Thank you to those who asked why I have been missing for so long — I had exams and have been studying for them. They are a rite of passage for every trainee, and I’m glad they’re over now! (Well the first part is over, the next and final part is not due for another few years.) I remember when one pregnant consultant who will be expecting very soon knew I was studying for exams, she shuddered and told me she would rather be pregnant than go through exams again!

Studying is hard. I think it gets harder with the years — I’m not sure if it is the material that becomes more difficult, or that the ageing brain becomes less adept. Hours after hours and days after days, it literally felt like I was labouring to push my hurting brain to “run another lap” — to study another organ system, or to read another chapter in radiobiology.

In amongst everything, studying makes me humble. My visual, conceptual and minutiae memory is not as good as some of my colleagues. My energy is limited and I become even less sensitive to the people around when I am tired. Invariably my discipline wavers and I can only do half of even my most conservative plans. Study, like every other stressful thing too I suppose, brings out the darker sides of me — my weaknesses and brokenness show in the late nights, tired mornings, ever building tension, hunger, and demotivation. Amongst all these, I learn a little more about my true needs.

But there are many memorable and enjoyable aspects to the journey too. There are the eureka moments when things suddenly make sense. And the amazement at how far the collective humanity has come in understanding about ourselves and about nature, yet there remains an infinitely deeper sea of knowledge to plumb. More practically, I have found mnemonics that help memorisation of lists to be a great amusement. Many of them are so badly sexist, and some of them are so funnily random; but in the end if you can’t remember what they actually stand for, they are useless!

Then there is the good music that has accompanied me through the hard days. At various stages of study there has been Chinese pop and indie to keep me interested; smooth jazz and soul to calm me down; mellow instrumentals to accompany my walks home; and in the final 2-3 days of sprint prior to the exams, Poppy Ackroyd’s creative work has been fantastic. My study group has also been such a good get-together with lame nerdy jokes abound. Behind closed doors and behind all the complicated jargon, it was somewhat reassuring to know that we explain things such as non-coplanar beams like “the couch turns this way, the machine goes eeeeehrk this way, and the beam goes pow this way.”

Finally, I think studying challenges my priorities. This post that I wrote last year came back to haunt me in the last six months or so of working towards exams — indeed I needed to remind myself constantly of what is more important and what is less so; what has eternal value and what does not. It is not just family, but the neighbours around too — people’s needs are always present, and people are important. I had a friend who was having a nosebleed one evening that kept dripping, and he became very worried that he called me late into the night while I was studying. I remember the great reluctance I had when I walked to his place with some ice in a bag, that I am convicted now and always of how we can think we are doing what is required of us, “but neglect the more important things of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness.”

Why do we do what we do? Why do we continually work so hard to climb the ladder, only to have to start again once we reach our destination? Do we not tire, or become weary, or stumble, and fall? We do all this partly because work is what we have been called to do, and partly because this is the way our society functions. I am thankful for all the people who have been kind and encouraged me through my journey (and not just this one), and I acknowledge the God who sustains and gives me direction when I am lost. I can only take to heart when the Bible says too, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body. Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.”

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