My mother and I

Ibrahim Sbeih
Ibrahim Sbeih (Photo: Jordan News)
The year was 1984. I was a trainee at the Atkinson Morley’s Hospital-St. Georges University in London. Having attained my fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS) degree in general surgery, I applied for the exam of the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh for the degree of surgical neurology FRCS(Ed) SN.اضافة اعلان

This was newly invented, prestigious exam and the only one of its kind in the United Kingdom. We were 12 candidates going through the rigorous scrutiny of top 10 examiners in the fields of neurosurgery, neurology, radiology, pathology, and operative anatomy. At the end of a very long day, I was the only survivor. My name was called, and I was asked to join the examiners at the library for a drink. The other unsuccessful 11 candidates were asked to leave.

At the small ceremony with the examiners in the library, I was told there would be, in a month’s time, a big ceremony in the Royal College to receive my certification together with the other “ordinary” general surgery FRCS candidates.

I flew my mother from Jordan (my father had died one year earlier) to attend the big day. My mother bought a beautiful blue dress and she was full of pride and joy as we were walking towards the Royal College from a nearby hotel. As we walked I remembered that my mother likes, on big occasions, to ululate (a long wavering high pitched vocal sound, produced by rapid back and forth movement of the tongue) as an expression of happiness and celebration. I politely told her it would be highly inappropriate to do so at the Royal College. I added that “those awfully nice British people would not understand this and may translate your ululation as a primitive act.” She assured me she would never do anything that could remotely embarrass me.

Upon our arrival we were separated. She sat in the family section with families of the “ordinary” FRCS general surgery candidates. I was taken to a room where I was dressed in a special gown and a clerk with a big royal cloak and a big royal pole in his hand opened a big door and announced my arrival by knocking on the floor. I stood up on the stage facing the president and members of the board of the Royal College, with my back towards the audience in the expansive hall where everybody was seated.

I raised my right hand and swore, after the president, the oath of the college. As I turned to face the audience, my mother’s ululation filled the air of the Royal College, and all of Edinburgh. Those seconds as I was turning on the stage felt like years, and I wished that the ground underneath would open up and engulf me. To my surprise everybody; president and board, candidates and their families, clerks and guards stood facing my mother in her blue dress and triumphant smile with a five-minute standing ovation. For them this was a proud mother expressing her joy over her son’s achievement. At the hotel outside the Royal College, at the end of ceremony, everybody waited to have a picture with my mother.

Later she told me “For my soul I would not have missed this once in a life time chance.”

The moral of the story: Our mothers know better.

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