The days melt into each other, and when I wake it’s to a cold, dark sky and the hush of rain as it comes down in sheets. Sometimes I curl back up to sleep, the familiar smell of my own duvet, last night’s dream, warmth spreading across my neck that I’ve shrunk back in the sheets.
An epic meeting unfolded itself last Thursday in Professor R’s office — the same day that the nation got its first female Prime Minister in Julian Gillard. Professor R., fresh from his holiday, was a welcome sight, to my surprise. We had our fair share of disagreements scientifically in the past but he was still my supervisor. I was grateful he was back. The meeting was meant for an hour. Jonathan was due at noon for his meeting with Prof R. and we had to agree to reconvene after Jon had left. It would be another 6 hours before either of us left that small, cramped room that day. All we did was talk. And talk. From the third floor of the Central block, I watched the sun set.
Something I’m learning from this year is how to speak to consultants. It’s strange, but they stopped being frightening suddenly. In a sense, part of my job this year is to manage them in terms of this project, so all of a sudden the relationship is changed. I have no qualms of contacting the head of Pharmacy, for example, leaving messages, calling drug companies, going to the top. Perhaps this is a gift. I wonder what it’ll be like next year, needing to answer to people in a different way.
Winter has finally settled in in this part of the world. Folders are soaked, shoes are wet through in the dark — trudging home from Aspendale, a timetable adjustment — parasthesia in my toes and balance becomes a problem trying to walk on numb feet. A capped man in a car drives in front of me, emergency-backs into a driveway, comes out and seems to speak to me as I continue my walk and makes a strange gesture. When I keep walking, he gets back into his car, he drives around the block five or six times, and each time he passes I get more nervous. Meanwhile in the confectionary aisle of the city supermarket waiting for a train home, a man wreaking of alcohol is trying to decide between mixed nuts and chocolate coated TV mix; walking up the hill leading to my street, a person walking past me apologises to me for his indecisive changing of footpath sides at 50 paces away (possibly the strangest thing that I’ve been apologised to for).
I’m tiring of Melbourne. I can recognise the signs: listlessness, daydreaming. Watching The Darjeeling Limited, I wanted to go away somewhere on a train, thread flowers and get my hands stained the colour of old blood by the dirt, write a book about the people I’ve come to know. I want to go to Japan, pray at a temple, make a wish.
Sometimes I think [solitary] travel is for unfulfilled people — people who can’t be anchored to something, people who don’t have the things they want and who travel the world looking for something to fill the gap. Eventually some people do find something. For others, although I don’t think it’s ever said, these trips yield nothing. Just more travelling.
Looking at friends’ travel photos, I like best the ones where an outline of them can be seen in the reflection of something — a display case, a glass window — of the subject they’re photographing. I hope they’re learning something. I wonder if they get homesick; if they realise how long 6 weeks is on an elective — how long 6 months is (an exchange trip).
Last weekend I explained the world nostalgia to my tutee, who was having trouble with UMAT section 2 due to not being able to understand some of the emotional adjectives — ‘bittersweet’ and ‘morose’, for example, were mysteries to her. She was surprised when I said nostalgia was always a positive feeling. But thinking back, you are always remembering the past in a good light. Nobody dwells on traumatic things— those we call flashbacks, nightmares. They come out in dreams, they’re unstoppable things and are recalled involuntarily.
I’m nostalgic of all the conversations where friends and I used to say, “I wanna live in the xyz one day”. I look at where those friends are — mostly still in New Zealand, but a few have made it! They’re in the UK, in the USA. One’s about to make it to Thailand, though that was never a dream. I guess the sentiment was anywhere but here.
In the downtime I think about my mother, who recently has been ill with several viral infections (“the flu”), who has not gotten better. It’s unlike her, and I’m worried about immune problems without medical basis. When my brother hijacks MSN to tell me that he’s playing hockey now and that he’s passed his piano and karate gradings I’m genuinely happy and proud.
I wanna see the world one day too. Not to try find myself — but as a fully formed person. Maybe I’ll get some time to do it next year :))
“He was no lover in a worldly sense; the only love he knew was that of divine understanding, of taking a whole life into his arms, stripping it of flesh and bone, and feeling into its depths as if they were his own. From this, the greatest pain, the greatest happiness is born: the hope that we too will one day be understood, strangers will accept our words, our lives, as if they were their own.”—from ‘Pacsirta' (Skylark) — Dezsö Kosztolányi. (via sashawantsmore)
Coffee, life plans, and how everyone wants to be an anaesthetist
Hi! A quick update from medical school (I know I don’t write much about my academic life, being in a deadzone at the moment):
Job interviews for final year medical students are starting up, and coffee with friends tend to be more about interview preparation and preferences for next year, which I’m kind of relieved about. Previous conversations for a while had mostly been anxiety driven, water cooler chatter about hospital politics and references.
People keep warning me of bowing out of the politics thing way too early, and how it won’t help with the job hunting. This, especially, given the influx of new graduates coming around at the end of next year.
I’m not too worried. I want to do physicians training, but at the end of the day I don’t particularly want to be the head of something, or become prominent professor. Mostly, I want to be happy doing something I like.
I think it takes a lot of pressure off doing die-hard things to get somewhere if I don’t want to go there in the first place — wherever there might be. Not that it’s interchange-able with 0 ambition; I still want a good training program, mostly because I want to be able to be good at what I do. That being said, what passes as a good institution instantly varies with wherever place in life you want to go. I have a feeling I’ll end up (to my horror) trying to get into the Alfred for their Haematology department.
From where we started - the majority of people in first year wanting to be surgeons - to where we’ve finished — a huge number of people now wanting to do lifestyle and money jobs like Anaesthetics, Psychiatry and Radiology (discounting the people who genuinely like it). It’s almost exactly like how the final years said we’d end up, back when we started this whole thing. I wouldn’t mind Radiology myself.
What’s the saddest in speaking with a friend is that he is discovering just now how much he doesn’t really want to become a doctor. I don’t think he would be the only case, although I hope he’s in the minority. He got really defensive when I said it was a shame that he still did 5 years of medical school and will probably continue over a decade of being a doctor despite this realisation thinking I meant that it was a waste of a place in the course. I was meaning that it was a shame to be miserable for 5 years. He could have done anything — been a travel writer, which it turned out, was his ideal job.
Tempered in this is the desire to be rich. For some reason, he wants to do this more than other people wants to do this (people jest about it, but he seriously means it). To make a lot of money (think ten million) by the age he wants to make it in, you’d require a highly paid specialty and/or very clever investing. To get into a highly paid specialty you have to work pretty hard. To be able to sustain that kind of work, you’d have to be at least pretty into your work…otherwise it’d be torture.
In Will-like disbelief, I sat in shock as he proceeded to tell me that 95% of the people in the world are doing a job they hate and how dare I tell him that he should really go do something that he’s happy doing.
He was saying what people have always said — “Some people see medicine as a means to an end” — and I assumed he included himself in this. Somehow, never having considered the concept properly, doing medicine as a means to an end became a sad sentiment, like something people say when they hate something but are resigned to do it for the rest of their young lives.
But then who am I to say what is sad and what isn’t? :))
Along with interviews comes contract renewals for interns, of which a fair number of good friends are. Catrina is going to Queensland, and Hein is going to Northern Territory for at least a year, which makes for a fairly lonely fifth year. At the same time, I can’t help being really happy for them… :)
With Prof R. back this week, I have a feeling it’s meeting central ahead. But I’m hopeful that I’ll be out of the the paperwork universe and into the lab before September, at the very least.
I was reminded of this song the other day by a link someone posted on Facebook to a New Zealand song that I remember scoring my primary school summers. This came in more in high school — the salient memory of screaming the chorus at the top of my lungs on a grassy hill with my favourite people in the world, and laughing until we cried :) <3
I think we should pay tribute everyday to the people who gave us the happy memories to last us the worst days of our lives.
(Been, this was on the CD you gave me before I left NZ, because I said I couldn’t find this song anywhere online!)
An abridged version of a chapter of “Musicophilia” by Oliver Sacks titled “In The Moment: Music And Amnesia”, published in The New Yorker in 1997.
In March of 1985, Clive Wearing, an eminent English musician and musicologist in his mid-forties, was struck by a brain infection—a herpes encephalitis—affecting especially the parts of his brain concerned with memory. He was left with a memory span of only seconds—the most devastating case of amnesia ever recorded.
In addition to this inability to preserve new memories, Clive had a retrograde amnesia, a deletion of virtually his entire past.
An amazing story — I was really touched by this chapter.
Sundays are awful days for people without cars. If you want to go anywhere, you have to plan ahead by hours, sometimes even blocks. It’s a problem if, for instance, you become hungry in the afternoon and realise you have no food left; worse, the outside is cold and in your half-starved state you begin to dread trudging through winter chill (which, to me, always has a gritty quality to it).
Catrina, now on ED rotation, has less routine hours. On one of her days off we trawl through Borders in Chadstone, looking for answers to questions that we’re not sure of yet. Incorporated in the store is a small, quirky home decorations/stationary section with things I know I’d have loved in high school, especially for the Architecture assignments (my favourite part of which was designing a floor plan, and rendering interior concepts).
In the film history section, she told me about a dream she had: “I dreamt that I got my eyebrow pierced, and it didn’t keloid. I got excited. I got the other side pierced — still nothing happened. I was so happy! Then I went and got a tattoo across my forehead — one of curled designs in line with my side fringe, so that in the daytime it would be covered.”
I couldn’t help laughing that a fringe-tattoo was her penultimate dream. She waved it off — “Do you ever get that? Feeling like you had the one thing you’ve always wanted and suddenly waking up?”
I recall suddenly all the times I’ve woken clinging onto the dreams, willing myself to go back to sleep to resume them. I’m married; I have a life and people who depend on me — there are people who I’d die for, children I’ve watched grow up. Waking up is a minute loss each time…but it cheers me up regardless because they’re in the same category of dreams other people have where they win the lottery or win a nobel prize.
(It’s all distant future stuff, by the way. I’m not in a hurry or anything. That’s just scary..)
On other days, the world seems more animated. I see it all from a twilight zone between my room, my office (I have picked one up along the way) and the hospital basement where I go to watch the soccer. When NZ scored that goal in the last minute of their first World Cup final game I screamed so loud and did a dance, feeling all alone but a little grateful nobody saw that embarrassing display of joy.
Some days I see dawn come up beneath my curtains.
Thank goodness Prof R is back this week… I need him to sign things (legal things) that I as a student can’t sign. This is after me making up an entire budget for this thing — by the way, did you know pharmacy charge entry and exit costs? And the MMC one doesn’t do compounding — not that this is useful to anyone else except anyone wanting to hold a clinical trial there.
By the way, I tried folding origami the other day with a piece of scrap paper, inspired by a origami paper hunt that CT had gone on last time we saw each other - I can’t remember how to do anything other than those hats that double as boats, and paper airplanes….
If only there was something that could turn paper things into real things.
Ethan:Yeah, the last 15 mins. Amazing play on the NZ side!
Melissa:I know! Last minute equaliser. To be fair, we weren't playing very well that game. I think a lot of non-New Zealanders don't get why all of the New Zealanders are so excited about a draw. As the underdogs, draw = Oh my God, Christmas is here!
Ethan:Yeah to be honest, I never imagined you guys to actually win any match.
Melissa:Hey, we're an honest nation. We don't expect to win any match. We're the happy-go-lucky, love-that-we're-even-there, everything-is-amazing country. That's what makes it super awesome when we get anything.
There was a cute couple on the train today - they couldn’t have been more than 16, on a first date over the long weekend.
Remember those silences when you were so happy to be in the presence of the other person that you thought you could burst but you were terribly afraid and didn’t know what to say. They were sitting next to each other sharing earphones. Their knees touched (whether on purpose or accidentally) and neither of them said anything looked in opposite directions, trying hide elated smiles.
Hope I didn’t come across too creepy — I was beaming so hard, it was beginning to hurt my cheeks. <3
“Everyone of us is losing something precious to us. Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive. But inside our heads—at least that’s where I imagine it—there’s a little room where we store those memories. A room like the stacks in this library. And to understand the workings of our own heart we have to keep on making new reference cards. We have to dust things off every once in a while, let in fresh air, change the water in the flower vases. In other words, you’ll live forever in your own little private library.”—from ‘Kafka On The Shore’ — Haruki Murakami (via kari-shma)
Watching Will grow up has been a pleasure, from the strabismus plagued child with glasses that magnified his eyes tenfold to now, pulling up near my house, fresh from class, Year I medical school, in relatively preppy outfit and a gangster cap (“I got it from America”).
I took him to lunch because he’d turned 19 this past weekend, amidst the mad scramble for HREC module 2 paperwork.
19 feels so old,” he said.
But 19 is just the beginning. (I gave him the same look Meng gave me tonight over dinner, when I lamented about being 22).
All the possibilities, the amount of self-confidence he has…It just made me realise that people become less sure of themselves somehow as they get older. Why is it that second guessing is never something people do before their 20s?
Hanging around Will makes me remember all the things I used to say and do that I somehow…don’t anymore. For no other reason than I’ve not done it in a while, not because I’ve changed. But then, one of the definition of character was ‘a set of behaviours an individual displays’ and so I wonder how different I would seem to old friends if I were to move back to New Zealand.
(If this or anything else I write heads toward the realm of neuropsychology it’s because I’ve been reading Oliver Sacks’ book, “Musicophilia” before bed every night. He talks about how parts of the brain change with use - e.g. more motor parts lighting up with practicing an instrument).
I’m beginning to wonder if people aren’t themselves purely by rehearsal. When I wake up and wonder what I should do about the tricky situation I’m currently in with Prof R’s disappearance (along with all the financial and insurance information for the thing) and the 16th of June deadline for Ethics, I wonder if that’s not a form of reminding myself that going back to sleep is not something I would usually do, as tempting as it is. When people in movies or in counselling say, “I can’t believe I did that. I just don’t do that kind of thing,” or “I’m just not that kind of person!” I picture them off in an alternate universe doing the things they do do or who they usually are over and over.
What do you think?
Meanwhile I’ve been excited about the world cup! Tonight having drinks with Claire on the top floor of Melbourne Central, I watched the opening ceremony on mute projected on the back wall of a dance floor. It’s strange, the faces of children and drummers and old people peering between bodies of people who couldn’t be more unrelated. I felt a bit old, watching live streaming in that kind of environment, like one of the stoic men who stood drinking beer (check!) and watching a game while their girlfriends flitted about chatting.
Soccer always evokes memories of my grandparents coming over to ours, staying up late and agonising over goals.
Brazil, Argentina, Germany….screw Spain. :) I need a TV. Trying to stream the South Africa-Mexico game live was (and is) a nightmare. (Normally it’d be clear Mexico would win, but since it’s the opening game and therefore against the home side, it’s hard to say — wait it turned into a draw. Go figure).
Belated happy graduation for last month to all the people ending their tertiary life in Auckland, and good luck for exams Been. I have written you a reply letter to your lovely photo, I will post it when I see a post office. Look after yourself!
Melissa:Stressed. And grumpy. My project has come to an unexpected paperwork wall.
Steven:What does that mean?
Melissa:That means that R. was trying to sneak what was pretty much a clinical trial under low risk ethics and quality assurance. The ethics lady put her foot down, and now there's extra paperwork and a lengthy review process, as well as some other admin complicated by the fact that the company manufacturing the compounds gave us a bit of a grant. Therefore, there's added ethical issues.
Steven:If only they gave you cash.
Steven:In a brown envelope
Melissa:Under the table.
Steven:On a rainy day at the bar under the table
Melissa:Wearing black coats and sunglasses, despite the weather.
Steven:Not a black coat actually. That's a little too suspicious.