The final sprint

I’ve just completed my second to last placement as a medical student. The attendings who I was intimidated by all those weeks ago are now people I’ve gotten to know and people who I really respect and admire. I spent my last day laughing more than I have ever laughed in the last few weeks… a perfect end to this placement.

It’s been horrific meeting new patients who have stayed on for weeks. You get to know them as a person so when things suddenly go from bad to worse, you can’t help but feel for them. I guess you get somewhat emotionally invested… which isn’t a bad thing… it probably helps the patient to know that you’re not just a healthcare provider… you’re actually a human being who cares and who has empathy for them.

I haven’t been feeling very reflective over the last weeks and I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s because I’m living more fully in the moment now.

I now have 6 more weeks of medical school to go, and then I’m off on my elective!

Being human

The other day my superior said ‘I didn’t think you’d take that long’ after I clerked in a patient. I replied ‘haha, yeah that’s because I always end up having a conversation with the patient about their life. It just ends up happening that way’ Obviously I won’t have time for that when I’m a real doctor. And maybe it’s unprofessional. But when the patient encourages you to keep going and congratulates you after you’ve stuck a needle in their arm several times like a pin cushion because they have no veins, or greets you by name with a smile when they see you after they’ve come back all drugged up from an emergency surgery, I think it’s worth it. We are all human after all, and connecting with one another is just a part of being human.

Uncertainty

The last few weeks have been really interesting. Whenever you meet new people you get this wonderful opportunity to interact with different minds. Every time I meet someone new, the conversation always winds up being about my career aspirations and what I want out of life.

‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ is a question that I get asked often, and it is one that I ask myself often. To be able to answer it you need to have a degree of certainty about where your future is headed so that you can make decisions right now that will pave the way there.

I used to think that I knew where my future was headed… I had plans about when I wanted to get married, when I wanted kids, and how my future career would have to be flexible enough to allow for all of this. But in the last few weeks, after meeting some amazing people, having my love for medicine be reignited again and having intriguing conversations with insightful people, I have realised that there is so much about the world, about myself, and about life that I do not yet know.

I used to be so sure of myself, I used to know what I want. Having certainty and having a vision brought me great comfort in a world that can sometimes be a scary place. But now I am slowly realising that nothing in life is certain… and I’m ok with that. Uncertainty can be both exhilarating and frightening. But that’s life isn’t it? I cling to the intangible things that I value… these things do not lead me on a straight and narrow path to the future, but rather they act as a compass; guiding me through the winding passages of life.

Possibilities

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I have a crush on someone.

How unexpected!

He’s totally not my type. I didn’t even realize that I had a crush on him until a few days after not working with him. I realized that I had laughed so much in his presence, and I liked all of that laughing and being around someone who made me laugh.

Crushes are funny things though… I don’t ever feel inclined to pursue a person that I have a crush on because I don’t know them. There’s something about them that I like… Something about them that draws me to them… but that’s it. I admire from a distance and let my imagination run wild at the possibilities.

And it’s the possibilities that make having a crush nice. Maybe like me, you recently had your heart broken and you know that realistically there are billions of men in the world so you will meet someone some day. But deep down, you feel like that will never happen.

So when you meet someone unexpectedly and you have a crush on them, it feels nice because it’s a reminder that there are indeed lots of nice people out there; and that is an exciting thought!

It’s a reminder that when you wake up in the morning, it’s a new day. It’s a day of possibilities. It might well be a day where you turn up to work and go about your usual routine… but not every day is the same. It could be the day when your life changes. It could be the day when you meet someone who comes into your life and stays forever.

 

 

Just be

As someone who habitually reflects on situations, I think that there are times when we don’t need to reflect so much.

I’ve been feeling so good lately, and I keep wondering why. It’s my mind’s way of identifying the cause in preparation to remedy less happier times ahead. But feelings are transient like the waves; they come and go; a constant ebb and flow.

So when you feel good, just allow yourself to enjoy the moment that you’re in. Soak it all in.

There is no need to analyze or categorize how you feel.

Just be.

The good and bad

The novelty of attending a birth never wears off, no matter how many times you have seen it happen. Whether you’ve been there since the labour started and gotten to know the parents, or you’re in theatre when they wheel a woman in for an emergency caesarean… seeing a baby take its first breath when it enters the world, welcomed by doting parents who greet them with tears, so in awe of the precious life that they created… that’s something so incredibly special to witness…

As a student I feel so grateful for parents who generously share precious and very intimate moments of their lives with someone they’ve never even met before.

In medicine we are so fortunate to see things you wouldn’t get to see in any other profession. But it isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. Death, dying and suffering are the other things that we also see. I was in theatre for a surgery on a young man only a few years older than me, and I could see all of the metastatic deposits of tumour on his liver. I saw another mum who was crying inconsolably because she had lost her baby… again.

This is life… there’s good and there’s bad. Are we fortunate to see the bad things as well? I wouldn’t say that. I would say we are ‘privileged’. It is a privilege to be there with people in the most intimate moments of their lives. As a human being being it is a privilege to be present for another human being’s life experience, there to be whoever they need you to be.

It is in those moments where beautiful things can also emerge; resilience, bravery, determination, compassion, hope, peace, understanding and kindness… It’s almost like a re-birth, when a person has been changed or learnt so much from their suffering and illness experience that they become somewhat enlightened.

If we didn’t know all the bad stuff, perhaps we wouldn’t be able to appreciate the beauty in the good, as well as the bad.

Crushing on Wentworth Miller

As a 14 year old the meaning behind this was literal. I would sit in front of the screen and stare in awe of the beauty that was before me, captivated by good-looks and a great storyline. Who was Wentworth Miller? To me he was simply the man who played Michael Scofield. That was all.

Ten years later ‘crushing on Wentworth Miller’ has taken on a new meaning… Instead of an infatuation with a fictional character, it is now an admiration of the person, the story, the vulnerability of the human being. Who is he? Wentworth Miller is a human being who has struggled with mental illness and is now using his fame as a platform to advocate for mental health and wellbeing.

A few weeks ago one of his notes appeared on my Facebook newsfeed. I read it, completely in awe of how he articulated his struggle with mental illness and suicidal ideation. The 14 year old me would have never guessed that someone like him could be affected by mental illness… But his story reinforces the fact that just as anyone can be affected by cancer, so too can anyone be affected by mental illness.

There continues to be a lot of stigma that surrounds mental illness. People who have never gone through the struggle themselves or know people who have, don’t understand how someone can be clinically depressed or experience other symptoms for no reason whatsoever. This is why people continue to suffer in silence. This is why people die. Suicide is a symptom of a horrible disease.

But when someone like Wentworth Miller opens up, makes himself vulnerable and bares his soul for the world to see… that’s when those people who are suffering in silence have a voice. That’s when they know that their struggle is real, that they shouldn’t feel ashamed, and that people want to help them.

I can only imagine how many Prison Break fans, how many LGBT, how many young men, how many PEOPLE have had their lives changed because of his posts. I wonder how many mothers, fathers, brothers or sisters and friends have read his posts and finally grasped just how debilitating and REAL mental illness is.

Finally, Wentworth Miller has also started (or partaken) in a #selfcare movement where he posts, and encourages people to post what they did for selfcare for the day. It’s a reminder to pause in the busyness of everyday life and do something simple that makes us feel good. Additionally he invites everyone to post honest and frank comments… Facebook automatically hides negative comments but he unhides them so that he can acknowledge the honesty and address misconceptions that people may have with grace and humility.

Crushing on Wentworth Miller should therefore be re-worded to ‘Admiration for Wentworth Miller’. A voice for the silent sufferers of mental illness, and a story to fill in the blank pages of mental illness for many.

Right place, right time

On my first emergency room shift this week, I saw a woman with a peculiar presentation…

She had seen many doctors previously who were unable to give her a diagnosis, and by her accounts they dismissed her condition as being psychological and therefore recommended counselling. Of course, she continued to experience her symptoms, only now with greater uncertainty.

This was a woman who had experienced more loss, grief and personal suffering than most people experience in their entire lifetime.

So her symptoms which occurred on a daily basis served as a constant reminder that something was wrong, but no one could tell her what that something wrong was. Her mind would often wander to the dark stretches of her imagination.The possibilities were endless. Maybe she had cancer? Maybe she was mentally unwell? Maybe she would die in the same manner as those who she loved had.

And this was when she shared her testimony with me.

In a busy emergency room, with curtains drawn for privacy but not sound-proof in the slightest, she told me about how she had thought about killing herself in her darkest times. She had prayed to God, asking Him if she could be with her loved ones again… this was her way of asking to die. She did not know that her polite and non-explicit request would be taken literally. In her dream that night, she saw all of her loved ones. When she woke up she couldn’t move for a few moments, adding to the bizarre experience that she just had (this phenomenon is likely something called ‘sleep paralysis’) and she felt an overwhelming sense of peace, knowing that her loved ones were safe, giving her the will to live again.

These new symptoms made it hard for her to have peace, however. She had been praying constantly for God to help her. But last night she was at her wits end and needed to do something about it. I told her that she had an amazing testimony and thanked her for sharing it with me. She told me that most people who she had shared it with had thought that she was crazy.

In the end she did have medically unexplained symptoms so I took the time to talk this through with her. I also told her about the relationship of these symptoms with anxiety and encouraged her to see her family physician about it, as many people experience similar things.

It’s funny how you can be at the right place at the right time. As someone who also has a testimony that has no basis in reality, I was able to understand and be in awe of hers. As a student, I was able to spend a long time talking to her, which is what she needed. She had been dismissed by many doctors who had told her that her symptoms were all psychological, but then didn’t have the time to explain it thoroughly, leaving her thinking that she was crazy. Had she been seen by a busy ER doctor, I’m not sure what her experience would have been like. She may have continued to spiral on this course of anxiety.

Note: Time is a very precious and limited commodity in medicine. The workload that doctors have can mean that they are very time-pressured and therefore unable to offer extensive explanations to patients. It’s not their fault, rather it is a problem with the system. Empathy I hope, can always be demonstrated regardless of time.

 

 

The hole in my heart

My faith in God is a huge part of my identity. I’ve got a God-shaped hole in my heart, and I’m (almost) complete when I make God number one in my life.

My recent experience with heartbreak has demonstrated this to me.

In my first year of university I moved cities and had to do long distance with my highschool boyfriend. He was always there for me when I had fights with my friends or there were problems in my family. He loved me when I didn’t love myself. He was my confidante and I was his. But as time went on he gradually became distant, and eventually he dumped me over Facebook.

Man I was such a wreck. It took me years to get over… to the point where I still have to control my feelings today. But I know that those feelings come from a vulnerable place… I would even go so far as to say it comes from a dangerous place.

Now when my recent relationship ended (my first and only relationship in my 20s), I felt a sadness that affected me on a visceral level. I was in bed for five days, crying inconsolably… I even thought about overdosing… your mind can wander to dark corners that you never knew existed when you’re sad. But after these five days I was fine and I had perspective because I had previously been strong in my faith.

It surprised me so much that as a 20 something who had learnt a lot from her previous relationship and was now ready to marry this man, that I could feel so OK and have amazing perspective, trust and faith in God just five days after having my heart broken! Surely, something like this should be WORSE than my first heart break?

And that’s when I realised… Although it was painful at first… a normal grief reaction… it wasn’t the end of the world for me because my identity didn’t rest in our relationship. The God-shaped hole in my heart wasn’t filled by this man… it was filled by God. And my broken heart could be easily restored by God Himself.

My first heartbreak has left dangerous emotions dormant because my identity rested in that relationship. He validated me, his love and affection gave me a sense of worth. So when it was over, I felt worthless and broken and lost. Even though I loved him, it was unhealthy. It was a type of dependency and idolatry. It was a selfish kind of love, where I sought to get his affection and approval. I was easily jealous (and still am) if I thought his eye was wandering. And he would often lose his patience with me and assume the worst.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Whenever I have romantic feelings, I make sure to check it against God’s definition of love. Equally, I also assess how a man behaves towards me and see if it is in line with what the Bible says. Clearly, none of my relationships have involved two parties whose love aligns with God’s definition of love (although it can never really truly be that way as no one is perfect, but it can be close!). And that makes sense to me! That’s why they didn’t work out. (I think it’s a good definition of love even if you aren’t Christian)

If I could go back in time, I would tell my 18 year old self to find my identity in something whole… like God… instead of something broken… like a human being.

The fact is, we are all pretty broken so we need to have a strong sense of identity in order to complement someone else in a relationship. For me, I’m made whole by God. He gives me strength to persevere through the valleys of life.

What shapes your identity?

Love letters to your child

As a medical student who happens to be a young person, I’ve found that the non-medical aspects of my degree influence my life just as much as the medical side.

We had to follow up a child with a chronic illness for a year in order to appreciate the context, family and social struggles behind them. My child happened to be adopted. Basically, his birth mum had a lot of issues and wasn’t able to look after him so she felt that he would have a better life being put into foster care as soon as he was born. His now mum (who adopted him when he was a baby and has raised him since) gave me his baby book and a photo album of his milestones because she thought that it might have information that would be helpful for my presentation.

She is one of the nicest people I have ever met, and her child is just delightful… And it’s no surprise because he has grown up in such a loving family. His mum said to me ‘sometimes when he’s sleeping I look at him and think what his parents have missed out on. They have no idea’.

As I read through his photo album and baby book, I just expected it to be a record of his development. But I was touched to find that it was actually a little diary… filled with sweet little messages, like a big compilation of love letters to their new child. “You have been in our family for eight weeks now and have settled in really well. We love having you in our family and hope you will always be with us. You are a happy wee baby, now you are sleeping through the night after many unsettled nights. We are so glad you feel settled with us. We love you very much… Mum, Dad, your brother”.

I was an emotional wreck after reading that! The unconditional love that a parent has for their child is so amazing and overwhelming!

I sent them a card at Christmas, along with my project and a present, thanking them for opening up their home and sharing their lives with me. I also told the mum that as a young woman, witnessing the love within a beautiful family like theirs really shows me what love is supposed to be like and gives me something to aspire to.

It also gave me an insight into adoption which is a whole other world. The degree of hurt and pain that a mother must go through when she gives up her child I simply cannot fathom. I’ve always thought that most babies were planned and come after marriage, but in reality most babies are unplanned and unexpected and parents don’t necessarily have to be ‘ready’ when they have them. Equally, the emotional turmoil of adolescence is compounded by issues of identity and belonging when a child grows up knowing that they are adopted. Of course, this is not my narrative to tell and by no means do I speak for adoptees.

But what I’ve learnt from following this child and his family is that love really can conquer all. Despite all the hurt that must have happened in his life, all the struggles that they have endured… all of it is outweighed by the love that now surrounds him. It’s a love that even an outsider like me can be so deeply touched by. And it’s so very inspiring.