The Doctors Behind Botox
As Jean leads me into her bright corner office in downtown Vancouver, I remember the last time I saw her, about 30 years ago. My daughter, then six, had an optical problem, and we were referred to a young pediatric-ophthalmologist in a dowdy office building. I remember her as taller and bigger than she is now, and not someone who paid much attention to fashion. I would never have twigged that this petite, chic woman was Carruthers, although I do recognize the light, rapid voice and the mid-Atlantic accent. I also recall that she had a nice way with my daughter, not condescending—and that her explanations to me were models of clarity.
No doubt she was already a rather unusual combination, a maternal superachiever. It’s still in evidence: She hugs her staff hello and goodbye daily, sends her patients birthday cards, brings bagels for medical students who shadow her, and loves to cook and entertain. The achiever part is not hard to explain. She was born Jean Elliott in Brandon, Man., to two English doctors who had immigrated after the Second World War. When her mother returned to England temporarily, she brought her two young daughters with her. The English sojourn, Jean says, was a turning point, giving her a taste for striving that has stayed with her. At 16 she went into honours chemistry at the University of British Columbia and she remained there for medical school. It was there she met Alastair, an English medical student who was doing an internship at the Vancouver General Hospital.
Born in Cheshire, England, in 1945, Alastair was also the child of a doctor father; his mother was a teacher. After meeting in Vancouver, he and Jean went to England to do their residencies, and married there in 1973. Jean became one of the first women to work at Moorfields, England’s premier eye hospital, and Alastair had a prestigious appointment at Hammersmith Hospital. They might have stayed in London’s stimulating medical atmosphere permanently, but consultants there worked until nine or ten at night. They wanted children and Vancouver promised a more balanced life. “We gave up the academic excellence of London for the whole family thing,” Alastair says, “and yet I think we’ve managed to do quite a lot.”