A Traditional Christmas

After three flights in 30 hours, and a 2-hour drive at manic speed across the Austrian border, we have finally arrived home for Christmas. When I say home, I mean hubby’s family home in Eastern Europe. Although this is definitely not the first time I have spent Christmas with the in-laws, this place is a vast contrast to our home in Australia so I still need to switch on my adjust button whenever I come here.

On arrival, Mamka would laugh in genuine delight at the sight of her first born, one that she has not seen for far too long. Amongst the excitement, 87-year-old Babka would lift herself out of the chair, making sure no one notices her difficulty. The traditional three kisses on the cheeks are exchanged all round, and as usual, my cheeks are patted by weathered hands for good measure. A rowdy exchange occurs between the two brothers; they slap each other’s backs amongst verbal insults. M and I take off the layers of our winter gear, while his brother mumbles at the weight of our luggage as he drags them across the threshold.

M’s mother, grandmother (or Babka as she’s fondly known), and 34-year-old brother live in an apartment in the town centre. This is a 2-bedroom apartment that has not been touched since the 1960’s, the whole floor plan would fit easily into our lounge room. It would be unheard of for us to stay elsewhere when we visit, even though his brother has to move out of the second bedroom onto the lounge room sofa to accommodate us. The décor of the apartment has not changed since M’s parents have gotten married and moved in in the early 70’s. Old cupboards in orange pine lacquer line the walls, each with scratches and peeling edges. The shelves are bent in the middle under the weight of timeworn books, vintage ornaments and items of all sorts for the last 50 years. Childish stickers adorn the glass panels of these cupboards; old photos, trophies and toys line the benches, all live documentations of his childhood.

The apartment is in desperate need of renovation. The toilet flushes but does not rest evenly on the floor, thus it rocks if one sits down on it with full weight. The small balcony off the kitchen French doors shows cracks in its concrete floor, barely strong enough to hold any human weight but serves as a perfect spare fridge/freezer in the cold winter months when the outside temperature is barely above 5 degrees Celsius. The bathroom holds a bathtub that is as old as the apartment itself where one still has to shower the old fashion way – sitting, soaping one handed whilst wrestling a shower head with the other hand. The stove and oven is one that is only seen in a museum nowadays with iron holders and old racks. The sink is barely large enough to fit a soup pot; old plastic drying racks rests on top of a laminated bench. What dishwasher? I would have gladly purchased one for them, but not only is there no space for such a luxury, but they do not actually have the appropriate plumbing to fit one.

The ‘second’ bedroom really is the front sitting room and part of a passageway into the main bedroom (which is shared by mum and grandma), thus there is no privacy to speak of. Babka lies in her bed most of the day, watching soap operas with the volume dialled up, as she is not one to admit to the need for a hearing aid. Occasionally she ventures out of bed for the essentials, one of which includes a cigarette and a glass of beer every couple of hours. It is a regime which prevents pressure sores and satisfies her curiosity as to what everyone else was up to. She never goes outside the apartment anymore; the osteoarthritis in her knees prevents her from walking more than a few steps at a time. A cane sits stubbornly ignored by the door and whenever her knee is mentioned, she would hold onto the cupboard and do a little jig just to prove that it is all a figment of our imagination.

Everyone smokes continuously in this household, everyone, that is, except us. This is irony at its best considering M is a heart and lung surgeon. Cigarette smoke constantly permeates the whole apartment, which then infiltrates into everything in our luggage, a reminder of our visit when we move onto the next European destination. Opening windows to air the apartment is never an option, as the bitter cold of European winters, when permitted to slip inside, renders the heating systems ineffective.

It is not uncommon for us to escape the apartment with long walks, the biting wind and icy footpaths a better alternative to the indoor haze. Once rugged up, with gloves and a rubber soled boots over wool-covered feet, we would tackle the local hill up to the township castle, or trudge by the icy river at the base of the retaining walls. Two hours of fresh air not only flush out our smoke-ridden lungs, but also brings sanity back after being stuck in a small shared space. Hubby is often silent on these long trips, as he takes a rest from being bombarded, not only with the latest local gossip, but also with questions about the latest developments in his life from his mother and grandmother. This is also a time when he enjoys a reprieve from being the translator between the three women in his life. It is a concept that the older women do not seem to understand as they continually talk while he tries to translate to me, until he gives up – usually by the end of the first day of our visit, at which time they berate him for not involving me in their conversations.

Breakfast is not for the faint-hearted here. Mamka would get up around 7.30am. She sits down at the vinyl covered dining table, leisurely enjoys her first cigarette before her preparations. An hour later, we would wonder in, with hubby being in charge of the coffee and I, in charge of toasting sliced bread. Once everything is placed on the small dining table tucked in the corner of the closet kitchen, Babka shuffles in on her slippers and in her pyjama dress. The first meal of the day starts with a shot of Vodka or Cognac, of which she knocks down in one toss with a big satisfied sigh. A black coffee is then savoured with toast and homemade spread. The spread alternates between the fishy one (a blend of sardines, mackerel, mayonnaise, butter, and mustard), or the cheesy one (a beaten mix of blue cheese, beer, butter and seasoning). This is accompanied by freshly sliced brown onion, radish and strips of paprika. Often with a look of disdain from Babka, I stick to my jam or marmalade on toast. As I daintily chew through my breakfast and sip my coffee, I would recognise the word ‘princess’ in conjunction with my name as she comments on how I eat ‘like a sparrow’. Once breakfast has been consumed, a cigarette is then lit, accompanied by a shared bottle of beer. As an excuse to get away from the fumes, I would volunteer to do the dishes. In reality, it is not the meal which bothers me. No, it is the burp that comes out of hubby about two hours later when we are on our walk, when he decides to steal a kiss, at which time a rumble starts in his stomach and releases as one toxic explosion in my face. One might think I am swooning at his kiss, but I can assure you that it is no other than the stench which permeates my nose for the rest of the day.

Christmas here is celebrated on the 24th, at four o’clock in the afternoon, as the winter sun descends rapidly behind the hill, we head to the town cemetery, armed with bags of candles, matches and fresh greenery. The place is full of people and constant traffic passes by the gate. It is an exercise that may take time depending on how many friends and acquaintances Mamka runs into. At every visit, we hear the story of whom each graves belong to, and stories of the deceased. Candles are lit, the marble headstones are cleaned, and the greenery is laid on each family grave. She mumbles a prayer quietly and we move on. The walk home is usually filled with peace, places of interest are usually pointed out. This is where M went to high school; that way is where Mamka used to work, and this is the road that leads up to Babka’s old house.

Dinner is usually served around seven, in the small lounge room that barely fits a sofa, two lounge chairs and a rectangular glass coffee table. His brother is made to remove his pillows and blankets, and he is in charge on turning the lights on the Christmas tree. The smell of fresh pine leaves from the tree cuts through an odd mixture of stale cigarette smoke and evaporated oil of deep-fried carp in the lounge room. Family crystals, silverware and porcelain are laid out on Christmas-themed table clothe. A round of Vodka or Cognac is shared as a toast to health before the meal starts. Grace is spoken, with blessings bestowed on all at the table, where Mamka paints a cross is on everyone’s forehead with a honey-soaked garlic clove. This is rather troublesome for one who sports a fringe such as myself – for the rest of the evening, I have to try and ignore the discomfort of having my dark locks plastered to my forehead, not to mention the slow descent of excess honey into my eye lashes and my nasal tip as we work through the courses.

Entrée consists of poppy seed pudding with poppy seed coated prunes. Once we are floating on poppy-induced Christmas cheer, the fish is served with a potato salad. Beer is consumed like water, and one is never allowed to rest on an empty glass. As we munch through our meals (eating carp is never a graceful affair), we again listen to both older women tell the story of how each dish came to be part of the Christmas tradition. It was an eclectic mix of the two families. Your father’s family didn’t like fish, so they always had cabbage soup. We never had the prunes coated in poppy seeds, that’s something your father’s mother brought into the house.

An apple is cut by grandma after the mains, and if a star is found when sliced in half, it bodes good luck and prosperity for the new year. It therefore doesn’t take a genius to figure that the apple need to be cut perpendicular to its core, although it can be nail-biting in case worms are found in a rotten fruit, disrupting a perfect star-shaped core. Dessert is a self-serve affair, consisting of chocolates hanging from the Christmas tree. Sometimes this could be a little sparse when the sweets mysteriously vanish from the branches during the days before Christmas Eve. Mamka however always have a spare stash for such an emergency, of which she hides in the TV cabinet next to a large collection of DVD’s until required.

Presents are given and opened before the stroke of midnight. Each person is given the attention and time to open their presents and thank the giver. By now if the poppy-seed doesn’t make one happy, the beer would make one exuberant about any present, no matter what it may be. Without doubt, Babka would run a dry commentary on each present revealed whilst happily nursing her umpteenth glass of beer in the large lounge chair.

This is Christmas. A tradition that my husband has shared with his family since he was born. A tradition that makes me grateful to be a part of when I am here, as a member of this small loving family.

Vesele Vianoce to you all.

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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.

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.

 

10 Things I Hate About You

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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

Watch out girls, Dr McDreamy is in Town

A few nights ago, I attended a dinner gala event held for a surgical conference. I sat at a table with a group of surgeons I knew very well, many of whom I have either gone to med school with, or gone through training with. We are a miscellaneous group, with each of us in different surgical specialities. When I went through surgical training, there were very few females, so my table was filled with men, except for two other women who were the wives. Two of my closest friends, Daniel* and Rohan*, sat on each side of me. My husband also sat at the same table, and he knew that back in the days before I met him, Rohan and I had a very brief relationship. Dan was Rohan’s best friend, so he treated me like his baby sister – that was, until he and I started dating when Rohan left me to chase someone else in skirts (yes, yes, it was all a bit complicated). Fortunately, for our friendship, Dan and I realised it was a mistake before it got untidy. My relationships with them made me the envy of other girls in med school. If Grey’s Anatomy was around at the time, these two would have been the epitome of Dr McDreamy and Dr McSteamy.

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Now, most people would have considered our current dinner seating to be an awkward situation, but this is the funny thing about the medical fraternity. A lot of doctors have relationships with each other, some turned out well, some not so well. At some point in our careers, all of us will end up having to work or deal with each other in our profession. And that is the price you pay for having a relationship with another colleague – apart from the wagging tongues of nurses, other doctors and whoever else thinks it’s their business. You learn very quickly, if you are dating colleagues, to separate personal life from working life. Majority of break-ups between doctors end amicably, and being fairly intelligent people, we get over it pretty quickly, because the only way to be professional at work is to clear the air and get on with what’s important.

I have been lucky. Rohan and Daniel patched up their friendship after Dan and I went our separate ways. Although there were some awkwardness moments for couple of months, we all became very close friends, especially after I entered surgical training. When my husband entered the scene as my boyfriend, they also became good friends, so it was not unusual for the boys to hang around our place to watch a football together or for all three of them to go out for a drink after work. Daniel got married four years ago, and his wife is expecting a second baby.

Rohan, on the other hand, is another story altogether.

Rohan was a new cardiothoracic surgical trainee at the time when I was an easily impressionable naïve 2nd year med student. Tall, dark and handsome with startling turquoise eyes, he was pretty much irresistible to women. And he knew it. I was flattered that he paid me any attention, but I was forewarned by the nurses on the ward of his predatory ways. They said he targeted young medical students and interns, and there was not a single young female surgical intern who had been able to resist his charm. He left a trail of broken hearts in every department.

I was determined that I wasn’t to be his next victim. I kept my distance and laughed his invitations off. I pretended not to be affected by his flattery, and concentrated on being diligent with my studies. I tried to impress the seniors on the team with my hard work and knowledge. I stayed in the operating room later than others to watch procedures. One night after a long case, he invited me to share a burger with him downstairs at MacDonald’s. Thinking it was just a casual ‘lets-grab-a-bite’, I agreed. I don’t know whether it was the fatigue or just plain stupidity, the rest was history after that.

The relationship lasted 3 months. Two weeks after I changed from a surgical rotation to a medical one, and left Rohan’s team, he announced that he wanted to date other people. It was a statement, not an invitation for a discussion. Even though I had always known it was coming. I was hurt. I cried on Dan’s shoulder. They were nice broad shoulders and Dan, a neurosurgical trainee, was also tall dark and handsome. And so the story went.

Anyway, back to the dinner. While we were walking towards our table earlier in the evening, my husband commented on the increasing number of female doctors in surgery and how young they looked. He got a jab in the rib from me for his efforts. He teased Rohan that there’ll be plenty of girls for him to chose from during the conference. Dan commented on how short and tight the mini dresses were these days, and I joked that he was not supposed to notice these things now that he was married with 2nd baby on the way. Rohan then mourned the fact that the majority of the girls in short tight sheaths are not of the correct BMI to wear those outfits. My husband chuckled and shook his head as another one in tight short dress wobbled by in her platform heels or ‘stripper heels’ as he fondly called them.

Once we sat down for dinner, we did our usual catch up of what each of us has been up to. Rohan couldn’t resist firing a few digs about Dan’s marital status, as he had always viewed Dan’s marriage as the ultimate betrayal of his loyal wingman. In the meantime, Dan made a few comments about Rohan’s womanising ways, which he now viewed as a one-way dead end to self-destruction. Then both them started launching an avalanche of abuse at my husband across the table for taking the best woman off the ‘meat-market’. (Yes, that would be me preening at the compliment and attention). He returned fire with a friendly retort, ‘hey, you guys had your chance and screwed it up.’

It wasn’t long after we had our entrees before various young female doctors started to approach our table. They stopped by ‘just to say hi’ to Rohan. He, of course, lapped it up like a cat with a bowl of fresh cream. Daniel was getting his share, but he knew better than to misbehave since his wife (who was back at hotel with the baby) is an anaesthetist. For those who are unfamiliar with the socialisation of the surgical fraternity, anaesthetists have nothing to do during the operation except talk, or surf the net (apart from keeping the patients alive, of course), so they are like the accelerators on the gossip grapevine. The best source of juicy updates on any surgeon’s personal life came from the anaesthetists; they often work with several surgeons, so the sources are usually reliable.  Dan knew if he was up to no good, she would be the first to know. Meanwhile, I was busy watching these young nubile things walk around the table to stop by my husband’s seat and his oh-so-friendly smile at their sweet-talking.

‘Stop snarling, Tiff.’ Dan chuckled next me. He only laughed harder when I denied it. ‘If looks can burn, those girls would be needing skin grafts by now.’ I reluctant looked away and tried to stop grinding my teeth. To distract myself, I started watching Rohan’s interactions with his swarm of admirers. Dan and I started a commentary on each.

‘Nah, too short,’ I said. ‘Look at how high those heels are.’ I really was just jealous at the fact that she could actually walk in them.

‘He doesn’t mind the short ones.’ Dan said, ‘Not one of his rules.’

Oh Yes. Rohan’s rules. We knew them well.

Rule Number One: Don’t sleep with nurses. According to Rohan, sleeping with nurses is like sleeping with the enemy. Once you do it, you will fall under their influence and rule. It was not to be done.

Rule Number Two: Don’t sleep with anyone in your own department. This is pretty self-explanatory, according to Rohan, it’s like shitting in your own backyard. Break-ups can make your life hell and one should never mix business with pleasure.

Rule Number Three: The size of her butt must fit the bum scale. So, he is discriminating against large girls. The bum scale is basically the width of two hand-spans (his hands of course). Sometimes I catch him holding up his hands – spreaded to check the width of some random girl’s butt size. Luckily, he has very big hands that wear size 8 gloves, so there was a good deal of girls who fit the bill.

Rule Number Four: No older women and anyone within 5 years of his age. Mature women want relationships, marriages and babies. It wasn’t for him, and he hated expectations. He wasn’t into mature women (which I pointed out meant he wasn’t mature enough to handle them.) He blithely agreed and continued on.

Rule Number Five: The younger the better. I asked him once if there was a limit (apart from the legal one of course). He said that the youngest ethically acceptable age would be his age divided by 2 plus 7. So basically (he’s 40), the youngest for him would be 27. I have no idea where he got that from, but I shudder to think that when he is 60, he’ll be chatting up 37 year olds! His response to my skepticism was ‘You are only as old as the woman you feel.’

I know he sounds despicable and is obviously an incorrigible womaniser, but Rohan is not a bad person. He has a good heart and goes out of his way for others. He is always clear to the girls he dated that he was not into relationships of any sort. He never lies, and doesn’t mistreat women. He always lavishes affection and attention on the girl of the moment. He is loving and generous, and never holds a grudge. He is kind and loyal to his friends. He makes people laugh, and is surprisingly dependable in times of need. I have watched him stand up for a bullied upset junior doctor against another surgeon once. The junior doctor was one of his many past conquests.

I once asked him why he asked me out when I was a med student, since I didn’t fit all the rules. I had always suspected it was because I turned him down so many times. He said that truthfully, he didn’t know, but he was in awe of my work ethic and intrigued by the fact that he enjoyed having long conversations with me. I guess he had never dated girls for their conversation skills before me. He told me: ‘You were my one exception.’ Awwww.

‘Oh Shit,’ Dan tapped me on the shoulder. ‘He is going in for the kill.’

I realised suddenly that Rohan had his head bent down way too close to a young lady crouched beside his chair. His hand had moved up to her shoulder. He complimented her on her outfit, a tight sheath which enhanced her perfectly athletic BMI. I sighed in resignation. Dan leaned over me, trying to catch their conversation.

‘If you are not doing anything after the dinner, can I take you out for a drink?’

Dan and I burst into laughter. At the confused look on the young girl’s face and Rohan’s warning growl, we both put on our most innocent butter-won’t-melt-in-our-mouth smiles on, and directed our attention back to the baked red grouper in lemon sauce and mango salsa.

Watch out girls, Dr McDreamy is in town.

Just a bit more eye candy for my readers.

Just a bit more eye candy for my readers.

* names have been changed to protect privacy of individuals

The BMW Club: Meet the Members

There are four of us. Three surgeons and one surgical assistant. All girls of course.

Once a month we meet up – Saturday early morning cafe breakfast, Sunday boozy brunch, Friday night at the bar, Saturday night at a pole dancing show, Sunday afternoon on a picnic blanket, Thursday night at the football game, you name it, we’ve done it. It is a ritual that has been going on for years between the four of us. It usually starts as a very civilised girls’ outing, then it deterioates into a BMW (Bitching, Moaning and Whining) fest.

About work, people at work, patients, headache cases, bad days, husband/boyfriend/lover, or the lack thereof. And as the drinks start to flow more liberally, the standard of conversation falls to the level of frank, graphic, rude basics.  There would be no subject which was forbidden and no detail that was left out. The aftermath is usually four dolled-up chicks in hysterics, rolling round in their seats, somewhere public.  Think Sex and City – without the airbrushed lens.

Sex and City2

The rules of the meetings were simple: dress up to impress (or to pick-up for the unattached in the group), no male accompaniment, no bitching between each other (but it’s ok to bitch about anyone else),  and if one person pulls out, the ‘meeting’ is cancelled (amazingly has not happened yet, considering that we all work in the field of surgery).

We are not all intimate friends with each other, initially it was a meeting of I-will-bring-my-friend and it-will-be-good-to-catch-up, but over the years, we have become a very close group. It is a group where we can safely discuss all our thoughts, fears and dreams, knowing we can receive honest, and most importantly, non-judgemental advice.

So, Sharon* plonked herself down at the bar next to me, ‘Goddamn patients.’ Obviously one of her patients is giving her grief. I looked at her in surprise, it seems we will be starting the BMW component early today. But then, that’s Sharon. She always sees the negative. If she wasn’t lamenting about her working hours, she was complaining about the patients, or proclaiming doom and gloom about the outcomes. When she’s done with her own misery, she will point out ours, in a sympathetic way, of course. I used to find her constant pessimism tiresome, but then I realised this was the way she needed to unload, because she sure as doesn’t do it at work to the patients.

Sharon is my age. She is tall, and has an eye for upper end designer clothes. Tonight, Her hands and wrists dribbled with BVLGARI jewellery, and her neck supported a Chanel diamond collar. She wore a bright red and gold wrap-around dress from DVF. She is single and lives with her parents. She dots on her nephews and nieces. She has travelled a lot despite a busy practice. She has connections with various famous surgeons around the world and often posts photos on facebook when she has dinners/meetings with each of them. One doesn’t say it out aloud, but we all know she is probably having long distance brief affairs with some of them.

Sharon and I went through surgical training together. We were like sisters, spending our working hours together, then the rest of our time studying together. She slept and ate at our house often and at one stage, our spare bedroom cupboard was filled her clothes and toiletries. We had a lot of fun times and hard times. The worst was when she failed her specialist exams and I had to be her boss for a year. It was hard for her to take clinical orders from me, and there were times when she took liberties which I had to reprimand her for. It really damaged our friendship, and it was because of her, that I decided I would never be ‘friends’ with any trainees and students who were under my team. Being ‘friends’ was detrimental to the ‘chain of command’ especially when it came down to patients whom I was responsible for. That was five years ago. We have since resolved our differences and sunk back to our old comfortable ways.

Sharon is a sophisticated sort. She loves art. She collects them, goes to all the gallery events, and takes art classes. She is also an avid amateur mixologist. She has an encyclopaedia of cocktails on her kitchen shelf with a whole cupboard of equipment, some of which looked questionable in function, but she assured me was for mixing exotic drinks. She regularly experiments on us, some creations went down smoothly like lolly water, others gave us unusual facial expressions which were eternally recorded on our iphones amidst drunken laughter. Once, she made a cocktail which blew our minds, literally, as she got the proportion of Tobasco wrong.  Sharon also loved her fashion, she was into classical fashion, that of Chanel, Gucci, BVLGARI and Prada. She obviously spends enough money at these stores that she regularly graces the social pages of the local news rags at some blah blah season launch.

“Hi Babes.’ That’s Emma*. She is the party-girl. She is on first-name basis with all the restauranteurs, chefs, club owners and bartenders around town. She is on the guest list of every boutique, restuarant, and club opening. She shamelesly name-drops at every opportunity and she can rattle off a description of the latest collection pieces from all the up-and-coming designers.  She is the epitome of all that is chic, trendy, modern and unusual. She wears impossibly high heels and revealing outfits, and that’s at work. Once we were in clinic together, and of my other colleagues looked at her outfit and whispered to me ‘Where’s the disco ball?’ I just laughed, and told him to wait until he’s seen her party outfits.

Tonight, she sashayed in with a tight blue Alexander Wang sheath dress highlighted by a plunging neck, Gianvito Rossi 150mm high pumps and her usual large rectangular cut ‘helicopter-platform’-size sapphire ring on her middle finger. This was her engagement ring. Emma is divorced. Five years ago, her husband (a fellow surgeon) came home one day from work and told her over dinner that he was having an affair with an anaesthetic tech, and that she was having his baby in 6 months’ time. Emma went on a bender then. She started drinking heavily and using crack. She was having an exhaustive series of one-night stands and experimented with various sexual adventures which we didn’t really want to know, but were not spared the details.

She and I have worked closely together for over 7 years. During her divorce, it was a very difficult time for both of us, she turned up to work so high on somedays I have had to send her home. She was reported to the Medical Board by a coworker and was then put on probation. Everyday, she had to be breathlysed, and urine tested before she could commence work. When she wasn’t sober, I had to make her call in sick so that she didn’t have to be tested, because one positive test at work meant being struck off the medical register. During those 18 months, I was carrying the load of two surgeons without a whimper, because I knew, by flying low on the radar, I was holding onto her job for her.

She has since recovered. Sure, she still drank too much on social occasions, and I am sure enjoys a bit of white stuff at some parties, but at least she is now reliable at work and has had a few selected relationships which lasted longer than a weekend. For all her sordid history, Emma is a good surgeon, she’s efficient, decisive and despite her outstanding competency has insight to her limitations. She maybe outspoken, opinionated and bitchy at times, but she has no qualms in standing up for what she believes in.  Unfortunately, she has a talent in attracting bad boys with terrible unresolved baggage and messy relatonships in general.

Many have commented on our unusual friendship, as we are like chalk and cheese with vastly different lifetyles. But Emma is a loyal, protective friend who, for all her bitching, will not say a bad word about those who stuck by her, and looks out for her friends at every turn. She once said to me, ‘You are just too nice, Tiff. You need a friend like me to tell people to f$@# off when they try to pile shit on you.’ And she does. She takes patients who give me grief off my clinic list, and then proceed tell them as it is when she sees them. She rings and tells me to sleep in because she has seen all my preops for the next morning and will get the operating list started for me. When my lists are overbooked, she will take off cases onto her list so that I would finish on time. For all her tough talk and party-girl image, Emma has a marshmellow heart. She lives alone with her dog whom has been lavished wth more luxuries than a baby, including a handmade dog collar, custom-made bed and matching cushions.

‘Where’s Lizzy?’ Emma asked. I frowned. It was not like Lizzy* to be late. She is often the first one to arrive. Lizzy is a surgical assistant with a nursing background, who assists several surgeons in town. She is the one exception I have made about having friends as employees. She works for me once a week as my assistant. Lizzy is the goody-two-shoes in our group. She is conscentious, hardworking and punctual. Although lately, there was a shift in her focus from work to a recent addition in her love-life. Lizzy has been single for many years. She had been quite an overweight girl who was intermittently on various unsuccessful miracle diets. Four years ago, she started personal training, and lost over 20 kg. She admitted to me months afterwards that the impetus which finally made her serious about losing weight was my wedding. The day before the wedding, all four of us were lying on the beach, reading magazines, enjoying cool drinks and having our final BMW club meeting before I was to become the only married woman in the group. Lizzy told me that it was the most disconcerting day for her. Sharon, Emma and I were all confidently lounging around in our bikinis, and according to Lizzy – we looked hot. It made her feel very self-conscious of her own body. It wasn’t that we said anything – in fact – we were all fairly comfortable with Lizzy, as we have always known her to be a big girl. It was then she realised that no one cared if she was fat or skinny, that if she wanted to lose the weight, she needed to do it for herself.

Lizzy started seeing someone 6 months ago. It sounded serious, with lots of sleepovers and talks of buying cars, furniture, looking at properties. Instead of being so focussed on her work, it was good to see her flourish in confidence and love. Lizzy herself will tell you she leads a very ‘boring’ life. She gets up early every morning to train at the gym, goes to work, grocery shops in the afternoon, hangs out at her boyfriend’s apartment most nights watching TV, visits her parents on the weekends and is usually asleep in bed well before 9 o’clock every nights. She is not naive, but she has led a very sheltered life. Although she is easily shocked and grimaces at some of the details we discuss, she always remain non-judgemental, and seemed to be more interested than horrified, especially when Emma starts going off on a tangent with one of her latest ‘adventures’.

Lizzy is a girl who valued friendships. She is the one who always make an effort to keep in touch. She remembers everyone’s birthdays, anniversaries, and anything that you have ever mentioned in conversation. She would ring to check if everything was alright if she knew you were sick, and text to find out if your dentist’s appointment went well. She brought over hot soups when you have a running nose, and offers to help you clean out your garage on weekends.

‘There she is,’Sharon groaned, ‘about bloody time, I am starving.’

On a lower income bracket than the rest of us, Lizzy’s wardrobe consisted mainly of pieces from Zara, H&M, and Cue. She was the queen of coordination, if it wasn’t matching earrings with bracets/necklaces, it was matching shoes, clutch or belt. The colours were always impeccably organised in her outfits. She never wore heels higher than 8 mm, although the youngest, she is also the tallest of the group. Lizzy is also rather well-endowed, and despite her weight loss, nothing shrunk from her chest wall, much to her disgust. Unfortuntely, being surrounded by three others who rely heavily on padded push-up bras, Lizzy’s bosom, at times, was fair game amongst us less fortunate.

‘Sorry, girls.’ Lizzy smiled. She had large sparkling brown eyes framed by sinfully long eyelashes. ‘I got held up.’ She blushed. We all gave her a knowing look.

As it is always the case when we are with Emma, a waiter appeared out of thin air as soon as she raised her hand. The waiter lead us towards the dining room, and sat us down. Champagne glasses were filled and raised.

The glasses clinked as our laughter echoed around the table.

‘Let’s start this meeting.’

 

*names were changed to protect pesonal privacy of individuals

Just a Matter of Pride & Vanity

So, on Friday night, I found myself in my wardrobe, amidst clothes flung on the floor, jewellery spreaded out on my dressing table, shoes strewn along the carpet, and a very frazzled looking, insecure woman staring back at me in the mirror. The dress I held in front of myself flew out of my hand onto the floor in an exasperated sign. Another one bites the dust. I tried chanelling Angelina Jolie…..

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I  looked up at the reflection. Messy, frizzled hair cascading around my bare face devoid of makeup, loose pyjama top stained with food remanents, tracksuit pants that are two sizes too big, and peeling red nail polish on my toes. I looked closer. Damn, is that my gray hair peeking through my last hair colour 8 weeks ago? Brown eyes are so boring, maybe I should get eyelash extensions to enhance my eyes. I made a pout – my lips are so thin, it’s hardly worth the effort of putting on lipstick. When did those lines started to become so prominent around my eyes and forehead. Hubby is right, I really frown too much, maybe I should start giving myself some Botox……

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It hit me then. Oh God. I have become one of them.

Them – being my cosmetic patients. The ones that sit in my office, telling me over 45 minutes about the extra fat bulges that shouldn’t be sitting on heir hips, the breasts that are too small for their designer dresses, the waistline that is not well-defined enough like a washboard, the fine wrinkles that give their age away, the flat cheekbones that makes their nose look big, the turkey neck that makes them look old, the receding chin that lacks character etc etc etc. Usually by the end of the consultation, my eyes have rolled to the back of my head, listening to their lists of imperfections. Sometimes I am tempted to whip out my ipad and show them pictures of women whom I have had to remove facial and body parts for cancer, just so that they can appreciate what God has given them.  Sometimes I work really hard at being patient and sympathetic. Because after all, I am a plastic surgeon. Making people as beautiful as they want to be is my job. Although I have to admit, the biggest frustration of my job is that sometimes my definition and their concept of being ‘beautiful’ can be two vastfuly different things.

So I digress.

What has put me in this state?

Earlier this month, I received a message via facebook from Georgina. She was coming for a conference. She was dying to catch up because she hadn’t seen me for years. She just got married last year to the hottest guy and would love me to meet him.

She hadn’t seen me for 12 years to be exact.

Georgina and I have known each other since first year of high school. We were family friends. Our mothers car-pooled. My mother took us to school and her mother (Mrs S) took us home. We went to the same private girls’ school, lived two streets away from each other, had the same piano teacher, attended the same ballet school, she was a swimmer and I was a rower, so we trained at the same time. When we grew up, we went through medical school together. She is now a specialist working in another state.

Georgina was from a very wealthy family, I was a scholarship girl in a private school. Her father was a medical specialist and Mrs S was a housewife who lunched at the local country club. My parents were migrants who owned and worked in a small mortgaged coffee shop. Our house was old and falling apart around us, my father was forever ‘self-renovating’ it. They lived in an elegant white mansion, with an automatic gate, french window seats, custom-made silk and brocad curtains, a dining room that fitted a long shiny mahogany table which sat 20 guests…. you get the picture. Mrs S used to pick us up from school in her shiny BMW, with fresh Happy Meal boxes from MacDonald’s for us to eat, then we’d go to her house until my parents were home from work. Georgina and I would play dress up in her room, muck around on the piano, swim in her big pool and hang around the cook in the massive kitchen for scraps from whatever feast she was cooking the family for dinner.

Georgina had the biggest wardrobe I had ever seen, and every few weeks, she would give me clothes that she didn’t want anymore. She was bigger than me, so most of the time, my mother had to take in the sides and lengh.  She taught me how to put on makeup and paint my nails. She coached me how to walk in high heels. She educated me in the difference between Chanel and Gucci. She showed me the colours of Louboutin Red and Tiffany Blue.  I was always in awe of her and her family. I thought I was so lucky to have her as my friend. She was a popular, confident girl who excelled in everything, and held different official positions throughout high school. She always changed into one of her beautiful designer outfits when we went out after school.  She was allowed to wear high heels when she was 15. Handsome looking senior guys from the private boys’ school next door used to hang around her. She got asked to the prom every year of high school. I was a typical nerd. I had braces for three and half years. I wore uniforms that were too big for me (because mum couldn’t afford to buy a new one each time I grew). Although I did well in my core-curriculum and music, I was bad at sports, clumsy and awkard. I was constantly in flannel shirts, jeans and scruffy sneakers when I wasn’t in my uniform (legacy of my older brother’s wardrobe). I was shy around boys, and never went to a prom, except mine. I took my older brother.

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Looking back, I can’t say we were really friends. I desperately believed that we were friends, even though we never spoke to each other at school. But when we were at her house, we spoke about everything, from our favourite movies, difficult equations in maths, places we’d like to travel to and our fairytale weddings. I guess we were friends by default. Two very different young girls thrown together by circumstance. We spent everyday together through our teenage years and early twenties. Her house was the only place I was allowed to go to without parental supervision on weekends. The parties I was permitted to attend were those she was invited to. We hung around the same crowd when we were older, our brothers were best friends, so it was unavoidable that we were always in each other’s presence.

Then little incidents started to fall in place for me. There were several, but a few stood out.

Once when I was bored of playing cricket with my younger brother, to escape his pestering, I walked over to her house on a Saturday afternoon. I pressed the bell at the gate. Mrs S answered. I told her it was me and if I could come over and and play with Georgina. She said of course and called for Georgina. I don’t think Mrs S realised that the intercom was still on, because the next thing I heard was Georgina’s whining voice. ‘Is she here again? Mum, she’s so annoying, do I have to play with her? Can’t you just tell her I am not home?’

‘Hush Georgie, be nice to Tiffany. She is a very good girl and you have a lot to learn from her.’

‘She’s such a dag. Mum.’

‘Go and let her in.’

I hesitated. I wanted to leave, but I managed to convince myself that she didn’t really mean it – because if she did, she wouldn’t have let me in. So since that day, I tried really hard not to be ‘annoying’.

When I went to my prom, I didn’t have a dress. Mrs S offered to my mother that I could borrow one of Georgina’s many prom dresses. I was at their house, trying on different dresses, most of which were too big as Georgina was a swimmer and had much wider torso than myself. Mrs S then brought out a dress from her wardrobe. She said it was her prom dress when she was a girl (and when she was a lot slimmer). It was a long beautiful tight shimmering number. It fitted me perfectly. Georgina said that I looked old in it. I thought she was just jealous that I could wear her mother’s dress. Days before the prom night, she told everyone at school that I was wearing one of her mother’s old dresses and that I looked like I had no boobs with a fat tummy in such a tight dress. I went home and cried, I told my mother that I didn’t want to wear Mrs S’s dress. She made me wear it on the night. I spent the whole night sitting in the corner, with my brother’s black Parka jacket over Mrs S’s dress.

When we were at uni, my boyfriend (now husband), M, was in her group. I remember thinking that she was my ‘closest friend’ (plus she was also one of M’s friends), so I should let her know that M and I had started dating. She shrugged with disinterest when I told her. She was more eager to tell me about how several male doctors at the university hospital had been asking her out. Two days later, M asked me if i ever had braces. I said yes and asked him why. He said that Georgina told him about my braces and how I used to look hilarious when food got stuck in it. I asked him what else did he and Georgina talk about, and he started telling me some pretty embarrasing things I used to do at school. I got angry and said that Georgina was trying to make me look bad. He just laughed and said that I was over-reacting. He thought the stories were adorable.

Finally, the last time I saw her, we were sitting exams to apply for specialist training. I was studying in the library, in a cubicle desk next to the meeting room. The meeting room is often booked out by study groups. I preferred to study alone. The walls were very thin, I could hear the conversation in the room. Georgina’s voice stood out. One of the girls was admiring her shirt. Georgina said that she got it from an exclusive boutique in the city. The girl mentioned that I worked there on weekends. Georgina laughed, ‘isn’t it ridiculous how long Tiffany has worked there?! You’d think her dress sense would improve for the better.’ When I bumped into her leaving the library later that day, I said goodbye. Then I quit my job at L’Amour Boudoir a week later.

Now I asked my reflection in the mirror. Why the hell did you say yes to this dinner.

Maybe I wanted to give Georgina the benefit of the doubt? Maybe she has changed and matured. She did probably consider me as a friend and has missed having me around to talk to. She sounded genuinely interested in finding out about my life. She really wasn’t such bad person, she had her own insecurities and fears. I’d like to think she was jealous of me, but that would have just been plain silly, because I envied her and she knew that I wanted to be just like her.

Or maybe because I wanted to show her how far I have come in life, that I now live in the same sphere of professional stature and wealth as her family. But why would I care what she thinks of me now? Why did I have the need to show her that I was the same or maybe even better than she is? I wanted to show her that I am now more worldly, and have developed my own sense of style. Looking at my reflection in the mirror – there was no evidence of any of the above. The little insecure teenager in me had been brought to the surface by Georgina’s visit.

Thus my indecisiveness in ‘what to wear’. This was so unlike me. I am used to making a split second decisions on a bleeding internal jugular vein, a prompt judgement on managing severed fingers, not to mention accurate assessment on resectability of complex cancers. And now, I found myself stuck in front of the mirror, dithering over one black dress over another (honestly, they all look the same), and worrying about a few lines on my face. I sighed and threw my hands up in the air.

Then a voice downstairs brought me back down to earth. ‘Hey, beautiful, have you finished dolling yourself up yet? We are going to be late.’ I can see him, sitting on the sofa, flickering through Star Trek episodes on the remote, in his blue-striped shirt to match his eyes, navy linen blazer fom Zegna, crossed legs covered in tailored Armani pants and suede loafers courtesy of Bally. Half an hour ago, I was sitting on that sofa, exactly as I was and he as he was, snuggled up in his lap while he was talking about his day. Then I saw in the mirror what he would have seen.

One thing I have learnt from working in the field of plastic surgery for over 10 years is, the clients that feel truly beautiful, are those that already did before surgery. All I do for them is to enhance the parts which they wanted improvement.

So I berated the bedraggled image in the mirror. You are a well-respected plastic surgeon. You are fit, toned and have a perfect Body Mass Index of 23. You look good for your age, and that’s without Botox. Your husband can’t keep his hands off you because you are gorgeous. He spoils you with classy jewellery. You can afford expensively tailored designer clothes and shoes. You have everything at your fingertips to make yourself one damn stunning hottie.

By the time I had my hair piled up over the gray roots, Chanel make -up applied over the fine lines, Helmut Lang black dress zipped up, Louboutin pumps hiding my neglected toes, Tiffany diamonds in place, and a shimmering Louis Vuitton clutch in my hand, I felt like the envy of all women.  And men. For all my self-righteous tirade on Vanity, I have had to admit to myself that a healthy dose of it does wonders for one’s self-esteem.

Because when I walked into the restaurant that night, it didn’t matter what Georgina and her hunky husband thought, I felt like a million dollars, like Angelie Jolie in The Tourist.

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With my very own Brad Pitt.

 

 

 

A Letter of Apology

This is probably going to be one of the most un-feminist blog I will ever write, but this is one letter that I need to wite.

This is a letter of apology. A letter of apology to my husband.

Dear M,

Every night when I come home from work, I look at your face, and I constantly search for signs of disappointment, resentment and regret in your eyes. I wait for the day when you realise that you have made the wrong decision, or got the raw end of the wife-deal. I count down to the day that you realise you have married a neurotic, anal-retentive female surgeon who is a useless housewife.

Instead, you greet me every evening as if you haven’t seen me for weeks. You hug me as if you have missed me every moment of the day and you kiss me as if it will erase every bad moment I have had during the day.

So I feel that I owe you an apology. Well, several apologies to be exact.

I am sorry for all the last minute cancellations, of romantic dinners, first-time outings, long-awaited concerts, thoughtfully prepared picnics and all other events that we were supposed to have attended.  For the outings we have managed to attend, I am sorry for each and every time we have had to leave early because I have had calls from the hospital.

I am sorry for every date that I have stood you up for, because I got ‘caught up’ at work. I am sorry for when I have kept you waiting, sitting alone at restaurants because I couldn’t just leave an anxious patient ruminating on their fears.

I am just really very sorry that it seems you are not the number one priority in my life.  I give up any enjoyment with you at the drop of a hat because I think someone else needs me more than you,  and they need me more urgently.

I am sorry for all the hours I spend doing paperwork at home when I could be spending it with you. And for bringing them home in the first place because I didn’t have time to attend to them at work – I have been too busy spending time with patient.

I am sorry for the long days and evenings I spend with my colleagues, in clinical work and in meetings; the nights and weekends when I should be having lazy late brunches instead of lecturing, teaching and demonstrating in tutorials for the junior doctors and students; the weekends when I travel to attend conferences instead of walking on the local beach with you.

In fact, I am just plain sorry that I spend more time with my patients, students and colleagues than I do with you.

I am sorry that  when I get home I am so tired that I can’t carry on a decent conversation with you over dinner, or the number of times I have actually fallen asleep in my chair during dinner.  This includes evenings on the sofa when you are telling me about your day and I respond with loud snores. I am sorry for the times when I am not listening to you because I am thinking through an operation, or figuring out diffiult clinical dilemmas in my head. I am sorry for answering my text messages from patients and colleagues while we are talking. And yet, you listen to my constant whinging about my work, hanging on every word and providing advice to help me think clearly.

So I want to say sorry. Sorry that most of the time when I am with you, I don’t give you my 100% undivided attention.

I am sorry that you have not married a Domestic Goddess, that I don’t cook, clean, or pack your lunch for you. I don’t see you off to work every morning with a kiss and a wave in the driveway. I am sorry that you have to do the groceries, drop off the dry cleaning, hang out the laundry and cook me dinners at all hours of the night when I come home from work. Despite all this, I am ashamed that I still begrudge the times you lie on the couch watching sports, stay up all night bingeing on your favourite TV shows and the Saturday nights you spend drinking at the football match with your mates.

I am sorry that I get so busy, I forget our wedding anniversaries and your birthdays.

I am sorry that sometimes I haven’t been able to be with you when you needed me. I am also sorry that sometimes when I get so upset at work, I lash out at you. I am also sorry that I cause you to worry, when I indulge in frustrated tears.

But most of all, I am sorry for each and every day that I forget to thank you for loving me, the way I am.

Smoked Salmon

It was after a very long day at work.  A complex operation that took me ten hours, standing on my feet, without a break.

I was so tired I was almost asleep by the time my car rolled to a stop in the garage.

Dinner was served to me at the table, lamb racks, fresh boccoccini, tomato and basil salad. My husband and I ate silently. I was too tired to evening lift the fork to my mouth, let alone make any intellectual conversation.

‘Is dinner ok?’ He looked at me in concern.

‘Yeah.’ was my half-hearted reply, pushing a piece of cheese around.

‘Don’t you like the salad?’ he asked, almost defensively. ‘I thought you like it, that’s why I made it.’

‘No, no, I like it.’ I said, too tired to argue. Which obviously came out pretty unconvincingly.  In actual fact, I did, and I do. It is one of the salads he makes which I love. I was just too tired.

He looked at me suspiciously.  ‘Are you just saying that or do you actual like it?

A pause, then he asked in a slow, deliberate tone, ‘Is it a smoked salmon?’

Ever since the ‘smoked salmon incident’, I have lost my husband’s trust in my ability to tell him the truth of what I like and what I don’t like.

It happened two years ago. At the time, he was working in the UK, and I was visiting him. He was working night shifts, and because he needed to take the car to work and was living quite far out of town, he made sure there was plenty of food in the fridge for me before he left for work each evening. A week down the track, he was cleaning out the fridge and noticed there were packets of smoked salmon sitting on the top shelf in the fridge.

‘Why aren’t you eating the smoked salmon? They are nearly out of date.’ he asked me. ‘I bought them for you.’

I walked over to the fridge door and looked at him in confusion, ‘but I don’t like smoked salmon.’

He looked me incredulously in return. ‘Are you telling me,’ he said in a dangerously quiet tone, ‘that after 18 years, I am just finding out that you don’t actually like smoked salmon?’ A deep breath. I could almost see the pressure increasing behind those grey eyes. ‘Why haven’t you told me before? Whenever we are at the supermarket, you just let me buy packets of salmon!’

‘Because I thought you liked it.’ And I did.

‘So what did you do with all the packets of smoked salmon we used to buy?’

‘I had to keep throwing them out because they were out of date. I was wondering why you kept buying them and not eating them.’

‘Because I was buying them for you. I thought you liked them.’ By now, I was sure the neighbours in the next apartment has their heads under their pillows.

And so there it is. Smoked Salmon. I had to tell him, after 18 years of being soul-mates, that….. I. Don’t. Like. Smoked Salmon.

The truth is. I don’t hate smoked salmon. I will eat it if Í have to, or if there’s nothing else to eat. But I don’t deliberately go look for it, or seek it out. If there was a choice on the menu, it will not be my choice.

It took me a while to realise why I have never bothered to tell him I don’t like it. It was simply because I thought he liked it. And similar to most couples (who, like us, have obviously been together for too long), I sometimes end up doing things or making decisions to please him, because what makes him happy, makes me happy, and most of the time, it wasn’t worth the effort to debate about it.

Unless it’s something I really hate. Like Golf. I drew the line at Golf. He was on his own for that one.

So when he refers to a ‘smoked salmon’, he is basically referring to his lack of trust in me to tell him the truth about my preferences. He is now constantly suspicius that I do things or make decisions to placate him. I am working on regaining that trust – which I did have for the last 18 years until that sudden moment of enlightment at the fridge door.

But most importantly, for me, a ‘smoked salmon’ is a reminder that I need to be truthful to myself, and trust that even if I don’t like what he likes, he still loves me.