It’s the close of autumn, but the sky is barely registering. Yesterday, the 21st of May, was amazingly warm - sunlight streaming through in the afternoon at the perfect angle for my second floor window. It’s then that the light’s brightest — the geometry of light, the geometry of how the sun folds down toward the horizon and my unassuming window.
Driving past a peculiar little centre with a thermometer in its front yard, I noticed it was 27 degrees outside. Twenty seven degrees! With leaves falling, the air thick, warmth like spring and summer on my skin. I wanted this to drag on for good. Ice cream melted on my tongue, my stomach craved prawn cocktails.
It was only this morning that I woke up and realised that yesterday was meant to have been the Rapture. It’s so overcast and wet — at first my thought had only been for my laundry, which I’d put off thinking that we’d have more of the same gloriousness today. It was only later, going online and filtering through all the articles from the US (a day behind us, vaguely, in time zones) that I found out.
Oh. Did I miss it? How weird it would have been to have actually slept through the end of the world, if it had been the end of the world that day.
I hate all those end-of-the-world jokes, by the way. The 2012 forecasts, the Rapture dates. Not that I’m a non-believer, because I don’t think it impossible for something greater than ourselves to exist; but I can’t let this go - life, breathing, everyday miracles.
Last Saturday I threaded my way through Federation Square where I’d parked to catch the tram to the medical careers expo and found myself at walking past a populated atrium. It was raining hard.
An occassional stream of tourists took shelter under the roof of the exit beside it before dashing down the stairs towards the Yarra and that’s exactly where I was when I found myself drawn to the sound of music, and all the red banners.
The atrium was large. I’d never been inside, only glimpsed it in passing from the carpark on days when I had reason to be in the city - an act at the International Comedy Festival with Catrina one evening, and on a separate occassion with Will. It was a function room, I’d gathered; it doubled as an auditorium. The glass all around gave the room natural light, even though the outside was grey.
A balcony lined one of the walls, overhanging the auditorium area. Soft pipe music and the sound of running water echoed everywhere, beyond the chatter of the crowd. I soon realised that they were all young families - prams everywhere, little people tugging on their parents’ and grandparents’ hand.
From the top of the balcony, I peered down, arms hanging over the glass rails. It was so bright - some stairs down and then a stage below us in an indent in the room. Always, the sound of leaves and trees; the calmness of living things. Tibetan monks in yellow and red robes, head shaved, were standing with welcoming arms under lights. An excited line started at the back of the room, and snaked up to the stage. Parents were bringing their children forward, full of pride. From everywhere they came, from all nationalities.
At the top of the line, a monk dipped what looked like a branch in water and sprinkled it onto the heads of babies and children. A pregnant mother and her two small children came up and he blessed her too, and her swollen belly. She ruffled the heads of her two children. They pressed their palms together and bowed - the little girls peered up shyly from their bangs. It made me cry, but I don’t know why.
Sound seemed to be rushing out of the room.
It kept raining.
How can you tell me that the world might end the following week, after that?
Last night I had the strangest dream that woke me at dawn with the most awful feeling. Stretched, empty, the sharp tangy taste of loss, fear and something else that somehow went beyond what was appropriate.
In my dream I’d lost a dinosaur. Don’t laugh. It was a small brontosaurus, if I recall. We — a small group of people and I — were lost in a strange jungle land, trying to find our way to something I no longer remember. Along the way we struggled to survive from snakes, to pits. The only thing comforting us from the dark was a dinosaur that came along with us, as equally out of place in the landscape as we were. In the dark or in the cold, I’d reach a hand and lay it on its torso and felt safe, grounded.
From the Asian forests, we fell off a cliff and into Amazonian rainforest, and suddenly we were in an Aztec fortress. Somehow or other the Aztec fortress turned out to be a modern day museum and in the gift shop, I made my mother (how did she get there?) promise to pack all my souvenirs with me so I could take them home. When she got back to our house after me — a home that I thought I’d never see again — all that she had were a few live snakes from the various regions we’d survived, which I had to kill — and a dried fang from a fossil. No dinosaur.
"Where is the dinosaur?" I asked.
"Oh." she’d said, devastated mostly because of the expression on my face. "It didn’t occur to me that you’d want that."
I woke with a deep, writhing ache that I hadn’t felt for a long time.
Only later, much later — after I’d gotten up to drink a glass of water and eat some toast; after I’d gotten up to fold my clothes, clean the sink — did I wonder if the dinosaur might have been a metaphor for something. The past, maybe. Because the past is a living, breathing thing. A brontosaurus.
The translated blog of an anonymous nurse who was sent first-on-scene of the Japanese Tsunami ruined area of Rikuzentakata, typed painstakingly from her phone.
Before they leave Tokyo, they are warned: “No matter what happens at the site, DO NOT CRY. We are not going there to express our sympathy. We are going there to provide nursing and medical care. If you think YOU want to cry, think about how much the people there want to cry. The tears of a rich medical team from Tokyo will only be bothersome or even insulting to them.”
Along the way, she sees many things, meets many survivors, breaks that promise, and gives hope to many other people in Japan reading.
Click here to read James McCurry’s article in The Guardian about this extra-ordinary blog.
It’s been so cold outside that I can feel pulsations in my fingers as the blood rushes full force back into them. Even the walk from my car to the front door is fraught with this silly chilliness, which I’d sat in for a few hours at a house-warming. The house was beautiful - like most little Richmond villas - with little flower pot lights on the wall of a back fence. My hair smells like smoke - the woodfire kind, which reminds me of the fireplace at my parents’ place that we sometimes roast marshmallows over.
It’s always good to be greeted with another weekend. A promise of sleep-ins, no surgery, time to catch up on the mountain of work to be done. I’m glad I overcame my usual home-bodyness to go and say hello to people I hadn’t seen for a while, although I was self-conscious with unwanted self-awareness. It’s all the surgeon’s fault. This afternoon, between cases, the [woman] surgeon, one of the theatre nurses and I were stuffing face with cookies and talking about which kind of school the theatre nurse should send her children.
The surgeon, a driven woman, who tends to have a military way of questioning students/interns/regs when she’s in teaching mode but who otherwise is rather nice, was saying how she moved schools a lot. The last school she went to was a private single sex school.
When discussing the risk/benefits of single sex schools, I commented: “Well. I think they’re good. But sometimes, girls tend to go kind of weird in them.”— I was thinking of, for example, those strange somewhat intimate [not in a sexual way] relationships between my old English teacher and a group of students who worshipped her. I’m pretty sure it’s not intentional on her part; I’d hope not, in any case. When I watched the film Cracks, I was reminded of it, although obviously reality is never as dramatic as the movie world.
She was an amazing woman though. I think there are a few lives who would have gone astray if it weren’t for her.
The surgeon went on a rant about them all of a sudden, becoming animated, about how when she landed up there in her later years she’d wanted to give everyone a reality check, and how people had no idea how to relate to men. And how they weren’t prepared to deal with the real world, which was an entire life struggling against men.
"I went to a single sex school," I said. "I guess for a while when I was 16, 17, I felt slightly uncomfortable around men/boys my age." It’s not that I didn’t know what to say. I was just nervous. Quiet. My family didn’t have many friends with sons my age — they were mostly younger, and our interactions weren’t on a same-age, peer level. I was always slightly shy though, at that age; it was probably more that.
"Have you recovered?" she asked. "Is it out of your system now?"
I opened my mouth to say yes. Then closed it. I mean, what do you say to a question like that? Any answer would imply I agreed that there was something strange about my education that required recovering from.
The tingle of self-awareness stayed with me all night. It’s strange how you notice more things. Like how a girl I hadn’t seen for a while was (taller than I’d remembered), or the hanging light, or the feel of wood in my palm as I leaned my weight on it; or trying not to tremour too much in the cold; or thinking of the to-do list for the next day, or being envious of someone’s boyfriend as he recounted his time in Africa.
Listening to people talk about their lives though.. I’ve missed that. It’s so hard to take the time to get to know someone completely these days. I like hearing people talk about their day, or their week — not even the interesting stories, but just the boring things. Like slow days, paperwork, stress, getting the last hot chocolate in the machine, making the right train by the skin of their teeth and being elated. My favourite phone calls now are the Sunday night ones, my father phoning up to tell me about his week in my mother’s absence (in China). How she’d taught him to make salad, how he’d added carrots and made it his own.
People are so interesting and lovely. J.Y. once said to me that by the time you got to her age (the 40s), you’d come to realise that everyone had something important and interesting to bring to your life no matter who they were or how they treated you. This was at one of those dinners last year when I was tearing my hair out about Prof R.
Since leaving the project, I feel like I’m slowly re-gaining my interest in medicine. My first rotation, I almost died of pleasure at finding doctors who I respected. Wholesome, genuine people. It’s like feeding a starving person. :)
“I’m here. I love you. I don’t care if you need to stay up crying all night long, I will stay with you. There’s nothing you can ever do to lose my love. I will protect you until you die, and after your death I will still protect you. I am stronger than Depression and I am braver than Loneliness and nothing will ever exhaust me.”—from ‘Eat Pray Love’ — Elizabeth Gilbert
Deep deep in the night, I’m working away at a case report. I’m embarrassed - it’s 8 weeks overdue and I feel like a lot of people had bee counting on it to be done 8 weeks ago. Two entire months. One sixth of a year. A long time.
Surgery is surprisingly good. Every morning, I drive half asleep on the freeway against traffic. The sun’s barely risen, so the city-bound traffic have their headlights up — a steady stream of ground-bound stars in the breaking dawn. My hands are drawn up in the cold, clutching the steering wheel trying to figure out where I’m going before I’ve even registered the day. The surgical office is filled one by one by team members peeling off winter jackets, gloves, scarves, hectically checking the list and updating the data.
It’s taken me 2 weeks to say that, 14 whole days lost to Easter (well. Not lost. Easter break was amazing) and the registrar telling me on the first day to shadow residents. Copious discharge summaries and scripts and waiting around for scan results later, I finally turned up to theatre, scrubbed in as first assistant and fell in love. With scrubbing into surgery, partly; but mostly with not doing residents’ jobs.
The team is lovely — those I’ve met anyway. One of the registrars I find hard to relate to, with his strange manner of speaking and intense asthmatic speech which makes me want to gulp for breath. One morning I had chest pain out of sympathy for his wheeze.. and even he seems nice. We try to lunch together when we can, even once out of hospital at a nearby Afghan place (they do the yummiest kebabs).
The consultants are mostly young (except my supervisor, who is greying) and joke around. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how much older and more knowledgable they are when they’re in scrubs. They look like registrars and fellows; they were registrars and fellows not that long ago.
As a team, I have to say, we’re a little acopic. As in, we function really well but it’s a puzzle as to how this actually happens. With three registrars and three interns, one would think that the division of tasks would be clear; however, it’s a free-for-all, despite clear allocations. The problem of being in an umbrella unit is that even though you’re assigned to certain patients under certain consultants, there’s an expectation that you’d know the other patients on your bed card despite having not really seen them. So of course everyone tries to be everywhere. It works. A controlled chaos of sorts. Barely.
But clearly something’s right. Patients leave us cards, chocolates. There’s a box of roses and ferns and a note from a previously discharged man, vases with single stems from goodness knows who in the nursing station. I eat the chocolate despite having done nothing in particular. The other junior doctors and I sometimes make rounds of the ward fridges looking for jelly and custard left over from the lunch and breakfast runs that the patients have refused.
This evening before I left, I lifted the dying pink roses from the fern arrangement, untied my hair and wrapped my hair tie around the stems until they were a naked bunch. I used a stray rope from where the registrars had been practicing their surgical knots and hung it upside down from the bookshelf to dry. A bunch of pink roses on the wall of the office. The fellow had laughed at me: “I thought you were throwing them in the bin,” he’d said. “What on earth are you doing with them?”
"I’m drying them," I smiled. "That way the petals will be upright and we can put them in a vase."
One of the registrars shook his head. “It’s a girl thing,” he said. “Don’t bother asking.” The same registrar has a thing for one of the interns… it’s really cute! He’s so subtle about it, but he asked me today if she was single, having asked one of the other interns the same question a few days ago too. It’s not everyday that someone can pull off that kind of thing without looking like a sleazy person. Probably says something about his character and the nature of his questioning that made it really sweet instead of gross :] Good luck to him.
I was just thinking today: Surgeons and medical people — in fact, any specialty — everyone has a different way of thinking, and that framework of thinking is so unique to that specialty that it misses things. Sometimes I think that if I were seeing the patient in one specialty with a specific set of symptoms and signs, my differentials would be so vastly different than another specialty. This is particularly true of surgery. Nobody thinks it might be gastroenteritis with generalised abdominal pain, diarrhoea, nausea, etc. Although I suppose by the time it gets referred to a surgical registrar to review, somebody’s hopefully excluded that diagnosis.
Proof that people can be like horses — have blinkers on, with the best of intensions. :)
P.S. OH! A huge congratulations to the graduating class of Auckland University Law School who had their ceremony yesterday! Amazing, amazing. <3