Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A Moment Of Reflection

Night shift - again.

Lost track of the day for a second earlier today. Happens a lot when I do nights. But I rather enjoy the post-night laps in the pool downstairs, followed by a hearty lunch and nice long snooze till dinner.

Can't do much the entire day, of course, but it sure beats working 4 mornings / afternoons at a shot.

Sigh. Am gonna miss this roster when I return to the mother ship. Haha.

Oh yes, the "reflection" part of the entry.

I'm currently sifting through a pile of articles submitted by medical students for an upcoming theme issue. It's been both interesting and exhausting, since I'm trying to do this solo 'cos I've been asked to fill in as "guest editor", and my control freak tendencies are wreaking havoc with my brain.

The whole experience has made me realize a few things:

1. Boy am I old.

2. Boy are our med students super-idealistic.

3. I think I probably was too, back in the day.

4. It isn't exactly a good thing.

5. They'll come to their senses soon.

Some other traits I noticed:

1. Med students especially enjoy writing about patients.

2. Usually of the dying or dead variety.

3. They can be very philosophical about it. The students, I mean.

4. Sometimes bordering on morbid / depressing. ( Had to request one writer to completely switch topic. I appreciate the compassion, but one short paragraph had the word "death" repeated 11 times. Cannot lah... )

5. Another favourite subject is tests / exams. Perfectly understandable, and something close to my heart.

6. They may SAY they don't want to save the world / find a cure for cancer, but I KNOW they do.

7. That will no doubt change once they start housemanship.

8. That's when a lot of us learn how to hate our patients. ( Sorry, just stating a fact, okay? )

As for the lone HO submission I've thus received:

1. Inevitably, it's about work.

2. Includes survival skills and such.

3. Very insightful, I must say.

4. Wish I could've recruited more writers from the HO pool, but suspect every single one of them will talk about the same thing ad nauseum.

5. Besides, I've decided to let the students bask in the spotlight this round.

So I've reached a number of conclusions:

1. All doctors eventually go down the road of cynicism and anger. Never mind why. It's just a matter of when.

2. Yes, laypeople everywhere, there's always a possibility that the doctor attending to you harbours homicidal thoughts. About you.

3. There's also a possibility that the doctor hasn't had any sleep for more than 24 hours, which is the clinical equivalent of an intoxicated state, so don't be surprised if s/he misses your vein 5 times in a row, or takes the wrong medical record, mislabels the blood tube, etc.

4. Medical students are the complete opposites of their harrassed, overworked and underpaid seniors, so patients, LOVE THEM as much as you can, 'cos these are the only people who will bother to sit and listen while you ramble on and on about your bowel movements and 10-year history of giddiness. The rest of us just want to get your ass out of the ward / clinic / ER ASAP.

5. High chance too that in the event of your passing, the students are the ones who'll remember it clearly, and perhaps even mourn a little. Because they still feel, unlike their seniors who've become so anaesthetized we stopped shedding tears a long time ago and signing death certs isn't any different from filling prescriptions.

Of course, these are just MY opinions. Methinks some readers will beg to differ, and I can understand if you do. But I've had many conversations with colleagues over the years, and most, if not all, share my sentiments.

I guess the best thing we can hope for is:

1. Do no harm.

2. Maybe try bonding with the nice ones.

3. Never lose your moral compass.

In closing, I'd like to mention a fascinating true case of a brilliant doctor who's gained some prominence in clinical research in recent times. Specializing in a field which cares for the terminally ill, this person has frequently exhibited a sympathetic side, both verbally and in writing, in the public domain.

However, I'm privy to a moment, 6 years ago, when this same person sat with me in a downtown area, as we people-watched. We made small talk, then I was asked to focus on a lady strolling by.

"Imagine, if you will, that there's a sniper somewhere, and that he shoots her dead. The people in front and behind her reel in shock, and panic ensues. The crowd scatters as everyone runs screaming for cover."

I stare, too stunned to speak, then stammer that I'm not sure how I should respond to that. My companion then returns to the drink in hand, calmly sipping as if nothing unusual had transpired.

Yes indeed, this person is a doctor. Might have treated or worked with you at some point. How does that make you feel?

At least I know said person's identity, which makes it a lot easier to avoid contact altogether.

Lucky me.

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