Every year on the date mother went into labor to bring me into this world, I pretend to be wiser than I am and write myself a letter for the year to come.
If that seems weird, you should meet me in person. I'm just peachy. =]
As much as I'd love to gift myself this, it's a transatlantic plane ride away. Oh well, this letter will suffice...
Note: Satirical. While spacing out in class sometime this week, I wondered what my thought process would look like when coming up with a differential diagnosis. Did my neuronal personas have whiteboards? Names? Completely unproductive side conversations? Probably.
“Our patient,” a greying Dr H said, doning his century old white coat as the clerk whispered didn’t they phase out those old things? as softly as she could muster. “Has hypertension, excessive acne, and asthma. What is wrong with him?”
Bespectacled Jace raised his sorry excuse of a hand even if he didn’t need to. “He’s lonely and can’t get a date. Probably depressed.”
“… Wrong… On all accounts. His wife has been here since dawn. You, Anson,” Dr H nodded at his most promising clerk yet.
“Autoimmune? Lupus?” if he means it as a joke, Dr H wasn't buying it. He wrinkled his brow and sighed.
Dr H’s wrinkles pressed further into his skin. How disappointing. “Anyone else?”
Jawn again—“Thyroid problem? Increased T3 and T4 could cause hypertension and cystic acne.”
“Thyroid hormone levels are normal,” Dr H nodded. “But good try. You deserve a pat on the back from yourself.”
Anson shoved his glasses up his nose bridge. “How old is he? Could be environmental. Toxic air, toxic food, toxic twenty-first century lifestyle.”
“This isn’t helping your lupus case, you idiot. It’s never lupus.”
“Corticosteroids,” Kale said. Dr H never took her name seriously, and usually took her answers less seriously than her name.
Today, however, Kale’s answer was “acceptable.” He asks her to go on.
“Primary asthma,” Kale began, staring down at her smart phone, “leading to chronic intake of corticosteroids. Hypertension could be drug-induced due to sodium and fluid retention. Increased sebum production from overactive glands (also induced by steroids) can cause the acne.”
“You googled that!” Anson complained.
Kale shrugged. “You didn’t.”
The gist of it: I've been trying to keep focused on the work at hand, but since I am here blogging versus actually popping open my textbooks, I am failing miserably at being a medical student.
So, without further pitiful ado, here's a short poem that reflects my perpetually distracted state.
I need to stop
I sincerely hope wherever you wander, you are doing a much better job at living than I am.
He avoids eye contact
as he explains the curse
of oak tree cracks
carved onto his cheeks
obscuring him from Prince Charming
into the ugly beast.
of unsightly-turned-beautiful futures,
discounting the allure
of sweet sap candies
behind bark façades;
forgets to trace
from the places he’s been
trace them for him:
until he believes himself a masterpiece
instead of an unworthy beast.
I've been soul searching (yet again) in the hopes that my decisions do not become regrets.
I wonder: if a woman is so keen to escape the monotony of her days, should she be somewhere else?
soothes the storm's shrill shrieks,
smooths the wrinkled sheets
of ocean waves
playing tug of war games
for no other reason
but their own amusement.
stirs sleeping birds,
their wings tucked
beneath self-imposed chains--
who have forgotten
And if they could escape,
would it be weakness of will
to forsake expectations
would it be a mistake
to be discontented,
to forsake the solid stability of land
for nature's promised thrill?
I form words at the tip of my tongue
And store it at the back of my throat.
They chandelier-light hang there:
The white elephant in the room
Only I am ever keenly aware of.
My conversations tip-toe about its periphery
As I attempt to make sense out of its difficult pronunciation.
Even alone, I can’t seem to get it rolling off my tongue,
Can’t help but stutter
And stumble over its syllables
As if fumbling about without my glasses
Completely blind to evidence shoved into my face.
The room I remain in
Has no one to notice.
They’re all too busy staring at heels
Clacking against the floor,
Staring at ribbons and laces
And masks carefully curated for this sole purpose.
I wonder if you will look up
At chandelier words,
Acknowledge their existence,
Transport me back to better times
When hope was more than just a dream
In my spare time.
My indecisive self has decided on both title versions... So this, I suppose, is my way of moving forward.
Remain treehouse secrets:
Seeds buried deep in bedrock chests
Not meant for cultivating gardens
Meant to bloom fully in the Summer.
Here, the water supply remains low
Despite storm clouds looming in the horizon.
Rain slides off smooth stoned willpower
Onto cement paved gutters.
Of the wilderness
In wistful longing
That is more our dream awake
The constant ache
For high arches
That echo whispered confessions
Fear held fast to our tongues
Before they escaped through sighs
The wind had drawn out of us
As our shoes clipped the cobblestone paths
That led us to crossroads.
I paperclip words to your shirt,
Pray they stay put
As you run
Through clawing branches
And careless roots,
Pray they stay put
Until you hang them up
By their collars
To air dry
Before new words
Are paper-clipped to your sleeve
Who has never caught
Who has always lived
By reliable streams
And has planted
To watch them
It will do no good to deny it--classroom hierarchy exists, and I mean not the social ranking amongst students. I speak of academic hierarchy. The students society sees as intelligent are perhaps ranked not by actual intelligence, but mainly the perception of intelligence. It hardly comes as a surprise that the students professors perceive as "most likely to succeed" in his classroom are those who sit in front, who raise their hands the second a question is posed, or who jump at any opportunity to prove themselves.
Honestly? I do none of those things. In fact, I sit near the back of the classroom, prefer to scribble my answer into my notebook when a question is asked, and try to evade much notice in general.
According to common belief, I am therefore a disinterested and disastrously average student. I am a ghost, content to flit in and out of classes. I am not the brightest, or I would participate more actively. This is the tragic assessment of the general population when met with such a person.
Upon further investigation, however, isn't this assessment rather unfair?
Are we not able to form our own opinions, and know for ourselves the correct answers to questions? Are we incapable of thoughtfulness? Are we worth any less because we'd rather listen quietly at the back than project our thoughts in front of the entire class?
Yet we quiet people are told to speak up. After all, how will we succeed in life? In my case, I am training to become a doctor meant to interact with patients. I should show eagerness! I should distinguish myself! I should be an effective communicator! I should not dread public speaking! I should speak to strangers without fear so easily lodging itself in my chest! I ought to be ashamed for not doing these things, should I not?
Quite to the contrary, I personally wonder why I shouldn't be a much better physician because of my introversion.
Allow me to speak freely about my own circumstance and feelings about this topic. Mind you--I, perhaps, am far from representative of any group of persons. I simply think it is unjust for anyone to judge my ability to become an effective physician on whether or not I am an eager beaver in class (or in any situation, for that matter!). And perhaps this short piece will help others understand those like me.
Society so often forgets that mankind is composed of different personalities and perspectives. Each kind of personality has something unique to contribute to one's chosen field, and yet it is so easy to have ideal characteristics in mind--a doctor should be personable, intelligent, professional, confident. These are desirable characteristics, yet it's so easy to have a stereotypical image of how these traits ought to express themselves.
Must one be talkative and loud to be considered personable? Must one be the first to answer in class to be considered intelligent? Must one be stoic to be considered professional? Must one have swagger to be considered confident?
Can't one be quiet and yet develop rapport? Can't one think hard on his answer before giving it? Can't one be candid and yet be professional?
I think the interesting thing about introverts is how keen we are in our observations. We learn others' opinions because they readily give it to anyone who lends an ear. We are able to filter our thoughts before they flow from our tongues. We are able to notice subtle changes of demeanour resulting from words said. We are able to say the right things at the right times because we notice certain things overlooked by others. These we are able to do precisely because we are less eager to be the most perceived person in the room. Our ability to find security in the background lends to our perception of the world. And is this not a good thing? Shouldn't it attune us more to the feelings of our patients?
The entire reason I chose this profession was because it was so keen on humanity. With any other field, though perhaps one could argue that the ultimate goal was to touch a human being's life, none does so as intimately nor as immediately as medicine. There's a certain degree of compassion a physician must absolutely have to practise medicine. The fictional Dr House is, arguably the exception but perhaps even he represents the bare minimum: how does a doctor treat a patient's disease if he doesn't wish to save that person's life? Taking it one step further: aren't introverts capable of a grassroots sort of compassion? Furthermore, perhaps there is something special in a physician who is less eager to speak--perhaps we have understood the fear that comes with having to say something out loud.
I suppose the question boils down to stereotypes: can't we deal away with such things? Shall we admit that a successful doctor may just be the medical student who prefers to shun any sort of limelight and simply go about his duties the best he knows how--unconventionally? quietly?
If lavenders littered London,
Their scent would be masked by blood
Drawn from wounds bitterness had cut
Into flesh and bone of fiends
No different from those of friends.
If roses grew atop cobblestone,
They’d be used to mask wounds
Meant to bring peace as they split open,
Cast aside instead by the sight of petals
That obscured the effects of truth.
If lilies grew in fields,
They’d all be cut down
By rioters and ravers
Who destroyed hard-earned silence
With superfluous sound.
If your ashes fell in my city,
They'd use your final breath as propaganda:
Bring arms to your burial,
Weep tears of lies
And smirk into black handkerchiefs.
If lavenders littered London,
They would be swept away by morning
Before seeds of a simpler time
Take root in hearts
Long used to forgetting.
We have only just begun,
Yet I countdown
To the day of reckoning:
The day of Judgement
Isolation, I've heard
Is rarely walls
Or being pressed down
From seven sides.
A vast expanse
Without rock bottom.
Yet I'd prefer it to the way we'd end:
Hands held tightly together
Before realising we'd used paste
Too strong for our liking,
Wish to fly with our own wings,
Wish to navigate
Both free to dip
Into rain drenched clouds.
But we've clipped wings
Severed urges too strong to deny,
Forged contracts in time
That can never be brought back.
We wait for our last judgement,
Wait to be told off
For our conscious mistakes.
Wait for the end
As our world begins to bloom.
Summer is over in my side of the world, and in two weeks I will be on a daunting new adventure. I've spent the last month wondering how it will go--so much so that I haven't done anything but think about it. As usual, writing about it is the only cathartic way I have to get over my anxiety.
Summer's last breath
Ends in sky-tears
That kiss the soil
In its vain effort to console the earth.
I try to catch vapour
And remember hazy memories made
In careless, spontaneous moments.
But my hands
Are open system jars,
And the wind coaxes vapour
From my fingertips.
From double paned windows
As memory of its existence fades.
I hope to call it back,
To hear its gurgling familiarity
Tickle my ears again
But I cannot remember its name.
I've been meaning to write something dark and short for the longest time, so here it is.
“You can’t be serious,” Liam scoffed. He could hear the train rolling into the next platform behind him. The low rumble drowned out Adam’s reply. Liam watched his mouth move quickly—a rarity given Adam’s propensity to stutter. “By Jove, you are, aren’t you?”
Adam grinned back at his companion, his eyes glinting in the afternoon sun. The train behind them chugged lethargically from the platform behind them after offloading a single man tugging at a square rolling luggage. Liam watched the sun cast shadows directly in front of him so he was keenly aware of the man’s movements down the platform and into the underground passageway. Beside his own shadow, Adam’s moved ungainly about with hands flailing and feet shuffling.
“But that’s impossible,” Liam whispered after a long bout of silence.
Adam shook his head, sending his light curls tumbling over each other. “Liam, i-it all checks out. The m-math, th-the phy-physics, b-bi-bioch-chemistry—all of it.”
“See here, you’re trying to defy the laws of nature, Adam,” Liam said in a lower voice. “This is madness, my friend. You’re dabbling in things that you ought to leave alone.”
“No, Liam, thi-this is n-n-nature.” Liam had never seen Adam quite so serious. He watched as Adam’s long fingers twitched uncontrollably.
“You can’t separate the spirit from the body, Adam,” Liam said slowly. “It’s not possible, and even if you could—which you can’t—how would you reverse it?”
“That’s har-hardly the point,” Adam replied, exasperated. “I’ve just discovered th-the most n-n-novel thing—”
“No, no, y-you d-d-don’t understand.”
Liam moved away from the platform, trying to process the information. He thought Adam had called him out today to get away from the looming finals week, but instead he had shared his most insane idea yet. Adam claimed he had discovered proof of the soul—something neither of the boys believed in at all, as far as Liam was concerned. This, he decided, was just Adam’s version of an elaborate joke.
Liam heard the train rattling in the distance, and turned to face his friend. “Alright, Adam—”
His thoughts were cut off by Adam’s abrupt step backwards, bringing him dangerously close to the platform. In the background, Liam heard the train rumbled closer towards them.
“Adam,” Liam said warily. “What are you doing?”
Adam closed his dark eyes, allowing the wind’s breath to flow through his long hair. With grim realisation setting in, Liam inched towards the platform as the train sped closer and closer towards the platform.
“Adam, open your eyes,” he said frantically. “Adam, please. Look at me, mate. Adam—Adam, for God’s sake!”
The train screamed angrily against Liam’s own cracking voice. It drowned out Adam’s reply and movements so much so that Liam could have sworn his friend had simply vanished on the spot if not for the great thud that collided with his ears.
The train screeched to a stop, but it was far too late.
Adam, it seemed, had put his theory into practice. Whether or not he had succeeded was something Liam would never know—and neither was he inclined to think about his friend’s theory ever again.
Adam was, by physical standards, quite dead.
Apologies—this letter is rather presumptuous. To be honest, I’m not sure you’ll actually exist. We haven’t met yet. I have yet to earn my MD stripes. At the moment, I’m still wrapping my head around the idea that I’m actually getting into medical school—still mustering up the courage to go through five? ten? more years of hard work.
To be honest, I’m anxious. I’m about to embark on a training program that will allow me to hold a human heart in my hands, to deliver a living child into this earth, to transfer vital organs from one human being to another. I feel the responsibility weigh against my shoulders heavier than ten elephants. I haven’t done anything as important as this. I’m a very small person in a very big world. Future Patient, you might be concerned at this point. If I’m this much of a wreck, how am I supposed to be your physician?
Dear Future Patient, this is may come as a shock to you, but even doctors are human. I’m not entirely sure about everyone (who knows?) but I, certainly, am human. I have feelings. I have moods. I have perspectives.
My humanity, however, will not keep me from becoming a better doctor. In fact, I’m hoping that my humanity will help you as much as my medical training will. I know how much parents can worry over their child (hi Dad and Mum!). I know how embarrassing those first few years of puberty can be. I know how frustrating a knee injury can be. I know how the little things can seem so big. I know how difficult it is to lose someone so suddenly.
I know what it means to be human, and I am not inclined to forget.
If anything, I promise to stay human (unless aliens abduct me or I, for some reason, require a mechatronic heart).
I promise to see you as human.
I only ask that when I do stand before you as your physician, that you’d see me the same way.
It's been a rather long time since I've put anything up, but here I am back from a month long hiatus! So here's a melancholic poem to celebrate.
Into the palms of your hands
In place of hammers
Still, your hands are bruised
From the words you’ve cut
Out of too-honest girls
With sword-wit tongues.
The knives you keep
In back pockets
Slice your jeans
Into strips of lies
You hand out daily,
Strips of lies
You expect in return.
But too-honest girls
Hand you silver plated truths
Hoping you’d draw back curtains
Instead, you slit your wrists
On silver edges,
Thrust bloodied fingers
At candid messengers,
Mock the ways
Of the world
Ceases to arrive
And they send nothing
But carefully packaged
The pool at the university I go to is rather unconventional. When I swim in the afternoon, I can hear the orchestra playing from the second floor. The sound proofing is apparently faulty.
This story and this photo are not of my university, but I suppose I like the concept of the orchestra soundtracking my swim.
I also like the concept of swimming as a sport of perseverance more than natural talent. I suppose it's because I correlate success with tenacity and persistence. I suppose it doesn't apply in all circumstances.
The first sound that hit her were the strings from the second floor landing floating above the pool like a balcony. The orchestra had gotten into the swing of rehearsals, their brows glistening with smudged black notes and trembling keys. They were playing an especially mellow tune, unintentionally soundtracking Mia’s tired stride as her feet kissed the poolside’s slippery tiles. The sun was peeking through the frosted windows, unwilling to relinquish its hold on the day. Personally, Mia had had her fill of it. The sun shed too much light into her small lab, and today it made her far too aware of her cancer proliferating cells filling up her petri dishes. They were supposed to die. Instead, she came in to a thriving culture. Just as she had for the last hundred (or was it two hundred? she'd lost count) trials. No, the sun had shown her enough today. She was looking forward to the moon’s reign.
If she’d lived nearer to the river, she’d have driven down to the bank and hidden her car in the underbrush before going for a long swim. As it was, her wilder days were behind her. She lived in the more urban side of town, flanked by red brick dormitories and biking adolescents. So instead, she settled with the university pool devoid of a heater. Unwrapping her towel from about her shoulders, she deposited her belongings on a hook next to the pool before she slowly slipped in.
Already, younger swimmers were making waves, tossing the water about, causing artificial currents to form from all their flapping arms. She stood near the ledge as the freezing water wrapped its cold breath around her limbs, encouraging lethargy. Age was catching up with her, and she wondered where all her time went. Just yesterday, she was young and ambitious—eager to prove herself in an environment filled with geniuses. Now, she just felt tired. Overworked. Her youth and ambition had long faded, and all she was left with was the work. It took a bit of effort to stretch her legs out as she poised her self to swim. Her first few laps made her feel like a fish out of water. Her breath was ragged, her limbs stiff, her feet seemed to chop the water harshly, she slowed the faster she tried to go.
The sweet hum of the orchestra’s cello helped her find her rhythm. Soon, she was slicing the water with ease, allowing the day’s weight to slide off her shoulders. Her research could bother her the next morning. For tonight, it could bloody well sink to the bottom of the pool for all she cared. It had taken enough from her already—decent sleep, society, any chance at the Nobel—and she was fed up with it. Five years was enough time to finish a PhD program, she once thought. She was close to six this year, and she felt like a failure—she had no data, no more funding, and no alternatives. She was at the end of the line, and the train conductor was respectfully asking her to disembark. Perhaps it was time she did. God knew she’d tried her best.
Mia twirled the idea of it all ending as she swam her laps, watching little rings of light pattern themselves onto the pool floor. Tomorrow, she would perhaps pack up her things and leave her research for some other young kid to work on. Perhaps tomorrow she would keep working. Who knew? Mia certainly did not. She swam and swam until her toenails turned blue, and surfaced to the twang of bows as the archery team in the adjacent practice room flung sharp arrows at their marks—hoping, perhaps, that she could somehow hit hers as well.