Sunday, July 16, 2006

22 years on....& still no regrets!

16 July 1984.

that's a loooong time ago unless you're an astronomy buff. but for most people, a whole generation could reproduce itself in that time span. a child born on that date would today be in the final year of varsity, or even a malaysian idol!

anyway, that was my very 1st day at work. imagine if you will, a bespectacled, starry-eyed houseman in a white coat, brimming with lofty ideals but totally unprepared to face an unforgiving world, & about to be let loose on those unsuspecting patients. then you know why you should be grateful that you did not seek treatment at penang general hospital on that day. ha ha, i jest. yes, i looked "blur" & yes, i had lofty ideals (yay, to save the world but i've mellowed a lot since discovering my own mortality) but we, my freshly-graduated colleagues & i, were closely supervised on our clinical rounds by the seniors & the head of department, aka "the boss". so began a journey to live out my imagination & fantasies, my dream & ambition. come forth, you vicious bacteria & vile afflictions, for a new hero has emerged to battle you to the bitter end.......ha ha, it sounds so surreal!

to be a doctor was one of my career options when i was still in shorts & playing one-leg in school. but then, i also wanted to be a mechanic (because a family outing was once cancelled because my father couldn't start the car), a bus conductor (i thought the slingbags for coins & the ticket-clipper were cool - i still have some of the used bus tickets i've kept all this while at my parent's place) as well as a ma+hema+1c1an (because i once achieved 100marks for maths in primary school). but as the years rolled on, as i became more comfortable with additional maths, physics & chemistry, & as i mixed with like-minded classmates in the 6th form, it became increasing obvious that pursuing an engineering degree was a natural decision. a no-brainer, so to speak. before long, we were debating the merits of doing the course at the various local/regional varsities. my classmate the top student was eventually awarded a scholarship from esso to pursue his degree at london's imperial college. francis, wherever you are..... you the MAN!!

for me, i back-peddled & unashamedly reneged on our earlier consensus. call it a betrayal, an epiphany or simply seeing light at the end of a tunnel. oh yes, maybe i should add "career suicide" to that list - how else can i explain taking up medicine when i can't stand the sight of blood & biology is my archilles heel? & don't get me started on needle-phobia!!

well, the 1st 2 years, traditionally called the pre-clinical years (where teaching was done via lectures/tutorials, lab work & the dreaded dissection room - i still can't decide which is worse : cutting up the ghastly-looking cadavers or the pungent sting of formalin on the nostrils) were, simply put, tough years. how else can it be described when there's just loads of facts & names to commit to memory, & more than half of these would cease to be useful & then be vanquished to the back-burner years later??

the subsequent 3 clinical years were more relevant to the actual practice of medicine - we dealt with real people (the patients) in the clinics & wards. oh yes, i mustn't forget to mention it was here that we 1st had our encounters with those "angels of mercy", the nightingale apprentices, or in layman's terms, the student nurses. they sure helped us get by some difficult times. ha ha.

before long, what was perceived to be 5 long years of hard work & sacrifice finally came to pass, & there we were, standing tall at the threshold of the real world, promising to put into practice the noble art of healing, & above all, to do no harm. i still vividly remember the 1st day as a houseman. despite the initial doubt & delibration over the decision to embark upon, for most part, an unplanned choice of career, i am convinced now that i did not commit an error of judgment. i'd like to think that in the course of my job through the years, i've managed to uncover & nurture inner traits like compassion & empathy, which i never knew existed within. my dear ex-classmate PK was uncannily clairvoyant when she quoted william blake in my autograph book at the end of 6th form :

God bless you, PK!!
In any case, that still hasn't lessened my fascination for the bus conductor's job....

(note : these bus tickets were saved from the good old days when 5 & 10sen fares were the norm. the monopoly board is the same one mum bought me when i was 12 & in my dreams, i still own mayfair & park lane!!)

Monday, July 03, 2006

angels on earth

last week i saw with my own eyes what i've always believed & possibly what generations of parents have vehemently acknowledged. children are a blessing & you get double dose if you have daughters. 2 touching instances of filial piety prompted me to write this blog.

the 1st is a 89year old great-grand mother who has a tumour of the bowel which required urgent surgical removal. she has not been in good health for a few years & the surgery would be deemed life-threatening but necessary. after much delibration & discussion with the family members, it was unanimously agreed upon to proceed. all possible scenarios were elaborated, the best-scene being a complete recovery & eventual discharge from hospital to live happily ever after, to the worst which is a death on the operating table. as in most things in life, this event took the middle path - a successful & complete removal of the tumour but the dear old lady got bogged down with her pre-existing heart problem.

3 of her grand-daughters flew back from the US, Canada & UK respectively . they fed & cleaned her, talked to her during her lucid spells & each took turns at keeping virgil by her bedside at other times. they were the ones who spoke with the doctors, & enquired of her condition & prognosis. even though she didn't get better, the grand-daughters showered her with love & compassion right till the very end, endorsing a very special relationship that can only be borne out of years of unwavering loyalty, consuming kindness, constant pampering & pandering to whims & fancies - the stuff of sugar n spice & everything nice. a definite one-up for the sisters!

another tale of maternal dedication emerged the same week. a middle-aged woman was admitted to hospital for surgical treatment of a complication of her poorly-controlled diabetes. she also had a stroke recently which left her weak on 1 side & unable to speak. it was her daughter who took leave from work in another state to help nurse her through this difficult period. again, it was her daughter who helped feed & clean her, & stayed by her bed side. again, no sign of any male offspring.

so, my question is : where are the guys? maybe these older women never had sons or grandsons & maybe if they had, i sure dread to think that they were caught up at work or somewhere else in this world cup season, not when the matriach need them most. could it be true to tradition that boys are made of snips & snails & puppy dogs' tails??

there must be a song about women or daughters in the archives somewhere. was it john meyer who wrote about daughters? does he know something we don't when he sang...

"So fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers, be good to your daughters too."
words that ring true for all of us. i pray & hope that when i am on death's bed, my angels will shower compassion as they watch over me.