“Today, I was working at my job at a kid’s Halloween festival, giving out candy. A kid about five years old comes up wearing a wizard costume over a dinosaur costume. I ask if he is a dino-wizard for halloween. His response, “I’m just dressed like a wizard. I’m always a dinosaur.” Best kid ever.”—from ‘My Life Is Average (MLIA)’ - Anonymous
Final year placements came out today…am totally caught up in the rush of friends arguing over where they’ll be next year. It kinda makes me regret taking next year off (if by ”year off” I mean research year).
I’m definitely going to miss clinical medicine. I can’t imagine an entire life just of academics — why do medicine at all if you’re just gonna do that? Why not just delve into a Biomedicine and have done that at the beginning?
I’m hoping if I do well I’ll have a good reference in my supervisor.
At least I’m interested in research — my entire life is spent trying to hide a slight neuroticism for detail. Or maybe because I grew up watching dad do research and I’m sentimental. He did have a pretty moving story to tell about why he was striving for his Ph.D when I asked in middle school. I should add that my parents are actually pretty modern / liberal / progressive for Chinese people. They lead pretty normal westernised lives — I’m eternally greatful.
Whatever. I love this time of my life. Ob/gyn rotation, the green-eyed homesickness monster/constant hammer on my biological clock is NOT forever. (Sadly, I actually like Ob/gyn. What’s not to like about bringing babies in the world? Haha..a big change to my attitude when I first started).
It MUST be exam time: I’ve started 3 different novels, taken up knitting yet again, played more Facebook games than ever, seen about 5 movies in the last 2 weeks, discovered more indie/electronica/folk artists, taken time off in the afternoon to drink beer in the sun, changed out of PJs to go out for spontaneous late night wine and cartoons. Also, 4 trips to Chadstone for afternoon shopping with Catrina (so annoying that most of my friends are fifth year and have endless time on their hands).
3am, Sunday, on the pavement beside our front door
Drunk flatmate lying face down on the ground in the middle of an empty street (having just been dumped there by one of his friends):I'm not a useless man. I'm not some boyfriend with no future. Why are they all staring at me?
Drunk flatmate's girlfriend (in PJs, having been woken in the middle of the night):What are we going to do? We can't drag him inside.
Melissa (also in PJs):He has no neck tone. He can't stand up. He can't even raise his head off the floor. This is dangerous.
Drunk flatmate:No! I have to get up! I have to go to work tomorrow.
Melissa:Alright, just take it easy. You don't have to get up right now. You are dangerously drunk, and this is concrete. It isn't safe.
Drunk flatmate:Excuse me, but who are you?
Drunk flatmate's girlfriend:It's just Melissa.
Melissa:I live with you guys.
Melissa:=_= Nevermind. I'll open the garage door, and maybe we can slide some cardboard under him and drag him when he passes out and isn't flailing.
Drunk flatmate:I'll show you!! *Suddenly stands up, makes a mad dash toward the garage, following the light, makes it 5m before falling to the ground, hitting his head with a sickening crack and falls unconscious*
Drunk flatmate's girlfriend:*screams*
Drunk flatmate's girlfriend:*screams again*
Melissa:*Checks on him* It's ok, he's just asleep.
Drunk flatmate's girlfriend:Nooo!! It's not that. He's ruining my favourite coat! It touched the rubbish bin!!. *Runs forward, trying to pull the coat off her boyfriend's unconscious body* You bastard, you're paying for the drycleaning.
Drunk flatmate's girlfriend:My coat!!
Melissa:Now what? He only made it halfway. We can't even close the garage door.
Drunk flatmate's girlfriend:Should we wake him?
Melissa:For God's sake, just break up with the jerk.
Drunk flatmate's girlfriend:What?
Melissa:Uh...nothing. :) Let's take a break and rethink our strategy.
The world at 2:45am is so still, so quiet. I can’t fathom why I’m up so late at night except it’s intoxicating to be free for a bit.
In this paucity of movement, things come back to me. I’m turning over with the dappled shadows on my bedsheets, daydreaming. I’m running down the bank in Cornwall Park for the sheer thrill of it at dusk.
A lifetime of something. That’s what this song has always reminded me of.
The more I think about it, the more horrified I am. Everyday I wake up and feel like I lack something. What do I lack? Hair’s brushed, clothes are clean, teeth are brushed, have my papers and notebook, got my hospital ID and my thumb drive. I do a sentimental check — keys, wallet, ipod, phone? Yep, all there.
What is it, then, that I lack?
The answer is pretty much clear as a bell the minute I step inside some room with a pregnant woman, waiting expectantly to be induced. Husband’s there, looking into her eyes, holding her hand and saying “we’re ready” together. Also, the room with a woman gazing down at her baby, doing nothing but staring with love at a sleeping child.
There is someone on the ward who constantly reminds me about the things I have only always ever wanted my entire life.
I tried to explain it to Hein, but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t understand. He says I’m obsessed with the person and that I idolise him.
Maybe I do. I didn’t use to — I try to pinpoint the second in time when maybe I started to. Probaby when he hummed an MGMT song cheerfully and I made a comment on it which opened up a revelation about his personal life. Before this, he had just been another friendly doctor on the ward, albeit a good one (possibly the one with the best patient manner I’ve ever seen).
Have you ever had a dream as a little girl, one that you’ve never really understood or could form into words until you were older? The perfect lifestyle, house, children (little girls named after flowers), so much love it’s not even funny. Everything I’ve always dreamed about, he seems to have. Or rather, his wife seems to have. She even bought my favourite breed of dog the other day (albeit not in the colours I would have chosen). They have a nice garden. They live near the sea.
There are so many things I can’t even go into detail about. Things I’ve never told anyone about.
How is it that they exist? Someone who could possibly want all the same things that you’ve ever wanted but couldn’t put into words?
I can’t concentrate. I stare into space. At night I’m restless and try and cure it by sleep. This is not the right time and place. My exams are in 2 weeks, and I haven’t opened a book yet.
I was talking to Anne, a midwife. I told her everything (except the part about the doctor). She asked me if I was seeing someone and I said no. She nodded. Ah, she said. It gets worse when you start seeing someone and do this job.
I asked her if she had kids and she told me she was never married, never had kids. Then I asked her about love, and what she said made me wonder about life. I guess everyone does have a story to tell. Love is a fickle thing. It leads women who bring babies out in the world to have no babies of their own even though they want them. Anne’s older now — maybe around menopause. What she chose means she’ll be alone for life.
It made me sad.
I thought about E., the person I saw twice and I almost just kept seeing him out of a sort of self-telling off that I should be more accepting of others. I was hovering on the borderline even though everyone kept telling me how much of a jerk he seemed to be…and then I met Dr F and realised that I had been thinking the entire time that what I wanted wasn’t realistic, and that nobody like what I really wanted would exist again therefore I should just go with E. Give him a chance. All the warning signs didn’t matter.
He messaged me the other day and I couldn’t think of one thing to say back. I felt like he’d ruined it somehow. I was so prepared to give him a go, and he just had to go be unreliable, not replying to things, then ordering me to go places. In the end it was a time thing. Time, and also our personalities clashed. The clanging alarm in me grew too loud to ignore.
But…this doctor. This person I think can’t possibly exist.
I can’t explain how it feels. I don’t even understand it. I find myself staring at him in a perpetual state of disbelief when he’s not looking.
Everything I’ve ever, ever wanted — that dream life I’ve harboured since I was 9. I’ve never met anybody like this in my entire life. It still shocks me to the bone when I think about it.
The days are getting longer; I am more grateful for sunlight than ever before. Even sitting in a gloomy basement is made better by the thought that somewhere outside is blue sky and temperate air.
Last Saturday morning I popped by AMA (Australian Medical Association) House for a leadership workshop. The AMA is located in a large, stately building on Royal Parade covered by light trees. The entrance is on the side, surprisingly, past a little gate and a small garden. A statue of two soldiers meets you as you come up the dappled footpath — one severely injured and the other tending to him in a pose that suggested they were in the middle of heavy fire. I don’t know why it was so poignant but even running late as I was, it struck me.
Renny and I wandered through the city afterwards, eating at my favourite Japanese place and eyeing the cute cupcake shop that opened up in Melbourne Central. Catrina, who I was meant to meet for drinks that night, had pulled out due to illness, so Ren and I saw a movie after dinner (Julie and Julia).
It really is different, having lived with someone. It makes everything so comfortable, carefree. We knew without saying that neither of us should mention revision or study; we talked about the people we know and things at our hospitals.
A resident had given us a talk about looking after ourselves that day — she talked about having a debrief person, about how the medical field wasn’t good at talking about things that happened at work. Unlike nurses, we sat in the corner of coffee rooms and dealt with stress on our own. We laugh and joke to hide it but nobody is immune to human suffering. She mentioned having a ‘debrief person’, a fellow intern she hadn’t known before, but who she developed a close working relationship with. Between them, an agreement was somehow made silently that when the other person called or paged, they would put everything down and listen to a 5 minute debrief at anytime, anyplace.
During the lunchbreak Renny said, “I just realised, you’re my debrief person.”
I suddenly realised it was true — at night when we came home in Moe all we’d talk about was the patients who frustrated us, sexual harrassment, my GP who was oftentimes frustrating and goading, difficulties in the system, the course, critical incidents during the day, things we didn’t handle well, nurses…everything, anything. It was such a relief. She was my medical debrief person. For every story I do tell my non-medical friends, there are countless moments that are left unsaid: a look, a held hand, a slip on the cheek; a badly handled code; death; a girl my age being tackled to the ground by 4 security guards; workplace bullying; a part of what could have been a baby trickling into my hand.
Debriefing is a strange thing - I had taken it for granted because I did it all the time as a counsellor; a supervisor was always there to listen to reflections after difficult situations and emotional entanglements. I suddenly realised how true it was about medicine. There was nobody to talk to; as a student there was at least a coordinator. As a junior doctor, there is noone.
I spoke to a patient for over an hour once after midnight, sitting with her waiting for surgery. At first I meant to obtain a medical history. It deteriorated within 10 minutes into a chat about life, her hopes and dreams, the child she was about to lose, the adventures of her friends who cycled from Europe all the way to Australia, including through the Middle East and then through China and South Asia to board a boat to Sydney. We talked about the child lost and she held my hand and thought about a future with children and a garden. We waited a long time to get into the theatre (the plastics team had bumped us down the list with a 6 hour hand surgery — unnecessarily). The gynae/obstetrics on duty was one of my least favourite ones. A crass man with poor rapport, he was rough with her, impatient to finish the scrapings that would dislodge the 12 week dead foetus from the walls of her womb. He looked like he was hurting her, scraping the instruments through her like she was a piece of meat. I thought he might scar her. I was indignant. I wanted to say, “Stop hurting my friend!”. I wanted to push him off her. I did neither, just watched silently with the theatre staff. I never saw that woman again.
There are too many stories to recount. I’m in the basement of the hospital again, procrastinating my assignment. It’s an opinion piece on prostate screening with a look at the latest randomised control trials. I’m tired of it and I haven’t started. 800-1000 words - it’s due in 20 hours.
Ahead lies so many things. Not just the next month, the next year. I mean, even tomorrow — a list of places to be, things to do. I’ve been walking around with my glasses cellotaped together around all week. They’d snapped suddenly while sitting innocently on my face with no trauma whatsoever last weekend. Dr. T kindly didn’t say anything this week when I showed up to his private suite and theatre lists with sticky taped frames. When the cellotape broke on Wednesday, I bluetacked it but resorted to wearing contact lenses (1 year past their expiry date) in public.
Everyone is bunkering down for exams. New Zealand friends first, the rest of us sliding into it just now. I keep having the urge to buy novels and read them — something of an exam-time habit left over from my school days. Borders is irresistable. I pick up Faulkner, Murakami, Atwood (I haven’t read her since high school, when I found her work highly predictable). I pick up magazines and new CDs. I see the new Woody Allen film and eat pretzels and ice cream with friends. A lot of window shopping goes down. My room has never been tidier — anything except real work.
Meanwhile, Catrina keeps trying to think of things to do with the last of her student days. She’s got a job lined up next year (they all do, since allocations came out a few months ago). She’s in the home stretch.
Isn’t it strange how next year she’ll be Dr. Huang? It still jolts me I’ll be a Dr. Chen, like my father. The idea of anyone calling him Dr. Chen is also fantastical to me. My father, the gentle, well liked man who likes golf and playing cards with is friends, who tries to make “cool” jokes and use “hip” sayings…nobody could call him something so stiff. Anyone who’s met him would be incredulous. I don’t think he’s changed his title on any of his accounts or work things despite having gotten his ph.D in engineering almost a decade ago.
Still, reality gently presents itself in the simplest of ways: an email containing intraoperative photos from last week’s abdominal hysterectomy arrived in my inbox - the uterus we took out was so large and fibroid-ridden that nobody had seen anything like it in 15 years or more.
"Dear Dr. Chen. Attached are the intraoperative photos from the operation performed on [date]. Kind regards, Deborah."
It feels like I’ve fast-tracked 30 years into the future.
Thanks, Deborah. You’ve aged me, given me a medical degree, and made me an Ob/gyn or surgeon of some sort all in one simple sentence. I respect that. It gives me hope for the upcoming exams! I definitely can’t fail now…Ha! :D
Now if only I could get this assignment to write itself…
It seems to rain endlessly. I wake up to a dull drumming that picks up with the wind. Somewhere a loose frame shakes. I curl further into my blanket and smile a little. I feel good. Better than good - rested. A feeling that I’ve missed for a long time. Strangely, I’d only slept 5 hours, my body rousing itself at the usual time despite a planned sleep-in. Dr. T, my mentor, had told me to skip morning rounds at Freemasons hospital.
At ten thirty I’m in a busy waiting room eyeing pregnant women. Dr T. is caught in the traffic behind a car accident and arrives an hour late to his Waverley rooms. The pregnant women are there because he shares the practice with an obstetrician — a pleasant man who gave the keynote lecture last night at the Fidelo's (a dinner seminar for GPs that Dr. T casually invited me to due to his role as MC).
Dr. T is a gynaecologist who specialises in IVF and laparoscopy (in particular, for investigation and management of endometriosis). A bald, bespectacled man, he’s easygoing and always on the move. Suit jackets go everywhere, papers seem to be constantly rustling. His iPhone rings endlessly and he’s always dashing around to sneak in some IVF in between operating or consulting cases. Anyone can tell Dr T is really good at his job. Everyone tries to make a pass at how brilliant he is when they converse with me — one of these times was in his presence and he chuckled and joked about how he and the patient had set that one up beforehand to make him look good.
More to the point —- he is candid, blunt, and brutally honest within reason.
IVF is something that not everyone gets a chance to be exposed to in medical school. The fact that I have landed a mentor for the week who specialises in this field is both annoying and awe-inspiring. Annoying because I see very little of general gynaecology and as a result, my log book suffers. Awe-inspiring because I am in on pick-ups and transfers (i.e., harvesting the eggs and later putting a fertilised one back in the uterus).
All sorts of people see Dr. T.
The IVF part is amazing. I can’t even describe it, this simple concept. Sometimes the women come back to conceive second children and bring their first child in and I wonder what it’s like to be Dr. T, waving hello to the 1 year old blue eyed boy he’d helped bring to life. More importantly, that he’d help bring to the woman’s life. And even at the transfers, the way the couple’s face lights up when they see on screen the egg that will soon be placed into the uterus of the woman. Almost like a first look at their baby - or potential baby. There is so much love in the room it’s almost palpable.
And of course there are the failures, the jaded veterans coming back for the 7th or 8th cycles. IVF so often fails. I guess nothing is fool-proof. I would never say it wasn’t worth it though. The success stories say it all.
Tugging on a toddler’s pigtail while the adults chat, I wonder what my own child might look like. I’d create a nice warm kitchen for her and teach her to make cookies. I’d let her ice the gingerbread men and we’re definitely finger-painting. The tree in my backyard will have to be climbable for an 8 year old. Preferably, it’d be fruit-bearing. Wooden swings are definitely in the picture. And we will plant annuals every winter and wait for them to bloom in spring.
I have to laugh though. It’s all a bit ridiculous, imagining these things inside a gloomy little room.
“On the morning you woke beside me — already thinking of going away — the sun did not fill my window as it does most mornings. Instead there was cloud and threat of snow.”—from an unknown piece - Alice Walker
The days come and go like rain. From the window of Birthing Room 14, the world looks as wide and unwieldy as it ever did. The newborn babies lying quietly at their mothers’ breasts… they have have no clue how terrible and wonderful it could be. Why didn’t anyone warn us, way back then?
It makes me smile. Would I have listened to them? Am I even listening now?
This song is called “Someone to light up my life”.
A few weeks ago, I was looking through my iTunes out of boredom when I saw my old Amos Lee CD. This song makes me feel so many things. In my memory it was summer and a heavy promise of rain permeates the air. I’d still lived in my childhood home then. The tomatoes outside the window climbing up on the supports my grandparents put up peeped up to say hello.
The strange thing is that, that was the time of prelude and foreshadowing. My life was already changing then — I could feel it but couldn’t understand why or how.