Not for the Sceptic

palm reading 3

I had an interesting conversation with a patient last week; about fortune –telling, clairvoyance, crystal balls and knowing one’s future. When a patient tells me that she trusts me, I feel flattered. But when she adds to this compliment with ‘because I can see your aura, it is beautiful, it tells me that I can trust you with my life.’ I become a little sceptical. Like all science-based professionals, I am guilty of harshly judging those who live by their beliefs in the supernatural powers, mystic theories and psychic phenomenon. With me, what I see is what I believe, and what is explained in logic and science is how I make my decisions.

However, I humoured her. I asked her how she can tell with an aura. She said that she has a gift passed down by her grandmother (I quietly and discretely rolled my eyes). She said that some can read cards, palms and faces, others can see and talk to spirits, but for her, it was touch and auras. She said she sees an aura around every individual, and it tells her things about them. When she touches someone, she could sometimes see their thoughts. I asked her if she could see into their futures. She said no, her gift is not like a crystal ball. She said her grandmother could see the future by touching and examining a person’s face and eyes, but she herself never had the gift. She said that most true clairvoyants who can see the future are sad individuals, because people’s futures can become a burden which they carry with them. She said she is not interested in seeing the future, because she wants to believe that we make our own destiny.

By the end of our ten minute conversation, I was impressed, so much so that I had stopped rolling my eyes and became her captured audience. I could see that she truly believed in everything she said and maybe, she does see an aura around people that ordinary people like I will never comprehend. Cheekily, I asked her if I could become a psychic too. She laughed. She said that I would stop being a good doctor if I could see everyone’s future. I was taken aback by her incredibly insightful comment.

Then she took my hand. I remembered thinking that her hands were so soft and warm, completely incongruent to the weathered, wrinkly hands of an elderly lady in her 80’s. She said my hands were cold, because I keep a lot to myself, then she said softly, ‘you have changed so many people’s lives, and that’s not just with your hands. You see things that others cannot see.’

I suddenly remembered all the other patients sitting in my waiting room, and decided to let her comment slide. I led her outside to reception, and she smiled at me as she said her goodbye. But her words haunted me for the whole week. It wasn’t because of the cryptic end of her statement; it was because I have heard it before. Twice.

When I was born, I was discoloured, floppy, deformed and premature. There were concerns, as I lay lifeless in neonatal intensive care, that I may not grow up to be a normal child. In my culture, a newborn’s name is everything. The true traditionalists believe that each character in a child’s name will determine his/her future. Names were picked to try and change the predicted course of a baby’s life. Specific characters were used to supplement what the child will be lacking in his/her future life. Each child’s fortune was told before he or she has a name. My grandmother took a piece of my umbilical cord with my birth date and time to the oldest temple in my home town. There she sought out the most senior monk for advice, and returned to the hospital with my foretold future and name.

When I was twelve, I told my mother that I hated my name. It is too masculine, and throughout my school life, teachers and students were always surprised when they met me that I was a girl. So my mother told me about my grandma’s conversation with the monk.

The two characters in my name had specific functions. One is the name of Confucius’ first disciple, they were both great scholars. The monks were concerned that I will struggle with the process of studying. They were right. I did struggle with studying – I had no problems with comprehension and understanding, but I found it very hard to sit down for long periods as I was very easily distracted. I was placed in multiple remedial classes throughout primary school, and was held back to do year 4 twice. I had multiple tutors throughout high school, just so that I could sit down long enough to complete my homework and assignments. I barely scraped into medical school on a second round offer. Then I struggled through the first few non-clinical years on university campus, attending lectures and spending hours sitting in the library staring into space. It was when I started my clinical years in the hospital grounds that I started to thrive both personally and academically.

The second character had the water element – he toldmy grandmother that I will be ‘lacking in water’. This turned out to be true. I have a serious ongoing problem with not drinking enough water. I am amazed I haven’t yet suffered kidney stones or renal failure. My average daily ‘water’ intake is one cup of coffee in the morning, one bottle of juice at lunch and one cup of coffee after lunch. At the top of my New-Year’s-Resolution list every year is ‘Drink More Water’. I am still working on it. I just hate the tastelessness of water, and not to mention, the inconvenience of having to unscrub during long operations to pee if I drank too much.

The monk told my grandmother about my future. He said that this baby girl has a weak heart, which will be broken multiple times in her life. Grandmother asked if that meant her granddaughter will be unlucky in love, he shook his head. He said that there was no need to worry, because one day, she would meet and marry a man who is an expert in the matters of the heart. Grandma asked if the baby girl will be fortunate. He said that she will be most fortunate, but will never gain anything with ‘luck’. He reassured grandma that the girl will enjoy a very comfortable, pampered life, but she will always be sad, because she will would never be able to have the one thing in life that she wanted above everything else. Grandmother asked if the baby girl will be smart and do well in life. He said that she will work very hard, not because she has to, but because it is her destiny to change many people’s lives. He then said that the baby girl is different, she is very sensitive, so she will see things other people can’t see.  This will be her price for a fortunate life, she will have to carry the burdens of other’s misfortune in what she sees. She is easily frightened and lacks courage. She will have dreams which carries the truth.

For a thirteen year-old it was all rather cryptic and I dismissed it as an unimportant tale; a tale, I thought at the time, which was a sorry excuse for giving a girl a masculine name.

Then when I was sixteen, we went back to visit my home town. My mother took me back to the temple. Astonishingly, the same monk was still there. He was over ninety years old. He had short white stubbles on his chin, and walked hunched over with a cane. I watched him shuffled slowly from one chair to another. He was blind. We went up to the old monk, and my mother told him that I was one of the young babies he had named. I thought at the time that he must have named thousands during his lifetime at the temple, and there was no way he was going to remember me.

He politely thanked my mother for bringing me back to visit and invited us to sit down for tea. He brought out a pencil and notepad from his pocket and scribbled the characters of my name. It was impressive considering he couldn’t see and my mother didn’t actually tell him my name. He spoke to my mother. ‘I remember this little girl.’ Mother laughed and told him that I wasn’t little anymore, I was a young lady. He reached out blindly and asked me to stand in front of him. He took my hand and felt my face. He chuckled.

‘You are still a scaredy cat.’ He turned to mum. ‘She is frightened of the dark.’ It was a statement. And a true one. Mother nodded, and lamented that I was a chronic sleep walker when I was younger. ‘Are you still having dreams?’ He asked me. I said yes, I have vivid dreams, mainly about people, but sometimes I can’t remember who they were once I have woken up. ‘It’s ok, you are helping them. It is better that you don’t remember them. You can see things that others can’t see.’ He rubbed my hands. ‘These hands will change lives.’ He then curled my fingers into my palm, and said in a very serious tone, ‘but you must not let anyone read your palm.’ With that, he waved us off because it was prayer time. As I watched him shuffle off to the main hall, I wondered about what he said.

Being a histrionic teenager, I ruminated on his last words, so much so that I started to think of all possible meaning it could hold. By the time we were leaving town, I came to the conclusion that the reason he said I shouldn’t have my palm read and my fortune told, was because something really bad was going to happen to me and I shouldn’t know about it. I had worked myself to such a hysterical state, with multiple sleepless nights and distraught crying; my mother could do nothing but to take me back to see the old monk.

He was waiting for us at the tea shop in front of the temple. When we approached him, he said very sternly to me. ‘Nothing is going to happen to you. Your palm holds a very good future. The more you know and the more people read it, the more your fortune will be stripped away and change the course of many lives. Be brave, don’t be afraid.’ He then stood up, turned around and shuffled back towards the temple. I was reassured, and left it at that.

When I was nineteen, I went to the local fund-raising market with a friend. We stopped by a palm reading stall. My friend regularly attended fortune-telling stalls, so she headed straight in, and I thought that having my palm read once probably wouldn’t hurt that much so I decided to follow suit. I paid the woman her ten dollars, and laid my hands palm up on the table. She looked at them, and then she curled my fingers into my palms to close my hands, just as the monk did. She handed me back my ten dollars. ‘Honey, don’t let anyone read those palms.’ I looked at her with a guilty smile, said ok and left, while my friend gaped at the lady in shock, wanting to know what she meant by that comment. I have never let anyone read my palms again.

There is no doubt I am a sceptic. But let me tell you something about my life so far. As a premature baby, I had a weak heart, and I developed some heart problems throughout my childhood. As a grown adult, I have been plagued with cardiac arrhythmia problems requiring corrective procedures. So yes, as a machine, my heart breaks down easily. I have definitely not married someone who is sensitive, romantic and understands everything about love. I have married a heart & lung surgeon who burned a path pacing in the cath lab corridors each time I had a procedure. I work hard, averaging 80 up to 90 hours a week. I am surgeon, I know I change people’s lives, it is a privilege I do not take on lightly. I work so hard not because I have to, but because I want to help people who need my skills. I have never won anything in life that required ‘luck’. Not even the school raffle. I do, however, enjoy a very comfortable and fortunate life. We have everything we need, but I have wanted to be mother more than anything in the world.  Going through 10 years of infertility treatment, one ectopic, one termination and two miscarriages later, I have had to finally accept our childless future. It was, and still is heartbreaking for me. I still find myself sitting quietly with silent tears some nights, thinking about the unfairness of it all.

The Dreams. I have been having dreams of random people for as long as I can remember, mostly people who have distressing stories to tell. Occasionally I see them multiple times in different dreams, sometimes we are just conversing, other times we are experiencing the ordeal together. I often wake up feeling their pain and anguish, but their stories always seemed so muddled once in the clarity of daylight and I could never remember their names. Sometimes I would wake up in such sadness that I find tears running down my face. My husband often tells me that I can be a very restless sleeper, or cry out in such distress that he had to wake me up. The dreams always seemed so real, but I have never seen any of these people in real life. I think I would die of shock if I ever did! I told my mother once about it and we both put it down to me having a very imaginative mind and my burning desire to become a creative writer so I must have had lots of story-lines in my head.

So is it coincidence or is it clairvoyance? One thing I realised, is that fortunes told are cryptic for a reason, as it can be interpreted in many ways. The way things happen, could still be unexpected, and only realised in hindsight. I don’t think about it a lot, but it is hard to ignore when different people tell you the same things repeatedly. I am not a Believer, and I am not particularly keen to know my future. I still prefer the idea of being able to make my own decisions and determine my own destiny, and hope that my future is not written in stone.

But apparently, just in my palms.