to haunt me - how many budding geniuses, how many potential saints, charismatic leaders, profound thinkers and plain ordinary good men and women have failed to grow and mature because of what we have done or failed to do?

A chance to live, a chance to grow - that is what every newborn babe should have as a lifelong right, a chance to develop its maximum potential. We don't know fully what that involves, but we can instantly see barriers to growth, and chains which lock the child in mediocrity. I must not trespass on the field of the educationalists, who are obviously deeply concerned in this matter, but must confine myself to pondering what we as a group of health workers might do to give people a chance to live, a chance to grow, and set them free from those locks and chains. For us this thought has been a driving force for a decade and a half.

Sickness itself is a chain, sometimes of frightening proportions, and as a medical group we naturally pay first attention to diagnosis and cure. But in doing so we often forget or we ignore the long period of unwillingness which may precede the definable sickness, and we equally tend to lose interest in our patient when we decide that he is cured, forgetting that there may be another long period of convalescence before the patient feels he is really well again. In this respect practitioners of Chinese medicine are often wiser than we are, as they continue to give support to their patients with tonics and counseling long after the objective signs of disease have gone. How many chains are laid down in this period, faulty habits, unrealistic expectations, neglect of duties?

And if recovery is incomplete, and a residue of disability remains, how far can we go to liberate our patient from his new chains? Wonderful things have been done in our land in recent years as men and women are taught to make the best possible use of what powers remain to them, but the real battle is in the will, and not in the first flush of rehabilitation, but in the years that stretch interminably into a bleak future. That is where help is needed most, and where in rare examples men show the greatest triumphs over adversities.

We tend to forget, we medicos with stethoscope at the ready, and fingers itching to detect an enlarged spleen or liver - we tend to forget that when someone is sick, he is sick in his body, and his person, and in his social setting, all at the same time. We tend too easily to assume that when we have driven the devils out of his body with strong antibiotic incantations, we have also dealt with any other problems he may have. But the scars left on his mind and on his status by his disease may be far deeper and more lasting than that passing inflammation now cured. People who come into hospital are often frightened people; they do not know what the future holds for them, and their tears may be very real. They do not understand why they have fallen ill, and may attribute their misfortune to a maleficent god's punishment for a past sin. What can they do to set things right? They do not know how their illness and possible disability may influence their employment prospects, their relationships with their friends and family, and in particular those most intimate relationships with wife or husband. They may fear death which they see as an ever-present spectre stalking the ward, between the beds, touching one here and another there. "When will that finger reach out for me?" thinks our patient. And no one says a word of comfort - no one has the time to care.

I have a vision of a hospital which would be different. Certainly the detailed work of diagnosis and medical care would be no less thorough than in our best hospitals today. But at the same time trained helpers would be there to comfort that frightened man or woman. Counsellors would help him face up to reality and deepen his understanding of his own life and relationships, enabling him to find his own solutions to the problems of life and death. A wise man, a doctor, has said that a hospital should be a place where the community learns the meaning of death, the meaning of life and the meaning of suffering, the meaning of love. To be ill is to face a crisis, that is in the Chinese phrase, a dangerous opportunity. Illness forces a man to ask questions, the answers to which may heal him far more soundly than any pill or potion. But alas, we doctors have no time to answer him, and so we dope him with sedatives and tranquillizers, and the great opportunity has gone forever.

At the same time this visionary hospital would use all methods to teach sick people about themselves. Firstly it would teach them all they needed to know about their own particular illness, how it arose, how it should be managed now and in the future, how it might be prevented, what complications may arise, and what may be done about them. Of course people differ in their capacity and desire for such information, but we err if we think that no one is interested. More than this, our patient would be given an overview of what health means for him and his community, and he would be enrolled into and ever-growing band of health advocates who would mould their whole community into a healthier pattern.

Further, this hospital would have working in it volunteers from every section of the community, men and women, young people and old, who are becoming sensitised to the needs of others, and who under training and guidance begin to learn how to help a fellow man in distress. In so doing they are beginning to loosen the chains which lie on that sick person, but far more truly they are breaking their own chains, and beginning to grow themselves. For I firmly believe that mankind is constructed in such a way that only in helping others are we able to grow ourselves. We are all made for others, and if we deny that we are in deep trouble.

John Donne, yet another mighty Elizabethan, said the same - "Every man's death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind". So we share this common involvement, we are bound together in the one continent, and the disease of one is the disease of us all. So are we all sick, and our cure comes only through service given to others. This is why I would like to see that imagined hospital as a radiant power house of health and life - not just a garage repair shop for broken-down bodies, but far more a place where men can renew their lives and set them on a new level, a place where health takes on new meaning, a place where chains are broken for young and old, a centre where the whole community can find a chance to live, a chance to grow.

The great flowering of Elizabethan genius was preceded by a stormy period when England threw off the foreign yokes both political and religious, when the world's boundaries suddenly enlarged, when everything seemed possible, and mere convention was set aside. Some might draw parallels with the position of our own land today, as Hong Kong faces many dangerous opportunities, and boundaries enlarge. Perhaps after all we shall see the great ones arise; perhaps they are already born, and are growing in our streets and schools and housing estates. How many will have their genius chained and broken by what we have done and have not done? How many will be soured and twisted by our lack of imagination and vision? How many may be liberated to grow and mature and flower for the benefit of us all, because of the healing that we might be able to give them?

These, I am sorry to say, are but the random thoughts of a simple-minded and muddle-headed idealist, and not the weighty pronunciations of a true Doctor of Social Sciences. Yet these thoughts stem from an authority higher even than the highest Elizabethan, and acknowledged by them all. And this authority tells me that I can do nothing greater in this world than to love my God, and to love my neighbour as myself.

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