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In about 1985, as I remember it, my training hospital underwent a pivotal change. In Cape Town, at the southern tip of Africa, Groote Schuur Hospital was world famous for being the place where in 1967 an arrogant, brash and brilliant surgeon by the name of Christiaan Barnard stunned the world by performing the world’s first heart transplant. Nearly twenty years later, Groote Schuur (Dutch for “Big Barn”) still retained the same aura of celebrity. As a medical student I walked the wards where history had and was being made. Members of the surgical team from that historic event were still to be seen on ward rounds, in the ICU’s, in the operating rooms, and in the communal tearoom. Even Barnard, although no longer operating, maintained a presence – although he missed every lecture scheduled with my class without apology.

The tearoom was in the heart of the hospital, close to all wards, departments and lecture rooms. It was bright and roomy, with faded but comfortable lounge chairs and large wooden tables. And at 10am every day tea and coffee was served without charge in huge pots and white cups to every doctor and medical student who wanted it.

Barnard aside, professors and specialists from all departments would sit in the tea room alongside junior medical students, continue case discussions, answer questions, greet colleagues, accept referrals, or debate completely non-medical issues. For half an hour the medical brain of Groote Schuur Hospital relaxed over a hot refreshment and gathered itself for the hectic day and night that would follow.

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