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.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Letter 704: Ten More Days

There is never a good time to leave. Each step forward means one more piece of you left behind: in the sun-lit kitchenette where making that perfunctory morning coffee also means making decent conversation with your workmates; in the workstation where doctors and nurses share a floating benchtop dedicated to piles of thick folders, scattered stationery that often got lost under stacks of paperwork, and wonderfully aromatic takeaway Indian food on nights when everyone was craving for butter chicken and naan; in the stalwart sterility of theatre where sometimes, if you are good, the surgeon will let you stream your playlist on his bluetooth speaker over his own playlist.

Maybe there is a way of leaving that wouldn't break your heart. And if there is, will you let me in on this?

Foggy mornings on the way to work.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Letter 703: Damage Control

The hunger pangs are making their presence known, wave after wave, like tides crashing ashore. It’s 12am. I’m cold, wet, tired, and just realising I'm starting to get hungry. Barely 2 hours before, we were driving along a well-trodden highway, with a sense of familiarity that has always guided us safely through these roads in the dark of the night. We haven't been talking, because we were in a heated discussion 24 hours prior, which resulted in each of us slunking to opposite ends of the room to lick our wounds. So in the car, we were swathed in a thick blanket of silence, until we heard a loud bang immediately after we saw a suicidal kangaroo leaping out from the bushes. It was too late for the brakes to kick in, and we had no choice but to pull over and assess the damage. 

2 hours later, after huddling in the cold rain waiting for the tow truck, we're home, driving out to the nearest McDonald's for food in his car. The shock that rippled through our bodies when we discovered the horrifying blow sustained by my car 2 hours ago had, in a strange way, pulled us back together again. But we were still restrained with our conversation. Yet, he needed no verbal communication from me to know that a cheeseburger and some chicken McNuggets were what I needed.

12.30am, we're home for the second time after our Macca's run. He sets the brown paper bag on the coffee table while I make us hot, steaming mugs of cocoa. He rummages through the bag and presses a warm burger to my palm. Then, with exquisite precision, he carefully peels off the cover of the plastic container of barbeque sauce, dips a golden nugget into it, and offers it to me. We turn on the TV and eat in ravenous silence, not really paying attention to the Tour de France streaming live, and not really paying attention to each other either. When we lick the last bits of salt off our fingers and drown our last drops of cocoa, we lean back against the couch and I rest my head against his shoulder while he puts his arm around mine.

So, we're good, after all.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Letter 702: 48 Hours On-Call

It's crazy. I don't know how the last 39 hours went by so quickly, but it did. Just like I don't realise how much time I've spent in this place, learning the art of medicine, and building a reputation for myself. I took a 12 month hiatus and upon returning, I am surprised that patients still remember me. Whether they've been my regular patients or not, they still come up to me and tell me how glad they are, knowing I'm back-- even till now, 6 months upon returning. I found out that some of my regulars have not seen a doctor during my hiatus, and only returned to see me as soon as they heard I was consulting again. One of my patients, who's health has been deteriorating, said to me yesterday, at Hour 16, "You are the best doctor I've had-- you kept me going!", and it breaks my heart to have to say to her that I'm leaving-- again. This time, for good. Another semi-regular patient, who is 70 but has the feisty nature of a 16-year-old, held my hands in her tiny, wrinkled palms at Hour 35 and said, "If anyone can do it, it's you", when I told her of my career plans. It seems I have been saying goodbye to most people in the last 39 hours, and maybe that's how it will be for the coming weeks in July-- short, no-frills goodbyes after a consult, and then leave, swiftly, quietly, without looking back.

Posted at Hour 40 in the doctor's on-call room.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Letter 701: Gingerbread House

You know when you're little and you make a wish on your birthday candle and don't tell anyone your wish because if you do, it won't come true? We probably still hold on to a lot of wishes, unspoken, unshared, buried in a pile of contemplation that we accumulated at the back of our heads some time after blowing out 18 candles on our birthday cakes. There is still much to be contended about this superstition of saying your wishes out loud, because even if we'd kept mum, some wishes still won't come true, and some of them never will. 

Which is why I've stopped wishing a long, long time ago. I was always wishing, always searching, always wanting, but never finding, never having. Instead, I've learnt to live with what I have, and reach for opportunities that come my way. I don't regret every decision I made, and I hope I never will. Like every twenty-something carving their own reality, I have stumbled, fell, cried, picked myself up, and changed directions, sometimes in the opposite way to where I was initially heading. I have braved tumultuous circumstances by listening to my heart rather than my brain, and I am ever so thankful I did that.

I sometimes wonder if it's us who find what we seek, or is it the other way round? Is it us who find our friends, or do they seek us out? Do we choose our life partners, or do they pick us out from a slew of bad dates? Do we choose to embark on a certain career path, or is it our careers who select us? Because it sometimes seem to me that all that I've done has led me to deviate from my original life plans, and I end up at this particular place, this particular moment, with this particular decision of changing my career. 

My friends secretly think I'm crazy for giving up my current job stability and taking a massive paycut, but bless their kind souls, they are all equally supportive too. I'm not giving up medicine, but I'm taking on another specialty, an entirely different field in which I had no prior experience up until 18 months ago. Which means I'm back to being a registrar this coming August, albeit one with three titles after my name. It also means more studying, more exams, and the demise of the lunch break. The Other Half has been extremely supportive of my decision, which astounds me because he keeps lamenting about my unenthusiastic outlook on having kids. I think he is secretly proud of me, but in all honesty, I couldn't have done it without his endless support. As for my parents, they've adopted their usual "do whatever you want as long as you're happy" approach, which may or may not have anything to do with my being here at this junction in time and space, with a slew of decisions made from the heart trailing behind me like breadcrumbs.

It's a long road ahead, after all, and I never want to forget how I came to be.