The road not taken: Nadifa Mohamed on the first-aid manual that inspired her love of medicine

Hospitals represented everything good about the world and they still do for me.

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My favourite book as a child was not one of Roald Dahl’s or The Worst Witch or even the very funny Vlad the Drac but a battered first-aid manual that had somehow appeared on our bare bookshelf. It had a red and white cover and smooth illustrations of various medical emergencies. I don’t know why it captured my imagination so much but it inspired a love of medicine that I still have to this day. Maybe I saw it as a “How to be a hero” manual? Delivering babies, Heimlich-ing chokers, poking hapless electric shock victims away from power sources. I practised on my mother by placing wet tissues on her forehead to cool her migraines but I was not satisfied. I spent ten years waiting and planning for the moment I could study medicine properly.

Hospitals were one of the ways I had got to know London as a four-year-old immigrant. In the first few months of my arrival I had gone frequently to St George’s Hospital for treatment of various minor ailments of mine that had gone untreated in Somalia. The slick lino of the long corridors, the flattering attention of various doctors and nurses, the strange but delicious meals of roast potatoes and beef swimming in gravy really turned my head. In the Somali city of Hargeisa, my mother had to take us to a German NGO in a camp for refugees from the Ogaden War. But in London the hospital was a short journey on my father’s shoulders from our maisonette to the vast building with its ambulances, wheelchairs, restaurant and toys. Hospitals represented everything good about the world and they still do for me. “First do no harm”: what other precept should any of us live by?

This article is from our “Road not taken” series

This article appears in the 13 December 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special

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