Not just about exams

Once upon a time, there was a junior doctor who was getting ready to sit her upcoming professional specialist exams. Now these are stressful and difficult (or commonly so perceived) examinations, and she had dedicated a lot of time for study, and study alone. When her dad tried calling her to catch up several times during that period, she turned him down and said she would make up time with him after her exams were over. She remembered those phone calls, she remembered the promises she made.

Then on the week before her exams finally took place, her dad caught a bad pneumonia, got admitted to hospital, never recovered, and passed away a few weeks later. Among those weeks she turned up and sat her specialist exams in the worst mental situation ever — but she, with her smartness and her hard work, managed to clearly pass. Yet in her smartness she realised too that some things had changed, and that she could not turn back time even if she wanted to.

Two years later today, she is a young consultant specialist with a passion for the education of junior doctors in specialist training. She would keep telling the trainees who have exams coming up — with their brows frowned and head heavy amongst a pile of study notes — that exams are not everything; that family and friends still exist and appreciate your time. And that although they may think they’ll be less busy “after this”, it is rarely true — she would say always try to make time now.

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Still the same

This guy, young and only in his early thirties, has primary cancer of the brain with two previous surgeries to remove parts of his temporal lobe. He is now not the fastest-witted man — but still exuding a certain loveability. Now with his disease progressing, he is undergoing radiotherapy to the brain.

Sitting in the clinic room a few weeks into treatment, I asked him how he was. He let off a sigh. He took off his cap to reveal his scalp — a little red from the radiation treatment, with irregular patches of baldness. Whatever hair he had left, it was very short.

“What can I say. When I was told I got brain cancer five years ago,” he said, “I told myself I’m gonna change. Stop bumming around and get my life together. All my life, it’s all been about footie, but I told myself to stop. I wanted to do something meaningful y’know. Maybe some traveling.

“But here I am and I’m still the same. It’s the new AFL season again. Richmond lost last week and my whole week’s been depressed. Who knows if we won, maybe I wouldn’t be so affected.

“It’s been how long…,” he paused a little while. “Still the same. Got nothing done.” Possibly with a hint of knowing that he may not have many more years to go, yet still the same. No changes.

(There are 11 responses to this post.)

This friendly guy had a stable girlfriend. Yet he was having sex with other girls, unbeknownst to his partner, and he was still doing it. Without condoms too, because he didn’t have them around when the situation called. He had already made two women pregnant. He already had a few children around in the community. He confessed to me.

He came in when I was working in the aboriginal GP clinic in the Northern Territory, wanting to have a check up for sexually-transmitted diseases.

He had good intentions, if I dare say. I could sense his frustration at knowing what is right and not living it out — and don’t we all know the feeling well. Yet as I talked to him I came to know that he had already made some other changes in his life that was worth commending. Decided to stand up to peer pressure and cut down on alcohol consumption. Starting to pick up the discipline to exercise. “But I still don’t know how to control this sexual urge,” he said as-a-matter-of-factly, “I just can’t control it, y’know.”

He saw the tray of free condoms in the room and grabbed to store more than a few in his pocket, with some embarrassment. I never paid much attention to that tray — now I know how important it is to refill it!

“How would you feel if your partner did the same?” I asked.

“Oh I’ve heard that one before. … But I won’t do it when I get married, it’ll be different,” he answered.

“How do you know you can control yourself after you get married, when you can’t do it now?”

“Yeah,” he shook his shoulders. I was sure the question had crossed his mind before too.

I opened my mouth but I stumbled to take it much further. If I said anything more, I felt, I would have been a true hypocrite. It doesn’t have to be sexual dishonesty. My words would come back to bite me.

(There are 8 responses to this post.)
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