Music in the Theatre

Another One Bites the Dust

Most days when I am operating, I choose a playlist on my iPhone and plug it into the speaker. I don’t have it on particularly loud, but I do have it playing, as to create background noise. Silence can often convey tension, and I find people work better together when everyone is relaxed. Often, patients will comment on the background music as they are being wheeled into the operating theatre, and some appreciates it as it takes their minds off on what’s to come. Sometimes I use it as a topic for conversation, to distract the patient as he or she is going to sleep.

My playlists consist of a wide range of music. I remember trying to load up my husband’s iPhone with music a few years ago, so he too can play music in the operating theatre. I asked him what he wanted on it. He told me whatever I want. The next question that came out of my mouth was, ‘Do you want something you like, or something that’s cool?’ It took me a while afterwards to realise why he was sulking.

I have lots of playlists. One for early in the day, all calm smooth jazzy stuff, then one full of pop and lively tunes for the afternoon. I even have a playlist called ‘closing music’, just something to put on when I am finishing up a long case – the first song being ‘We gotta get out of this place’ by The Animals.

Lately, the shuffling on my playlists seems to have a life of its own, with very bad timing. Just a week ago, I noticed my patient’s eyes look at me in horror as he was going to sleep. I couldn’t work out what was causing his distress until I realised that the sound system was softly playing Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’. It was not the first time in the last month that my playlists have shown impeccable timing and bad taste. Because the week before, Queen was blaring ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ as my patient was being wheeled into the operating room.

So here I have compiled a list of songs that should not be played when patients are about to have surgery. I have erased them from my work playlists.

Knockin On Heavens Door – Guns N Roses and Bob Dylan

Tears in Heaven – Eric Clapton

Dancing with Mr D – The Rolling Stones

Kill you – Eminem

Ready to Die – The Notorious B.I.G.

Great Gig in The Sky – Pink Floyd

If Tomorrow Never Comes – Ronan Keating

Killing Me Softly – The Fugees

Now if anyone else can think of any other inappropriate songs that they may not want to hear as they are being put to sleep, please feel free to add to the list.

 

 

 

 

10 Things I Hate About You – Part II

10things5

Well, when I wrote the original ’10 Things I Hate About You’, I actually had no intentions in writing a Part II. However, as hubby pointed out, it was totally unfair that I got to vent all his less-than-appealing traits to the public without any input on his part. He felt that since he didn’t get to defend himself, everyone should know about the things he hated about me; our’s being an equal relationship and all.

Hang on a minute. As far as I was concerned, he loves everything about me. Absolutely everything. I am flawless, perfection itself, and can do no wrong.

Well, wasn’t it a reality check when he unceremoniously handed me this list.

1. You are permanently attached to your phone.

Ok, I need to be contactable at all times for my patients. You should understand that, you are a surgeon yourself. So what if I occasionally use it to check my Facebook, Instagram, WordPress, email and maybe crush some candies. I can’t NOT have it on me! What if a patient desperately needed my advice after surgery? And what if I missed out on my best friend posting her latest hot date on Instagram? I may need to give a life urgently on Candy Crush. It’s life-saving stuff, this little phone and all that it conveys.

2. You don’t know how to say ‘No’ except to me.

That’s a bit harsh. I can’t always say yes to you, otherwise we would permanently be stuck in bed. You know you might actually have an issue, the number of times you ask for it, maybe you should seek counselling or something like Mr X-files in Californication. Oh, what? Oh, you didn’t mean that? *Blush* Oh, ok. Yeah, you are right, I just can’t say no to people. It’s just one more patient to add to the list, one more favour to do for a colleague, one more committee to join or one more meeting to organise. I know it takes up too much of my ‘spare-time’ *insert sarcastic laughter here*, but I am just trying to help out. I don’t always say ‘no’ to you. I mean, you don’t really need me to cook dinner for you, do you? There’s Lite’n Lazy in the freezer that you can pop in the microwave if you are hungry. You do know how to operate the microwave on your own, right? How about some take-away? Just look it up on google and dial it on your iPhone. I am sure you will be able to find a present for your mother’s birthday – you don’t really need me, it’s not as if she’s liked anything I’ve given her in the past. It’s just that other people really need me, and you are so capable, darling.

3. You are always rushing me

Well, if you don’t always drag your feet whenever we are heading out, or take so damn long getting ready, I wouldn’t be rushing you at all, would I? If you would just spend one minute less admiring yourself in the mirror, and stop practising your Blue Steel, I wouldn’t have to scream at you to hurry up.

4. You don’t like my friends

You don’t like my friends. So we are even. You think my friends are opinionated, loud, and coo-coo. Well, let me tell you, your friends are narcissistic, chauvinistic and appreciate the wrong things about women. Yes, I know all about the tits and bum scoring system that you and the boys whip out on your nights out. And I don’t even want to know where they take you during those escapades.

5. You don’t find my jokes funny

I know, I am sorry I may have misled you. I used to laugh at your jokes when we were dating. I was being polite, and I wanted you to like me. Then, when we were past the dating stage, I just didn’t want to hurt your feelings. Now, I really just don’t find male stupidity funny. And you have to admit, the quality of your jokes have deteriorated from our dating days. You weren’t exactly telling me the types of jokes you are relaying to me now. No, I definitely don’t remember the words ‘boob’ or any references to the male genitalia in any of the jokes you told me all those years ago.

6. You don’t listen to me when I am talking to you

Sweetheart, let me know tell you something about women. We multi-task. Yes, it may seem as if I am not listening to you when I am texting on my phone, reading a post on Facebook, watching TV or ‘working’ on my computer, but in actual fact, I have been listening to you. I may not respond – usually because I don’t really like what you are telling me, but trust me, I heard you. I may make sympathetic noises, which I know annoys the crap out of you, but that just means you are ranting and raving about something totally inconsequential again. You do realise that you talk at me and not to me sometimes, especially when you start a tirade about some political issues in the paper. You would raise your voice, get all hot and bothered, and then you look at me as if I was the culprit causing all the trouble. What do you want me to say? I am sorry for everything that the Australian Labour Party has done?! Trust me, Hon, I am listening. I heard you the first time, as well as the second, third, fourth and fifth time.

7. You can’t sleep in and that means I am not allowed to sleep in either

You always complain that we don’t spend enough quality time together. Well, having breakfast together is quality time, right? I mean, if you want to spend as much of my waking moments with me, then you need to get up when I do. There is no point me eating on my own at 5am on a Sunday morning, if you ate with me, you could talk and I promise to listen.

8. You fall asleep at the dinner table

Trust me, this takes talent. It’s not easy to snatch speed naps in between courses. You should know better than to book an 8-course degustation menu at the 8.30pm sitting. By the time the dessert arrived, it was midnight. I am getting old, if you haven’t noticed; I am usually passed out with my glasses around my nostrils by 9pm. So if you want me to stay awake for dinner, you better feed me at nanna time by 6pm. Or clear my schedule for a nanna nap in the afternoon so that I can be prepared for a big night out.

9. You count my drinks

Ok, this is easy. There are a multitude of reasons I don’t like you drinking. You have a strong family history of alcoholism. You use it as an excuse to get out of driving (and you know I hate driving in the dark). You have very posh taste in alcohol – you would have nothing but Moet, Grange and 18 year plus single malt whiskey. You can tolerate such a huge amount of alcohol (thanks to your Eastern European genes), it gets rather expensive when we go out. You are a terrible drunk. You go straight from sober to the funny drunk with no warning. And you know exactly how I feel about your jokes when you are trying to be ‘funny’. The funny drunk stage only lasts for 10 minutes before you become the sleepy drunk, or rather, the unconscious loud-snoring drunk who obviously has issues with his own airway, because the snores are regularly punctuated by convulsive thunderous snorting when your addled brain reminds you to breathe. And you wonder why you find yourself sleeping on the couch the morning after.

10. You break the Fart Trust

Just give me a minute to explain the Fart Trust. The Fart Trust is the ultimate form of trust in a marriage. The problem lies in the fact that you and I have very different definition of the Fart Trust. To me, it means that you own up to your fart. To you, it means that you warn your spouse before you fart. Now, I understand you have issues with my ‘silent killers’, but I am a lady after all, and I don’t go around letting it rip loud and clear like you blokes do. If you asked me, I would gladly own up to my own farts but I don’t see why I have to verbally announce them.

 

So there, I do hope you feel better now that you have exposed my unappealing side to the public. Maybe it’s not fair that I get to defend myself with your list, but Hon, this is my blog. Get your own if you think your views have been poorly represented.

Oh, and of course,I love you too.

My Other Half

Anaesthetic

A surgeon is incomplete without an anaesthetist. I cannot perform surgery without one, I cannot concentrate on what I do without knowing that there is someone looking after my patient. A surgeon and anaesthetist are like husband and wife, yin and yang, each half of a twin, right and left hand……

The success between a surgeon and an anaesthetist is based on complete trust. The anaesthetists trust us not to harm our patients during an operation and we have implicit trust in them to keep our patients alive and stable while we perform the necessary tasks. As much as we love to be-little each other in jest, we are completely cognizant of the fact that we couldn’t do without each other; as I said, like an old married couple.

Often, conversations flow during a procedure, particularly long operations. This could range from clinical discussions, to personal relationships. These conversations are like those when one is lying in the dark with one’s best friend, where deep personal thoughts are said out loud, and honest responses are given. These earnest dialogues take place over the top drapes separating the anaesthetic corner from the surgical field. – so-called ‘blood-brain barrier’ – because the anaesthetists are the ‘brains’ or the smarter doctor (so they think) and we are often jokingly known as the bloody butchers. It is not uncommon to have my anaesthetist’s head peering over this drape, reassuring me when I become hesitant in an operation, comforting me when I lament on difficult patients, encouraging me when I am struggling with a particularly challenging procedure, and humouring me when I rant and rave about injustices in my personal life. But not all of our verbal exchanges are serious, often well-aimed insults are fired regularly across the patient, in an attempt to evoke witty repartees.

Last week, I lost my anaesthetist. She wasn’t just my other half, but she was my friend, my confidant, my rock, and part of my life. We started our careers in private practice together, we supported each other through some difficult times in our profession, and we shared many stories, experiences and challenges in our personal lives together.

It is difficult for me to accept that she is gone from my life. She was like a pair of comfortable old shoes, someone who knew me, someone I didn’t have to pretend with, an old friend whom I could just pick up an old conversation where we left off a week ago. Her sense of humour and directness fitted my moments of moodiness, her logic and reasoning soothed my indignant outbursts. She gave me sympathy when I needed it and empathy when I got frustrated.

She put my patients to sleep safely and efficiently, many times anticipating what I required in the anaesthetic without asking me. She never doubted my judgement or questioned my requests; she knew when to speak up and when to pipe down. She knew that in times of emergency, the last thing I needed was to have to spell out specific instructions to her, whilst trying to deal with my own stresses.

She had traits that frustrated me, and yet made me laugh at times. She had no sense of direction. Sometimes I would walk past her on my way back from the recovery unit, and see her wandering towards the change rooms. When I asked her if she was going off on a toilet break, she would say she was heading out to see the next patient in the holding bay (which was in the opposite direction). It didn’t matter that she had been working with me in that theatre complex for the last 5 years, from time to time, I still had to physically steer her towards the correct corridor, and the right direction.

She had a thing about firearms, which was amazing considering the fact that she was from South Africa and was given her first pistol at the age of 18 as a birthday present. When I took her to the local gun club to trial clay pigeon shooting, she was nervous and afraid, she pulled the trigger even before the clay pigeons were being flung! There were a few holes in the walls of the trap house where her gun was pointing at. At the time, even though we both laughed so hard at her inept attempts, I was particularly proud of the fact that she overcame her fear to give it a go.

One of the things I admired most about her was her ability to do as she pleased without worrying what others thought of her. She didn’t care about unflattering photos on Facebook. She didn’t mind dressing up as the dorkiest bride at a friend’s party celebrating Prince William and Princess Kate wedding. She tried everything and anything without judgement and reservation. She did her best for the patient even if it meant hassling or inconveniencing other colleagues. She did what was right even if it meant she had to take the long way round or spend extra money. She talked about her life and her opinions openly, without fear of being judged for what she believed in.

She was generous. And she was considerate. She bought me a pair of expensive padded theatre shoes because I was complaining of shin splints and calcaneal spurs after being on my feet 18 hours a day. She ordered coffee for everyone in the operating theatre whenever we were having a particularly long day. She would tell me to un-scrub and take a break if I was doing a long case.

She treated everyone the same. She knew all the anaesthetic nurses’ family members by name. She never failed to ask about their pets. She would treat the orderlies with respect, and she would tell me off if I had inadvertently offended her. She spent the time and energy teaching new nurses and technicians, and she would patiently explain her particular preferences even though she had been working at the same place for the last five years. She gave her best clinical skills to the thief who came into the emergency theatre after crashing a stolen vehicle, and to Nelson Mandela when he had eye surgery in 1994.

She was passionate. She loved the wild, and her homeland. She travelled to South Africa regularly to visit her family, and to spend time at her beloved chimpanzees and gorillas reserves. She was forever posting links about wildlife conservation and the cruelty of game hunting. She was constantly reminding us not to become complacent in protecting species that were less fortunate than us in protecting themselves.

Most of all, she was prepared. One could never pull the wool over her eyes. She saw reality as it was, life and death as it happened throughout her career. She saw cancer patients younger than her daughter, and accidents that changed young men’s lives forever. She and I often lament about how life is too short to bear grudges, to hold back and to be afraid. She wanted to protect those she loved, as we all found out when she passed. She had prepared an envelope for her most trusted closest friend, just for an unexpected time such as this. Her affairs were organised down to the last detail, and her will was legality iron-clad with no contestability. The fact that she took such pains to stipulate everything as the way she wanted, not the way she was expected, showed that she was a realist, with the foresight and consideration for those around her.

She was 59. One year short of the big 6-0. She didn’t look her age, because she lived her life with the enjoyment of someone who was experiencing everything for the first time. She was taken away from us too soon. Too unexpectedly. We are all still in shock, as to how it could happen to someone who was so full of life.

I am finding it difficult to grasp, that she is now gone.

When I walked into my operating theatre today, you weren’t there. Even though I went through the motions and completed my list without a hitch, I felt lost.

I felt lost because you weren’t there.

So I cry, because I know you will never be there with me again.

 

Stalker #1

stalker 5

When I was a young resident working in the Emergency Department, a young Japanese sushi chef was brought in by his friend because he had sliced his fingertip off. Ok, everyone please refrain from making jokes about fingertip sashimi….. ‘Hmm hmm, but I would imagine it would be quite tough, especially with the nail’. Stop. It. Right. There.

I digress. I was assigned by my senior registrar to ‘patch’ him up, during which, I tried to make polite conversation to take his mind off the pain I was inflicting. He told me about himself and how he had only arrived in Australia 12 months ago. He told me about his restaurant, which I realised was the new one that I drove past everyday on the way to work. He asked me whether I cooked or if I preferred to have someone cooking for me. It didn’t take long for me to realise that Mr Sushi Chef was trying to chat me up. He asked me if I liked Japanese food, and I said I did. His friend (or ‘wingman’) beside him then said that my patient was ‘a very good sushi chef’. I nearly rolled my eyes, and refrained from commenting the obvious: he was so good at it that he sliced his fingertip off. I caught evil smirks on my nurse’s face as she turned away to get some equipment, which left me no doubt of the fact that this story would be doing the rounds as soon as we have finished in the procedure room.

After I have dressed his finger, given him instructions and antibiotics, I said my goodbyes (whilst trying to push him out the door) amidst his effusive gratitude. He then invited me to his restaurant for free sushi. I politely declined, but he insisted, so I just made some very non-committal noises to get him off my back. Mistake Number One.

The whole incident was forgotten a few days later, after everyone have had their turn at making a joke on my behalf about being hit on by a Sushi Chef who sliced his fingertip off with bits of raw fish. Yes, yes, I have heard it all, in all variations.

Until a week later, when a platter of sushi was delivered to our emergency department with a thank-you card, one that not only had my name on it, but the name and address of his restaurant, with his personal mobile number. Despite another round of jokes at the expense of Mr Sushi Chef’s sharp knife skills, (‘hey, Tiff, is that some finger pulp I see in your sushi.’), the platter was devoured within 20 minutes by everyone in the department. I had to admit that the sushi wasn’t bad at all.

When I left my shift that day at 10pm, I headed out the staff exit next to the ambulance bay. As I closed the door behind me, I saw a shadow from the corner of my eye.

‘Dr Tiffany, I have been waiting for you.’

I spun around and nearly got the fright of my life. It was Mr Sushi Chef. I frowned at him; the exit was a restricted staff area. Unease flooded me. I took out my badge, in case I needed to make a quick entry back into the department. He asked me if I enjoyed the Sushi he sent in the afternoon and that whether I had his number. I politely thanked him for the platter and told him that it was unnecessary. I decided against telling him that I wasn’t interested considering I was alone in a dark alley with him. I wasn’t too sure what he would do if I turned him down. I tried to make polite conversation with him, during which I found out that one of the receptionists had given him my finish time and my usual routine. He asked me if I wanted to go out for a drink, but I told him that I was tired and had to do an early shift the next day. He asked me to come into his restaurant tomorrow after my shift, and refused to leave until I agreed. So I did, and breathed a sigh of relief when he left. I quickly headed towards my car in the public car park and drove home. Mistake Number Two.

The next day at work, I rang the restaurant and breathed a sigh of relief when one of the waitresses picked up. I left a quick message to say I would be caught up at work and cancelled the dinner. I then went to see my supervisor and told him about the incident. It wasn’t my intention to get the receptionist into trouble, but I was concerned that next time, it wouldn’t be something as harmless as a persistent admirer.

Or so I thought. Flowers started to arrive. By now, the department was in an uproar of jokes. It did not matter that I was known to be in a long term relationship with a fellow colleague already (my current husband), everyone thought it was very sweet. By the end of the week, I had to write a note to him, thanking him for his gestures, explaining that it was unethical for me date a patient (I didn’t point out the fact that it was ok if the doctor-patient relationship was already finished), and that I was already in a relationship. I told him that he was very sweet, and some girl would be very lucky one day. Blah, blah, blah. I tried to make it as gentle as possible (if any rejection letter can be considered as such), and then I sent it to his restaurant. Mistake Number Three.

The flowers stopped.

One early evening, two weeks later, I found him waiting for me by my car in the car park. The first thought that hit me was how long he must have spent walking around the eight –storey car park to find my car. Secondly, how the hell did he know which car was mine?! In between those inane thoughts, I considered turning around and running back to the hospital, but at the same time, I realised he had already seen me. He was much taller than me, and It would have been no contest for him to outrun me in my kitten heels (I was on my way to meeting some friends for dinner). I slowly approached my car, but stood a few metres away from him.

He told me that he just wanted to speak to me, because I had broken his heart. I said that I was already in a relationship. He then said that I couldn’t possibly be happy in my relationship, otherwise I would have turned him down the first time and that he wanted me to be the lucky girl I mentioned in my ‘love letter’. He said that he waited for weeks by his phone for me to call after he had received the letter. The letter was a sign that we were star-crossed lovers like Romeo and Juliet. He was approaching me slowly as he spoke. It was at this point, I realised that I was dealing with a slightly deranged individual.

I had slowly manoeuvred myself to the car door, so I told him that I really wasn’t interested. He stayed still, but smiled at me knowingly as he watched me getting in the car. He said loudly just before I closed the car door that he already knew where I lived because he followed me home that first night. I told him that his persistence will not change my mind and he could follow me all he liked, because I was heading out for dinner with friends. When I arrived at the local pub, I was shaking so hard, I had to sit in the car for 20 minutes before I could join my friends.

The next day, some dead roses arrived for me, and a card declaring that I broke his heart again last night. This time, there were no jokes being bantered around. I had another meeting with my supervisor. I was to car-pool with a male colleague to and from work. There was no shortage of volunteers, as everyone knew my partner was seconded to the Emergency Department at Port Hedland Hospital over 1600 km away and I was living alone for 3 months. Many nurses offered for me to stay with them for a few weeks. Our emergency department trained the medics for SAS (Australian Special forces), so often, one of them would either offer me a lift home or to walk me and a colleague to the car.

One night, one of the SAS medics, Theo, drove me home. He had been assigned to me for 8 weeks and I had just spent the week making him efficient in stitching up wounds and putting in IV lines.  In return, he had driven me home for the last three evenings in a row. He lived at the barracks one suburb away from mine. When we arrived at my place, he pointed out that there was a brown Holden Gemini across the road which had been there the night before. I knew it wasn’t any of the neighbour’s and told him so. To my surprise, he got out of the car and walked to the brown Gemini. I called him back, but he just waved me off and told me to stay put. Yep, ‘stay put’ like I was one of his little soldiers.

He tapped on the window. While I watched him, bending over and speaking to someone through the window, all sorts of horrible images went through my mind. I could hardly hear anything as neither voice was raised. I clutched my phone and thought, what if he got stabbed, or worse, shot? I started to get out of the car, hoping to physically pull that 220-pound pure muscle mass away from danger. However, as I shut the car door, I saw that he had already turned away the Gemini and was walking back towards me.

‘Was it him?’ I asked. Theo nodded and signalled for me to stay quiet. He took the house keys from my restless hands and pushed me towards my unit. I imagined Mr Sushi Chef’s beady eyes looking at us, and almost felt my back glow with heat.

Theo shepherded me into the house, and quickly went around the lounge to switch all the lights on. He then opened the blinds at the front window and stood in full view of the street. I imagined he would have made an impressive shadow in my window frame. Whilst looking out at the car across the road, he took out his mobile phone, dialled a number and put it to his ear. A second later, I heard the brown Gemini splutter as its engine ignited. It headed off with a squeal down the road.

When the car disappeared from sight, he put his phone back into his pocket and lowered the blinds. ‘He won’t bother you anymore,’ he said, ‘but you can come over and have dinner with us. Stay the night if you are worried.’ At the word dinner, his eyes took on a glassy appearance, ‘I think Mandy is making curry tonight.’ Thoughtful silence followed. ‘The baby will probably keep you awake all night though.’ He winced at his own words.

I politely turned down his offer. Despite knowing his wife was an excellent cook (as evidenced by the incredible lunch boxes he brought to work everyday), crying babies was definitely not an additional enticement to his offer.

‘What did you say to him?’ I asked curiously.

He shrugged. ‘I told him I was a security guard and that if I saw either him or his car anywhere near you again, I will call the cops. I told him I knew his number plate, his phone number and his restaurant, which I will give to the cops. After which, he might get fined, or go to jail and he would lose his restaurant.’ He helped himself to a glass of water from the tap and sat down on my lounge.

I followed suit, glad he wasn’t leaving yet, and laughed at him, ‘That’s not true and you know it. The cops would have just ignored us.’

‘He doesn’t know that, he has only been in Australia for 12 months,‘ Theo winked. ‘Anyway, all the chefs are the same,’ he would know because his brother-in-law was a chef. ‘The restaurant means more to them than anything else in the world, they wouldn’t do anything to put it in jeopardy. And my guess is that he’s not even a permanent resident, so he can’t afford to get in trouble with the police.’

Theo was right. Despite the fact that we car-pooled together for another month, Mr Sushi Chef was never to be seen or heard from again.

 

The painful truth behind the playful quip

infertilitywoman

People don’t mean to be hurtful, they don’t mean to be unkind. People are just generally nosey and volunteer unsolicited well-meaning advice. Sometimes I just smile and nod, other days I grit my teeth and try not to scream.

This is the typical conversation which frustrates me because it leads to one of the darkest corners of my life, something that I don’t want to talk about. With anyone.

Well Meaning Person: Do you have any children?

Me: No (insert polite laughter), My husband wouldn’t even allow me to have a goldfish until my pot-plant survives for more than 3 months.

WMP: Oh, but babies are different, they are special and they are so much a part of you that you won’t forget to water and feed them! You will learn to love them more than life itself.

Me: Ah huh.

WMP: You should really think about having children, they are so rewarding. You and your husband would make such good-looking babies. You are still young enough, and time slips away, I wouldn’t leave it too long….

It is at this stage which I often try to remind myself that he/she isn’t being deliberately malicious, they are just curious and maybe, interested in my life. Yet I am filled with the urge to yell, Shut up, leave me alone. We can’t have children.

I tried that once. Well, maybe not quite that rude, but the response I got was, ‘Why can’t you have children?’

Aaaaaaargh. What part of ‘Shut up, leave me alone’ did you NOT understand?

I don’t like talking about our infertility, to anyone. I resent anyone prying into my personal pain. I have problems finding the right words, and I find it agonising to even think about it. I am slowly coming to terms with the decisions we have made, and yet I shudder at how others would judge me for them. Everyday, I carry on with my life, my job and my responsibilities as if there’s nothing amiss, but not a single day goes by, do I go without that deep yearning I have for a child, and the profound ache in my heart that comes with it.

Maybe it is time I share our story. Maybe if I tell it, it will help me to move beyond that excruciating pain every time I think of it. It may stop my constant fear of being found out and being judged for our decisions.  Oh dear, I haven’t even started telling you our story, and my face is already wet with tears as I am thinking of my next sentence.

Sometime this month, would have been Michaela’s 7th birthday.

I have had IVF treatment since I was 23 years old. I still remember my first appointment with my fertility specialist. I was sitting in the waiting room, for my number to be called, so my bloods could be taken for tests. Next to me sat a woman in her early 40’s. She was elegantly dressed in what looked to be a very expensive designer clothes. Her ears, neck and wrists dripped with pearls and she wore  a beautiful stack of diamond rings on her ring finger. She turned and caught my eyes. She smiled as I fidgeted under her gaze.

‘Is this your first time?’ she asked me. I distinctly remembered the kindness in her voice.

I nodded nervously. ‘Yeah.’

She patted my hand. ‘Don’t worry. You are young. You will have no trouble.’

I thanked her for her reassurance. In an awkward attempt to make conversation, I asked her, ‘so how many times…. ‘

She smiled serenely as if to reassure me that I wasn’t offending her. ‘I have been doing this for 10 years. You never know,’ she looked up wistfully at the baby picture on the wall of the waiting room, ‘this might be my lucky cycle.’

Ten years? I remembered thinking. How can anyone put themselves through ten years of IVF? Isn’t Life trying to tell you something if you haven’t gotten pregnant after that many tries? Somebody please shoot me if I ever become so obsessed that I have lost that much perspective and insight! I promised myself there and then that when it is time, I will give up and get on with my life.

Little did I know.

I remember laughing at my specialist when he told me that the success rate of an IVF cycle was 30%. At the time, I told him that no one would offer their patient a surgical procedure with that kind of success rate. He said that unlike surgeons, he was an optimist. To him, it meant that every three women he treated, one couple will have the baby they desperately wanted.

Even that conversation did not prepare me for the amount of disappointments that followed. The first cycle I have ever had, I was so excited when all the tests showed that my body was responding enthusiastically to the hormonal treatments – so much so that they managed to harvest 10 eggs. Ten eggs?!! My partner and I were joking about a soccer team.  Two days later, when I presented for implantation, they told me that 5 eggs had not survived and did not fertilise.  I felt a little let down, but he reassured me that a volleyball team was fine too. I was given two embryos, while the others were put in deep freeze. Needless to say, the implantation was not successful, and only one embryo survived the thawing process at my next implantation cycle. That was not successful either. The whole process repeated itself. Cycle after cycle. Again and again. One disappointment after another.

Fast forward 8 years. I had spent over seventy thousand dollars, changed two specialists, endured hundreds of blood tests, ultrasounds and more than a dozen anaesthetics for egg harvests. I have had emergency surgery for an ectopic pregnancy, which was then complicated by postoperative haemorrhage, two spontaneous miscarriages, several D&C’s for non-viable pregnancies and so many episodes of morning sickness that I had lost count. During those years, I ran out of tears. I learnt not to celebrate or be hopeful with any positive results, I reminded myself to be patient.

It was a very difficult time in our lives. My husband (M) and I weren’t married at that stage (because we chose to save money for treatment rather than a wedding, and we couldn’t have time off from work at the same time), both of us were trying to get onto the surgical training program, and we did not tell anyone (not our family nor any of our friends). One of my spontaneous miscarriages at 8 weeks occurred whilst I was operating. my heart sank when I felt a slight gush between my legs. I finished the case, went to the bathroom, cleaned myself up, doubled over in pain from the cramps, and cried. Ten minutes later, I took some painkillers, washed my face, opened the bathroom door and carried on with the rest of the operating list. One of my D&C’s was done in the morning at 8am. I went home, slept it off, and then started my surgical on-call at 6pm that night.Through the years, we told no one, and I worked hard at hiding the treatments, the nausea and vomiting, and all the procedures from my colleagues. I didn’t want sympathy or questions. This was something personal and painful.

My father once told me that if I worked hard enough and wanted something bad enough, I can get anything I want in Life. I wanted to yell and scream at him for telling me a lie. No matter how good I was, how hard I tried and how much I wanted – I couldn’t have a baby. I realised, during those years, that sometimes I just simply have absolutely no control over my destiny.

Then, two months before my specialist exam, I found myself sitting in the waiting room for my usual blood test.

‘Hey Tiff.’ I looked up. It was my specialist. She waved me in. I sat down in front of her, and she smiled at me. ‘Do you know what today is?’

My head was still full of classifications for skin cancers and the reconstructive ladder from two whole days of studying, I could only look at her blankly.

‘You are twelve weeks today.’ When I just stared at her in stupefied silence. She reached over and touched my hand. ‘You are now in second trimester of your pregnancy.’

I was pregnant? I asked myself in shock. Of course I was. I was so used to miscarriages and non-viable pregnancies that I never allowed myself to believe tha I was pregnant in case of another disappointment. But now I am 12 weeks, the chance of me losing my pregnancy is minimal. It was as if something opened inside me. It was Hope. I was so excited I could barely write down the time of my first baby ultrasound before I left her office.  That night, M and I talked. We planned what we were going to do with our career in 6 months when the baby arrived, we dreaded what we were going to say to our parents, we argued about names, we calculated our finances. We held each other tightly, with his hand on my belly that night as we fell asleep in the early hours of the morning.

The next morning, both us blurry eyed from too much excitement, I drove M to the airport – he was leaving for an interstate conference which was booked over 6 months ago. He told me he couldn’t wait to get home in a week’s time, so that we could continue our debate on baby names. Then I drove to the hospital, to have my first baby ultrasound. I hummed to the music on the radio, and I vividly recall the happiness that bubbled inside me, I could barely keep a lid on it, it was threatening to overflow. I had forgotten about my looming exams; even the thought of having to do long hours of studying when I get home didn’t dent my elated mood.

Little did I know, that half hour later, my world would come crashing down around me.

The first inkling that something might be wrong occurred when the ultrasonographer went out to get two other colleagues. There was some whispering between them. They told me that it was most likely a girl. Then they asked me to wait. An elderly woman, with silver hair piled on top of her head in a loose knot came in and introduced herself. She was obviously a very experienced obstetric radiologist. She also had a go with the probe. She concentrated very hard on the screen and started to press quite hard on my belly. She asked me to change my position several times. Then she left, and I could hear her having a conversation with someone on the phone.

I laid there, resting my hands protectively on my flat tummy, and tried to make out the shapes and shades on the screen – but, like every other ultrasound I have ever tried to read, the picture looked like an abstract art of cows in a snowstorm. The silver-haired-lady walked in. She sat down beside the bed.

‘Tiff.’ She took a big breath. ‘The ultrasound is showing me an abnormality with the baby’s heart.’

With those words, within that split second after she had uttered them, I withdrew into myself. It was as if the world had suddenly gone from full Technicolor to black-white. She kept talking. I heard everything, but it was as if she was on the other side of a glass wall. The sound was muffled, and there was a loud buzzing noise in my head. I felt…. nothing. I was told to go straight to my specialist, so numbly, I did. The specialist sat me down and told me the implications of the findings. She told me that it was my decision what I wanted to do, and that termination was available up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. I wasn’t sure what expression I had on my face, but when I left her office, the receptionist kept asking if she could call someone for me. I smiled through a face that felt like it was carved out of a stone and decline. I drove home. I turned the radio off in the car. I couldn’t bear the noise and the normality that the radio represented.

I rang M. He was quiet on the phone. As a cardiac surgeon, he knew the implications of having a child with congenital heart disease. He sees the suffering of these patients and their families day in day out. He knew this particular condition, it was one with a bad prognosis. He told me that if we went ahead, one of us will have to stop working. He told me that we will be burying our child when she turns 13 if we were lucky. He told me that it wasn’t a life he would want for anyone, let alone his own daughter.

He wasn’t telling me anything that I didn’t know already. I have congenital heart disease. Mine wasn’t anything structural, but it affected my childhood and subsequent years. I spent a lot of time in hospital as a child, I saw things in hospital that a child wouldn’t normally know about. I met other sick children, their parents and all acopic behaviours that came with it. I was introduced to the concept of death before I turned 5 years old, and I experienced the sensation of dying at the age of 6. I suffered from pathological envy – of all the normal children that went to school everyday, kicked balls and played tag in the park. I endured the embarrassment of collapsing in public places and schools, lying on the ground, gasping for breath and helpless while strangers stared on with pity in their eyes.  I remember my brothers resenting having to visit me in the hospital, and spending hours sitting in doctors’ waiting rooms. I used to watch them play while cuddled in Dad’s lap, wishing I was the one climbing up the slide and digging in the sand. I was not allowed to socialise with other children in case I caught an illness, as one of the gastros I contracted from my brother tipped me over into heart failure. He cried when my mother explained what had happened (so that he wouldn’t do it again), he was upset because all he wanted to do, was to share his favourite cookie with me.

I remember feeling like I was 20 years old when I turned 13, even though by then, I was getting better, getting to do more things I had missed out on as a child, and going to school like any regular kid. I felt old at school, I couldn’t fathom why a conversation on who was friends with whom held so much fascination, and what one got for their birthdays was worth boasting about. I just wanted to reach my next one.

My experiences made me what I am today, and I am thankful for some of it but it was not a childhood I would have chosen, for myself and or anyone else. Was it worth the survival? I am not so sure. My condition is treated and stable, and I have been able to lead a very productive life, but severe structural congenital heart disease is on another completely different level of suffering. It means repeated open heart surgery throughout childhood and enduring multiple associated illnesses. Every hours in the day will evolve around medications, treatments, and painful tests. All this would be for nothing but suffering a short 10-15 year life-span, which consisted only of limited moments of true care-free quality. It was be a life filled with restriction and fear.

Then there were the selfish thoughts which I was afraid of exploring. Was I strong enough to watch my child endure all this, as there was no doubt that I would love her so much that it would be as if I myself was going through her suffering. And I knew how much harder it would be, second time round and seeing it happening to someone I love rather than myself. Would my world collapse when she dies? Would my marriage survive all this? Was I prepared to give up my career for a decade or more and not develop resentment for doing so? Would I regret or hate myself when I see her suffer? Thoughts that I knew I would be judged on by others.

I thought of talking to my mother, but she didn’t know and I wasn’t married, it was going to be a conversation with a lot more issues than the ones I was facing now. I wanted to know what it was like for her to watch me during my childhood. She didn’t know that I had problems until I was born, but if she did, would she have made a different decision?

So we made our decision, and as it would have it, I was due for a long weekend at work, so I booked in with my obstetrician.  I asked M if we were doing the right thing. He told me that we were doing what was right for us. I asked him if he was upset. He said that there was no point in getting upset about something we had no control over. I begged him to come home. He told me that there was no point for him to fly home as it wasn’t going to change anything, he had a presentation to do and it was important to his career. I didn’t dare to be demanding, and so I didn’t argue. I told myself that one day I may be able to forgive him, but I would never forget that he wasn’t here when I needed him most.

I checked myself into hospital on the Friday and had my procedure. I woke up and found that my face was wet and my fair was saturated with my tears. I was kept overnight because there was no one home with me. I checked out the next day, and couldn’t bear the thought of having polite conversation with a taxi driver, so I walked home. It took 45 minutes. When I unlocked the front door of my house and sat down on the lounge, I curled up in physical pain and cried. I didn’t move for 24 hours.

On Sunday, M came home, and it was as if nothing had happened over the week he was away. We talked about his trip and the conference. We talked about the friends he caught up with, and the places he visited while he was there.  Monday came and we both went back to work and back to our normal routine. It wasn’t as if he was avoiding the subject, he didn’t cut me short when I spoke about it. He was just quiet and listened to whatever I needed to say. We talked about the possibility of starting another cycle of treatment after my exams, and he told me that I needed three months to allow my body and mind to heal. The conversations were always devoid of any emotional overlay. One would have thought we were talking about the weather. He would then ask about my studies, and how much more I had to do before the exams. Life moved on.

Three months flew by, my exams were successful and we had just been out to celebrate.  That night. we were both lying in bed, listening to each other’s breathing, waiting for sleep to overcome us.

He suddenly spoke into the silence.  ‘When I was on the plane over, I decided on Michaela, but we would call her Mischka.’

It was then I realised. He was grieving for our daughter.

——————————————————————–

WMP: But why wouldn’t you want to have babies?

Me: (another polite laughter), I don’t need children when I have patients. They keep me busy enough and I can’t even tell them off when I want to.

I stopped IVF treatment a few years ago. It was enough. I have tried for over 12 years and I was out of tears.

 

The Expert Opinion of Medical Students

med student

Ok. I am an old and cranky surgeon. And this post is going to make me sound positively ancient. It starts off with

When I was a medical student……

Is it just me, or are the medical students these days getting more brazen, opinionated and full of self-importance?

I used to love clinical teaching. Our students used to turn up early on consultant ward rounds, some with prepared case studies of patients on the ward, and helped out our residents and interns with preparations of the round. In the operating room, they used to stand quietly at the head of the patient, peering over the anaesthetic drape and asked intelligent questions. Questions that showed they had checked what was on the list and read about it the night before. They stayed until the case was finished, whether it would be 6pm or 1am. They were eager to scrub in if they were offered the chance and absorbed information like sponges.

Nowadays, they turn up on the ward round at the same time as me, with no idea of the patients on the ward, nor their names and procedures, let alone their histories. The interns and residents struggle with charts, dressings and memorising lab results for each patient, whilst the students look on with vacant smiles, hands firmly tucked into their pockets.

When I was a medical student, I used to arrive an hour before my consultant, print out a patient list, and write out all lab results next to their names for the intern. I would then put all the charts onto a trolley, opened to the latest page, and stamp in the date, ready for the round. While the round is happening, I would carry a box of gloves so that the senior doctors can open the dressings, and be the official scribe in the notes while decisions are made and patient discussed. I would hand the latest lab results to my intern and make sure he/she was aware of any abnormalities. I never spoke unless spoken to. My role was to be helpful to the junior staff and be a thirsty sponge to absorb all the information bantered around my head.

Over the last few years, something changed in our medical students. I don’t know why these young minds are being poisoned, but I sure would like to correct whatever delusions some idealistic non-clinical academic lecturer are feeding them. Whatever fibs they are being told – may work great in theory and on campus, but disastrous if they really want to gain the most out of their clinical attachments. The attitude these beliefs breed in our medical students, alienates them from the real doctors in the ‘real’ world.

1. You are an important member of the clinical team.

Then they get fed this bullshit story about how once there was a patient nobody knew why he was dying and some medical student came alone, discovered the diagnosis and saved the patient. It is an Urban Legend, people. Don’t come onto my team thinking you are going to discover some astonishing fact, talk to us as if everything you have to say is of utmost importance, and please don’t look at us expectantly for a thank-you for your effort. Oh, I don’t dispute that sometimes the medical student finds something that no one else on the team knew, but it is often either of small significance, or most commonly something that would not have changed the big picture.

Nope. You kids are not important. You earn your importance. If you put in the work and help out with the team, then maybe, just maybe, you are useful. Students are actually economic burdens. Teaching takes time, time cuts into efficiency, and decreased efficiency means less thorough-put. Less thorough-put means I don’t meet my KPI (key performance indicators), and failure to meet my KPI means I don’t get my bonus. Oh, and did I mention that I don’t get any extra pay for being a teacher or having students on my team? So to cut a long story short – teaching you kids cost me my bonus. For those who put in the work, I consider it worthwhile, I’d be happy to give you my bonus just so you can stay on the team longer and learn more, because sometimes listening to my students talk intelligently makes me puff up with pride.

You are also not so important that you can call me ‘Tiff’. My intern, residents and registrars call me Dr Tiffany, and that’s forgivable because I have a unpronouncable surname (thanks to my Eastern European husband). So, at the very least, you could do me the same courtesy. Yelling down the corridor, ‘Hey, wait up Tiff’ is just not acceptable behaviour for a student on my team. Why the hell would I wait for you when you are late to the ward round anyway?!?!

2. As a medical student, you have ‘rights’

Hahahahahahaha. Sorry, I had to laugh at the absurdity of this concept. What ‘rights’ would you be referring to?

Last month, we were doing a six-hour operation which started at three pm. The student was scrubbed in to help with some retraction. As a ‘reward’ for his efforts, the senior registrar showed great patience and took her time teaching him how to stitch. When it turned six o’clock, the student wanted to be excused. The registrar made a comment that if he stayed, he could practice more suturing and close one of the wounds. His reply was, ‘I am not paid to be here. I am only here to learn. As a student, I have the right to leave when I have done my allocated hours.’

The registrar looked at me and said, ‘Great. Dr Tiffany, why don’t we all just leave the patient on the table and go home? I think I am  on the 40th hour over my allocated hours for this month. The anaesthetist here is on his 37th hour, How about you?’

Another example of the so-called ‘rights’ was demonstrated to me by a student who stood at the head of the table observing an operation last week. It was a difficult case – I was digging through scar tissue to access some very fine blood vessels without clobbering any of them and causing a blood bath. There was concentrated silence in the theatre for 2 hours. During which time, I was trying not to get too annoyed with his continuous fidgeting, coughing and sighing. When we finally negotiated through the difficult part of the operation, and I was able to relax (i.e. multi-task), I asked the student if he saw what we were trying to do. He shrugged and said that he didn’t really understand because I didn’t talk to him. I held onto my patience and pointed out all the blood vessels I have dissected out and asked him if he recognised them.

‘No, I have never seen them before. I wouldn’t know what they are. You are supposed to teach me today, but i haven’t learnt anything. I have just stood here for two hours. I don’t think we learn very much watching operations, when are you giving us a tutorial? We have a right to proper teaching.’

Time paused. I could see myself pointing to the door, and yelling ‘Get the F%$#& out of my theatre and don’t ever let me see your #$@% face ever again!’

Instead, I said, ‘If you go home and read about the anatomy of this area, you can give me a tutorial tomorrow on it, and I will tell you whether I could have done that dissection better.’

3. Your opinions are important

Trust me when I say, No, Your opinions are best kept to yourself. In regards to opinions, I have two rules I live by: One, your opinions are only worth mentioning if you are either as old as the person you are giving the opinion to, or you have at least half the experience of the subject as the person you are talking to. Two, some opinions are best left unsaid even if it is a good one.

So if you have had no experience in surgery, you need to shut up, watch and learn. I asked a medical student on her first day once, about what she think Plastic Surgery was about. She said that she knew it was all about reconstruction after removal of cancer and injuries, but ‘in my opinion, it is not really essential, so I think they should cut it out of the public health budget.’

Hmm. Let’s imagine the scenario of Miss Smartass getting run over by a car, then carted into my theatre with crushed legs. There I was, standing over her, waving my amputation saw, as she is drifting off to sleep under anaesthetic,  ‘so who think plastic surgery is not essential now?! Mwahahahaha.’

My pet hate is the student who watches me do an operation and tries to tell me how they would do it and why. Ah huh, and sorry if I sound rude, but how many of these have you done? I had to laugh once when a student actually replied, ‘Oh, I haven’t done any, but I have seen quite a few.’ My dear boy, this is not a football game, everyone is an expert because they have watched the game for years. Trust me, if you put any one of those loud, opinionated, beer-drinking, fat bastards who are always yelling obscenities from the couch, onto the football field to play, do you think they can score?! You think they’d win the game? Why don’t you just finish off this operation while I go for my tea break.

4. Medicine can be mastered with ‘Problem Based Learning’ (PBL)

I don’t think I have ever hated a mnemonic more than PBL. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the basis behind PBL, but I think PBL should be taught at the level of training registrars and residents. Teaching PBL to medical students, is like teaching a 17-year-old how to drive without him/her having passed the traffic rule-book written test. You cannot solve the problem, without rote-learning the basics. Yep. Rote-learning, reading, studying and memorising. No shortcuts or ‘I will be able to work it out.’ If you don’t have the knowledge, you won’t be able to ‘wing-it’. And trust me, when someone is bleeding to death on the operating table, they wouldn’t want you to ‘wing-it’ either. Medical school is all about garnering the basic knowledge required to make decisions, and clinical experience during internship and residency is about using that knowledge to perfect the art of clinical judgement. I am still doing problem based learning every single day I am at work. It is something I believe I will continue to do until the day I retire.

Back in the days when I was a medical student (here she goes again *eye-rolls*), we had structured learning of all sciences. It was boring, it was tough, and the amount we had to know seemed irrelevant and insurmountable. But man, was it all so useful when I started surgical training. I am a firm believer that my role as a clinical teacher is to demonstrate to my students the importance and relevance of the basic sciences. I am not trying to teach them how to do an operation, diagnose a disease or to predict prognosis. That is something I teach my surgical trainees. For the medical students, all I am trying to do, is to show them that if they know their sciences well, there will be a whole new world for them to explore with the knowledge they have.

5. There is no such thing as a Stupid Question

WRONG. There is such a thing as a stupid question. Like, ‘What sort of surgery do you do?’ Ok, let me get this right. You have been assigned to my team for 6 weeks and you have no idea what specialty we are in?

If you are thinking of asking a stupid questions, it is better that you say nothing at all. There is nothing more annoying than silly questions from medical students which reflect their complete lack of preparation. Not to mention the polite but pathetic inane questions that accentuate their complete disinterest, absence of comprehension and desire to be somewhere else. Just give me the goddamn attendance form, I will sign it so that you can get your irritating bored ass out of my theatre.

I do like questions when I operate. I like intelligent questions from my students. When a student asks me a question which showed that they have actually done some background reading, I am in seventh heaven. I would take them on a tour of every detail, every aspect and every possible outcome of the surgery we are doing. It is almost orgasmic when my diatribe generates more intelligent questions, showing that they understood what I have been trying to show them, and their interest in what I do. To me, that is like the ultimate ego-stroke.

Sometimes the students are very quiet in my theatre. I suspect it is because they don’t want me to know that they have NFI (No F%$#&ing Idea).

6. Participate in ‘Active Learning’ – speak up and question your clinical teacher

This is like a fast train wreck combining both number 3 and 5.  This is an example of ‘active learning’ from a 3rd year medical student I had last year.

Expert Medical Student: Why are you removing the rib like that?

Me: Because it is a safe way of doing it and it is how I normally do it.

EMS: I don’t think you are doing it right.

Me: Why do you say that?

EMS: I have seen Dr X and Dr Y do this operation last week and that’s not how they did it.

Me: There is usually more than one way of doing an operation, we all have our own preferences.

EMS: But I think their way is better.

Me: Because?

EMS: They are older and much more experienced, so I think you should do it like them.

I wondered if I would get reported if I picked up my sharps dish and bitch-slapped his face with it.

Me: Why don’t you just watch the way I do it and see if it achieves the same result.

EMS: I wasn’t trying to be rude or anything, it’s just that we are told to question everything so that we can learn why you do what you do.

Me: Ask me why then.

EMS: Why what?

Deep breath.

Me: Forget it.

I love my students. Really. I do. I am just very selective whom I show my love to. I love them by teaching them, and I only teach the ones that put in the effort, show respect for their teachers, don’t take our time for granted and don’t make unnecessary noises. I am too old to waste my time and effort on the others.

I sound like an old, arrogant and cranky surgeon. In actual fact, I am afraid to say that my rant reminds me of the Professor of Surgery I had when I was a medical student. Oh God, I really am ancient. I will know I am archaic when I find my portrait next to his in the hallway of the department of surgery.

 

Finding My ‘Balance’ in Music

Anyone who has treaded the career path of Medicine and Surgery will tell you –  It is a way of life. As all of us try to find the balance between work and living, we ultimately find ourselves juggling between our responsibilities to our patients and our desires to spend more time on our families and ourselves. Some manage to fit their work around their personal lives, whilst others devote their life to their work. One way or another, everyone is continually trying to reach that personal ‘perfect balance’.

Everyone has a Fork in their Life – the moment when they had to make a decision and chose a certain path – mine was between Medicine and Music. I chose Medicine because I wanted to ‘help people’. Unfortunately I found that my music was only helping little kids who didn’t want to practice before they came to their piano lessons. At the time, my very realistic pragmatic parents also had a favourite saying – ‘Music is not a real job, Music is something you do when you are pregnant, barefoot and stuck at home’. I found out that I was as pragmatic as them when, at the age of 17, I relinquished my hard-earned scholarship to the Julliard School in New York. Even though it took six rounds of being the local, state, national and regional finalists and over two years of preparation to win that scholarship, it was surprisingly easy for me to hand it back when it was pointed out to me (by my parents of course) that the only way I could have a regular income in music was to be a teacher – a lot less glamorous than my dream of becoming a performing star. The only regret I had was that my decision broke my piano teacher’s heart.

So since I started my life on the path of Medicine, I have not looked back. Like so many others on this similar path, I made sacrifices – one of which was giving up music, something that I have had since I was six years old. It was a severe case of withdrawal – from juggling piano, flute, cello and singing lessons, regular practice and numerous ensemble rehearsals, to nothing. Nothing but studying, lectures, labs, ward rounds and libraries.

I ploughed my way through medical school with four part-time jobs, and then did the obligatory overtime as a junior doctor to get onto a surgical training program. During which I was overdosed on fluorescent lights within hospitals and LED lights in operating rooms. After that, setting up private practice and running between public hospitals consumed my so-called ‘spare-time’. There weren’t enough hours in the day for my work – let alone for myself. People often asked about my hobbies – and my standard answer was: Eating, Sleeping and Remembering to Breathe. Did someone say Balance? What Balance?

One of my favourite times in the day had always been early morning – while I drove between hospital ward rounds. I often listened to Classic FM in the car, and as I drove past our local performance arts centre on the way, I often allowed myself to pretend that instead of being a surgeon going to hospitals (and listen to my patient complain), I really was a musician going to rehearsals (not that I knew of any musicians who went to work at 6am).

For me, ever since I started medical school, apart from going to the occasional concert, and tinkling on the piano at home occasionally, music hasn’t really been part of my Life.

Just me…. tinkling…..

And I missed it. Everyday.

Then I decided to join our local Medical Orchestra (MO).

Two years ago, after doing another 7-day-80-hour week, I decided that it was time I put time aside for myself. It came at the same time when our local MO was recruiting players for their next concert. My love for making music had always been very personal to me, so joining an orchestra was naturally ‘doing something for myself’. During my first rehearsal, I was pretty nervous – I didn’t know anyone, I hadn’t read music for years, and the last time I touched my flute was before Medical School! Not to mention the embarrassing condition my flute was in – it was so black that I had to spend an hour before the first rehearsal cleaning my flute with a silver polishing clothe, and then trying to explain the friction burns on my hand from doing it too vigorously…..

American Pieband camp

Ok – enough with the flute jokes.

I could not believe the buzz I got during that first rehearsal – for once, I wasn’t pretending I was a musician going to a rehearsal – because I was a musician in a rehearsal. It didn’t matter that I finished a bar earlier than everyone else (hey, haven’t we finished that movement already?) and that I was playing in a different key to everyone else (with our conductor screeching ‘G sharp!!!’ at me across the orchestra).

I was making music.

The first concert I was involved in was both exciting and nerve-wrecking for me – not having performed in public for over ten years. The Orchestra made a magnificent sound at the sold-out concert. I have to admit that it helped that it was held in an old museum, so the acoustic was like singing in the shower – nothing could actually sound bad. I even had to congrat myself that I finished the last note at the same time as everyone else.

It was then I realised that in the last twenty years of immersing myself in Medicine, I had forgotten how much I loved making music. The exhilarating feeling of finding an old love totally took me by surprise. It was an indescribable feeling. The amazing thing is that, even after two years, I still relive it every time I play my flute in the orchestra.

So for all of you out there who have forgotten how much you loved doing something before your career took over your life, maybe it’s time you do something for yourself.

 

 

 

 

10 Things I Hate About You

10things410things3

To my dearest pig-headed husband,

There are some days you drive me insane with frustration. There are times when you make me want to smash something over your stubborn big head. There are instances where I could scream at you at the top of my lungs. And there are moments when I have to exercise extreme control not to slap you silly.

Today is one of those days.

It is a good thing that you don’t read my blogs, (as you think it’s a frivolous waste of time – which I am sure you think would be better spent on you). It is a good thing, sweetie-pie, because I am about to tell you how much I hate you. Right at this moment. Right now.

1. You have a pathological obsession with sports

So Today, after spending a long day at work, with an overbooked clinic and long, frustrating operations, I arrived home, to find you sitting on the couch, screaming and yelling at the television. I watched you from the doorway. You alternated between slouching across the couch, to jumping excitedly on the couch. You were unshaven, hair mussed, and still wearing your pyjamas – the very same ones from this morning when I left the house. Empty beer bottles littered the coffee table, empty dirty plates scattered on the ground. On the screen was the Stanely Cup Finals.

I texted you before I left the hospital – to ask you if you had dinner ready, or I should get takeaway. There was no reply. I was starving on my drive home. Now I am just simply HANGRY.

I don’t understand your obsession with sports, why you can’t switch it off when I am home (since you have plenty of time to watch it when I am at work). I can’t fathom your need to turn it up so loud that the whole neighbourhood can hear our very expensive surround-sound system. And why do you keep yelling at the television or mumbling to your imaginery fellow spectators? You are not at the Staples Center, in a crowd of 18,000LA King fans. They can’t hear you, and it’s a good thing – I cringe at some of the obscenities you were screaming.

Then, when the game was over, and the house was back to its usual peace and quiet, you subjected me to a blow-by-blow account of each pass. Every exciting moment that you relived with relish, I have to feign interest with a smile that felt like a grimace.  If I didn’t respond appropriately, you accused me of ‘You never listen to me when I am talking to you.’

This may be hard for you to swallow, sweetheart, BUT I DON’T GIVE A RAT’S ARSE how that puck got into the net.

And why can’t you just be interested in one sport? Now that the Stanley Cup is over, I have to deal with this all over again with the World Cup. I have already had to listen to a lecture about how soccer was ‘just a bunch of pussies chasing after a rubber ball’. Kill me now.

2. You cannot drive and talk at the same time

And so, once the television was unplugged, much to your vehement protest – yes, those obscenities were now directed at me. You finally grasped the concept that a hangry wife can be dangerous to your very existence. You decided to feed the beast quickly, which meant eating out rather than risking your life in making her wait while you cooked. So we left home in our car and headed to my favourite restaurant. The drive was excruciating.

Did you know that you slow down to 40km/hr when you talk and drive at the same time? Did you know that when you were throwing you arms about demonstrating some stupid finer points of how the puck flew past the net, your foot lifted from the accelerator? Did you notice the Toyota Patrol behind us – the one whose bumper bar was almost up our ass?

Could you – for God’s sake – just SHUT THE F%@# UP AND DRIVE?!?!

3. You do not have the word ‘Romance’ in your vocabulary

You know, I have always been a little annoyed with the fact that you would never open my car door for me. Or any doors for that matter. You have always told me that you would never insult my intelligence by presuming I was not capable of opening a door for myself. That ‘excuse’ is wearing a little thin.

And chairs. You never pulled out chairs for me either. In fact, when the waiter took us to our table, and pulled out a chair, you stepped in front of me and sat down. It may have been amusing for you to see the appalled look on the poor waiter’s face, but it was just plain embarrassing that you showed no consideration for me in public.

If you belittled or denounced Romance, I would have tried hammering some sense into you, but you simply just, don’t get it. You looked at me in confusion when I mentioned the ‘R’ word, you asked me frustrating questions after watching a romantic comedy at the movies, and you laughed at some lucky woman’s husband when he attempted a romantic gesture. I guess I should have known things were dire when you took me on our first date to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ‘Eraser’, followed by Sylvester Stallone’s ‘Daylight’ for our second date the week after.

Oh, and I know about that Vacuum cleaner you bought for my birthday when we first moved into a house together. If it wasn’t for my friends talking some sense into you, you would have not lived to see our wedding day. I saw the exercise bike and the iron in the garage too. What about the bread machine – the one with the card that said, ‘I love the smell of fresh bread in the morning, I hope you will like this present.’? I don’t suppose the machine came with a bread fairy that loved getting up at dawn?

I know it’s not from lack of trying, but honestly, your efforts have simply just been…. pitiful. Your attempt at a compliment when I was wearing my favourite heart-shaped earrings was, ‘You are wearing hearts on your ears, but I see hearts in your eyes.’ Ok, everyone, please groan in unison. That wasn’t just corny, it was downright miserably cheesy. What about your romantic ‘moves’. You reached out for my hand when we were walking back from the shops last weekend, I was so touched that you initiated this romantic gesture. But, why was I not surprised when you started making fart noises with our hands? Oh, and your timing had always been impeccable; like at night while we were both lying in bed, and I rolled away when you turned to me with that hopeful glint in your eyes. Oh, don’t worry, I heard your heartfelt declaration, ‘But I love you, baby.’ How often have I told you that horizontal-I-love-you’s DO NOT COUNT?

4. You have a severe case of domestic blindness

Another thing. I am SICK of looking for your missing things. I hate it whenever you yelled at me asking where things were. It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out that the coffee beans sit in the cupboard, or that the milk resides somehwere in the fridge. And I don’t know where your other sock is, as far as I am concerned, there is a sock eating monster in our washing machine – or maybe our housekeeper has a fetish with your socks and she hoards them. Maybe if you go to her house, you will find one sock from each pair is hung up on her dresser in her bedroom, around a photo of yourself – as a shrine to your importance.

5. You reuse your dental floss

I don’t think I need to expand on this one. Simply. Gross.

6. You have a personal trainer called Nirvana

You must think I am gullible. You disappear for a few hours three times a week, telling me that you have a training session with your PT. And I asked you what your trainer’s name was. Nirvana. Right, and what was that she trains? Art of love, pole dancing, or just generally a good time? Ok, maybe I did go a little overboard with the stalking, and followed you into the gym (and caused a scene at the reception because I didn’t have membership access). It didn’t help that I coped an eyeful of the blonde, toned, long-legged Nirvana. Of all personal trainers at that gym, you couldn’t have chosen some old hag with a name like Gertrude? Or better still, how about a beef cake called Sven?

Don’t worry, I may not like it, but I have forgiven you. Oh, did you know I suffer from a really bad neck from doing surgery down a microscope at work? Well, I am on the prowl for a good physiotherapist with masseuse qualifications. Yes, I am afraid nothing less than a blonde Swedish Hercules will do.

7. You give my friends offensive nicknames

I know you don’t like some of my friends, and I do appreciate that you are never rude to them. But do you really have to give them nicknames like ‘Hooter Lady’ or ‘Junk-in-the-Trunk’? I am not sure whether I should hate you more for looking or for making me notice those things about my friends. What frustrates me more is that everytime I talk to you about my friends, I actually have to repeat those nicknames so you know who I am talking about. Which means, in my head, I am calling them ‘Stripper Legs’ and ‘Big Hot Mama’. One day, I know I am going to slip up when I talk to ‘Big Puppies’ and you will be to blame for either the end of our friendship or me being mistaken for a closet lesbian.

8. You never rush

I really really hate the fact that you never rush, especially when we are running late. For someone who plans her life down to the second, it boils my blood when we only have fifteen minutes to get somewhere, and you are still in your beloved Nike sweat shirt and pants, sipping your mug of coffee on the sofa.

Last Friday, I rushed home from work to pick you up so that we could get to dinner with our friends, and instead of waiting for me at the front door, you were lying in bed, in nothing more than just your socks and jocks, typing away on your ipad, laughing at some stupid sexist video your friend had posted on facebook. I was not fooled by your innocent looks. I knew for a fact that you deliberate dragged your feet and pretended to be indecisive about  what to wear because you were secretly laughing at me. You thought my obsession with punctuality was a joke, you knew exactly how to toy with me to stress me out when we were in a hurry.

When we did eventually get in the car, you drove like a grandma. When the light was amber, you rolled to a stop. When there was a traffic jam, you allowed other cars into the queue. You derived immense pleasure in increasing my tension by taking the scenic route to our destination. I was so mad I could have kicked you out of the car an taken over the wheel in a fit of rage.

I hate you even more for the fact that no matter how late we seem to be and how long it takes for us to get there, we are never late. Without fail, you always turn to me with that look. You know the look I am talking about – the ‘What-is-your-rush’ look, accompanied by that smug ‘I-told-you-we-will-get-here-on-time’ smirk.

9. You won’t stop wearing those old, ugly boardies

For those readers who aren’t Australian, boardies are loose-fitting swimming shorts that reach just above the knees (as opposed to the European ‘budgie-smugglers’, tight underpant-like swimming trunks that superman wears). They have a tie waist, and a velcro fly. The thing with boardies, is that the synthetic material is quick to dry, but often they can be passed off as just regular shorts.  They are, however, made for the beach.

I think 12 years, is long enough for a pair of boardies. Or for any piece of clothing for that matter. I know how much you love them, how you wear them throughout, summer, autumn, winter, spring, over and over. I can’t stand the fact that you sometimes wear them to work to see patients, and do your weekend ward rounds in them. I can’t believe that sometimes it takes me weeks to realise that they have not been in the wash. Considering the fact that you don’t wear anything under your boardies (as most boys would do when they are heading into the surf for a swim), wearing them for consecutive weeks is just….. Eeeeeewwwww.

They are grey and checkered. They may have been in vogue ten years ago, trust me, sweetie, they look like grandpa’s shorts today. You need to lose them. God knows I tried to lose them for you, and I tried to replace them. But somehow, the housekeeper managed to find them. She placed them into your wardrobe, above the new stylish Ralph Lauren shorts I bought for you last Christmas. This was despite oodles of bribery. When I questioned her about their miraculous reappearance, she mumbled something about death threats from the boss?!

10. You tell me things I don’t really need to know

I am not naive. I know what you and the boys do on your nights out. I know what you and your bestie do when you go on a ‘golfing’ trip to Las Vegas. I can imagine the conversations you have with the boys in the locker room at the gym, and the ‘fun’ you experienced when you were travelling Europe and North America with your hockey team years ago.

So stop sending me selfies of you and your best man drinking whiskey and smoking cigars, with couple of Vegas dancing girls in your lap. There was also no need for you to be so honest when I asked you why you had a wad of ten dollar bills. Pleasure money? What’s that? Oh, right. So that you can sit on the front row of the strip club and….Really? they have a place in their corset for you to put money there? Uh huh, must be terrible to have them rubbing their sweat-drenched brassiere in your face.

There are certain things in life that I would prefer to have my head stuck in the sand for. This include all the fart, boob, masturbation, and cock jokes from the locker room. The details of an ice-hockey groupie orgy, and I definitely have no stomach for the positions that stripper girls can achieve on your lap. There are just some details in your life which are on a need-to-know basis.

Oh, and honey, When your friends tell you something that starts with ‘don’t tell you wife’, they mean exactly that. DON’T TELL ME. It is your fault that I could not look at your colleague in the eye because I knew he wore his wife’s high heels at home. It didn’t help me when your friend’s girlfriend asked me whether he was having an affair, and it definitely made me cringe when your gym partner asked me if I can order KY-jelly in bulk for his wife (when you have just told me he’s a closet gay). Please respect that there are things in this universe which are meant to stay as secrets between two man-buddies.

 

So you see, I really hate you. I have exercised restraint by limiting this list to only ten things.

Here, I find myself quoting P!NK :

Sometimes I hate every single stupid word you say
Sometimes I wanna slap you in your whole face
There’s no one quite like you
You push all my buttons down
I know life would suck without you

At the same time, I wanna hug you
I wanna wrap my hands around your neck
You’re an asshole but I love you
And you make me so mad I ask myself
Why I’m still here, or where could I go
You’re the only love I’ve ever known
But I hate you, I really hate you,
So much, I think it must be

True love, true love
It must be true love
Nothing else can break my heart like

By the way, if you buy that Perazzi shotgun I have been admiring – the one with the ‘For Sale’ sign in the glass cabinet at my Trap-Shooting Club, I might just find it in me to list 10 things I love about you.

No? Oh Babe, don’t be like that. Of course not, I have never thought of you as an idiot. Annoying, arrogant, stubborn bastard maybe. But never an idiot.

Because it takes an idiot to love one, and I may love you very much, but I am definitely no idiot.

 

From your pissed-off wife,

T  xo

Invisible People

BellboyMaid

When we were in medical school, we both had several jobs. At the time, M (my then boyfriend and now husband), was an overseas student, so we were paying over $30,000 in university fees. Because our relationship was not ‘sanctioned’ by either of our parents, we had no financial assistance. We slept in a $60-per-week hospital dormitory room (consisting of one bed the size of a two-seater sofa, a small cupboard, an inbuilt desk, and nothing else). There was a strict rule of one person per room, so I had to sneak into the dormitories via the service lift while the wardens weren’t watching. We lived on left-overs from restaurants and hotels we worked at. Our lounge-room was the medical library on campus, and our kitchen was the doctor’s tea room in the hospital.

M was a dish pig. The lowest in the kitchen hierarchy of a restaurant. Not just any restaurant either, it was a swanky seafood restaurant. So, apart from washing tons of dishes, pots and pans, he had to peel over 500 prawns a day, wrestle with crayfish that had woken up from their freezer-induced coma, grapple with live giant mud-crabs’ claws, and de-beard over 50kg of mussels each shift. For a boy from a land-locked central eastern European country, these were creatures he had never seen before. I remembered the first time he tried to tell me what he did at work, he said, ‘I had to peel a lot of sea-cockroaches.’ It was rather adorable in that sexy Eastern European accent….

At the end of each shift, he had to clean the kitchen, which included an hour of hosing and scrubbing down the mats in the kitchen that often had bits of seafood stuck in the its rubber grid. I still remember the stench whenever he came home from work – I knew he was in the corridor even before he knocked on the door. He would walk through the room, straight onto the outside balcony, and take off his clothes (luckily it was often past midnight by the time he arrived home, not that he had a bad physique to show off in public!). His jeans were so stiff with a mix of dirt, cleaning agent, water and salt, that the pants remained standing on its own even after he stepped out of it. He then headed straight down the corridor in his briefs to the communal bathroom. Only then, did I get my hello, kiss and hug.

I was always surprised that he took on and stayed in that job for the 4 years of medical school. M was born into a very well-off, prestigious family in his town. His mother was the superintendent of the local hospital and his father was a civil engineer, a partner of a construction company that built several towns in Russia, one of which was named after him. M grew up in privilege, and has never had to work or ask for money from his parents. He just needed to request what he wanted, and he got. After he finished school, he became the captain of their national ice-hockey team, he was quite the local celebrity with all the perks that accompanied. And yet, there he was, scrubbing the kitchen sink and grills at midnight, for $9.50 an hour. Not once during those years did I hear him whinge. To him, it was simply the means to an end.

I had several jobs myself, some were rather glamorous, some not so. My higher end jobs included modelling for cosmetic companies, teaching piano privately, and playing background live music at hotel bars, restaurants and lobbies. I also had more income-reliable menial jobs like waitressing, cleaning, hotel maid, pet-sitting, typing and shelving/photocopying medical journals in the library (yes, this was in the pre-technology days).

One thing we both learnt from those days, was that some people are invisible.

When I was a cleaner, hotel maid or even as a waitress, and while he was a dish pig, we were invisible. At work, people did not see us, or acknowledge our presence. Even though being invisible was advantageous in being able to watch and observe others freely, not to mention the lack of ‘noticeable’ responsibilities, but I, personally hated being invisible as if I didn’t exist. I often lamented about this, but M pointed out to me that we were supposed to be unseen, because those ‘higher-up’ didn’t need to be bothered with what we did, how we did it or what we thought.

Now that I work as a surgeon in hospitals, I have noticed that the catering staff, the cleaners and the orderlies are often also invisible to other staff members, or sometimes, even to the patients. This often makes me mad.  I consciously make an effort at every opportunity I have to learn everyone’s names, and to stop and talk to them. I acknowledge their presence when they are in the room, and I try my best to include them as part of my team. After all, as far as I am concerned, we are all there for the benefit of the patient. What I find even more infuriating is the fact that some people treat others depending on what they do as a job. I have very little time or patience with patients or colleagues who sweet-talk me because I am surgeon, and yet, behind my back, they are rude and insulting to other staff members.

A colleague of mine once pursued me relentlessly to join his practice. I asked him why he wanted me to share his business so much. He said that it was because I treated everyone equally, that my demeanor and attitude to the cleaner was the same as that to the professor of surgery. It was a good thing for business he said, because I would be courteous to the staff, and respected by patients. Then he said, that I must have had a good upbringing.

Looking back, he hit the nail right on the head.

When we were little, we had a maid and a driver. The maid was an elderly woman, who was a generation older than my mother. We were to call her ‘ma’am’ because we had to respect our elders, and we were not allowed to give her cheek. Ma’am had a shoulder problem, and I remembered that mum used to empty the top cupboards for her to clean, and bought her light ladder so that she didn’t have to reach up too much. Once Ma’am dropped a plastic jar full of biscuits, it cracked on impact and the biscuits spilled all over the floor. She was about to bend down to the floor to pick up the crumbs when mum stopped her. ‘Oh no, Ma’am, you have only just recovered from your back surgery, don’t get down on the floor.’ She turned to us children and said, ‘kids, show your respect, there’s no need for someone older than you to squat down to the floor when you can do it for them.’ My brothers and I dutifully dropped to the floor and started sweeping and picking up biscuit crumbs.

Once when we were home early from school, Ma’am was on her hands and knees polishing the wooden floor, my bothers and I were aghast at this sight. We picked up our own polishing clothes and started to do our own rooms, because we couldn’t possibly have her clean up after us, on her hands and knees! Couple of weeks later, as we were in the supermarket with mum, we tried to sneak a polishing mop into her shopping trolley. Considering the fact that the mop and its handle was twice our size, it was hard to hide it from mum. She asked why we wanted to buy one, so we told her that we were going to give it to Ma’am so that she didn’t have to get down on the floor anymore. Mum didn’t say anything, but I was sure I caught a smile when she turned to pay for it at the cashier. We were so excited when we got home, my older brother raced up the stair with the mop to the bathroom where we could hear Ma’am tinkering away. When we told her that we bought a mop for her, she gathered us in a hug so tight and long that we started to whimper. When she released us, tears were running down her face, so hard and fast that we were all alarmed. My brothers and I started crying because we thought she was upset with us. It took a lot of hot chocolate and cake before my mother could pacify both Ma’am and us children from turning into a big slobbering mess.

Mr Lee was our driver. He was a gentleman who, despite being the same age as our parents, looked twice as old. He was often seen, leaning against the car, dragging anxiously on a cigarette, waiting but would quickly put out his smoke as soon as we approach. Mum used to lecture him from the backseat about looking after his health, to stop smoking and spending his money on gambling. He used to drive us to and from school, piano lessons, dance classes, to visit grandparents and looked after Dad on his business trips. One night, I was woken up by noises from the lounge, so I climbed out of my bed, headed down the corridor and quietly looked through the glass sliding doors. Mr Lee was sitting with his head in his hands, slouched on the edge of the sofa. Both mum and dad were sitting on each side of him and talking quietly to him. Dad had a thick wad of cash in his hand, and he gently pried Mr Lee’s hand from his face, and placed it in his hand. Mr Lee tried to give the money back, but Dad refused. I couldn’t hear what mum was saying, but the words ‘your wife and children’, ‘gambling’, ‘debt’, ‘must stop’, filtered through the frosted glass door. Mr Lee put the money into his jacket, collapsed onto the floor on his knees in front of mum and dad, and started bowing to them. Mum and Dad got up quickly, and tried to help him up from the floor.

When I was 9, Mr Lee picked me up from school to take me to my ballet lesson. I had a fight with my best friend – and for a 9-year-old, it was considered a very bad day at school. When we arrived at the dance school, I refused to get out the car. There was no amount bribery or cajoling from Mr Lee that could make me leave the car. I was behaving like a spoilt little rich princess. Mr Lee gave up after twenty minutes, and drove me to the nearest park, where we went for a little walk and he bought us some ice cream. He took me to the playground, and pushed my swing for me. When we went home an hour later, my mother was anxiously waiting at the front door.  Apparently she received a phone call an hour ago from my dance teacher to say I didn’t turn up to class. She was furious and demanded to know where we had been. I was terrified because I knew I was in big trouble. Mr Lee bundled me out the car and ushered me toward the door. He apologised profusely to mum, he told her that he was late picking me up from school, and by the time we got to the dance lesson, it was so late, he didn’t think there was any point dropping me off. He said that I was very upset that I had to miss my class, so to make up for his sloppiness, he took me for ice-cream. Mum berated Mr Lee angrily and told him that next time he should just bring me straight home. He apologised again and asked for Mum’s forgiveness. Mum was so mad, she threatened to fire him as she turned away, marching towards our front door. I was alarmed and cried out, trying to catch mum’s attention. Mr Lee turned to me and put his finger to his lips. ‘Go on, little girl, go inside with your mama.’  I did what I was told but when I looked back at him with my sad face, he winked at me with a great big smile, displaying all his crooked yellow tobacco-stained teeth, and gave me a thumbs-up sign like he didn’t have a care in the world. I was so relieved to see him waiting to take me to school outside our front door the next morning that I ran to give him a hug before he could put out his cigarette.

Recently, I realised, that despite the fact we live very comfortably after scraping and saving through medical school, we haven’t changed. Neither has my parents. We stayed at the very swish Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong for Chinese New Year earlier this year. We had my parents along for the trip. It was stinky humidly hot when we landed, but luckily we were transported in fully air-conditioned private car. When we arrived in the driveway of the hotel, Dad was concerned for the bell boys in their full uniform carting luggage in the heat. My 68-year-old Dad insisted on taking his own luggage out of the boot. It was only when I told him that he will get the bell boys and drivers in trouble with management by doing their job, that he backed down. Dad was so distressed that he didn’t have any Hong Kong dollars on him for a tip, I had to ask the bell boys if they accepted Australian dollars. Mum then wanted to buy bottled drinks for the bell boys standing outside so they didn’t get dehydrated. She gave me money to pop down to the local seven-eleven to get some soft drinks. My husband jokingly said that we should just give the bell boys the money so that they can go and get themselves something to drink. He got a jab in the chest from me and a command from Mum to go and get some drinks from the supermarket. It was a hilarious sight to see my 5-foot-grey-haired mum, handing out bottles of Coke to the bell boys. A couple of days later, Dad was at the morning fruit market buying lots of mangos. I asked him why he needed to buy so many, since we couldn’t take it back with us, he told me to mind my own business. That afternoon, when I was coming back to the hotel from a shopping trip, there was Dad, at the front door of the hotel, handing out his mangos from a plastic bag and telling each one of the bell boys how they must refrigerate it first, so that it would be more delicious and sweet. He repeated the whole exercise at the concierge desk.

My husband and I are not much better ourselves. When we arrived in St Moritz for our ski-trip last year, we had a butler with our suite at the hotel. We didn’t know what to do with him. He offered to unpack for us, but the thought of him handling my underwear made me hurriedly decline his services. He then kept hovering around the room which made us feel very self-conscious. I realised that it was because he wasn’t invisible to us. We had to send him away, even if it was just so that we could take the itchy woolly winter layers off and walk around in our underwear. Our butler got the hint for the rest of our stay and really became invisible. He made sure that all our laundry and ironing were picked up and put away while we were out, and our pyjamas, and delicious nightcap-treats were laid out while we were at dinner. The fire was always on in case we came back early from skiing. At one stage, we caught the front door bell boy whispering into his walkie-talkie as we strode through the front door – no doubt to give our butler warning. The one time we actually saw him was when we locked ourselves out of the room. He appeared out of thin air and apologised profusely for the 50-second-wait we had to endure.

Although we have become very accustomed to having just about everything done for us, not just in our travels but in our everyday life, I am so glad these people have not become invisible to us. I hope that our natural curiosity about people and respect for their lives will keep it this way, because after all, they are here to make our lives easier and they are simply fellow human beings, just like everyone of us.

So Thank you, Mum and Dad, for showing me that no one is invisible.

 

 

Pranks in a Hospital

Pranks at work take on a whole different level when one works in the health industry. I think I could have made some substantial claims from worker’s compensation as a result of the permanent psychological consequences of all the pranks that I have had to endure during my epic climb from a medical student to a specialist. Some were particularly memorable….

When I was a final year medical student, I was known as the ‘yes’ girl. I was one of those bushy-tailed, bright-eyed eager beaver who would do anything that I was asked to do by the medical team I was attached to. One evening, the senior resident on the team told me to go and check on a patient in Room 14 as the patient has had fainting episodes during the day. I was so chuffed thinking that my team trusted my judgement enough to give me such a responsible task, that I almost skipped down the corridor. I knocked on the door of Room 14, and there was no answer. I pushed the door open quietly and peeked. The room was dark and the patient was asleep. I headed back to the main desk and told the resident that the patient was asleep. He frowned at me and asked if I actually touched or saw the patient, I said no. He then asked me how I could tell the patient was actually alive under the blanket. ‘Go and wake her up so you can examine her.’

I felt so stupid that I hung my head in shame as I walked back down the corridor. I pushed the door open and approached the bed. I didn’t want to wake the patient up rudely by turning on the light, so I gently reached for her shoulder to shake her awake. Her pyjamas felt cool as I touched it and there was no response. So I grabbed the blanket and folded it back to wake her up properly. The minute the blankets were drawn back, the whole person flew/bunced/jumped out of bed and smacked me in the head. Apparently my scream was so loud on the ward, the nurses raced down the corridor with the resuscitation trolley. Not to mention some of the patient also wandered out of their room and followed in curiosity.

When the lights of Room 14 was switched on, there I was, on the ground, frantically batting away at the blow-up doll on top of me. My senior resident was laughing uncontrollably in the corner, and the head nurse stood over the side of the bed, shaking her head. Sniggers and giggles broke out in the crowd that gatherd in the doorway by the time I realised that I was not being attacked by a patient. All I could do, was to put the doll aside, give my senior resident a deathly stare and walk out of the room with whatever dignity I could gather. It was the first and final time I cried from a prank, because after that experience, I learnt that non-malicious pranks were actually a form of endearment bestowed upon favourite junior staff members by some of the senior staff.

However, that particular senior resident was apparently also very popular, because he was found ‘accidentally’ locked in the laundry cabinet three weeks later; it took 2 hours for hospital security to come and break the lock because someone had ‘lost’ the key.

My first job as an intern was on the gastroenterology and renal medicine ward, as part of the kidney/liver transplant team. On my first day, I was super excited because there was a kidney transplant to be done, and I was asked by the professor to help out in the operating theatre as they were short of surgeons.  The morning started with an introduction to all the nursing and allied health staff on the ward, then a ward round was done with the professor so I could get to know the patients. He and the other doctors headed down to start their big case, and I was told to follow once I have finished the paperwork from the round. The head nurse made me a coffee as I sat in the office, and told me that it was a welcome gesture from her and the other nurses. I thought that it was an awesome start to my career – everyone on the ward was friendly, and I was going to assist in a kidney transplant on my first day!

I was wrong. It was the most miserable day of my life. Little did I know that the ‘welcome’ gesture contained more than just Nescafe granules. The nurses added some PicoPrep (the stuff patients have to drink before their colonoscopy so that their bowels can be cleared out). Needless to say, during the kidney transplant two hours later, I had to excuse myself and unscrub 5 time within two hours. I tried so hard to hold it in that I had to change my pants three times because I didn’t make it to the bathoom.

By the end of the day, I was dehydrated, shaking with cold sweats running down my face while painstakingly suturing my first surgical wound. Commando.

Yep, no underwear, just in my scrub gear.

diarrhoea

My second job as an intern was in the Emergency Department. This particular ED I worked in was attached to the State Mortuary. So, one of our jobs a ED doctors, was to check, examine and certify the bodies brought in by the police so that appropriate paperworks can be completed to issue a death certificate before the they take it down to the morgue.  Majority of the time, all that was required was a brief look at the history handed to us by the police, a quick zip open of the bag in the boot of the police van, check of the carotid pulse over pasty-white neck skin and couple of signatures on a clipboard.

One day, there was a lull in the usual steady stream of patients.  Two police officers walked in. The senior doctor waved at them and offered to do the certification. The officers grinned and stopped him from heading out the door. ‘Is it a freshie?’ The doctor asked. They shared a smile. The senior doctor turned to the doctor’s area, ‘Who’s the most junior here?’ I put my hand up. He motioned me over. ‘Can you do me a big favour?’ He lowered his voice to a serious tone, It’s very important.’ I nodded eagerly. He pointed to the officers standing at the door. ‘Follow these two officers, there’s a body in their van that need a certificate.’

I puffed up with self-importance and swaggered outside with the two officers behind me. I should have known even before they opened up the door, but I thought the smell was just the usual bad sewage issues we have always had in the driveway drains. I was even more of an idiot not to stop when a swarm of flies escaped as soon as the van doors were open. Instead of doing what any sensible doctor would do – which is just to open a little bit of the bag, see some evidence of rotting flesh and close the zip quickly – I unzipped the whole bag, and tried to put my hand on the maggot infested neck to check for a pulse. It totally escaped my mind that since the guts were all hanging out in pieces, (obviously exploded from the build up of gas – courtesy of a week’s worth of fermentation), and the eyes were large nests of crawling maggots, not the mention the stench that permeated my whole being which made me want to run as far as I could in the opposite direction, were evidence that the patient is definitely DEAD. Yet I needed to feel his pulse to confirm that he was dead?! The officers were covering their noses with their hands and rolling their eyes at me. Really?? They seemed to say to me, Did you really have to open the whole bag and stick your finger into his neck?  Who found this silly little intern? She ain’t no Sherlock Holmes when it came to dead bodies.

When I grew up to become a surgical trainee, the antics continued in the operating theatres. I never realised how vulnerable a surgeon was when they were scrubbed, until the pranks started. Because the wound and equipment has to be kept sterile, once we are scrubbed, we cannot touch anything that is not sterile. For example, if someone punched me in the face when I  am scrubbed, it’s not like I can just punch them back, since they are not sterile. If I did, I would contaminate my surgical field and will have to take everything off and scrub all over again.

One of the worse things about being scrubbed is not being able to answer the phone. It is very often that our mobile phones go unanswered during surgery. Once in a while, if the nurse or anaesthetist is free and feel kind (as they hate being lowered to the status of the phone-answerer), they will take a message for the surgeon.

Once my senior surgeon was sitting in the operating theatre watching me operate when my phone went off next to him on the bench. He glanced down and said, ‘it’s your husband.’ I shrugged and turned around to say that it’s ok to just leave it unanswered.

But I was too late, my senior surgeon had already answered the call, ‘Hello.’

I called out, ‘just tell him I am scrubbed. I will call him later.’

He ignored me and spoke into the phone. ‘Sorry, she can’t come to the phone at the moment.’  A pause. ‘No, she’s not scrubbed. She’s busy doing a lap dance.’ A dramatic sigh. ‘In my lap, of course. And she’s very good at it too.’ He cleared his throat and held the phone away from his ear when a barrage of words came through the earpiece. ‘Look, why don’t you ring back later when she’s not busy. I can’t concentrate enough to take a message at the moment.’ He promptly hung up.

At my appalled look, he flashed me an evil smile and said, ‘Well, that will keep his mind busy for a while.’  For the rest of my term with him, whenever I saw his phone sitting on the bench next to mine, I considered ringing his wife. Luckily I refrained, because a few months after I moved onto the next team, I found out that he had left his wife for a young physiotherapist whom he was having an affair with.

When I was a surgical trainee, I was an easy target for the anaesthetists, especially the senior ones. They often told me that I was too serious and needed to lighten up. They wanted me to be different to the arrogant surgeons who couldn’t take a joke, or snap at anyone who tried to make fun of them. I worked hard during my training and spent more hours in the operating theatres than any other trainee in my service, so it was no surprise that I became fair game to all my anaesthetic and nursing colleagues.

Once I was performing a traumatic laparotomy, repairing bowel in a penetrating abdominal injury. There were lots of blood and my junior resident and I had our hands full trying to stop intrabdominal bleeding. It was unpleasant as his abdomen was also full of faeces as the bowel was lacerate in several locations. At one stage, some of the wash fluid, blood and poo were spilling over the sides of the operating table and I remember thinking that my surgical boots will definitely need a wash after work. Half way through the operation. I realised that my feet felt rather…. damp. I shuddered as I realised that most likely some of the crap has gotten in from the top of the boots (as I stupidly tucked my pants into them), and that I was probably standing and squelching in blood and poo. I wiggled my toes and felt my soggy socks slosh freely in fluid.

It was then I noticed giggling coming from behind the drapes at the head of the table (where the anaesthetic staff usually hide). I looked up at them suspicious, then I looked down. There in my boots were two intravenous lines, connected to two bags of saline, and there was water spilling over the top edge of my boots.  My feet were drenched in bucket-full boots. Honestly, you guys have the mentality of 5 year-olds, I said in exasperation. They kept laughing, like children laughing at fart jokes.

One night, we were putting some fingers back on. This can take up to 12-18 hours depending on the number of fingers we needed to reattach. Unfortunately I had to reattach four, which meant it was going to be a very long night. The anaeasthetic consultant came up to me and asked me how long it was going to take. I shrugged and said as long as I needed.  He then waited until I was scrubbed and sat myself down at the operating table. He then crouched under the hand table, and attached small neurostimulator pads on my calf. These are often used on patients while they are asleep, a shock is delivered through these pads into the patient, and cause a small electric shock, siginifcant enough to generate muscle contracture directly under the pads. This tests the muscular tension of unconscious patients to determine how relaxed and deep in sleep they are under anaesthesia. Well, In this particular instance, they were not on the patient – I found them on both of my calves instead.

He then retreated back to his position next to the anaesthetic machine and held up the remote control for the neurostimulator. With a slightly evil look on his face, he announced to everyone. ‘I will turn this on once every hour, just so you know how long you are taking.’

Trust me, if anyone was asleep in my operating theatre while I was pulling this all-nighter surgery, they were promptly woken up every hour with loud obscenities. I tend to get lost in time when I operate and the hourly reminder were coming faster than I expected, and each time, I would be caught unaware by the sudden jolt and contraction of my calf muscles.  These episodes were loudly accompanied by a physical jolt, yell of shock and swearing, repeatedly, in that order. It was only 12 hours later, when I finished the surgery that he told me he was actually giving me a shock at random, basically when he got bored.

To top it off, I didn’t realised that he and the nurses were in cahoots with each other. During the surgery, he apparently rang my mobile phone. I forgot to take it out of my pockets in my scrub pants before I scrubbed, so it was ringing away under my gown whilst I was trying to concentrate. The nurse offered to take it out of my pocket to answer it. I turned around in my chair and she fumbled under my sterile gown and shirt to grab my phone. Obviously, it was too late to answer the phone and she told me that it was a silent number, so I left it at that.

What I didn’t realise, was that the whole exercise was so that she could untied my scrub pants. So, as I stood up for the first time after sitting at the table for 12 hours, my pants fell down to my ankles. Lucky I was wearing my undies that day.

Of course, now that I am all grown up as a fully-qualified specialist, I am proof that good students emulate their teachers – and trust me, I learnt from the best. Although in today’s climate of political correctness, some pranks can be taken the wrong way and one must be very careful with the selection of target victim. But I am a true disciple of my forebearers and my pranks are legendary. After all, a sense of humour can be the life-saver in times of desolating fatigue, despair and desperation. I firmly believe that learning to laugh at ourselves is the key for humiliy and perspective. I have learnt, however, that you have to expect to get as good as you give.