The Myth of being Plastic Fantastic

Some days I am a little sick of the stereotyping inflicted on me as a Plastic Surgeon, so I am here to put all the urban legends  to rest. There are plenty of myths about plastic surgery from both public ignorance and misconceptions established by shows such as ‘Nip Tuck’.
Myth #1 We use plastic.

Once I had a young tradesman whose face was smashed up by the windscreen in a truck rollover. Just before he was put to sleep (and this is after I have spent an hour explaining to him how I was going to put his face back together), he asked me, ‘So doc, where do you put the plastic?’

*Insert eyeroll*

I have lost count the number of times I have been asked that question. Plastic surgery doesn’t mean we play with plastic or put plastic in people. In fact, if we were to use any form of prosthetic device, it is usually silicone. The ‘plastic’ in plastic surgery is derived from the Greek word plastikos. It means to change shape, or to mould. The aim of plastic surgery is to change the shape of any part of your body, for cosmetic or functional reasons.

So, sorry folks, we don’t shove blocks of plastic into people.

Myth #2 We can perform surgery without leaving a scar or we can remove scars

Here’s a couple of frustrating conversations I have regularly with patients every week.

Scenario one:

Me: We have to make a cut around the skin cancer on your face to remove it. Once we stitch it up, it will leave a straight line scar.

Patient 1 (outraged) : A scar? But you are a plastic surgeon; I have come to you to have this done so there will be no scars.

Scenario two:

Me: I hope you have recovered from your fall last month. Your cut lip has healed really well since the stitches came out, it looks great.

Patient 2: I hate it. I can’t believe you put a scar on my lip; I want you to remove it.

Ok people, I know plastic surgeons are incredibly good, but we can’t perform miracles. Where there is a cut, there will be a scar. We can’t remove scars either. If you want scarless surgery, you should have had your surgery done when you were a foetus – that is the only way to perform surgery without leaving a scar. And if you want us to stitch up your injuries, it was not me who had created those scars; it was your stupidity in falling into a window whilst you were pissed.

So what makes us better than others in scarring? We stitch differently to other surgeons, we use finer sutures, we know how to hide and minimise scars. We have techniques which can camouflage or improve scars. We have the knowledge and means to treat bad scars.

So, apart from making people look hot, we can make your scar look sensational too. But unlike God, we cannot remove history which has been carved onto your body.

Myth #3 All we do are boob jobs, facelifts and buttock enhancements

‘I don’t understand why I have to come to see a plastic surgeon to have my skin cancer cut out, it’s not like I want a facelift or something,’ said the man sitting in front of me with a fungating growth coming out of his nostril. Unfortunately, I was the one who had to break the bad news to him, that the cancer in his nose was so big that we would have to amputate his nose. Any surgeon would be able to remove his cancer, but he would be left with a hole in the middle of his face. The reason he needed a plastic surgeon was because we can remove the cancer and reconstruct his nose.

The acronym for our specialty is actually PRS – it stands for Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. There are two components to our work:

Reconstructive surgery: which is surgery to improve and restore function, to minimize disfigurement and reconstruct structure which was lost due to trauma, disease, cancer or birth defect. Basically, our job is to fill up a hole anywhere on the body. Sometimes we excise tumours ourselves, but often we work in tandem with other oncological surgeons such as orthopaedic surgeons who resect bone and soft tissue tumours, ear nose and throat surgeons who resects tongue, nose, throat cancers, as well as breast surgeons who perform breast cancer surgery. The way I see it is that my oncology colleagues are the ‘destructive’ surgeons and I am the ‘constructive’ surgeon. I remember when I first started training I was hesitant as to how much margin to take around a tumour. My supervising surgeon took me aside and said, ‘Just remember, Tiff, the reason you are going to be a plastic surgeon is because you are not afraid to make a big hole. Unlike other surgeons, you can fix holes.’

Aesthetic or cosmetic surgery: which is surgery to enhance, or to rejuvenate a specific body part, it is designed to improve a person’s appearance by reshaping facial or bodily features. So yes, we get a chance to make people beautiful. We make boobs bigger, smaller, perkier or firmer. We lift up butts, thighs, arms and faces (not specifically in that order). We inject, insert, eliminate and suck to enhance contours. There has not been a single part of the human body that a plastic surgeon has not attempted to alter, although I gladly admit that I have had no training or experience in anal bleaching – nor am I interested in expanding my field into that area.

Myth #4 Our work is frivolous and we perform non-essential surgery.

As my husband (who is a heart and lung surgeon) sums it up succinctly, ‘Honey, I save lives, you just make the world beautiful.’

Even though spoken in jest, unfortunately it is a view held by many, including hospital administrators, insurance companies and sadly, our colleagues in other specialties. I have had medical students who did not attend their plastic surgery sessions with me at the clinic because they feel that it is not something they need to learn about. I was once told by a second year student that plastic surgeons are not real surgeons who practice ‘true medicine’.

People seem to forget that plastic surgery is not just about cosmetic surgery, but that the most important aspect of our role is to improve a person’s self esteem. No matter how much the self-help books may claim about not placing too much importance on one’s appearance, and to stop using your looks to determine your self-worth, the reality of life is simply – people do judge you by the way you look. And that includes yourself.

It is amazing the difference we sometimes see in our patients. Like the 12-year-old boy who was constantly teased at school for his bat ears – he got it fixed before he started high school. He became a completely different person; he happily went to the barber to have him shaggy long hair removed, started going out with his friends and strutted into my office at 8 weeks postop as if he owned the world like a typical 12-year-old boy. My favourite last month was a 30-year-old mother who had a nasty burn scar over her neck and chest from a childhood hot-water scald. The scars stopped her breasts from developing properly and distorted whatever little breast tissue that did develop. After surgery to correct the deformity and implants to provide shape, she swapped her oversized jumpers for tailored dresses, and started becoming more involved in mother’s groups. She wore a pink singlet with a pearl pendant dangling in her new cleavage when she came to her appointment, despite the visible old burn scars which covered her neck.

Surprising it may be, we do perform surgery that saves lives and limbs. We are often called upon to join small blood vessels under the microscope for organ transplantation in children. We reconstruct the neck after throat cancer, so that the patient can still eat, drink and breathe. We put fingers back on after they have been accidentally severed, and we transplant soft tissues into smashed up legs that otherwise would have had to be amputated.

Unfortunately our work often goes unrecognised, as throughout history, we have had to repeatedly fight for our patients’ right to access plastic surgery. When hospitals have budget cuts, our operating lists are often the first to be cut. Breast reconstruction after cancer was the last one they slashed from our hospital, because once the cancer has been removed, it is no longer considered life-saving surgery. Health insurance companies which exclude plastic surgery cover leave their members with a policy which pays for the cancer removed, but not the plastic surgical procedure to reconstruct or repair the hole.

Admittedly I sound like I am trying to justify our existence, but I truly believe that even though we are not saving lives every day, our work makes a siginificant difference in people’s lives.

Myth #5 We date our patients

There seems to be a misconception that we fall in love with our creations. I explored this particular issue with my male colleagues. The answer was a categorical no, although they have had plenty of invitations from patients to cross that line. Not only is it ethically wrong and fraught with medicolegal implications, it is also rather disturbing that someone would fall in love with an image they have created, which may have nothing to do with the actual person underneath.

Myth #6 We make lots of money because we charge ridiculous amount of money

I am not blind to the fact that as a plastic surgeon, I am often the target of many sarcastic jokes about money. This not only comes from patients, the general public, but sometimes our own colleagues in the medical fraternity. When I was sitting my specialist board exam, one of the candidates for general surgery taunted me, ‘I think your essay question would be on whether a Maserati is better than a Lamborghini.’ I was not shy to show him the finger as I sweetly replied, ‘well, I do hope you know the answer to your essay questions, which hole to put your finger up.’

Once I was leaving work, and one of my patients walked past me as I was putting my bag into the boot of the car. He took one look at my ten year old Toyota Corolla and shook his head. ‘Oh, doc, you need to get a new car, people would think you are not very good if they see you driving that car.’ I just shrugged and said, ‘Don’t worry Mr B, I leave my Ferrari in the garage for weekends.’ At his stunned look, I had to tell him I was joking.

It is not uncommon sometimes for our patients to comment on the cost of surgery, especially if it involves cancer surgery. For some reason people seem to think that we should do their surgery out of the goodness of our hearts if they have cancer….. but that’s another story altogether. One of the reasons that plastic surgery costs a lot more money than most other surgery is the rebate from health funds are low (because our procedures are not deemed to be a necessity), but also our practice has a lot of overheads, especially with wound care, garments, implants and dressings. We also employ a greater number of staff than other specialties, because there is a lot more patient contact time pre and post operatively. Plastic surgery patients and procedures are more complex to organise, and often requires various number of phone calls and coordination. Not to mention, our patients are usually high maintenance and requires constant reassurance.

Yes, some of us drive Aston Martins, stay at 6 star hotels, wear Gucci and walk in Louis Vuitton, but we work hard for it, and our responsibilities may not be life and death, but there is still a lot of stress involved in our surgery because we know the end result will have a life-long impact on our patients’ life.

Myth #7 We drive fast cars, hang out with celebrities, party like animals, snort cocaine and have the most glamorous life of any doctors

This is simple. We drive fast cars, because we have very busy lives and have places to get to. That’s my excuse and I am sticking to it. And trust me, my Corolla is pretty fast.

The only celebrities we hang out with are those that come for treatment. As I don’t perform a lot of cosmetic procedure, most of the celebrities I have contact with are those who have injured themselves or need reconstruction for cancers. They don’t usually act anything like celebrities when they are in my office and the last thing they need is for me to ask them for a selfie.

We try to party like animals, but often our job stops us. We are notorious for pulling out of social commitments at the last minute. One of the worst thing about being a reconstructive surgeon, is that our colleagues take all day to remove the cancers, and we have to sit around waiting for them to finish (or we may have to watch them so they don’t destroy our reconstructive options whilst cutting out the cancer). Once they are done, they piss off to enjoy their evening, while we start our work, usually at the unsociable hour of 4-5pm, working well into the night to patch up the ‘mess’ they have left behind.

What glamorous night life?

As for cocaine, yeah, I know colleagues who do it at parties, but honestly, it usually doesn’t take long for the Board to find them. It is rare that a plastic surgeon is stupid enough to risk their career and reputation to develop such an expensive habit.

Myth #8 We all have had some ‘work’ done on us

I would not deny that some plastic surgeons have had work done, but not all. Although I can’t say the same for the wives or staff! Personally, I don’t trust anyone enough to have plastic surgery done on myself and it is a little difficult perform a facelift on yourself when you should really be asleep throughout the procedure. I know colleagues who inject themselves in the mirror, but I have this unusual need to close my eyes when I see needles coming towards my face, so the results would be rather questionable if I went down that path.

Most of my staff have injections, not because I force them, but it is something I offer them if they want it. And who could say no to free Botox? Because I am very conservative in my treatments, my staff are actually free advertisements of my work. When one of my staff admits to having treatment, the patients are reassured that they won’t look like Jocelyn Wildenstein when they leave my practice.

But, truthfully, the greatest benefit in giving my staff Botox is its efficiency in stopping my practice manager frowning at me and my receptionist frowning at my patients.

Myth #9 Our practice staff are picked for their looks

So, supposedly, this means that our staff should be beautiful young girls with faces full of injectables and look-at-me enhanced breasts. I mean, it is free advertising after all, and who would’t want to be surrounded by luscious females?

Truth number 1 – Most surgeon’s practices are run by their wives. So, which wife would be stupid enough to surround her husband with gorgeous young things?

Truth number 2 – Young girls who are obsessed with their looks don’t usually have the right personality nor the prioritisation skills to run a business well.

Truth number 3 – Experience comes with age. So unless you want to be surrounded by rookies who have no idea what they are doing, you would pick more ‘mature’ staff members to make your own life easier.

Truth number 4 – Patients and clients sometimes find perfection intimidating. They are more comfortable talking about their inadequacies to someone who has flaws as they feel that someone would understand what it is like to be ‘ugly’.

Myth #10 We can make Queen Latifah look like Heidi Klum and vice versa

This is the ultimate myth. I always know it is going to be a difficult consultation when a 5’3, 200+lb person walks in and slaps a picture of Gisele Bundchen on my desk.

So here’s my spill:

  1. I cannot make you taller – go see an orthopaedic surgeon or stick to your heels
  2. I cannot make you a natural blonde – you need a hairdresser or a beautician
  3. Neither can I change the colour of your skin – that’s a disease called vitiligo
  4. Lipsouction is not a form of weight loss – get a personal trainer and stop eating junk
  5. A tummy tuck will not give you six-pack if you haven’t got one to start with
  6. I cannot turn back time to make you look 40 years younger, maybe 10, without the pimples
  7. I cannot make your woo-hoo look perfect nor make you a virgin again (yep, this is a genuine request, apparently Dr Google says it is a great anniversary present for your husband, or wedding present if you are marrying a younger man.)
  8. I cannot reverse gravity with a cream, it is called surgery
  9. And of course, I cannot perform scarless surgery
  10. Oh, and I cannot execute plastic surgery which will make your husband stop sleeping with his 20-year-old secretary, unless you want me to ask my Urology colleague to do a quick operation on your husband.

So, we may be Plastic Fantastic, but we are really just like any other regular surgeons. We cannot perform miracles, and we cannot change who you are. You need to speak to either God or a Shrink about that one.

 

 

Old Shakey

Doogie Howser2

People write passionately about discrimination in Medicine: sexism, racism and even fattism (yes, there is such a word, I checked). Today, I want to talk about Ageism.

Ageism = Prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age. (Oxford Dictionary)

Like all forms of discrimination, it goes both ways. There is ageism from the doctors to the patient, and then there is ageism from the patient to the doctors. The latter is the cause of my ongoing angst.

When am I going to see the real doctor?

This is actually something I get on a regular basis, usually after spending 45 minutes with them, taking a history, examining, diagnosing and explaining their treatment options. I suppose I should really consider it as a compliment. I do know I look young for my age. I know I don’t look like I am about to turn 40 (*sigh*). This can be attributed to both my ethnic background, but also to the fact that I don’t smoker nor spend much time in the sun (I do, however, sport a very unattractive sallow chronic ‘fluorescent tan’.) Yes, I do look after myself, but despite being a plastic surgeon, I have yet found a colleague trusty-worthy enough to stick needles or scalpels in me, and I am definitely too chicken to do it to myself in front of the mirror (unlike some of my colleagues – *winkwink nudgenudge*). So, no, my youthful appearance is not chemically or surgically enhanced, all I can blame it on is my genes.

So, why, you ask, am I complaining about looking young? Well, here’s a list of reasons why my age-inappropriate appearance doesn’t exactly make my job easier.

I don’t mind having someone young for the cough and colds, but can I please have someone older for the serious stuff?

I am not having someone fresh out of medical school operating on me.

You are too young to understand my problems

I need someone who are older and know what they are doing.

You look younger than my granddaughter, how old are you?

I am not being judgemental, but you are too young, I want someone who’s competent.

I have a very complex problem, I need someone with a little bit more experience.

The standards for the young graduates nowadays are not like the good old days, I want an older doctor who has been through the real training.

I want a doctor who is at least my age.

Now, what in the world makes you think you have the right to ask for my age? You are saying it isn’t being judgemental. But it is. You are judging my capabilities as a doctor by my age.

These patients feel that because of my age, I lack experience and should only treat the ‘easy’ stuff. There are two incorrect assumptions here. Firstly, the inferred ‘lack of experience’ by my age. Most people don’t realise that to become surgeon, one has to finish medical school, gain basic medical experience working as a junior doctor before being selected via a rigorous process to become a trainee in surgery. The surgical training program can range from 3 to 7 years, depending on the actual specialty, any sub-specialisation training within that specialty, and any additional overseas training to gain a wider perspective. At the end of which, one has to go through a series of very stringent assessments before a specialist qualification can be granted. I was at least 10 years out of medical school before I became a fully-qualified specialist surgeon. All I can say is, if 10 years of working and training (and not forgetting the 6 years of medical school before that) doesn’t constitute ‘enough experience’, and my qualification ain’t worth shit to you, then go ahead and set your own definition of ‘experience’.

Secondly, the patient’s assumption what ailments are ‘easy’ to treat and what aren’t, may not exactly correlate to true clinical relevance. A cough and cold may be easy to treat, but it may also be a manifestation of something more sinister. I would never presume a cough and cold as exactly that – I am a plastic surgeon after all – I always refer the patient back to their Family Doctor, as that is something those doctors would have more knowledge of. Patients who infer that they know what is ‘easy’ and what is not, show not only a total lack of awareness for the complexity of medicine, but also their disrespect for their doctor’s judgement. What may appear to be ‘easy’ may just be a harbinger for an underlying problem which is very difficult to treat, or it may just be the tip of the iceberg where surgical complexity is concerned. One of the most critical aspect during our training is to be able to recognise when we are out of our depth. If your doctor admits to needing a second opinion or assistance of another specialist, you should be grateful that you have found someone who will not take risks with your health.

People think that lack of ‘life-experience’ due to age is a deterrent to being a good doctor who could understand the issues of the ‘older’ population. This myth is easily busted when I look around at my colleagues. Which one of us isn’t jaded by what we have seen during our careers? We have seen it all. Birth, Life, Death, Disability, Misfortune, Pain, Suffering, Drug Use, Crimes, Abuse, Deviants, Perverts, the Insane, Murderers, Liars, Malingerers, Sadness, Grief, Anger, the list goes on. Some of the things we see and the frequency in which we see them, gives us multiple life-times of the so-called ‘life-experiences’. Sure, we may not have experienced any of these ourselves personally, but sometimes watching somebody we care for going through it and feeling utterly helpless can be just as real to us as the person who is experiencing it. Many of us view some of our patient’s misfortune as personal failures, and they take their toll on our own mentality.

Each specialty also has their demographic of patients; to assume that we have no inkling to a patient’s particular age-related issues is really quite ignorant. Most of my patients with skin cancers are elderly; I understand they may have issues getting to and from hospitals, care at home and simple matters such as attending appointments for dressings. We organise nursing home-visits for their dressings, and sometimes, arrange suitable surgery dates so that their family can take time off work to care for them. Most of my breast cancer patients have young children. We fit their appointments around school pick-ups and their surgeries out of school holidays so they can spend as much with their children as possible. Doctors are not unaware of our patient’s personal situations; we are not blind to possible social issues surrounding health problems. We, ourselves, have elderly parents, young nieces and nephews, friends outside of medicine and older/younger siblings. Often when we meet new patients, if they are not of similar age or demographics as ourselves, we can still relate them as one of our own relatives or friends.

So you think we don’t have enough ‘life-experiences’? Well, tell me, have you ever had to listen to a mother’s heart-breaking sobs in the middle of the night while she is sitting next to her dying 3-year-old baby? Have you ever had to spend two hours stitching up a battered wife’s mangled face and then watch her leave with her husband because she refused to report him despite your best efforts in counselling her? Have you ever stood in a room, watching a whole family saying goodbye to a man dying, while you are busily pumping him full of morphine because you know there’s nothing else you could do for him? Have you carefully removed a brain tumour from a patient who only hours before, had a psychotic episode and scratched, punched and spat at you? I could go on, but did you just say you were abused as a child? I have lost count of the number of child-abuse victims I have seen, but I understand everyone’s story is different. A different variation of the same……

Education has changed dramatically over the years, and this has definitely influenced Medical Schools. Standards are different, and they are different for a reason. The emphasis in medical training has changed, from purely scientific rote-learning to a more holistic clinical approach. Yes, I may have bitched and moaned about some of these changes as a teacher, but I can see why these changes needed to happen. To be honest, I don’t envy the students and trainees nowadays, an explosion in medical knowledge and technology over the last two decades has added a phenomenal amount into their core curriculum. Some of which I have yet to catch up with because it bears no relevance to my current sub-specialty. When I attended medical school, notes were written on paper, lab results were given over dial phones (yep, I am that ancient), X-rays were on films and put up on light-boxes, blood pressures were taken manually, pulses were counted with a pocket watch, surgical drills and saws were hand driven (not powered by electricity or gas). Back then, the list of diseases I needed to exclude for any presentation could be written on half a page, the number of tests I needed to do could be counted one hand and the number of ways I could treat it could barely fill a chapter in a textbook. Things are so different now, possibilities in Medicine are endless. Medical education nowadays place importance on basic core knowledge so that a graduate is not expected to know everything, but rather, to be able to pick out and apply relevant components of their knowledge to clinical situations. Most importantly, they need to know how to approach the problems and where to source the information they require. The point of today’s schooling is to generate a doctor that thinks, rather than one that relies on a checklist. So give your young doctor a chance, you might be surprised, he/she may think of another approach to your chronic problem. Something that is different to the same old thing which hasn’t been working for you.

We all know that we are getting old when we think everyone else is looking younger, especially when we see our pilots boarding the same plane we are travelling on. Commercial pilots start their careers in their late 20’s and to a lot of us think they are just kids, really. They are responsible for hundreds of lives for hours, but their age does not reflect their capabilities in getting all of us to the correct destination, safely. Why? Because of their qualifications. No airline would put a pilot at the helm of a plane unless he/she has passed all the requirements and assessments, whether they are young or old. In fact, once the pilots have reached a certain age, they have to be re-assessed for their ‘fitness’ to fly.

Some patients actually admitted to coming to me because their previous surgeon was getting old and I looked young (if only they knew!). Some do so in the hope that I have more up-to-date knowledge on new techniques, new technology or new approaches to their chronic problem. Some change surgeons because they have become concerned as their previous surgeons are deemed to be ‘too old’ to still be operating (ageism in the opposite spectrum), whilst some disliked the more paternalistic approach and ‘old-school’ attitude of their previous older surgeons.

Some older surgeons nearing their retirement have insight into their decreasing capabilities. Their eyes aren’t as sharp anymore, their hands have started to tremor, or they are now on several heart medications and struggle to cope with long cases. They cut down on the number of cases they take on as well as limit the type of operations they do. Many become surgical assistants to their younger counterparts. When I first started, I had one of the retiring Professors of Surgery as my regular assistant. It took a long time for me to adjust to giving him orders and correcting him when he is not doing something right. The nursing staff used to giggle when I would say, ‘Would you mind sewing that drain in for me, Sir?’ But it was a very happy arrangement. Prof could still get his hands dirty without the stresses and responsibilities of a surgeon, at the same time, I had instant access to any advice I needed. Not to mention the stories he used to tell as we were operating, those were gems to learn from. He would always tell me that he was not there to judge my competence, but to be my assistant for procedures I was more than capable of doing on my own.

So next time you meet a young doctor, don’t ask them how old they are, ask them what their qualifications are. And if they are just learning, give them the benefit of the doubt, because you could contribute so much to their education and experience by sharing yours with them. You never know, when your doctor retires, and when you are much older, they will be the ones in their prime, in charge of your health.

So you still want a doctor who is at least your age? Ok then, why don’t you go down the corridor and see Old Shakey next door?
Doogie Howser

* Disclaimer: Please do not take this blog as a disrespectful post to generations of surgeons before myself; I fully acknowledge the fact that their expertise could not be surpassed by myself. I am deeply appreciative of their willingness to share with me all that they know, as well as their unfailing support to me as a fellow surgeon, despite my age.

 

 

Finding My ‘Balance’ in Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just me…. tinkling…..

And I missed it. Everyday.

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

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

American Pieband camp

Ok – enough with the flute jokes.

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

I was making music.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

10 Things I Hate About You

10things410things3

To my dearest pig-headed husband,

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

Today is one of those days.

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

1. You have a pathological obsession with sports

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. You cannot drive and talk at the same time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. You have a severe case of domestic blindness

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

5. You reuse your dental floss

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

6. You have a personal trainer called Nirvana

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

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

7. You give my friends offensive nicknames

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

8. You never rush

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Here, I find myself quoting P!NK :

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

From your pissed-off wife,

T  xo

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

Not for the Sceptic

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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.

 

 

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.

Image

With my very own Brad Pitt.

 

 

 

‘Doctor’ is my Job. Not who I am.

I hate travelling alone. Somehow or rather, I always end up having a conversation with whoever sits next to me. I don’t mind the conversation, but sooner or later, the ‘oh-so-casually-asked’ question comes up: ‘So, what do you do for a living?’

I always hesitate. I always consider lying about what I do. I just don’t want to say I am a doctor.

It took me a while figure out why. Apart from the fact that once people find out they are talking to a doctor, they lose all interest in talking about anything else. Anything else but every medical condition or surgery they have ever had. Then they move onto each of their family members and friends. In between, they give you their five cents’ worth of why they knew better than the doctor, and how Dr Google was so helpful. By the end of the flight, they would be asking for a free in-flight consultation as to what my opinion was in regards to dear old departed Grandpa’s gouty big toe.

I get that. I really do. I find myself doing the same when I talk to people in certain jobs. When I first met my friend who is an airline pilot, I told him about all my terrible flying experiences. I could literally see his eyes roll to the back of his head as I carried on. But he has no qualms in telling people he is a pilot. In fact, he loves it, because he says it is a great drawcard for chicks.

I don’t think it is a drawcard for me. You could see the interest dimmer in men’s eyes when I tell them I am a doctor, or the body language wthdraws when I mention that I cut people up for a living. Well, not exactly in those words. It is often hard to tell whether it is because they are intimidated or they are just not interested in female doctors. Of course, once they get over that fact – and they haven’t moved onto someone else with a greater one-night-stand potential – I get the low-down about their latest health problems over a beer. No Siree, there’s no flirting for the female doctor at the bar, It’s all serious talk about their latest health problems. When boys fantasize about playing doctors and nurses, I guess they just never really imagined playing the nurse.

People judge people by what they do. Assumptions are made- some are true, but majority of the time, it can be quite far off the mark. These are often based on stereotypes. So, when I tell people I am a surgeon, people usually presume that I am a smart, rich, arrogant, bossy, ball-breaking feminist. Some even assume that I am single. Interestingly, some people talk differently to me once they realised what I do for a living. It is almost insulting when people make comments like ‘You know, you are not like a typical surgeon. You are so normal and down to earth.’  Yep. I eat, drink, wee and poo like any other normal person.

But most of all, I hate telling people that I am doctor, simply because it is not who I am.

I am a surgeon, and yes it consumes my life, but it is still just a job for me. I would still be me if I was a teacher, waitress or cleaner. I would still have the same work ethic, the same standards and the same approach to my work. I don’t identify myself with what I do for a living, but rather, what I do in life.

I think it is a good thing.

It allows me to separate my personal life and work life better. In the time continuum, they do overlap. For instance, when I am out shopping for groceries, I get a phone call from work. But I don’t think of myself as a surgeon doing groceries, I identify myself with everyone else around me doing groceries, the only difference is I am getting a call about work when it’s a Sunday afternoon. When I have issues at work, I don’t bring it home to my personal life.  When I have problems at home, I deal with it like a concerned wife, not like a surgeon.

It is also good for protecting myself. When I get abused by patients, or complaints from colleagues, I find it easier to see it as a criticism of my work, and less an assault of me as a person. They don’t know me, not really, they are just angry at the doctor. This allows me to look at my work more objectively and find out what I may be able to change or improve, rather than get all upset because I feel incompetent, hurt and lose my self-confidence.

My husband likes it. He thinks that I keep the non-doctor part of myself only to those closest to me. He often chuckles when he hears me speaking on the phone to my colleagues at home. ‘You talk like you have balls.’ Not the most eloquent compliment he could bestow on his wife, but he loves the fact that as soon as I put the phone down, I revert back to the quirky chick he married. The one that snuggles up to him on the sofa and lets hm believe that she worships the ground he walks on, whilst taking a piss out of him all at the same time.

Most of all, separating my job and my identity allows me to have a life outside work. I have other interests, many of which are not exactly congruous with what I do for a living. I suppose most people think doctors play golf, sail, travel during their spare time. Me? I enjoy bashing up my Sensei and his gigantic sons during my karate training sessions (free medical care offered if I win).  Other weekends I go to the gun range and work on my not-so-perfect trap-shooting technique, in between cheese tasting with the large Italian community at my local gun club. I seriously think that I would be more comfortable calling myself a mediocre amateur trap shooter (who loves her chilli cheese), than I would a surgeon.

Discovering my identity outside my work gives me the opportunity to find out who I am, and confirms that I am not my work.  It gives me a purpose in life even if someone strips me of  my job and all the associated status it represents. It determines how I do my job.  How many times have I heard of senior colleagues continually postponing their retirement? It is because they are too afraid of retiring – they have nothing besides their work and they are at risk of losing their identity once they stop being a doctor.

I would hate to think my view is a reflection that I am not committed to my work or that I don’t love my work. In fact, I really believe that I make a better surgeon if I am also a regular human being. I hope that people don’t just see me as a ‘doctor’, but rather a kind, thoughtful, considerate, empathetic, intelligent, decisive and trust-worthy person. A person that they feel confident in as their doctor. Because that’s who I strive to be.

Back to the plane.

‘So, what do you do for a living?’

‘Oh,’ I would shrug, ‘not much. I am a lady of leisure.’ I wave my hands around elegantly like a practiced socialite. ‘but I am fairly busy,’ a sweet innocent smile thrown in here, ‘I go to lunches with my girl friends, I love a bit of shopping; I organise charity functions and I always attend my husband’s work-do’s, you know.’

Usually I get an indulgent smile. ‘Well, you lucky girl.’

I would give a very girlish giggle. ‘I know, my husband spoils me.’

The conversation takes a brief break as the air hostess wheels the coffee cart up to us. She bends over to me.

‘Dr Tiffany, can I offer you a coffee?’

Damn. Sprung.

May be there is a doctorate in home-decorating?

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.