February 4, 2014

Andrew Is Going Back To University…For 10 Years

Posted in: Family

study^ Toby giving Andrew breaks from studying with kisses and cuddles.

study2^ Andrew studying for the GAMSAT, the walls of our hallway were covered in notes.


There are a handful of moments in my life where something has happened and I have known in that instant that the course of my life is about to change. One of those moments happened to me in 2011.

Andrew and I were at a Dental Ball (no, we’re not that boring, Andrew is a dentist) and there were a few speakers there, one being a Maxillofacial Surgeon who spoke about his career and all the volunteering he does around the world each year, traveling to poverty stricken countries and fixing children’s faces who have cleft palates.

During his speech he showed the audience a video of a girl he was about to operate on in Cambodia, she was very excited for this operation because she would finally be able to show her face without people staring. After the operation, they handed her a mirror, she was about to see herself for the first time without her cleft palate, the camera was focused right on her face so the audience could see her reaction. When she looked into that mirror she cried the happiest of tears I have ever seen. It was a very inspiring video and as the whole room clapped, Andrew lent over to me and in my ear whispered, ‘Now, THAT’S a cool life, that’s what I want to do.’ And just like that I knew that Andrew wasn’t joking.

He spent the rest of 2011 studying for the GAMSAT, which is a test used to select candidates applying to study medicine, took the test in early 2012, aced it, applied for universities and got excepted for an entry position in 2013. Andrew and I were both in shock, Andrew in happy shock and me in disbelief that he was actually serious about the whole thing and it was actually about to happen. I was very scared, I wasn’t ready, we are in the prime of our lives, establishing ourselves and now Andrew was about to dedicate himself pretty intensely to something that would take up all his time for the next decade. Andrew told his bosses he got accepted, he quit his jobs and was ready to start uni when I threw so many ‘How Are We Going To Cope?’ bombs at him, he couldn’t catch them all.

Because of me, Andrew started to panic a little and think, maybe this isn’t going to work out, it’s a lot of sacrifice from both of us, it’s going to be financially difficult for a long time and at the end of the day, it’s a long journey, one where statistics say, most couples don’t make it. After two sleepless nights of Andrew and I wide awake in bed discussing what we should do, Andrew made a call to the university to reject his offer, one week before starting. He called his bosses and asked if he could get his jobs back and just like that, life was back to normal, as if nothing had happened.

Throughout last year I saw Andrew quietly suffering, morning an opportunity gone. Every time friends told us about someone we knew who was in their final years of internship or family friends that were surgeons, it was a stab in Andrew’s heart of a life that could have been. I started to feel extremely guilty as it was me that made him change his mind, if only I had been supportive from the beginning. I started to worry and think, what if one day in 15 years, Andrew is folding his socks or peeling carrots at the kitchen sink and cracks it and says, ‘This isn’t the life I wanted.’ I didn’t want to be responsible for holding him back, I didn’t have the right to steer him down a path that he didn’t want to go down. His skills, his brain, his power to contribute so much to society, to people, wasted because of me.

In August last year, to my absolute relief, Andrew told me he secretly applied to every university in Australia to do medicine, again. Luckily, he got offers for interviews in a few states and started to prepare for them. For the first time, I paid attention and listened to him talk about why he wanted to be a surgeon, he spoke about it for almost half an hour and I could see the passion and excitement in his eyes which made me very excited for him. After the interviews, we had to wait for a long time, months, before we would find out whether he got in. My fingers were crossed, hoping that I hadn’t blown his dreams.

In December, when we were sitting in our hotel room in South Africa, Andrew got an email saying he had been accepted into uni in Adelaide. We gave each other a high five and said, let’s do this! Our friends, our family, Andrew’s colleagues, even specialists Andrew has spoke to have all told him how difficult, how hard, how long this journey is going to be. This negativity has not fazed him, not even in the slightest. He has said to everyone, I need to figure it out myself, I will either fail or succeed but I have to give it a try, I only have this life and it’s a short life and I want no regrets when I’m on my deathbed.

So here we are, at the age of 30 and Andrew will move to Adelaide next week and I will join him at the end of the year. Andrew will be 40, maybe 41 when he finishes this road to being a Maxillofacial Surgeon. Typing that sounds ridiculous but that’s what he wants to do and that is totally fine with me.

I’m really proud of him and his courage and his determination in everything he does. He is my biggest inspiration, he has taught me and pushed me to do, try and achieve things that I would never have had the courage to do, even though those things aren’t even anywhere near to the scale of his achievements or dreams.

So, the moral of this story is, never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway. Let’s see how this dream unfolds.