Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Year In Review

It's been another marvelous one. I'm starting to worry that things go downhill at some point, but for now, I'm enjoying myself. :)

Aside from the usual annoyances ( mostly work-related ), it's been great in many other ways. I visited a country so rich in history and culture it was a truly magical experience; I made lots of new friends from across the globe, caught a truckload of great concerts and got to meet Peter Cincotti again; plus, I've made significant progress in my career, scoring firsts in a few areas.

I've also kept in touch with old acquaintances, especially those I met through blogging. And 2008 was a bumper year in terms of excellent books, films and TV shows!

Last but not least, a new addition to the family in the form of a beautiful cat, whom I already love dearly.

The Year Ahead

There's much to look forward to. July will include a long holiday to a region I've dreamt of for years ( France is now out of the equation as I refuse to interact with the Paris Fashion Week and Tour de France mobs ). Haven't quite decided whether to divulge my destination just yet, but it's probably going to be freezing.

September will allow me to return to Sydney, this time for a medical conference which I'm very excited about. I hated my last trip to the city ( mostly because I came down with food poisoning during my 2 days there ), so I intend to soak in the sights and sounds during this 2nd round. A dolphin-watching cruise is a must for me. :)

Then there's The Bridge Project's staging of The Winter's Tale, of which Kevin Spacey is a collaborator. I'm wondering if he'll be curious enough to visit Singapore during its run here. Long shot, but not impossible.

Will also be hosting a professor from Mt. Sinai Hospital during his HMDP visiting expert programme. I met him once last year in Manhattan, and can't wait to see him again. He's internationally renowned but so humble and friendly. I have no doubt he will be a huge hit with the local medical community.

Back To Normal Programming

Rented a few DVDs recently, of which 3 deserve special mention.

The Other Boleyn Girl, which stars Natalie Portman ( Anne Boleyn ), Scarlett Johansson ( Mary Boleyn ) and Eric Bana ( King Henry ) completely skewered the novel, taking severe liberties with everything from the sequence of events to dialogue and characters. The main problem lies in squashing 600 pages of political intrigue into less than 2 hours of Hollywood cheesiness. There is nothing redeeming in the film adaptation, which suffers from wooden acting, a laughable script, poorly executed scenes and a lack of continuity ( e.g. Mary's second husband, William Stafford, is never given a proper introduction, appearing from out of nowhere to propose to her ).
Obviously, the book is 1000 times better.

Definitely, Maybe - I borrowed this at a friend's recommendation ( L, you may recall mentioning this to me previously ), and ended up liking it quite a bit. Although Ryan Reynolds isn't one of my favourite actors, he delivers a very satisfying performance as a political campaign manager with a young daughter, recalling 3 past romances in the form of a bed-time story.
What elevates the film above run-of-the-mill fluff is the script. At one point, a couple discusses the concept of soul-mates, and how, in many instances, it isn't who you meet that matters, but when you meet. Because if you're not at a point in your life where you're ready to commit, nothing will happen.
I totally agree.

There's also a scene where Reynolds' character does something for one of the women -- a small gesture, but extremely significant because of its underlying meaning. Again, something I completely identify with, although no guy has succeeded in really blowing me away with such an act... yet. :)

Martian Child - this one, I highly recommend, especially if you're a diehard John Cusack fan like me. He's been taking on more emotionally demanding roles recently, with electrifying results. I last saw him in tortured mode in 1408 ( a so-so film at most ). Martian Child, on the other hand, is a real treasure. I don't know how faithful it is to the novel it's based on, but the script is warm and witty, the actors perfectly cast, and the scenes expertly directed.
Cusack turns in one of the best performances of his career ( quite close to Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything ) as a widow who adopts a troubled young boy and manages to make a breakthrough. What I find interesting is how Cusack has such wonderful chemistry with kids even though he has none of his own. I also suspect his private life has undergone some turmoil in the past few years, as evidenced by a more haggard look and some major emoting in his latest projects.
The scene that really got to me is the one where Cusack's character's old dog suddenly drops dead. He sits on the bed, dazed for a few seconds, then breaks down and sobs helplessly. If you watch the movie, you'll understand that he isn't just crying over a pet, but over his beloved wife as well.
I also enjoy the bits where he shares the screen with his real-life sister, Joan. The two of them have appeared in many films together over the decades, and the mutual affection really shows.
He's just so terribly underrated. Wish he'd win an Oscar and show them all.

Before I sign off, my perspective on Prof. Lee Wei Ling's Sunday Review piece about medicine being a calling, not a career.

I always enjoy reading her opinions, because let's face it, she's the only doctor in Singapore who can whack the profession without fearing any repercussions. And speaking from personal experience, I agree with many of her comments.

Still, I expect laymen to form certain judgments because of the way her remarks are phrased. It seemed to me that she was targeting those in private practice, whether it's the abolishment of the guidelines on fees, or the triumph of greed over integrity.

I've heard numerous stories over the years, and nothing is ever that clear cut. Not everyone leaves the public sector for monetary gains alone, although a large number do. Many are driven away by intolerable working conditions -- long hours, lack of recognition, slow career advancement, sparse training opportunities. When one becomes disillusioned, sometimes the easiest way out is private practice, where you can be your own boss and feel better just by earning lots more money. It isn't necessarily selling out, but what your threshold for suffering is.

While there are those who think nothing of fleecing ignorant patients so they can purchase that flashy new sports car, others end up returning to public hospitals after a few years following a change of heart ( I know a few of these doctors ).

In Prof. Mohamed Khadra's book, Making The Cut: A Surgeon's Stories Of Life On The Edge, there's a chapter about a surgeon who started out as the best in his discipline, only to spiral out of control in later years. He couldn't cope with his packed schedule, causing serious complications and handling them with a cavalier attitude. But it wasn't just about making more money. He merely pushed himself too hard and didn't know when was enough.

I know one such surgeon, once a highly regarded expert in his field, who became overconfident and picked the wrong patient to cause post-op complications in. Suffice to say, he was promptly demoted, then left for a lucrative private setup, only to cause more complications thanks to the lack of regulation ( unlike the anal M&M rounds public hospitals are obsessed with ). A friend of mine became a guinea pig of his and ended up bleeding out a few days later, requiring a week of hospitalization ( Changi General ) and a massive clean-up of the mess this once meticulous surgeon left behind.
I don't know how he could've deteriorated this badly -- after all, my own mother was treated by him 10 years ago, with superb results. It's just really sad.

Other examples of black sheep in restructured hospitals? If you know how to suck up to the right people and cover your tracks, you've got it made. I see it all the time -- MO trainees who miss diagnoses, refuse to see my referrals and give me attitude, getting awards for being outstanding in their chosen disciplines. Err, didn't that guy miss a cord compression last week, which I overrode and admitted? Where's the accountability?!

Then there's an oncologist who's won awards and gives great soundbites to eager reporters, going on about doing good for humanity, blah blah blah. I only recall him once telling me that the greatest motivation for his research is getting a patent and making money from it.

Just yesterday, one of my consultants asked me, "If you could do it all again, would you be doing this?" as we fought the never-ending battle of clearing the post-holiday weekend crowd. I hesitated for only a split second, answering with a resounding "Yes". He didn't seem convinced, and I don't blame him. But I was telling the truth, and even my own reply surprised me. I suppose there's some masochistic streak egging me on, but for now at least, it's also an indication that I made the right choice, and I only hope it can sustain me for the rest of my career.

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