Monday, August 23, 2010

No time to be kind

a.k.a. one more reason I don't like my job

I used to be a good person. Kind. Considerate. Empathetic.

Then I became a doctor.

I traded many fun years of my twenties for mad studies inside the library. I worked a gruelling schedule, not wanting to compromise my training. I started working in crowded wards that sometimes had more patients on the floor than on the beds. (Has anyone ever considered how awkward it is to hop from one floor patient to another, one hand desperately clutching the sari pleats and the other clutching a clipboard?) I've worked crazy 30 hour shifts, not because it was part of my job description, but because there was no one else to take over. I've stayed up with patients who were certain to die, even when I could have gone to sleep, because I didn't want to miss anything that could be corrected. I've missed uncountable meals and managed to keep functioning thanks to the packeted milo and minute maid.... but that wasn't enough to keep away the bad gastritis.

Still, I've had patients yell at me for getting up to have a drink of water instead of writing their discharge card... even though they knew full well I hadn't had anything to eat or drink for 5 hours. I've had patients and relatives disrespect me because I'm female, even though I gave them the best I could, and never less than any male. I've spent hours educating patients, writing out instructions in their mother tongue and have them blatantly ignore me and come back to the ward, worse than ever. I've seen patients been smothered by their loved ones... twice, and there was nothing I could do (that's for another post). And I was getting sick and tired of the futile nature of many aspects of my working life.

So, I cultivated nastiness. I used biting sarcasm and a loud voice that can be heard all over the ward. It became my defence, my protective wall against daily frustrations. I no longer jumped up the moment I was called (anyway, chikungunya ensured that I wasn't jumping anywhere without pain). But I took my time. I would look patients in the eye and say that I was going to tell them once, that I was going to tell them twice... but after that, I would not accept them into my ward if they did not follow my instructions (even though I have never ever turned away a patient). I pointed out to demanding patients/relatives that I was not a machine. When they got demanding, I would announce my lunch break (I am entitled to 2 hours, although never in my life have I taken more than 15 min.) and walk off. When large hords of visitors flocked in, despite my advice against tiring the patient, I asked them to leave, and restricted to the immediate family. I rarely smiled.

I remember when Darling cottoned on to this change. It was a heavy nights casualty in the female ward and there were several young girls admitted - fever, attempted suicide, unknown pregnancy etc. The ward rule is that males are not allowed in... many of these girls are wearing only skimpy night dresses, or are tossing with such delirium that modesty is not quite achieved.

Yet there are a group of males who boldly walk in with their women folk, and cluster around the aisles, or stand at the door and look into the ward, or stand at the windows and peer in. Even though it is obvious, I ALWAYS explain that this is a female ward, other women are also here, it is not correct to peep in. It annoys me no end when they don't give a damn to what I say and continue to cluster at the door or windows. One night I lost it, and questioned the whole world in general and the offenders in particular if they had no shame, that although they make sure their own women are covered from head to toe, they obviously lose no opportunities to stare at other women in their night clothes, and if they didn't leave, I would be calling the hospital police post. I did not mince my words.

Because I had (unfortunately) forgotten to disconnect a previous call, Darling heard the whole blasting from the other end of the phone. It took him sometime to get over it.

Just before I changed wards, one of the nurses told me something that shocked me. She said that in all the months working with me, she had never once heard me sing or hum a song. The realisation hit me like a cold bucketful of water as I remembered the person I had been... always smiling, always chirpy, always with a tune on the lips.

And I realised... I was not a nice or likable person anymore.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A moment in time

Today I descended into the bowels of medical history - i.e. into the subterranean archives of the Colombo Faculty library. Dimly lit stairs lead down to a seemingly vast cavern filled with row upon row of old books, the air thick with dust, mould and an undefined sense of years gone by. A mezzanine divided the space into two levels, the floor of the upper level made of thin strips of wood, interspersed by wider strips of nothing. I walked, cautious and barefoot on the dusty boards as a shoe or even an ankle could easily be wedged in those spaces.

I have always felt a sense of awe when I see old books. The fragile pages, bound together in leather, cracked with age, the faded gold lettering on the spines only faintly readable. I thumbed through a copy of the Lancet that was printed in 1927, holding the pages up to the muted light that filtered in through windows that were possibly last cleaned around the same year. My fingers traced words penned by long dead doctors; one detailing the invention of a particularly intricate pair of forceps, another speaking of haemorrhage during childbirth and yet another emphatically stating the "hereditary nature" of tuberculosis.

Almost at the end of my exploration, on the very last shelf, I came across a tome that left me entirely breathless... the "Manual of Tropical Medicine" written in 1910 by Albert J Chalmers and Aldo Castellani. Dr. Chlamers was 2nd Registrar of the Ceylon Medical College and during his period of service did much to streamline the teaching of medicine and improve facilities. The Anatomy block which stands to this day, was his brainchild. Sir Aldo Castellani was possibly the most outstanding medical researcher ever to come to Sri Lanka. He discovered the causative organisms for parangi and sleeping sickness, and was the first to use combined vaccines. The book was huge... nearly two thousand pages and as I reverently turned them, I imagined the two great men, discussing the contents and then painstakingly penning their knowledge by the light of smoky oil lamps. At one quiet moment, I felt their presence beside me, displacing the space like the shimmer above roads on a hot day.

Terry Pratchett once said that written words distort time and space. The theory of L space is such that

Those old books may not have the magical properties of those of the UU library, but they did leave me affected, as if I had opened the gateway to literary hyperspace.

I think I have found a new love.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Morning laughter...

Ok, so I'm back at work after a self imposed long weekend and just checked out one of my favourite webcomics... (giggling madly) this one is priceless!

Happy Tuesday y'all!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


I met up with a friend today... a very old and dear friend whom I got to know on the first day at Uni. I was meeting him after more than a year, and it felt great to sit and talk... I hadn't realised how much I had missed his wry jokes and brutal sense of humour! So we tore apart the old scandals, talked gossipily about new ones and who was dating/married /divorced/cheating with who.

And then I asked an unnecessary question.

I asked if there were any guys in my batch who were "interested in me". And he said no.

I can't describe how hard that was on my self esteem... I know it is silly... and that I was well liked and popular with my batchmates, that I had fun during my almost-6-years there and that I have loads of great memories...


Seriously?? Not one single guy had so much as a smidgen of a crush on me? What is wrong with me? Am I not pretty enough or sexy enough or lustworthy enough? Do I lack an innate "hotness factor"? Was it the way I dressed? Was it my hair? Maybe I should have worn my contact lenses everyday instead of wearing glasses because they were comfier. Maybe I should have spent more on clothes from Mondi and suchlike instead of the sensible stuff I wore. Maybe I should have used fair and lovely.


Not ONE lousy guy.

My ego is really bruised at the moment.