At age 49, I was at the top of a successful career in academic obstetrics and gynecology when my best friend died unexpectedly from a complication of heart at age 50. This tragedy shocked my wife, Anne, and me out of our complacency. We started to recall all the things we wanted to do and had been thinking of over the years but had been putting off till later. We realized that ‘later’ might become ‘never’ as it happened for our best friend. Many of my academic colleagues kept working in the career they started till medical or other issues prevented them from enjoying their retirement when it finally came. We needed to rearrange our priorities, so it seemed, and thus we began to consider our options. After a lot of discussions with Anne, I decided that I would retire from my academic position at age 55 and pursue other interests. When I told my chairman, he tried to talk me out of it. But my mind was made up. Thus began the second phase of our plan, and undoubtedly the more difficult one. We were not financially wealthy and needed an income, but could afford a reduced salary as our four children were grown and independent. But leaving my academic career at the University of Miami behind and jumping into the unknown was a bit scary to say the least.
We considered giving up medicine altogether and starting something entirely new, such as farming, raising horses, orchard growing, etc. We went through many possibilities but kept coming back to the fact that my skills were in obstetrics and gynecology and that the best option was to continue to build on that skill. So we started looking for opportunities. We first contacted various religious organizations with medical activities in developing countries. Africa appealed to us as I had worked there for two years right after internship in the former Belgian Congo. For one reason or another, these many contact fizzled out.
I started scanning medical journals for ads and quickly came across one from a Japanese hospital in Okinawa. I sent in my CV and was offered a position there for six months, which I accepted enthusiastically. It came with travel for my wife and me, housing, a car and a reasonable salary as well as an academic position at the University of Hawaii which was sponsoring the program.
In January 1989 we flew to Okinawa, sight unseen. I had a bit of a difficult time at first adapting to living, working and teaching in the Japanese culture, but in the end we had a marvelous time and were invited back two years later for another six months.
Our overall plan was to work six months, play six months, then work again for six months. As I will relate later, that did not work out exactly as planned. Returning from Japan in mid 1989 we travelled all over the US mostly by small camper, and visited places we had always wanted to see. We also began looking for our next “job.”
I came across an ad this time from the Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan, looking for a senior academician to help out a new young chairman at the University. This appealed to us (remember this was way before the current political and military upheavals in that area of the world). I went for an interview in Boston with the Dean of the Aga Khan University who happened to be in the USA for business. I was offered the job and we started preparing to travel there at the end of 1989.