Thursday, October 23, 2014

Letter 712: Private Conversations in Public Places

There is a Gentle Giant in town that every one fears, loves and respects at the same time. His 7-foot frame towers over most dwarfy townsfolk, and his booming voice commands instant attention. Yet for all his gargantuan physique and seemingly contumelious demeanor, he is actually a softie who makes clown faces at toddlers and is an invaluable teacher in the observations of human life:

Lesson 1
On the passing of meconium and the subsequent splatter of fecal material all over the sheets during a routine vaginal delivery, and my aghast reaction to it:

"Don't worry Junnie. It's just Vegemite."

(Yeah, except Vegemite tastes better -__-)

Lesson 2
On the benefits of having 2 cars:

"So, Junnie, I had a flat tyre as I was coming outta my driveway."
"So I heard. Did you change the tyres?"
"Nah, I just changed my car."

Lesson 3
On the Psychosomatic Back Pains that come in full of angst, wanting repeat scripts for narcotic analgesics and/or specialist referrals:

"So, about that lady with the back pain..."
"She's mad."

"Oh, you know the guy who wanted a referral to see the neurosurgeons...?"
"He's mad, too."

Lesson 4
On the failure to retrieve a baby via Ventouse suction from a primigravid woman's birth canal:

"Aaaahhh... FUCK!!!"

Lesson 5
On me being too hard on myself for missing a potentially fatal diagnosis:

"Jun, we all make mistakes. Look, I make mistakes too, but with my experience, I may make less mistakes, but nevertheless, I still make mistakes. We make mistakes because we're tired, we've had a long day, it was an unusual presentation, or, like you, we haven't got much experience. In time, you'll learn that no doctor is perfect, much as we all like to be."

Lesson 6
On me inducing a vasovagal reaction after attempting to insert a cannula into a guy:

"Young lady, do you always make men pass out in your presence?"

Lesson 7
On the mushrooming of speed cameras in town lately:

"Jun, beware of speedos."
"Well, do you want another speeding ticket in the mail?"
"Oh... you mean speedos as in speed cameras, not the swimming trunks!" *facepalm*

David Duchovny in Speedos that are now worthy of its place in the Smithsonian. #hotdamn

Lesson 8
On the dangers of being a surgeon:

"Surgeons don't know how to treat diabetes; they don't know how to treat asthma-- all they know is how to cut up a lesion or a body part, and leave the bloody mess to the physicians!"
"And your point being...?"
"Jun, Jun, Jun... I'm afraid you're starting to become one! Ain't that scary!?"

Lesson 9
On handling stoic, obstinate German stock:

"He's German, and you don't tell Germans what to do. They tell you what to do... So he wants to see Dr. L instead of Dr. W? Fine. Refer him to Dr. L then."

Lesson 10
On managing the pediatric patient:

"Most of the time, you don't really treat the kid. The key is to treat the parent."

Lesson 11
On managing hyperchondriac/ overanxious patients or those with significant fixation of symptoms:

"... In addition to her UTI, she's also got significant fecal impaction, which I think is most likely the cause of her constipation as there's no history to suggest other causes. Are you happy to give her Microlax (enema)?"
"Nah, just give her some Augmentin Duo Forte-- she'll probably get diarrhea and that'll settle her constipation as well as her UTI."

NB 1: I wrote this piece in my intern year, under the tutelage of a mentor who would later have a profound influence on my career choice.

NB 2: I've had this post in my Drafts for almost 5 years and have refrained from publishing it till now, not because I had anything else to add (what you're reading is exactly the same from 5 years prior when this post first materialised), but because there were 11 Lessons and the Obsessive-Compulsive Perfectionist in me didn't like how there was 11 Lessons and not 10, 15, or 20. 

NB 3: So why am I publishing it now? I realised my last few posts sounded quite sombre, so I wanted to make you laugh. 

NB 4: Are you laughing? Why not? At least I know how to manage diabetes now. And asthma. Pfft.

NB 5: And also because I kinda miss this specialty and all the lessons it has to teach. Especially Lesson 5.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Letter 711: Carrying On

There are days when you just want to listen to a whole playlist of sad songs just so you can cry. Days when you feel like one cup of coffee is not enough, so you have another, and another, and another, and before you know it, you've had your 5th cup by 2 in the afternoon, and you're still yawning away. There are days when you are so exhausted to the point where you cannot sense your limbs, and you walk, disjointed, like a zombie whose legs are leading its torso down corridors assaulted by the stench of blood and urine, and haunted by the ghosts of people long dead from the endlessly futile effort at saving them. There are days when your mind becomes an empty sphere, devoid of all ability to focus, because it's been overflowing with all sorts of topics you've had to study for, and yet it's telling you that this is not enough, that you should have, and could have, done more. There's always more to do, more to learn, more to remember. And there are days when your heart tells you you're doing the right thing, and that deep down you're a good and kind and strong person and that although you can't change the world, you harbour the hope that one day, the world might change just that little bit, and that people will start to become more understanding instead of shouting at each other across the operating table, and that people will help another human being in need because it is in our nature to reach out to the helpless, instead of demanding for something in return. There are days when you sort of lose faith in your fellow human beings because they are so horridly self-centred, and then there are days when you sort of lose faith in yourself because where has all this kindness led to? To nothing but deeper cuts to your fragile heart. 

Today is one of those days.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Letter 710: Late Nights/Early Mornings

I sometimes have this irrational, inexplainable feeling that something bad is about to happen. A fear of the unknown. And lately, it has been bothering me a lot more than usual, but the annoying thing is, I don't know why, and I don't know how to swat it away like a summer fly. It's been eating away at my diligence and sucking my energy levels dry, so much so that come weekends, I'd wake up in bed early, fall asleep again, wake up at the first rays of the sun, fall asleep again, and wake up when the sun is harshest at noon. And then I'd hate myself because I'd wasted the whole morning in bed. It's almost as if I'd fallen into a tunnel of my own undoing, a dark, narrow hell hole in which the light is a million miles away, and I can only pretend I've morphed into a field mouse again, tunnelling my way through the darkness with trepidation and a small sliver of hope that I'd find my way out, once more, a little scarred, but at least overall, a whole lot stronger. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Letter 709: An Ode to McDonald's

Disneyland may be the happiest place on earth, but if there is one happy place in my world, it is McDonald's, birthplace of the Happy Meal and pleasantly soggy shoestring fries.

I came to this particular conclusion on a particularly disheartening Friday night when, at merely ten-past nine, every local establishment we went to in search of a late dinner was met with the phrase "I'm sorry, our kitchen's closed". The bartender at the local pub was a little more gruff as he uttered these words while wiping down the carefully polished oak counter, whereas the bright-eyed bespectacled waiter with the magenta hair at the local bakery was a little more rueful, apologising for the fact that he could only serve us desserts and nothing savoury from the kitchen.

Tired, grumpy, and having no other choice for chow except for fast food, this was how we found ourselves pulling up at McDonald's and stepping into its brightly-lit entrance, which is always a welcoming sight for hungry souls from all walks of life. The idea of eating fast food (again) repulsed me, but we had no food in the pantry, and the only other alternative was to whip up some instant noodles at home, which neither of us were keen because we were both exhausted after a long day at work. So it was either going to sleep on an empty stomach, or going to bed with a full-fat meal digesting in the pits of my belly overnight. Neither option appealed to me, so that made me even more grouchy than Oscar the Grouch. What the hell kind of a Friday night is this when you can't even find any food at 9pm at night? Not even bar snacks FFS! 

As soon as I stepped into McDonald's, though, something magical seemed to have instilled a renewed sense of joy in my sullen core. Although I wouldn't refer to 9pm as "late", I have spent many a late-night in various McDonald's across various locations in Australia-- this one included-- chowing down on grease that may have contributed to my increasing LDL levels but making memories that will last a lifetime: post-clubbing, post-birthday celebrations, post-drinking sessions, post-accidents, post-oncalls, during oncalls, pre-exams, post-exams. I have also spent a portion of my daylight hours growing up in McDonald's: there was the first McDonald's my mother took me to (at Gurney Drive), the McDonald's where I celebrated my 16th birthday with the person who would later become my husband (on Ipoh Road), the McDonald's where I first experienced a McCafe coffee (Hindley Street), and then there were the various McDonald's in which I stepped in just to buy a chocolate sundae on warm summer afternoons, or the ones which served as pit-stops for coffee breaks along the stretch of unending country highways during our regular road trips. 

Capitalisation and commercialisation have, to a certain extent, created a safe haven in my world, a place where happy memories are conjured alongside Happy Meals, a place I could count on to curb my hunger pangs when every other place has failed to do so. It is a place where I seldom see any unhappy children, and it is a place where adults can retreat to for a quick catch-up over coffee, or just to have some me-time flipping through the newspapers and sipping on Diet Coke. It is a place where school boys bring school girls out on dates, and it is a place for school kids to study. It is a place that appeals to the young and the old, and in that, it is a place dear to my heart. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Letter 708: The Way We Laughed

This morning, I washed down the last 2 capsules of my antibiotics with a mouthful of water and dashed to work, late, but more like a "Hey, but it's Friday!" kind of late. I am still coughing, so hard to the point where those who have been inflicted with the same illness would throw me a cursory sympathy glance, and those who are lucky enough to be well would avoid me like the plague. Though today had been one of my better days at work, I still felt something was amiss. It's this feeling that's instinctual, primitive, a fight-or-flight kind of radar that goes off in my head but not knowing when the threat will strike. Suddenly, it's not about being sick anymore, but about being alert, and aware of the changing nature of human relationships. I could cough up a few issues of concern, but I think I've coughed up enough crap for the last 2 weeks, so let me just say that for now, I am putting my Spotify playlist on shuffle of all the songs I listened to in primary school and high school-- songs that remind me of the many variations of my former selves-- and I am going to frame every fiasco with the words, "In five years, will this matter?" 

Because the things that matter would be the experiences fondly recalled by someone saying "Do you remember that weekend you turned 30 and we all took this spontaneous trip to Melbourne...?", thereby eliciting a whole lot of other things that matter: dinner at a hotel restaurant and cake and cocktails at our local bakery/cafe/bar on the Friday night, test-driving the ML350 on the Saturday morning, that 6-hour drive to Melbourne in the afternoon just so that we could make it in time for dinner and drinks with some crazy friends of ours, late-night conversations at Izakaya Den way past midnight, a late lunch the next day at Bistro Guillaume with French beer and French fries and a French waiter who speaks Cantonese, the long walk to Tiffany's for a pair of pearl earrings, a hurried dinner of pho at Richmond, and then another 6-hour drive back home. 

You see, this is the stuff that matters: the love, the happiness, and the way we laughed.