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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I recently moved and was surprised at how much effort the packing/unpacking took! How did I end up accumulating so much stuff!? Then I realised it has been a few years since I moved — oh how times have changed, to think that not too long ago I was moving cities and saying goodbyes around every December. Most of my stuff are books and piles of paper collected slowly over the years… akin to the layers of sandstone and the passing of time (how poetic).

But surely I can’t keep all of this stuff forever; which ones then do I decide to throw out and which ones do I keep? Sorting through them is hard work! It is like being forced to prune my memory, having to decide what to remember and what to forget.

Here is a sample of what I went through, for our amusement:

  1. Shakespeare’s King Lear from 7th form high school English in NZ — I don’t know why I still have this but ok I guess I’ll keep it; I did enjoy very much the hubris and carthasis of the story, its pentametered prose, and the themes of blinker and vision.
  2. Travel guides of Vancouver, New York etc — I’ll keep them around a little while longer, even though they are out-of-date and take up space. After all, they showed me around and kept me very good company back in the days when I walked the streets of those places. Together with a backpack, a pair of tired feet but eager eyes and ears, I used to study them so much, page by page. At one stage it even seemed that I knew those places better than the locals! (Yeah, how “Asian” it is to just study — if there was a test for a “well-balanced” life we’d probably study for it too)
  3. French and Japanese dictionaries — I remember that signing up for a year of evening part-time French during 5th year med school was one of the most enjoyable things I did during those six years. I love my Japanese dictionary a lot too; I love its font and its layout (hahah). But I think I might leave my French dictionary somewhere else.
  4. Glenn Colquhoun’s Playing God, a book of poems about medicine by a NZ general practitioner — when I bought this in my 2nd year of med school, I didn’t quite appreciate the content at the time. But now as I flip through the pages, there are some really good poetry in here that I have forgotten existed! Some soul-searching too. I’ll keep this, definitely.
  5. Artbooks and magazines that I’ve gathered over the years — I collected them as reference for drawings and writing stories, but I don’t think I ever got around doing so! Here are photos of team-skiing in Switzerland, the buzzing night scene of metropolitan 21st century Shanghai, steampunk or retro designs — I can just look at them forever and be inspired again and again to write an epic story of globe-trotting adventure… but maybe one day. Maybe.

Read the rest of this entry…

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I found that too many things were happening in my little life;
I gave this blog a hiatus, and too quickly six months have passed.

Barely in time I’ve come to catch hold the last days of 2010 —
the year would really have gone without waiting for me!

No time to be shocked

It seems like much has changed since I last updated. I worked three months in a remote Aboriginal GP clinic in the Northern Territory Australian outback — that came to an end, and I realized how unexpectedly big the experience has grown, in my life this far. It was bittersweet to leave good old Katherine in the bus that would transit me slowly back to metropolitan life via Darwin.

There wasn’t much time at all to recover from any shock nonetheless, as what followed immediately was four weeks of isolation, working disorienting shifts in the Emergency Department in the satellite town of Traralgon, away still from my apartment in Melbourne. I remember the surreal two-hour drive back to Melbourne one midnight in pitch black 3am after working ten hours of unrelenting Emergency Medicine work — when various lights would fly by in the peripheries of my car in a blurry half-awake state. Despite being third year out of medical school, this was embarrassingly my first ED rotation. After one ED shift on the first afternoon, my very second shift was already a dreaded “graveyard” night shift, where I was assigned to be the “senior resident” alongside a “junior” one as the only two doctors holding the fort for the whole night!! I dread a little to even recollect what happened that night. I know I was glad when the sun peeked out to shine on the freezing wintry day, as the morning-shift doctors started to walk in and as the hospital started to wake up. The half-limps back to my car covered in frost, to return for a sleep after the night shifts, always felt mighty good.

More about what has changed…

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