Wildchild (#16, #17)

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I’ve spent the past couple of weeks working at a wildlife hospital. It was a fairly long drive to make, but everyday I would park my car amongst the trees and step out to the faint smell of bushfire in the air, and that made it all worthwhile. This was a not-for-profit wildlife rehabilitation center that was run entirely by volunteers. I would admit any injured wildlife that was brought in, assess them and treat them to the best of my abilities, and refer to a private veterinary hospital if it was a case I could not handle, or if the patient required further diagnostic work-up (radiographs etc), or surgery. As there was no on-site vet, the onus of making decisions regarding treatment plans and euthanasia considerations often fell on me. This was both good and bad because it forced me to be more decisive and to have more confidence in the clinical decisions I made, but also meant a lot of sleepless nights worrying about possible misdiagnoses, and that I wasn’t really learning as much as I could have because there would be no senior vet there to correct me if I were wrong. I spent some days in the lab looking at faecal samples with a microbiologist, and others rushing around the hospital administering treatments and euthanising patients with very poor prognoses. All in all I think I learnt a fair bit, and feel like I have made a minor but practical contribution towards wildlife and conservation. It was also really good for me mentally, I think, to take a step back from my usual high-stress environment and re-connect with the side of medicine that I love.

 

I’ve been spending all my free time (and also time I probably could not afford) hiking, camping, star gazing and climbing over the past few weeks. I have learnt to not let a lack of company stop me from doing the things I love, and to care less about what people might think of me – because chances are they probably don’t think of me at all.  I’ve been taking myself out for hikes and stopping my car to watch beautiful sunsets. I’ve been pushing my comfort zones and forcing myself into situations that require me to socialise with new people. And I think I am getting better at it – or getting better at not hating it. It is back to the daily grind of rotations and exams and I am as behind on sleep as I am with my studies. My muscles are sore, my finger tips are bleeding, my shoes are caked with dirt but my heart is a bit more full than it was before.

 

Jol

Push-ups In The Air (#15)

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A friend and I recently went to an event called “Fanfic, Love and Embarrassment” hosted by the Literary Youth Festival. We really didn’t know what to expect going into it, and as it turned out, it consisted of about a dozen people (who all seemed very well acquainted with each other) in a cosy room in an old house right smack in the heart of the city. This building plays host to weekly poetry clubs, art sessions and writing workshops – it was brick and mortar devoted to cultivating art and literature in the youth of today. With wild abandon people read aloud highly-sexualised fan-fiction they wrote about themselves, poetry that stemmed from frustrated minds and broken hearts, and embarrassing song lyrics from when they were teenagers forcing every word to rhyme.

Whilst it was a public event, it seemed all attendees were part of an exclusive writing club we were not privy to. It made me feel incredibly uncomfortable and self-conscious: as if I were intruding in a stranger’s home or eavesdropping on a private conversation. The people there were truly memorable characters, they each had an aura of individuality – they were published authors, up-and-coming musicians, award-winning poets and aspiring artists. For the first time ever the words “Doctor” and “Surgeon” sat a bit weirdly on my tongue; for the first time ever they felt displaced in the company of others. I felt like I was trespassing into an alternative I did not choose.

The feeling of awkwardness quickly passed. It’s hard to feel awkward when people are pouring their hearts out in front of you. There was so much honesty and raw emotion. I found myself truly feeling for these nameless strangers I do not know.

I’ve been trying to look up the work of some of those who had volunteered to read their poems out, but have had little luck. In particular one stood out to me, she talked about being on a flight to California and watching a man doing push-ups on the aisle of plane who upon noticing his audience, said to her: “Don’t worry, I’m not pushing the plane down”. She realised then that sadness within life is like gravity, it is ever constant. It does not exist within us, but we exist within it – we learn to live within it’s rules, and do push-ups in the air.

I still don’t fully understand it, but it somehow struck a chord in me. And amongst these faceless people, I felt for the first time in a long time, even if only but for a fleeting moment, un-alone.

I wish I had the courage to stand in front of strangers and showcase all of my love and embarrassment. I think that is ultimately what writing has always been about, to make others feel something, a fraction of what you are feeling, or something completely out of your own capacity. I promised myself that I will be braver one day.

I am glad that I wandered into the messy, sticky  hearts of strangers that night. It reminded me that everyone is fighting their own battle, and of the insurmountable strength of the human spirit to persevere through the throes of pain, depression and loneliness. Of impregnable minds and the human ability to somehow.. survive.

We are all just doing push-ups in the air. 

Jolyn

Few things are harder than brain surgery but this is one of them (#14)

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Few things are harder than brain surgery but this is one of them

Despair is good intention shrouded in pain
And hopeful plans with no where to go
But massive kindness is releasing someone
From the burdens of uncertainty

Thank you for closing the doors
That I could not bear to myself do
For paying for the right decisions
With a lifetime of “what if”s

With all the strength afforded to me
Still I could not carry the fickle weight
Of a brilliant mind filled to the brim with fear and doubts
Placed there by the hands of gods and goddesses
Cemented by cultures older even than love itself

I am too far from fine to fix you up;
I am far too blind to lead the way

I hope for the weight to fall from your shoulders
Like leaves off a tree
May you blossom to fill the shoes
You were always meant to wear
May your spirit take on the likeness of birds
And soar in the air

I hope you remember me

I forgive you for all things you could not articulate

I hope when you open your eyes
It is a lovely day

Jolyn

Family First (#13)

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My brother graduated from university last Saturday, so I flew in to Singapore over the weekend to attend his graduation. I arrived home early on Saturday morning at 4am only to fly back out again the following Sunday morning. I have been getting scarcely any sleep over the past few weeks and was feeling particularly exhausted, and I must admit that battling a headache on a red-eye flight made me feel like spending hundreds of dollars and sitting through 10 hours of flight time for a mere 32 hours back in my country was all a bit pointless. I had to actively remind myself that family came first, before everything else.

I think I had been coming close to hitting my limit last week. I want to do nothing else besides veterinary medicine, but I think the constant pressure and sudden burden of very real responsibility was just slowly getting to me. I had been reaching a point where I had trouble sleeping and would always wake up tired. I would go into work and perform consults and treat my patients with gusto but come home feeling absolutely drained. Perhaps it is because we are constantly assessed every minute of the day: there is a constant need to be at your best at all times; there is no room to let your guard down and just breathe. Perhaps it is due to the lack of structure and consistency, every rotations spans only a week or two, so just as you are getting settled into the normal daily routine of say, anaesthesia, you find that the rotation is over and you now need to learn all the ropes of being a GP, or a surgeon or wildlife practitioner. The constant stream of exams doesn’t help either. Last Thursday I came home and felt totally devoid of joy. I just curled up into a ball and cried. Looking forward to a tiring weekend of little sleep and rushing to airports only added to the stress – and I think I forced myself to say yes out of duty – I’d do almost anything to make my family happy.

As it turned out, I needed to see my family a lot more than they needed to see me.

I had always thought that “family first” meant compromising on your own comfort and well-being for the people you love. And whilst it does indeed mean making time and putting in effort to show that you care in a tangible way, I have come to realise that it can’t purely be out of a sense of duty. Prioritising the people in your life doesn’t mean forcing yourself to do things you don’t want to do, but genuinely wanting to do things despite them being inconvenient or tiring because your well-being is connected to that of others. It is not so much a rule to abide by, but a healthy mutual dependence on each other to keep on going. I am happiest when the people I love are safe and happy. I think I had been slowly coming apart, and spending just one day with my family and dog really helped to pull me out of that hole again. Whilst my work brings me a lot of purpose and life meaning, it is ultimately a means to provide for the family I will have in future. And I hope that that will not be something I need to actively remind myself of, or regard as a chore. I think truly putting family first in your heart means that you innately want to do what’s best for them, despite the inconveniences. It doesn’t mean that work isn’t important, but that you derive the most joy out of the people you love. It means loving people over promotions and recognition and material things.

I thought that putting family first meant I needed to go home for the sake of my family. But really, I needed to go home for my own sake because I put family first.

Jolyn

Undertow (#12)

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I have always been very focused on getting to where I feel I need to be. It has allowed me the discipline and foresight to chase my goals and make most of them become a reality. I have everything I could ever need, and am on track to establishing what I desire in my foreseeable future. I have had magnificent adventures and crossed paths with some brilliant and unforgettable people, but I think that despite my spontaneity and hunger for adventure, I have never really allowed myself to mentally ‘go with the flow’. I believe in trying most things once, from skydiving to hallucinating on strange pills, but every decision was meticulously calculated and weighed, and then precisely executed. I used to pride myself on having incredible foresight – and acting on it to ensure that every action and decision I undertake or make can be rationalised and explained, to result in a potential benefit to my future. I equated constant planning with maturity.

However I realise that whilst that in itself is beneficial, it is a fairly silly line to use as a standard of comparison. I think that whilst they are good practices in their own rights, foresight and constant planning can also result in a temporary spatial blindness. I regret the ignorance I had harboured towards friends who seemed so able to make decisions without fully explaining them: their stupid decisions were not necessarily stupid simply because I couldn’t understand or rationalise them.

I am trying to find a balance between the need to control all aspects of my life and allowing things to take it’s own course. It is proving to be quite scary and difficult, given how this is unfamiliar territory. I am learning to allow myself to indulge in things that make me feel a full spectrum of emotions without having to first be able to rationalise the “why”s and “how”s of it; I am learning to surrender – and what a beautifully optimistic thing that is.

Jol