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.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Letter 707: Sick Day

Stayed under the covers till noon. Lounged around in an oversized sweater and fleece-lined pyjama pants. It’s supposed to be spring in this hemisphere, but the house is freezing, and the gentle drizzle laces the blades of grass with the kind of moisture you wish you had on your dry, cracked lips. Watched YouTube while having toast with peanut butter. Accidentally knocked my mug to the floor and it smashed into a hundred pieces of unrecognisable art form. Cursed at my carelessness. Swept up the broken pieces of ceramic while trying to deter my dog from lapping up the spilled cocoa. Went back to YouTube and trolled Tumblr for half a day. Popped a couple of panadol and made some green tea. Got mad at a friend on Whatsapp. Made up with said friend over the phone. Sometimes, technology doesn’t quite convey the emotions and meanings behind our words. Cried at a post on friendship written by the amazing and inspiring Caroline. Got my Marc by Marc Jacobs watch in the mail, but was too lethargic to be excited over my recent purchase from Shopbop. Made chicken soup for dinner, the kind your mom used to make when you were sick. Felt better after drinking soup and having yesterday’s leftover noodles for dinner. Made more green tea, the kind that reminds you of home, of sipping on dainty teacups while talking about everything and nothing on the porch. And then crawled back into bed, while the rain continues to fall.

Originally published here on Oct 23, 2013. Publishing it again because I'm hacking my lungs in half and blowing my brains out through my nose so much such that I had to start myself on antibiotics because this stupid URTI doesn't seem to get any better over the last 10 days. What is it with public health that I seem to get sick every year??

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Letter 706: Quiz

In which of the following specialty training do you get to eat a cheese sandwich at 3 in the morning with your consultant, while waiting for the retrieval team to pick up your very sick patient so that your patient could be air-lifted to a tertiary centre?

a. Rural General Practice
b. GP Anaesthetics
c. Anaesthetics
d. All of the above

In which of the following specialty training do you get to take a selfie with your consultant while wearing sparkly wide-rimmed party glasses procured from the departmental teddy bear belonging to the Radiology Department while hanging out in the Radiology Department while your consultant does a "Yeah baby!" pose while waiting for your patient to get an X-ray?

a. Radiology
b. Psychiatry
c. Paediatrics
d. Anaesthetics

In which of the following specialty training do you get to have the day off after an overnight's oncall?

a. General Medicine
b. Rural General Practice
c. Anaesthetics
d. Surgery

In which of the following specialty training do you get to call your consultant "Dude" instead of "Dr. So-and-so"? 

a. Anaesthetics
b. General Practice Not Otherwise Specified
c. Paediatrics
d. Neurosurgery

In which of the following specialty training do you get to say to your male nurse assistant, "I want to play with your tubes", and get away with it? 

a. Urology
b. Obstetrics and Gynecology
c. Anaesthetics
d. Gastroenterology

Please submit all your answers to Answers will be provided once the administrator finishes her weekend 72 hour oncall shift. She will be marking all the answers on her day off post-call.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Letter 705: Yonder

It's August. August holds lots of promises. At least, for me. It may have something to do with August being my birth month, but August was always special to me. Many a strange-yet-exciting things have happened in August, and I cannot even begin to put it all into words, but believe me, August is a magical month.

Today, on the first day of this fascinating month, the only words uttered would be goodbye. It will be a farewell of sorts, a peculiarly bittersweet ending to an era of being a primary care physician where patients invest enormous faith in your capabilities to look after them, to ensure they don't fall sick and fall apart, and if they do, to have the ability to piece them back together. Come first Monday of August, I will be working in a different capacity, in a role that is comfortably familiar yet feels excitingly new to me. I shouldn't be nervous, yet at times I feel like I have cold feet, although I am frankly quite elated about this new role. I know, I am a mixed bag of confused feelings, but isn't that normal when one goes through a major change in life? 

As cliche as it sounds, time flies. 6 years in med school and now, 6th year as a doctor. Where did all that time go? Did I miss something along the way? Even that song Alejandro is now four years old, but it's still fresh in my head like yesterday. Yesterday I was there, but today I'm here, and tomorrow I'll be over yonder. Where's yonder? Yonder is between here and there.