Saturday, January 31, 2015

Hospital Reflections

One more week has passed me by, and once again I find that my eyes have been opened even wider still.
The harvest is great but good workers are few. Compassion is lacking, and there is the stench of poorly-disguised indifference, the toleration and normalization of uncharitable behaviour on the wards, the nearly complete disinterest in the passing down of the art of medicine to one's future successors, the stifling sense of hierarchical feudalism, and the logic-defying red tape that runs the entire length of hospital administration - so much so that now I know why one elderly patient tells me that she fears the public hospitals more than anything else.
Seeing how one incapacitated patient's death was treated with such indignant disrespect made me all the more resolved; how some extremely sick patients are treated like bed-occupying lumps of inconvenience; how some nurses and doctors angrily assume their patients to understand in one or two lectures how cancers and pneumonias and nebulizers work.
And the fact that all these have been tolerated - to the extent we accept all these as 'normal'. How come?
One day things will change. Dead wood must burn, in the pits, if possible. Good men must be placed in their rightful places of power, instead of Jekylls and Hydes. We tolerate too much, polish other's boots way too long, and forget that the good man, if he has a clear conscience, should fear nothing.
But on the other hand, it was comforting to know that there are still good men walking the wards, and convincing me that not everything is lost yet. Not everyone sings the same tepid song, and that is what is what still gives me assurance.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Race and Religion - Tinderboxes?

Religion and Race - some people liken them to two tinderboxes. I used to wonder why it had to be so.

When I was a young boy, I never gave much thought to religion or race. I learnt about race only in Standard One - from textbooks teaching us the typical Abu, Ali and Ah Chong, and it really didn't seem to be important to me back then. And religion - well I thought religion was just a part of daily life - Bible readings by Mother at breakfast (and being forced to be at the table throughout without toilet-break till it was done) and quiet time, praying before meals, reflection before bed (which I regularly skipped when nobody was watching), doing unto others what you would like others to do unto you, going to church on Sundays, refraining from certain habits (no bad language in front of Mom, no cussing, no fibs) and the like. It was some sort of 'it's something I do at home' and 'it's all a part of the upbringing' kind of thing. Until I came across some words in a history book. Words like 'oppression', 'genocide', 'hate', 'racism', 'Reich','bias', 'holocaust', 'wars of religion'. I remember asking Mom when I was way younger, and she merely told me that they were 'bad things we do to people we do not like'. And full stop. That was it. Which was weird to me, since it seemed strange to me that somebody could think of killing over 6 million people he didn't like. How did he find so many people to dislike? (By the way, I was referring to Hitler). But since I was given a relatively simple answer, and the person in question did not seem to find it necessary to elaborate on it, I thought, well, just another weird thing about life. Apparently. 

I forgot all about it, until I was old enough to read the newspaper. And when I went to school.

There it was, Racism staring bald-faced at me. I remember a particular teacher disliking me, and I never understood why (I was eight). Everything I did was somewhat below-standard to this particular teacher, and I never understood why my efforts were always 'erroneous' to her no matter what I tried to do. Every piece of artwork I did surely had some fault to it. The way I wrote my numbers, my capital 'J's, the essays I wrote, were always wrong, unacceptable, and inferior to what she wanted. And I never understood why. Even the horror story I wrote for a school assignment was rejected. And as far as I remembered, I definitely had it double checked before submission. And all the while my parents just turned a blind eye. And one day, I remember coming home crying, and finally my Mother told me what it was. And for the first time I fully comprehended what they really meant: Racism. Bias. Hate. 

And from that day onwards, my eyes were opened. And it became all the more clearer. The teachers clarified it for me. My school made it all the more distinct. And I learned very quickly to avoid some 'malignant' staff like the Plague. 

And at the dinner table, everything suddenly fell into place. The concept of Bumi and non-Bumi, quotas, special rights, the concept of pendatang, the NEP, racial politics. But being very young, I never could accept why some of us had to have less priviledges just because we so happened to be of another colour. I thought it rather illogical, given that race was not like marks on a test - you didn't earn it, you were born into it. 

But years passed, and after a while, I accepted it as a part of Malaysian life. Until I learnt about the next tinderbox - Religion. 

I remember going to an interschool camp in primary school, which was aimed at creating a sense of 'integration' - another big word I didn't understand at that time. 

And I remember accidentally vexing this particular boy at the camp who then in his angst said something I could never forget - Cina K*f*r. As I came from an all-boys school, calling each other names, including jokingly labelling each other as some kind of animal (e.g. babi) was very very acceptable. However this new term had a particular ring to it which made me uneasy. And the steely look in his eyes made it all the more frightening. 

But I didn't think much about it. Until I came across part of an essay under my desk in secondary school (we used to have two sessions, so that piece of paper was most likely left behind by a senior). And being the curious cat, I read it. And although it was only the second page of an essay, I was left disturbed. The essay attacked a number of things I believed in, calling certain people blinded and led astray and liable to the wrath of God, so to speak. Its heavy usage of the K-word brought back terrible memories. To make it worse, it unforgivingly attacked certain beliefs I had long held to be a part of my life. 

I went home disturbed. I mean, I knew a little bit about religious supremacy, extremism and how some cranky people can plough planes right through a couple of towers in the name of their religion. But I had always thought that those were rather distant incidents. 

But that one essay changed everything. 

I began to learn a lot about the real world. At the news stand. From books being sold at Popular. From newspapers and magazines. 

And I wondered - why? 

I found out that there were people who thought that one religion was so correct that everyone else had to be its follower. And there were some who made it their life's mission to kill others for the sake of their religion. I learnt that there were people who thought it right, and in fact, divinely-inspired, to massacre or deprive of certain rights, people who did not see eye-to-eye on matters of faith. 

And what was even more puzzling to me was that this happened too within the same Faith. One Body, badly divided. Countless arguments and even wars being waged just because not everyone believed that some consecrated wafer actually turned into the Body of Christ himself. And crusades to wipe out heretics. It seemed Charity was something we all practiced when everything was going our way, and then it could be thrown out of the window the moment somebody comes up with some 'new ideas'. I could never accept the fact that God would condemn to hell people who have worshipped in a particular way all their lives in earnest. Would I go to hell just because I sincerely believed that it was upon Peter himself that my Church was built? Would I be regarded as condemned if I believed that the Communion was merely a memorial of the Last Supper? Was it at all logical, if one taught that God was merciful, to preach that some people are already predestined to go to heaven, and some to hell. One Body, divided for a long time. And some of us shatter it further. 

How wondrous - that the way one prays can be used against him. To mock him. To oppress him. That people actually invest time and effort in writing inflammatory articles and organizing talks just to teach people that everything is a conspiracy of so-and-so religion. That wafer and holy water is being used to erode one's faith. That so-and-so is being oppressed, when in fact, the very same is being done by said religion unto others elsewhere in the world.

For once, can we just let religion stay where it ought to be: In the heart. After all, religion can never be true unless someone believes it sincerely.

I believe that God is a Trinity - is it so mortally wrong that you burn churches and desecrate sanctuaries? Of what use is it to you, and would that be a goodly testament of faith? Would that assist God in any way?

I believe that the Church is defined as being inclusive of people who profess the common tenets of the Faith. Does that mean that people who do not believe in the speaking of tongues are any less righteous than those who do? Or that because I attend so-and-so church and believe in so-and-so doctrine makes me more blessed and at a greater advantage than you? As far as I remember, I was taught that God was a fair God. Each man sows what he reaps.

Religion for the heart, and race for purposes of identification only. Not more than that.  

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Med School Report Day 838 - End of the First Week of Intermediate Cycle 3

We've just ended the first week of IC3 - 'Orientation Week', where lecturers expose students to most of the basic procedures that students will get to see for themselves in hospitals starting from Week 2 of this semester.

It's been a busy week; lost a watch; felt lost at some points during the orientation week. But towards the end, I think I managed to rein that all in line; felt wonderfully satisfied with my team OSCE's performance; venepuncture and cannulation - FUN.

I've been working on two more articles for The PEN, but knowing how busy everyone is, I don't think they're going to get published so soon. But the flow must still continue. 

I've been wondering about the state of our medical education. With forgetfulness being such a latent problem - yet so much commoner in our times than in the older generation of doctors, perhaps we've been doing it all wrong?

Slides instead of proper lecture notes - and ditching proper teaching in class, such as writing and arguing out a point on a board, in favour of reading from slides; failure to lay out specific learning objectives; limiting classes to only an hour regardless of topic; squeezing the same amount of material that students of yesteryears used to cover in 6 months into about 3 and a half months; and asking questions in exams that focus on minutiae or useless statistics ( I mean what is the point of knowing the exact percentage of people who progress from CIN3 to full-blown cervical cancer when the take home point should be that we ought to take CIN3 seriously?) instead of testing students on the major principles every doctor ought to know. 

I've been thinking; is it because of this 'disjointed' way of thinking that we, the students,  have become slide memorizing robots, unable to piece information together in a lucid manner?

Students lack the basics - true; but have we forgotten to ask ourselves - WHY?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Reflections - The Last Day of 2014

Time flies and when I look back at 2013's New Year's Eve post, I feel that 2014 has really been a year of volatile ups and downs - 2014 has seen many bright days and some dark ones as well. The rough patches were terribly rough, and there were days when all I really wanted was to get away from reality. However, 2014 has also been an eye opening year for me in more ways than one. I realized the truth in the saying "Put not your trust in princes, nor in the sons of men, in whom there is no help" at the point in time when I thought I had lost even the last of my closest friends - because I felt alone, at the same time, I learnt to trust God even more, taking His Word for it. There were times when I really had to force myself to believe difficult verses like 'And You have prepared a table for me in the presence of my enemies'; and then there were those moments of sweet serendipity,in the darkness of gloomy days when I saw that there were friends in the most unexpected of places, unbeknownst to me. And I thank God for them.
On the brighter side, 2014 was another year that saw the goodness of God, because without Him I would have been quite dead indeed. Close shaves with speeding lorry drivers from hell on the highway, a literally heart stopping event somewhere during study break, hair-raising piles of notes that needed to be studied in two semesters that had unbelievably unrealistic timetables, sleep deprived days that nearly drove me up the wall and made me extremely reckless - I am thankful that there were good friends who were with me, and they know who they are.
2014 was also a year of firsts:
My first drive down the PLUS highway alone (at night)
My first full pint o' beer (with friends!)
My first mid night movie alone (and with a 'date' later on)
My first time sleeping upright nearly 12 weeks in a row
My first time going jogging at 11pm on a nearly weekly basis
My first time at a club (and also doing other stuff that I will gradually let my parents know about - just kiddin'!)
My first 'date' - 'nuf said
My first mission trip to India
My first time serving at a soup kitchen
My first time standing beside the road and pretending to be a JPJ officer during the summer research program
My first time taking on a lecturer during CBL vis-a-vis, without mincing any words
My first time heading a major division of a university-level newsletter
My first time representing my university at an intervarsity level competition
So, there we go - 2014: A Year of Ups and Down and Many Firsts.
And as for 2015: Bring it on, Baby, I'm ready for ya!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Confessions of a Workaholic - When the Heavens feel like Brass

Faith makes all things possible. It is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. It helps us to have hope even when the outcome is yet unseen. 

But if one has been assailed on all sides for too long, can Faith sustain him before his hope dies out?

Maybe I am too tired to think straight to the extent everything might have a slightly dreary look to them. But seriously, I am sure some of us would have had a crisis of faith at one point in time, right?

Nothing wrong with me actually - everything is going fine. Just that I somehow feel very disappointed inside, and I do not know why. I cannot pin point one single reason for feeling that way. But the bottomline is this - I am just tired of trying to work things out in a relationship, of trying to make a stand when everyone just keeps quiet, of trying to be a helpful person. Forgive me Jesus, I know being a good guy and expecting nothing in return is a noble thing to do and worthy of sainthood, but is it wrong to hope that at least people will do good in return? And not just milk the cow and then ignore it until the next milking session comes around? 

You wouldn't want to be me, seriously. When you feel like you are in a tight spot where you don't know what to do next and the heavens feel like brass each time you ask for an answer and the reply is either nothing or ambiguity. 

So what - Compline and Matins and Lauds - but to what avail? Maybe I need to wait a while longer. But for how long.

And the worst thing to make things even more complicated is that certain people just do not understand how hard I have worked for something. I work hard to make sure I know my stuff well - I friggin' finished the reading list for malaria just so that I knew what I needed to do when dealing with a goddamn case of plasmodium knowlesi infection. I friggin' made my own notes, figured out those long-winded sentences in Manson's and banged my head literally trying to decipher ambiguous lines in the therapeutics tables. I am already on the giving end in more ways than one - I help as much as I can, answer people's queries as well as I can, and I don't even try discounting my answers. I even take the time off to clarify people's doubts. But you can't ask me to just give away ALL my hard work away for free. How is this even fair to myself? Maybe Saint Theresa might, but I won't.

Great. The fatigue is talking. Time to time out.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Confessions of a Workaholic - Taking Pride in One's Work

Just two days ago, I faced my IC2 Pathology Continuous Assessment. But this time, for the first time in 5 semesters, I did not have any fear at all. Instead, all I felt was calmness (of course, the stressed out face was a little difficult to dislodge, but anyhow, at least this time round I knew my fear-o-meter was not shooting sky high). I somehow felt that I knew everything I needed to know for this exam, and I just knew that I had nothing to be afraid of.

Perhaps it is because this semester I had more time for myself, my time to appreciate what I have studied, more time to read and learn without constant distractions? Or maybe it is because this semester, in addition to working hard-ER than before, I have decided to dedicate each new day to the work of God?

Thanks be to God for His grace and providence this semester. Not everything was handed over on a silver platter - but it is enough that I know that Somebody still sets my steps on solid rock eventually.

Yeap, on some days I feel like having a liver attack (fulminant hepatic failure) after studying a stack of hepatitis notes.
But on other days, I could just sit at my desk the whole day and wonder at the intricacies of the human gut.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Confessions of a Workaholic - Compline Reflections

Reflection during last night's Compline:
Sometimes what we see is not the actual thing. Or maybe whatever we see is what our preconceived conceptions have chosen to see.
An old shoe in a corner - a lousy shoe dumped because it was deemed too uncomfortable to wear, or a shoe that has already been used optimally and has been left aside after many years of use.
A married man divorces his demure sweet wife in a sudden horrible twist in sacred matrimony, and in a matter of weeks gets hitched to his secretary. A faithless man gone in search for young passion, or an overcontrolling wife at home? Only God knows.
What the tongue speaks may not tally with the heart's. And what the eye perceives is just the outer trappings - but can it see what is inside? Perhaps it is better to know what a man truly feels rather than be satisfied with the sweet but empty exchanges. But the true reality may pierce right to the core. Yet better die knowing the truth than to knowingly live on illusions. So help me God.
Some persons preach, and others self-proclaim, with many self-acclaimed stories and supposed experiences. But what speaks for itself are the deeds. With many words can somebody spin a deceptive image, but it is in deeds and actions that the real intent may be made known. 'I know how it feels like to keep a family together' but with these words coming from a divorcee, does it make sense to listen to one who has a wrecked home? It is already written: Faith without works is dead. And a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.
Have I wisdom to live my days when I am lost in such a treacherous world? Or am I to play the game, and continue doing the things I never liked?
So confusing yet so true. Nerve plexuses and endocrine pathways may be astounding yet they are nearly set in stone. But the complexity that is human nature changes from time to time.
Many come flocking for favours and advice; but who shall I turn to when I need it? Many come aflocking like pilgrims to a saint's feast; but it is all ask, ask and more asking. Woe it is when there are more beneficiaries than friends. Where have my friends gone? If you are my friend, why do you just take and rarely give? Lip service, empty chat, double standard treatment and friendship do not come hand in hand. Simple common sense it is yet many deserve to hang themselves for not knowing this.
Stuck between two ends - to cruelly turn them away would be a mortal sin; but to continue this meaningless cycle? Self murder.
Is it possible to have silence in the midst of the crowd? Yes
Is it possible to live and yet be dead inside? Yes
is it possible to be sad and yet find strength to show the world that everything is alright? Yes
Is it possible to have many friends and yet not a single one? Yes
Is it possible to drown it all out? Yes indeed. With God all things are possible.
Not sure why I am writing this. Maybe the lack of sleep; or maybe because it would be such a waste not to put it into words.