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Duncan Brown and family

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Duncan Brown (98-02) Specialist Anaesthesiologist

I loved my time at Merchiston and was honoured to be Head Boy in my final year. Life was never boring and mentioning only a few stories or names would be an injustice to the rest.

I started Merchiston in the final term of Chalmers West with a skinhead, a puffer jacket and a wicked nervous twitch. I had no real academic aspirations when I joined Merchiston but left with four Science A levels and a place at Medical School which is a tribute to the hard work of my teachers. GCSEs in English and German were nothing short of miracles as I could barely read or spell.

Sport played a big part in my life at School. An unbeaten B1 season, back to back Scottish Schools Cups and a gold medal in the 4 x 100m at the Scottish Championships are amongst my fondest memories. Amongst many outstanding teachers, Charles Swan and Tony Millard were big influences. Charles was my rugby coach every year at Merchiston. He kept me honest and got the best out of those he coached. I probably owe the fact I live in New Zealand to Tony and the horizons which were opened to me on a trip to Fiji in 2000.

I wanted a rugby career when I left School, but was naïve, and probably never good enough. I travelled in the Pacific for five months with friends and played for a season in Australia before starting medical studies at Durham University (joint with Newcastle) in 2003. I captained Yorkshire to the U20 County Championship at Twickenham but ended the season with injuries to both shoulders. I spent two years out of the game after surgery and although I got back playing club rugby my aspirations of a professional career were over. It was a difficult time in my life. Rugby had provided my purpose and my place in the social pecking order. Without it I was insecure and self-conscious. I was lucky to be in medical training and during this time I met Jen (my wife), started surfing and focused on medicine. In hindsight it was a pivotal time: that was the making of the life I have now.

I qualified in 2008 and worked for two years as a junior doctor in Newcastle. I planned to join the Army after this for some adventure, but in the end valued my freedom too much. I withdrew my application and in September 2010 Jen and I moved to New Zealand to start our own adventure.

We fell in love with Taranaki on the west coast of the North Island, living for the first few years on the beach with the backdrop of the 2800m high volcano. Despite not being on the main tourist route, Taranaki was rated by Lonely Planet as the second best place in the world to visit this year. A place you can ski and surf in the same day.

We enjoyed our new lifestyle so much that we stayed and I began my specialist training in anaesthesia while Jen trained as a GP.  Our son Fraser (jnr) was born in 2015 and having completed four more years of training at Waikato Hospital we returned to Taranaki, so that I could start a consultant job.

Anaesthesia is a perfect mix of science, drugs, practical procedures and adrenalin. You work closely with the surgeons and theatre team, and interact with a lot of patients. Combining work in anaesthesia and intensive care in a regional hospital brings variety and a healthy degree of fear. You deal with everything; from infants to the elderly, obstetrics, major trauma, elective surgical procedures, helicopter retrieval work and the critically ill. You share the joy of new arrivals or a life saved but also the devastation of a bad outcome or a life lost. You have to think and act quickly but you get to wear pyjamas at work as compensation. After 14 years of training and exams the real work is only beginning. Medicine is a life of learning.

On our return to Taranaki, we bought a small farm and avocado orchard to balance our busy medical lives. It has been an exciting experience for us novices, and in time we would like to develop a market garden, and possibly a ‘paddock to plate’ business. Brother Fraser (snr), set us up with an Instagram account to document our progress but with full time jobs, a 2 year old and too many hobbies it is slow progress. Fortunately, in this beautiful corner of the world we are in no rush.

The hardest thing about life in New Zealand is distance from family and missing Fraser’s rugby. I spend a lot of time watching his games, in the small hours, in the dark with the dog. We never miss a game and flying across to watch the victory over Australia in Sydney this summer was a special experience. We visited Suva the weekend after the match, it was a great opportunity to catch up with Merchistonians Hillary Fisher (00-02) and Kele Qiodravu (01-03), who hadn’t seen Fraser since he was in Pringle.

My advice to new Merchistonians is to have things you are passionate about, people you care about and a way of contributing to society. These things will keep you content in life and Merchiston helped provide these for me. Expect your goals to change with time, and move on when things don't go to plan. I did not envisaged when I left School that I would be doing what I am doing now and may have been disappointed if you’d told me. I’m not sure what our next adventure will be but likely something completely different again. For now this chapter is about avocados, surfing, raising a family and midnight rugby.