Saturday, 17 November 2012

The Feast: A Soul's Awakening

How can my heart contain you, O Beauty so infinite?
How can my constrained soul hold Eternity?
How can a created bear its Creator?

Yet of pure Love, you humbled yourself into bread.
Into a meal Heaven collapses;
imperfect made perfect,
profane made sacred.

Into me you come, into you I come.
You stay in me and I stay in you.
Totally given and fully devoted, the Groom and his Bride.


Monday, 12 November 2012

7 Quick Takes #1

I always knew that I'm gonna do this sooner or later. Sometimes there are pieces and parts that I wanna highlight and share with my readers, but of which I don't plan on writing too much. I'm gonna do this more liberally; I don't assign a specific day because my creative juice is rather unpredictable, and who knows when I will have free time. I'll keep the "7" to discipline myself. (Being a Catholic school graduate, you breathe discipline, you eat discipline, you dream discipline, but recently I'm losing my work commitment somewhat, so I wanna make myself used to it again, starting here.)


The highlight of last weekend is receiving a postcard from... <dum dum dum> ISRAEL! I believe some of you know that I collect postcards and that I'm a Postcrosser, and I display my collection on my other blog. But this card gets an honour to be here because... well, it's my first card from Israel, and Israel is a rare country on Postcrossing. Unlike Russia, whose postcards are absolutely gorgeous, but is a "common" country; I send to and receive from Russia for too many times already!

Additionally, this card is one example of my ideal card. I love map cards, as much as I like maps and globes in general. By extension, I also love cards bearing country or state symbols or flags. If map + symbol + flag = JEWEL.


Everybody is getting bored with clerkship. And when I say everybody, I mean everybody, including the straight-A girl and the gunner. We do our duties, but barely beyond. I asked my mum once whether this is normal, and she said yes, though it's not ideal, but it is normal, especially since we're going to graduate soon. Well I still have Ob/Gyn after this, and this is certainly not a good preparation for the hectic life in Ob/Gyn. Oh well.


I've found myself criticising diagnoses, differentials, and workup results. I hope this is a good sign that I've finally understood medicine, like how to make a proper diagnosis, what lab to order, etc.


The hospital's emergency service is VERY bad. Horrible, even. The ED is supposed to have some of the smartest people, and yet what we have is some of the most careless people. Yes, they may be smart, but they don't care about making and canceling out differentials before sending patients to the wards. All they care about is getting away from patients as soon as possible; this often means people get admitted without complete workups and/or empirical treatments. Plus, one of the doctors apparently like to create his own magical diagnoses, which include "acute seizure" and "pan-gastritis". Tell me this doesn't actually makes you doubt his intelligence.


I didn't know ejaculations were indulgenced. (People, take your mind out of the gutters, it's prayers I'm talking about.) I sometimes mentally sigh with "My Lord and my God!", and that is indulgenced once a week if said under normal conditions. Not bad, eh?


I haven't gone to the cinema for 2 months. Too tired + nothing worth watching recently. Except maybe Skyfall, but I'm not a Bond fan. I'm waiting for Sinister and Silent Hill Revelation. They say the latter sucks, but I always like all things Silent Hill, so whatever! I also heard that The Walking Dead is a great series, but the thing is, I need someone to actually drag myself to watch it. I seldom watch TV; I only turn it on for The Amazing Race, occasional Wipeout, some CSI, and one or two HBO movies.


I'm hungry. Off to nom something.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Taking a break.

During my first week of pediatrics, I experienced things that some would conclude as symptoms of mild depression. For a few days I could not eat or sleep properly. I didn't feel sleepy or hungry, at all. My rest-and-digest system was suddenly taken over by fight-or-flight mode. All I wanted to do was being awake and keeping myself busy with studying and paperwork, as if these were the only things I was born to do. I could not think of anything other than medicine and more medicine. In the morning I didn't even feel tired despite the lack of rest the night before. I felt strangely energised. I felt like I could hold the world, and swallow it whole. Deep down though, I knew it wasn't healthy, because I wasn't happy and that I needed to get out of it as soon as possible. I knew that if I'd kept going like that, I'd eventually experience a major breakdown, either physically or mentally or both. Luckily I'm blessed with a powerful compensatory mechanism, so I managed to survive and to enjoy a proper life again.

Looking back, the one thing that had been missing from my life was... life. Before that, I almost always refused an offer to watch movies, hang out in the malls, or have a random girly chit-chat. If I didn't feel like I have time for that, then I wouldn't do it. In fact, not only did I have time for that, I needed it.

In a field as rigorous as medicine, taking a break every now and then is crucial to preserve your sanity. You'll feel this need more when you've entered the clinical portion of your medical education. The studying part is already intense, without having to take into account the system, the hierarchy. No wonder, I think, if so many excited medical students quickly turn into overworked, frustrated, depressed, angry, aggressive, even suicidal persons (and it doesn't get better as they become physicians).

A proper break must take your mind away temporarily from whatever causing your stress. It does not make you avoid the problem at hand; on the contrary, it will help you see the problem more clearly, so that you can handle it better.

A break can take any forms. Obviously, it always helps if a medical student has one or two good hobbies. I blog, I read novels, I write poems, I paint pictures, I tweet, I enjoy memes and sometimes even do the trolling myself. Recently I've been adding more social events: going to weddings, eating out, watching movies. The last two are best done on the weekends, but sometimes I challenge myself to do them spontaneously, such as directly after work with teammates who are not doing shift. I also collect religious pictures and quotes because they always help tremendously in reminding me that there's Someone in control of it all. It really puts things into perspective.

I'm looking forward to this weekend when I will have a new movie to watch with a high school friend I haven't seen in a long time, and a Holy Mass to attend. I'm also looking forward to reading the Catechism, as part of my Year of Faith project.

What do you usually do to de-stress?

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Pro-Choicers, you've been prophesied!

"Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, 'Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!' Then they will say to the mountains, 'Fall on us!' and to the hills, 'Cover us!' For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?"

Hint: it's not Nostradamus.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Today's random reflection

I think my left leg, particularly the ankle, is my locus minoris, or weakest spot. Already a few times it has caused me to slip and fall, and that left ankle always sustained the worst injuries, usually a sprain. This morning I did it again - slipping and falling - and I could just blame the wet moss, but why did it have to be the left ankle *again*? The abrasion on my right knee is nothing compared to it. (well okay, the wound did sting, but it was much better after I took care of it with some normal saline and topical antibiotic)

On the bright side, that little accident magically jinxed away my sleepy head because I suddenly got into a fight-or-flight mode.

Walking is hard and painful now. Another little trial to immerse me in a contemplative environment for the Year of Faith? Another reminder that I should take more lightly my pride in my own speed? Maybe. I hope so. Or maybe it's only me overthinking things ;-)

On an unrelated note, I realised that I did better in surgery rotation than internal medicine. IM is absolutely fascinating to study, but when it comes to patient management, I lose that sense of fun. I like my pathology to be more tangible and visual, probably because I'm a visual person myself. I don't think I'm gonna go into IM for residency. As long as I can prescribe standard family practice medication for IM-related pathology I think I'm alright.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Did you matter?

It's been a while since I read something that is both light and thought-provoking. Yesterday I picked up If I Stay by Gayle Forman and finished it in one sitting. Yes, I know it's classified as a young-adult book, and I might be a little too old mature for young-adult lit, but hey I don't mind, as long as it's tasteful. After all, it is the young-adult book The Giver by Lois Lowry that first introduced me to the fascinating dystopian realm.

Anyways, If I Stay is in no way ground-breaking or faith-shattering; in fact, it is pretty simple and straightforward, but it delivers one question: will there be people who mourn after you die? Will there be people who desperately whisper your name in your ear, hoping that you would choose to stay?

And what are you going to show your Creator, on the day you finally face Him? Have you made a good use of all the grace and talents He'd given you? Have you put a smile on somebody's face and made their lives a little better? Have you sown the seeds of truth? The seeds of peace? Have you, through your very being, proclaim divine love?

Did you matter?

"One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it's worth watching."

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

As constant as the rising sun

I want to invite you on a journey. Let's go up the mountain with me. We leave at midnight and arrive before dawn. I want us to watch the sunrise together. After that we can go down and have fun in the village, and then we head to the beach to watch the sunset. How does that sound to you?

Actually no, it doesn't have to be today. It can be any day. And after our journey, YOU can make your own. If there's a guest in town, you can invite him or her to the usual place to watch the sunrise or sunset with you. You can do it over and over again, at different places, with different moods, accompanied by different people, yet watching the same sun, because we only have one sun.

And yet you never think of the sun as archaic or boring. No. In fact, you delight in its monotonous behaviour. Because then you have something to rely on, something you can hang on to. There's security in what is constant. When you're having a long day at the office, a rough evening with the family, or a stressful night in a haunted house, you can say to yourself: "Don't worry. The sun will rise again tomorrow and everything will be fine." Do you honestly know that the sun will rise again tomorrow? No. But you dare to hope because that's what the sun has been doing ever since it was created. You trust it. It never disappoints, it's always there. The sun may be clouded or eclipsed at times, but it's there. To believe otherwise is simply absurd.

Sure, sometimes you hate it. You hate the fact that the sun still stubbornly rises on a Monday morning, because that means you have to get up and go to school or work. But what if one day the sun decides to be innovative and doesn't appear on that Monday morning? What if it likes its creativity and decides a random time to rise and set?

Wouldn't you rather prefer a predictable sun behaving in a repetitious manner?

That's exactly what the Church does. She teaches the Truth that comes from God. Since God is constant and unchanging, so is His Truth, and so must be His Church. His Love is also constant and unchanging, given freely to everybody, good, and bad; therefore, the appropriate response to that Love must also be a constant and unchanging Liturgy of the Mass.

The Pope, a mere human, is powerless to change the Church or her laws, because they come from an Authority higher than himself. Expecting the Pope to lift the ban on contraception, abortion, same-sex marriage, and a number of other things is like expecting an astronomer to change the orbit of the sun.

So the next time you feel sick, confused, and lost in the uncertainties around you, you know where to look. There is a place as constant as the rising sun. Go uphill and find the Church, the City on the Hill, blazing forever with the light of Truth and Love that can only come from God. It is Home. Home is always there for you no matter what.


Image: "The Sunrize", Ivan Aivazovsky, 1874

Monday, 22 October 2012

Lily of the Mohawks

St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the new gal in town

Of the seven new saints canonised by the Pope on October 21, possibly the most unique and attention-grabbing is the Native American woman Kateri Tekakwitha.

I recall of getting to know Blessed Kateri some months ago. I've forgotten what I was reading on the net, all I know is it was a coincidence ("Well nothing is a coincidence, honey," thus saith the Lord). I think it was a random Catholic blog that mentions her as the blog's patroness. Kateri had not been canonised then, and to be honest I have a teeny wee problem about asking for intercession from someone who hasn't been officially declared a saint, so I just thought, "Wow how nice to know that there's a Native American who was a faithful Catholic... if only she was a saint!"

Lo and behold, a saint she became.

It's not hard to find out the reason why I am so drawn to this young woman. First, Kateri was a member of an indigenous tribe that practises local beliefs, namely animism and magic. This kind of spirituality is close to most Indonesians' hearts, even those who have adhered to an organised religion, and many tribes here still actually practise animism and magic, both the "white" and "dark" ones. Having a friend in heaven who truly understands the difficulties of talking to this group of people is tremendously encouraging. And who knows, maybe she's got some tips and tricks she could lend me if I ask her in prayer.

Secondly, Kateri is a radical proof of the universality of the Church. A lot of non-westerners think Christianity is foreign because it's a "western religion", what with all the western missionaries, Caucasian-looking statues of the saints, and the profoundly Roman liturgy. And if you think this is a Catholic problem, think about Pentecostal communities who sing nothing but English-language Hillsong tracks during their services. Or the Reformed communities where the word "church" recalls in mind an ultra-modern fiberglass building sitting majestically in the middle of a wealthy area. Soooo western, isn't it.

Please don't get me wrong, I have no problem with all these "western" things, because I know Christianity is anything but western (or eastern or southern or northern). But I need to say that other people might get it wrong, to the point that it becomes an impediment to someone's conversion.

Looking at the face of Kateri Tekakwitha, however, clears up this prejudice. True Christianity, that is, the Catholic Faith, is universal; it has its roots in Judaism, but it is not exclusively linked to the Jewish ethnicity, like Hinduism to the people of India and Taoism to the people of China. The Catholic Faith is celebrated in many cultures and many tongues, in every nook and cranny of the earth, including in the heart of an Algonquin-Mohawk. And consequently, any Catholics regardless of their upbringings, can become a saint. That's because the Kingdom of God is a real multiethnic country.

Thirdly, and this is the most personal reason: Kateri is different. She doesn't wear a nun robe, a medieval dress, a Jewish robe, or a crown. Not that these are bad of course; the three saints after whom I am named are a nun, a Jewish woman, and a princess. But I like people who are different, in a positive way. Being different is refreshing, and often inspiring. It shows that you don't have to change who you are to be a good Christian. You can, and should, remain a cheerful humorist, a serious bookworm, a charming royalty, a Pocahontas... only in a better version. God will lift up your personality, your talents, your entire identity to a sanctified level, to be used for the benefits of the Kingdom. Kateri is much like Joan of Arc, only more... tribal :)

Welcome to the sky club, Miss Kateri Tekakwitha!

Monday, 15 October 2012

Misunderstanding #2

After a very painful Misunderstanding #1, today I had to endure through another one. Thank God it was short but it still frustrated me a little.

Enter the clinical nutritionist. She's a soft-spoken elderly woman with a somewhat belittling gaze (don't you love such a creepy contradiction? She sort of reminds me of Professor Umbridge). Since the mastery of clinical nutrition is not in our syllabus, rounding with her is not an obligation. In fact, most of us does it out of politeness, without really understanding what's going on (but hey, we try our best!).

This morning she asked me about a patient's complaint. Now let me explain first to you English speakers who might be reading this, that in English the wording of her question would be along the lines of "Tell me how the patient feels today", which will cause no problem. However, in Indonesian she was asking about the patient's "keluhan" (complaint) and because Indonesians love to shorten things down, she didn't bother to add "hari ini" (today).

I assumed the latter, because that's usually what attendings on round cared for for the first time. So I gave her just that, the patient's complaint that morning. And she stared at me squarely and told me simply, "You're all over the place." She explained that I should not be led astray by the patient's story, that it is *I* who must direct the conversation, that I shouldn't have told her everything the patient told me without first sorting them out and condensing them. [Do you agree? Discuss.] And she finished off her quick lecture by reminding me, like I needed reminding, that a good history contributes 80% to the final diagnosis.

History, history, history. SO she was waiting to hear that patient's history, the chief complaint that had made him seek help in the first place.

Good grief.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Litany of Humility

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved...
From the desire of being extolled ...
From the desire of being honored ...
From the desire of being praised ...
From the desire of being preferred to others...
From the desire of being consulted ...
From the desire of being approved ...
From the fear of being humiliated ...
From the fear of being despised...
From the fear of suffering rebukes ...
From the fear of being calumniated ...
From the fear of being forgotten ...
From the fear of being ridiculed ...
From the fear of being wronged ...
From the fear of being suspected ...

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I ...
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease ...
That others may be chosen and I set aside ...
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ...
That others may be preferred to me in everything...
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…


Dis the most difficult prayer.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Percussing the heart

Does any of you still do cardiac percussion? We Indonesian medical students are still trained to do it, our physical exam books still explain how to do it, but I seldom see foreign resources doing likewise. Sure, in the fast-paced modern medicine, we have plenty of diagnostic tools like the X-ray that are more accurate, but sometimes we need a handy bedside examination for a quick assessment of, say, a pleural effusion. So I wonder if thoracic, and more specifically cardiac, percussion has become a lost art.

In cardiac examination, percussion is performed to determine the borders of the heart, which in turn will determine if there is a cardiomegaly. It is a rough estimation, but the more you do it, the more trained your ears will become, and I believe the more accurate the results will be, just like any other things in life.

Here's how you do it on an adult patient:

In case you've forgotten.

1. Have the patient lie supine on the examination table.

2. Start from the right side of the chest. Percuss the intercostal spaces (ICS) down the right midclavicular line until you reach the dull sound of the liver. Go up one ICS and start percussing towards the sternum until you reach a weak dull sound. That is the right border of the heart. Normally it is found on the 4th ICS at the right parasternal line.

3. Now we move to the left side. Percuss the ICS down the left parasternal line until you reach a weak dull sound. That is the conus pulmonalis or the "cardiac waist" as they say it in radiology. Normally it is found on the 2nd-3rd ICS at the left parasternal line.

4. Still on the left side. Percuss the ICS down the anterior axillary line until you reach the tympanic sound of the stomach. Go up one ICS and start percussing towards the sternum until you reach a weak dull sound. That is the left border of the heart. Normally it is found on the 4th-5th ICS at the left midclavicular line.

Normal chest radiography.
Blue circle is the "cardiac waist", formed by the pulmonary trunk and left atrium.
Original image source: Life in the Fast Lane. Circle by me.

Some sources are more detailed, although they do not explain precisely how one should percuss.

Upper right border: 2nd ICS at the right parasternal line
Lower right border: 4th ICS at the right parasternal line
Upper left: 2nd ICS at the left parasternal line
Lower left: 4th ICS at the left midclavicular line

Hope this helps! :)

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

ASA physical status classification system

ASA = American Society of Anesthesiologists

Class 1: A normal healthy patient.
Class 2: A patient with mild systemic disease.
Class 3: A patient with severe systemic disease.
Class 4: A patient with severe systemic disease that is a constant threat to life.
Class 5: A moribund patient who is not expected to survive without the operation.
Class 6: A declared brain-dead patient whose organs are being removed for donor purposes.

If the surgery is an emergency, the physical status classification is followed by "E" (for emergency), for example "3E". Class 5 is usually an emergency and is therefore usually "5E".


  • Anesthesia: To indicate a patient's overall physical health or "sickness" preoperatively
  • General: To predict risk, and thus decide if a patient should have–or should have had–an operation.

Levine's grading of heart murmur

  • Grade I: very faint, may only be heard by an expert, not heard in all positions, no thrill.
  • Grade II: soft, heard in all positions, no thrill.
  • Grade III: loud, no thrill.
  • Grade IV: loud, with palpable thrill.
  • Grade V: very loud, with thrill, heard with the stethoscope partly off the chest.
  • Grade VI: loudest, with thrill, heard with the stethoscope entirely off the chest (just above the precordium, not touching the skin).

Top 50 Saints' Quotes for Trials and Sufferings

Sufferings include not only the difficulties of daily labours, but also holy inconvenience like self-denial, self-sacrifice, patience, humility, and obedience.

In no particular rank.

1. "Fire cannot last long in water, nor can a shameful thought in a heart that loves God. For every man who loves God suffers gladly, and voluntary suffering is by nature the enemy of sensual pleasure." -St. Mark the Ascetic

2. "Be very careful to retain peace of heart, because Satan casts his lines in troubled waters." -St. Paul of the Cross

3. "If you purify your soul of attachment to and desire for things, you will understand them spiritually. If you deny your appetite for them, you will enjoy their truth, understanding what is certain in them." -St. John of the Cross

4. "Do not put faith in constant happiness, and fear most when all smiles upon you." -St. Ignatius of Loyola

5. "Patience obtains everything." -St. Teresa of Avila

6. "Do not look forward to what might happen tomorrow; the same Everlasting Father Who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations." -St. Francis de Sales

7. "If you attach your heart to certain places and occupations, obedience oftentimes places you in some other place that you may not like; to be always cheerful, be always humble and obedient." -St. Ignatius of Loyola

8. "When harmed, insulted or persecuted by someone, do not think of the present but wait for the future, and you will find he has brought you much good, not only in this life but also in the life to come." -St. Mark the Ascetic

9. "Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring." -St. Catherine of Siena

10. "No man discovers anything big if he does not make himself small." -Ven. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

11. "Don't say: 'That person gets on my nerves.' Think: 'That person sanctifies me.'" -St. Josemaria Escriva

12. "We put pride into everything like salt. We like to see that our good works are known. If our virtues are seen, we are pleased; if our faults are perceived, we are sad. I remark that in a great many people; if one says anything to them, it disturbs them, it annoys them. The saints were not like that---they were vexed if their virtues were known, and pleased that their imperfections should be seen." -St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney

13. "Place your hopes in the mercy of God and the merits of our Redeemer; say often, looking at the crucifix: There are centered all my hopes." -St. Paul of the Cross

14. "The greater and more persistent your confidence in God, the more abundantly you will receive all that you ask." -St. Albert the Great

15. "Be gentle to all and stern with yourself." -St. Teresa of Avila

16. "Obedience is the complete renunciation of one's own soul, demonstrated, however, by actions. More exactly, it is the death of the senses in a living soul. Obedience is a freely chosen death, a life without cares, danger without fears, unshakable trust in God, no fear of death. It is a voyage without perils, a journey in your sleep. Obedience is the burial of the will and the resurrection of humility. Obedience is to give up one's own judgement but to do it with wise consultation. It is very costly, beginning to die to the will and the senses. To continue dying is hard but not indefinitely so. In the end all aversion stops and absolute peace takes command." -St. John Climacus

17. "It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels." -St. Augustine

18. "Suffering is the very best gift He has to give us. He gives it only to His chosen friends." -St. Therese of Lisieux

19. "Blessed the one who continually humbles himself willingly; he will be crowned by the One who willingly humbled himself for our sake." -St. Ephrem of Syria

20. "When we have to reply to anyone who has insulted us, we should be careful to do it always with gentleness. A soft answer extinguishes the fire of wrath." -St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori

21. "Humility if the true guardian of chastity." -St. Philip Neri

22. "God sends such purgations to you, directors of consciences, that you may acquire the science of the saints and the art of directing souls. You will suffer also in another way. Love will be your executioner. Let it do its work; it knows how. In this martyrdom we have need of extraordinary grace and strength; but God will bestow it. Without this divine help it would be impossible to bear up." -St Paul of the Cross

23. "We must submit to the Will of God and kiss the hand that strikes us, for we know it is better to suffer in this life than in the next, since one moment of suffering willingly accepted for the love God, is worth an eternity of happiness." -St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

24. "The more the intellect withdraws from bodily cares, the more clearly it sees the craftiness of the enemy." -St. Mark the Ascetic

25. "They who load us with insults and ignominies give us the means of acquiring treasures more precious than any that man can gain in this life." -St. Ignatius of Loyola

26. "We should let God be the One to praise us and not praise ourselves." -Pope St. Clement I

27. "If humble souls are contradicted, they remain calm; if they are calumniated, they suffer with patience; if they are little esteemed, neglected, or forgotten, they consider that their due; if they are weighed down with occupations, they perform them cheerfully." -St. Vincent de Paul

28. "Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending." -St. Augustine

29. "Humility is the mother of many virtues because from it obedience, fear, reverence, patience, modesty, meekness and peace are born." -St. Thomas of Villanova

30. "Consider the outcome of every involuntary affliction, and you will find it has been the destruction of sin." -St. Mark the Ascetic

31. "I often thought my constitution would never endure the work I had to do, (but) the Lord said to me: ‘Daughter, obedience gives strength.'" -St. Teresa of Avila

32. "Don't give in to discouragement. If you are discouraged it is a sign of pride because it shows you trust in your own powers. Never bother about people's opinions. Be obedient to truth. For with humble obedience, you will never be disturbed." -Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

33. "As iron is fashioned by fire and on the anvil, so in the fire of suffering and under the weight of trials, our souls receive that form which our Lord desires them to have." -St. Madeleine Sophie Barat

34. "Whenever anything disagreeable or displeasing happens to you, remember Christ crucified and be silent." -St. John of the Cross

35. "If God sends you many sufferings, it is a sign that He has great plans for you and certainly wants to make you a saint." -St. Ignatius of Loyola

36. "Suffering is a great grace; through suffering the soul becomes like the Saviour; in suffering love becomes crystallised; the greater the suffering, the purer the love." -St. Faustina

37. "Trials are nothing else but the forge that purifies the soul of all its imperfections." -St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi

38. "Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset." -St. Francis de Sales

39. "Be at peace with your own soul, then heaven and earth will be at peace with you." -St. Jerome

40. "She who desires peace must see, suffer and be silent." -St. Teresa Margaret

41. "He who knows how to forgive prepares for himself many graces from God. As often as I look upon the cross, so often will I forgive with all my heart." -St. Faustina

42. "Peace is not just the absence of war. Like a cathedral, peace must be constructed patiently and with unshakable faith." -Blessed Pope John Paul II

43. "The greatest greatest honor God can do for a soul is not to give it much, but to ask much of it." -St. Therese of Lisieux

44. "We always find that those who walked closest to Christ were those who had to bear the greatest trials." -St. Teresa of Avila

45. "When it is all over you will not regret having suffered; rather you will regret having suffered so little, and suffered that little so badly." -St. Sebastian Valfre

46. "Suffering borne in the will quietly and patiently is a continual, very powerful prayer before God." -St. Jane Frances de Chantal

47. "Thank God I am deemed worthy to be hated by the world." -St. Jerome

48. "It is good to think about our having our citizenship in Heaven and the saints of Heaven as our fellow citizens...Then it is easier to bear the things that are on Earth." -St. Edith Stein

49. "The angels and the saints rejoice at the sight of men on earth who struggle, suffer and labor for the love of Christ." -Blessed Rafel Arnaiz Baron

50. "He that rises after his falls, with confidence in God and profound humility of heart, will become, in God's hands, a proper instrument for the accomplishment of great things; but he who acts otherwise can never do any good." -St. Paul of the Cross


These are the quotes that resound most loudly in my heart at the moment. Undoubtedly there are many other beautiful and powerful quotes from our bros and sis in Heaven. Isn't it just comforting to know that they have been through similar, if not the same, paths? What are your favourite saints' quotes?

Sunday, 7 October 2012

He was here, and then he wasn't

Death, like birth, happens everyday. As a lowly med student, I can't say that I'm able to boast my experiences, but the mere amount of deaths I've seen so far could, at least, grant me the sight of Thestrals.

But what makes this one death so heartbreaking? The patient (let's call him J), age 18 years-old, very much compos mentis, was admitted to the hospital for recurrent episodes of cough and occasional dyspnea due to what he described as "a lot of mucus in the throat". He also admitted to experiencing 6 kg weight loss over the course of 1 month. He had been to another doctor who gave him a simple cough medication that didn't work too well. On the evening of his admission, J went into an episode of generalised tonic-clonic seizure that lasted for approximately 1 minute. On the next day he went into two more episodes separated only by 7 hours. A history of epilepsy or previous seizures was denied by both the patient and his father. An ENT consult was made, and a CT scan of the head was ordered for the next day.

J's second morning at the hospital went as usual. Med students went on rounds, got pimped and everything, and new lab results were reviewed. During the rounds J was as conscious as before, that is to say, even more conscious than some of us sleep-deprived derps med students. In short, that was an ordinary boring morning until a woman, a family member of another patient, called us loudly and pointed to J's bed. All of us jolted from our chairs and saw J was seizing again. And so we were relieved. Nothing happened. Well okay, a seizure was taking place, but we had expected something worse. We just stood by J's bed, one of us did the usual things for a seizing patient (protecting his head, etc.), and we all waited until he stopped seizing a few short seconds later.

But then the unusual took place. J did not respond to his father calling him. After the seizure stopped he turned flaccid and not... quite awake. My ER-trained instinct sent me immediately to the nearest BP cuff and torchlight. I palpated the radial pulse first. Nothing. Alright, BP then. This is wrong, I thought. I got no blood pressure reading at all. Maybe the equipment was faulty? Maybe my stethoscope isn't placed correctly? I repeated my reading but nothing, still. No detectable pulse and BP. I handed it over to a nurse but the result was the same. My friend reported absent carotid pulse and mydriatic pupils. Wait, what?! A nurse quickly set up an ECG reading. Ventricular tachycardia. A shockable rhythm, I know, but we don't have defibrillators, and our only instruction was to do manual CPR. But of course it was futile. In a few seconds, J was no more.

Can you imagine his father's shock? Can you imagine our shock? Can you imagine what heavy guilt the father must have felt, when the internist mentioned aspiration as the cause of death? Aspiration, due to the water he gave his son to drink, to relieve that pesky little cough.

It was so sudden. So unexpected. It was a sharp ache to the heart, so sharp that for a long moment everyone in the room---med students, nurses, other patients and their families---fell silent. For a long moment only a scream of agony over the loss of a son was heard. It was way too unreal and a part of myself honestly wanted to laugh it off and told the father that his son was coming back. That this was just a normal part of a seizure. That this was anything but death.

But death it was. It took a while to sink in, but it was there, as mighty as it has always been. Medical explanations sounded strange and far away. Like some fake tunes that try too hard to please. Like a pair of hands that tries to cup the entire water in the ocean. They answered the how, but never quite answered the why. Why, of all people in the world, did it have to be a handsome young man who hadn't even reached his 20's, with fresh dreams and aspirations, with a bright smile that had made us wonder what he was doing at this hospital in the first place.

So this makes me think:

You are only here for one moment and it lasts exactly one lifetime.


The day after, the bed sheet was new and it was identified with another patient's name.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Do it for the lulz.

Thinking is my default mode. For me, thinking is a natural and happy process, although the contents of my thoughts might not be entirely sunshiney happy. (No, they are never suicidal. Just extremely pensive sometimes. And mellow. Ish.)

If I'm not contemplating the meaning of life over a cup of frozen yogurt, or quietly checking if I'm palpitating after a particularly strong coffee, I can be found laying on my bed imagining the perfect life scenarios or reminiscing the past via some old photos. A simple tweet or a pond full of fish can momentarily drown me in a sea of memories, a work of art sends me into a contemplative state, and an online statement riddled with logical fallacies can launch me into writing a short essay in the Facebook comment box.

The upside of this habit is that I excel in the more abstract disciplines like philosophy, theology, and art. I'm also usually one step ahead in all my plans, and my intuition is strong. The downside, is that I often over-think things, and I get serious about stuff that others take lightly. I instinctively want to get to the roots of everything and understand their meanings, and get frustrated when I can't. [Well I'm much more easygoing now than when I was around 16, but hey I'm an INFJ!] Most of the time, though, I take pride in this talent, this gift, bestowed upon me by my Heavenly Father, and I believe that using it to the most of its capacity is my gift for Him.

While that last statement still rings true, some life experiences as an adult have taught me something different. Sometimes my Heavenly Father, the Giver of gifts, wants me to enjoy His other gifts, that is, to simply live and let live, to stop over-thinking things, to just be. Great fruits not only can come out of great contemplation but also of great spontaneity. One of these fruits is childlike joy, a type of happiness and enthusiasm that our Lord once instructed us to have in order to enter His Kingdom. This joy is not to be underestimated: it forces us to see things anew; we are taught to perceive and appreciate their inner values, their true selves. We are to marvel in things not for their functions or roles, but for what they really are. Practical worth diminishes when the object gets old and worn, but the true worth of being does not.

This is why a child, running around laughing cheerfully as if the world is none other than a really amusing playground, is therefore called innocent. Innocence does not seek use, it seeks value. From this innocence we harvest the divine sense of beauty and love, the same sense with which God looks upon His precious children. Love sees all things new.

So the next time you arrange a pot of flowers, try not to think of it as a tool of décor, but rather as a beautiful thing in itself. That's it. The practicality will come along later. Or, when you finally get a break from work and you decide to take a walk in the park, try observing the movement of water as if it was foreign to you before. Try following the drifting clouds as if they were giant fluffy birds. Try doing a few little leaps on dry fallen leaves just to feel their crunchiness.

Let's not look for hidden meanings all the time. Just do it for the lulz.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

The best is yet to come

Do not worry if God takes away something that is precious to you. Sure, you might think it is unfair, and that it is impossible to find something better because that thing you had was already the best for you.

I know. I've been there. I have lamented to Him during the darkest of nights with one single cry: "Why, God, why?!"

But, let me assure you, you will find yourself happily wrong. That there can be something better, something more suitable to your present state. You didn't know that, did you? But God knew. God has known all along. Because He created your heart and He saw it first, with a vision unlike any other.

The question is: will you be brave enough to reach out to that special gift God has for you?

The Sign of the Cross

In a group of strangers, when we spot someone making the Sign of the Cross, we immediately recognise them as Catholic. If you're like me, you will become mildly excited, and you can't wait for the prayer-in-process to be over so that you can approach and say hi to that fellow Cath, and maybe strike up a good conversation, starting with what church they go to. Indeed, of all the Christian prayers, the Sign of the Cross is the shortest, loudest, and most distinctly Catholic; it is an immediate outward announcement of those sealed in Him.

Let me tell you the reasons why this Sign has a special appeal to me:

1. It's Biblical.
Like the Lord's Prayer and the Hail Mary, the Sign of the Cross is very biblical. Check out Matthew 28:19. So the next time someone challenges you to prove your "Biblical-Christian"-ness by reciting some verses from the Bible, just pray these prayers and grin like a boss.

2. It's powerful.
The Sign of the Cross is a sacramental. All the official prayers of the Church, including the Holy Mass and the sacraments, begin with an address to the Holy Trinity: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Demon expulsion begins by tracing the Sign over everybody present including the possessed. Numerous miracles are performed upon making the signum crucis; for example, St. Benedict avoided death by poisoned wine, St. Francis of Assisi tamed a hungry wolf, and St. Bernard of Clairvaux cured the sick. Above all, we are baptised, absolved of our sins, and anointed in the name of the Blessed Trinity.

For me personally, this Sign is a source of rapid consolation. A bit like an intravenous drug, but better, faster, and longer-acting. There are days when I am just fed up with everything around me. I order a meal and sit down grumpily. When the meal comes, I make the Sign out of habit, and there it is: the rush of divine comfort my soul longs for. Why should I worry then?

And if that's not enough, do you know that a partial indulgence is granted when you do this weird Catholic gesture thingy?

3. It's short.
How often have we tried to excuse ourselves for not having time to pray? I know, because I'm guilty of it too. But the Sign of the Cross is, in itself, a prayer, a very short one, about 2 to 4 seconds to complete. Think about it: even without "real" prayer, if you cross yourself every time you wake up in the morning, before and after every meal, before and after study or work, and before you go to bed at night, you will have prayed at least 10 times during the day! [Of course, I'm not recommending not praying at least once a day. My point is, this Sign alone will remind you that you are always in the presence of Him who is Good, Truth, and Beauty. Which brings us to the next point:]

4. It pronounces the most profound Christian mystery.
The Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the heart, the most basic foundation, of a Christian belief. Those who claim they are Christian but do not profess a faith in the Triune God, are not Christian. This is the more reason why we have to make the Sign with the utmost reverence and gravity. You know, not like you are brutally chasing away flies. When done correctly, this pious sign serves as a mini-catechesis to yourself and others who see it. You will have preached even before preaching, and you will have made a deep impression upon your hearers without having said a single word.

5. It's a victory over the flesh
One of the big bosses Church Fathers, Tertullian (ca. 226 AD), wrote: "The flesh is signed so that the soul too may be fortified." A lot of us might be skeptical about this "sign on the flesh", because, hey, it's just the flesh isn't it? It's the heart that counts! Well, then, why do patriots refuse to salute another country's flag? It's just a physical salutation, right? A patriotic American should freely salute a Spaghetti Republic's banner while remaining loyal to the United States at his heart, correct?

Well don't say that last statement out loud lest George Washington smite you. It's high time that we acknowledge the close relationship between our physical gestures and the state of our hearts. The latter influences the first, yes, but the first also forms the latter. Sometimes we do certain things out of mere obedience to the established ritual, but that is good enough for a start, because your heart will follow before you know it.

It is the same with the Sign of the Cross. We are physical beings, we make signs using the flesh and on the flesh. But that very moment when you trace yourself is when you decide to crucify the desires of the flesh and to live by the Spirit. And since the way of the Spirit is not popular with the world:

6. It takes real courage.
Where Catholics are minority, crossing oneself takes courage and a certain level of sacrifice. You don't have to scream "I'm Catholic!", the Sign does it all. You don't want to wield a sword among your kins, the Sign does it for you. Of course, it's not without consequences. I've been asked about my faith by some people who find my gesture either very interesting or very loathsome. Some Protestants, naturally, see it as an opportunity to bring yet another poor Roman Papist back to the Christian faith (ah delicious irony!). Making the Sign in public silently yet boldly declares oneself as an unabashed disciple of Christ, and that one is [hopefully] not afraid to bear the cross on his back, just like the cross on his chest.

Friday, 7 September 2012

The name's Belitung

[Or Belitong, if you're a local. Or Billiton, if you're a stuborn English speaker.]

FINALLY, I successfully travelled to this curious little island last week. Curious, because it's a paradise that has been hidden for a long time right under our nose.

A little about Belitung:
It's an island off the northeastern coast of Sumatra that used to belong to the South Sumatra (now, together with a neighbouring island, Bangka, they form the Province of Bangka-Belitung). Before I went there, I had vaguely remembered Belitung as a rich tin and kaolin-mining island, thanks to geography class. But other than that, there was nothing very special about Belitung.

Then out Andrea Hirata's book, Laskar Pelangi ("The Rainbow Troops"). Mr Hirata, despite his Japanese-sounding name, is a native of Belitung. His book tells the story of a group of local kids, how they struggle with poverty on a land that is so rich, and how they work hard to achieve their dreams. The book highlights the impact that Soeharto's New Order regime had on the island; all the monopoly and exploitation imposed upon its mines. But it is the movie adaptation that, because it was shot on the real island, becomes a reference about its physical beauty. Shortly after, Belitung rose as a new holiday destination, partly because people are beginning to get sick of Bali (no offense. Maybe it's just me).

The book that started it all.

Getting there
There's no international airport on the island, so either you board a plane from Jakarta or a ship from Bangka. The first route is definitely easiest and shortest. There are two airlines serving direct flight to and back from Belitung: Sriwijaya Air and Batavia Air. Sriwijaya has more schedules than Batavia, and I personally trust it more than the latter. You will land on HAS Hanandjoeddin Airport in Tanjung Pandan, the capital of Belitung. Check for schedules here (Sriwijaya) and here (Batavia).

The second route is usually taken by backpackers who would like to explore Belitung, Bangka, and South Sumatra in one go. I can't give you a first-hand explanation on this, but here's a translation from a trusted travel website
Alternatively, you may board passenger ships PELNI or KM TRISTAR. However, they only travel to Belitung every 2 weeks. Travel by these ships takes approximately 24 hours, and costs less than IDR 150,000. You can also take the speedboat KM Bahari Express; it takes only 4 hours and costs approximately IDR 170,000. KM Bahari Express travels every day at 2 PM from Pangkalpinang (Bangka) to Tanjung Pandan (Belitung), and back again at 7 AM.

Bangka-Belitung tourism map. Click for higher resolution.

Staying there
Top three hotels are Lor In, Billiton, and Grand Hatika, but there are numerous other family-operated inns. We chose to stay in Grand Hatika because it's a 4-star hotel so le parents considered it safer for first-time travellers. The other two have good reputations too however. Billiton is also unique because it is a colonial building, but dear mother expressed her dislike due to the presence of a small but active Buddhist shrine (she does not hate Buddhism or anything Buddhist, just a little uncomfortable with Buddhist altars and prayer stuff). Check out Trip Advisor for more information.

Getting around
There's not yet public transport service on the island, but there are plenty of car and motorbike rents. If you stay in Grand Hatika, you can rent the hotel's car for a designated amount of time per day. Belitung is a small island. From its capital, Tanjung Pandan, to any corners of the island, it only takes approximately 2-3 hours by car.

If you're like me, I suggest you use a travel agent because they will plan not only your itinerary but also a car and a local guide that also functions as a photographer. Also it'll save a lot of time and energy, rather than wasting an entire day searching for alien places. is very reliable, and the folks are fun, full of initiatives, and attentive to details (and yes, they have English-speaking guides).

Shield of the Province of Bangka-Belitung

Shield of Kabupaten (Regency) of Belitung

What I think
Before I went, I had browsed through pictures taken by three of my friends who had been there. ALL of them intrigued me. White sand, unspoiled turquoise waters, big big boulders. The latter is especially attractive because they are not found anywhere else in the country (and maybe in the world?). And STARFISH. You can find live, wild starfish on some of the islets that surround Belitung. Isn't that just great! I prayed and prayed that what I would get what I had seen. I prayed for the weather, especially, since my visit was near the end of August, which means the rainy season would begin very soon. (And talking about weather, I suggest going between May to August, with the best time around June-July)

The first thing I noticed about the island was the quietness. It isn't in any way desolate, just quiet. There are vehicles, but not enough to cause a traffic jam or pollution. What the people of Belitung call "city center" is only a large roundabout with a meteor statue at the center (there was a meteor that hit the island a long time ago). On the first day, we tried Belitung noodle. This noodle is a local adaptation of original Chinese noodle (many locals are of Chinese descent), but it has a lighter, sweeter taste. The portion is small, so while I only needed one, you may need more.

Then the beaches. My friends were right; those photos you see on Google Images? They were not Photoshopped. Belitung's beaches are truly, truly charming, and the gigantic granite rocks make everything even more SURREAL. One advantage of a local guide is that he can help you climb these rocks and show you spots only they know.

Due to the rocks, the sea water is very calm, perfect for swimming, splashing around, and snorkeling. The highlight of every trip to Belitung is island-hopping; using a fishing boat, you visit 4 to 5 surrounding islets. I went to Pulau Pasir ("Sand Island", literally a pile of sand in the middle of the ocean), Pulau Batu Berlayar (even more gigantic rocks!), Pulau Burung ("Bird Island"; not really an island but a fascinating rock formation shaped like a bird's head), Pulau Lengkuas (there's an 18-storey lighthouse here from which you can get amazing views of the ocean), Pulau Babi Kecil ("Small Pig Island"; was used for keeping pigs), and I think there was one more but I forgot the name. I especially love Pulau Pasir because this is where you can find the most starfish and sand dollars, and you can swim around this "island" because the water is quite shallow.

Well since a single picture tells a thousand words, I can make an entire essay with these:


Other fun facts about Belitung:

  • Locals speak with Malay accent.
  • Though the predominant religion is Islam, the Buddhist Chinese population enjoys a strong presence.
  • People are VERY nice and helpful. Authentic Asian hospitality.
  • It's surprisingly safe! I saw people left their cars or motorbikes with the keys still attached!
  • Cost of living is surprisingly high. Not high high, but high for a small island. A local explained to me that since people don't grow crops there, they are purchased all the way from Java.
  • Other than the beaches, kaolin lakes are also a treat! These are lakes formed from abandoned kaolin mining sites. They are multi-coloured; some are pink, some are blue, others are pale green. They're really quite beautiful. My mum, being a dermatologist, thought they looked like chancroids from above.
  • Since Laskar Pelangi, the nickname of this island is now "Negeri Laskar Pelangi" (Land of the Rainbow Troops).
  • No specialist doctors! Specialists are "imported" from Bangka or South Sumatra, and they visit Belitung only once every few weeks. True story.
  • If you wanna do specific photography, like maybe pre-wed shots with a lot of starfish, you can pay fishermen to help gather these starfish. Starfish are so abundant here they're almost considered pests, if it wasn't for travellers and divers who happen to be very fond of them.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

What do you want for your birthday?

Classic question. What do you want for your birthday?

Simple, and yet it never ceases to puzzle me. What do I want for my birthday?

I always have this kind of problem. There are things that I need, there are things that I want, and then there are other things that I deeply desire. In a normal situation ("normal" defined as non-birthday), I could easily list them one by one. But when someone actually asks me, I usually fall speechless.

Saya mencoba untuk menjawab kenapa koq susah sekali bagi saya untuk merespon pertanyaan yang satu itu. Apakah karena ada terlalu banyak hal yang saya inginkan? Mungkin. Apakah karena keinginan-keinginan saya terlalu absurd? Ya beberapa memang agak konyol sih. I'm a professional troll after all.

Tapi sejujurnya bukan itu. Saya susah menjawab karena saya tahu apa yang saya inginkan itu bisa berubah dengan cepat. Sekarang maunya begini, nanti maunya begitu. Kalau saya memberi jawaban A, bisa-bisa nanti saya malah kepingin B. Saya takut menyesal, takut mengecewakan orang yang sudah capek-capek memberikan apa yang saya minta. Bagi saya, lebih baik mereka memberi tanpa saya harus meminta secara spesifik.

Lagipula, saya juga bingung karena semakin saya mengutarakan suatu permintaan, semakin saya menyadari bahwa permintaan itu worthless, egois, dan sesungguhnya tidak terlalu perlu. Memang, beberapa hal di dunia ini boleh dinikmati just because. Dan toh saya juga punya guilty pleasure. Tetapi kalau harus meminta dari orang lain (sebagai hadiah ulang tahun, lagi!), rasanya koq sia-sia.

Because I know that I cannot trust even myself with this stuff, I turn to God for suggestions. What does God want for me? What should I ask from Him? Tentunya saya ingin jawaban saya menyenangkan hati Tuhan, seperti Raja Salomo yang menyenangkan hati-Nya dengan meminta kebijaksanaan alih-alih kekayaan atau kekuasaan. Saya selalu berusaha menyelaraskan keinginan terdalam saya dengan kehendak Tuhan. Masalahnya, yang namanya keinginan terdalam, hasrat jiwa, bahasanya pun bahasa jiwa. Tidak mudah untuk diutarakan. Semakin sederhana konsepnya, maka semakin sulit kata-katanya. "Saya ingin cinta". "Saya ingin kedamaian". "Saya ingin hidup yang baik". Orang mana yang tidak akan bingung atau kesal bila dimintai hal seabstrak itu?

Kedua, sebuah fakta yang pasti: tiap-tiap hari merupakan proses pendewasaan. Perubahan. Perkembangan. Saya hari ini berbeda dengan saya yang kemarin. Tidak semua hal yang saya inginkan hari ini survive sampai besok. Dan yang bisa survive hanyalah hal-hal yang abstrak itu tadi. They are never-ending desires. Never enough, never sated. Benda-benda di dunia, bagaimanapun indahnya, dahsyatnya, dan bagaimanapun senangnya kita saat menerimanya, itu hanyalah icip-icip dari hasrat jiwa yang sejatinya, yaitu yang kekal dan yang benar.

Maka dari itu, janganlah heran kalau saya tampak bingung ketika ditanyai, seolah saya tidak tahu apa yang saya mau. Saya tahu, koq. Tetapi tidak ada yang bisa mengerti atau memenuhinya dengan tepat selain Tuhan. Saya pikir akan lebih baik kalau memohon langsung pada Tuhan saja. Bukannya saya tidak senang diberi hadiah atau kue lho! Tetapi kalau memang berniat menghadiahi saya, silahkan pilih sendiri, tidak perlu bertanya, karena apapun yang diberikan kepada saya akan saya hargai betul-betul. Mencari tahu apa persisnya yang saya idamkan adalah percuma saja.

"I wonder if I've been changed in the night?
Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning?
I almost think I can remember feeling a little different.
But if I'm not the same, the next question is,
Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle!"
-Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland-

Friday, 24 August 2012

O Serene Face

O serene face
Unscathed by Death
Youthful in years, in wisdom old
An innocent that holds
a knowledge not of this world

O face of the blessed
Always humble, always quiet
Though meek is she
As meek is He
That serene face
is as an army
in battle array

O perfect adorer
Who magnifies the Lord forever
Show us the secrets
in your serene face
Your fiat, o beauty, teach us
From sin, guard us
And to your Son, lead us


This poem is partly inspired by this beautiful article.

Monday, 20 August 2012

The Unexpected

Hello again.

Around 9 weeks ago, when I read the announcement letter for my Public Health rotation, I was moderately surprised: the letter told me that I had been partnered with someone I never worked with before. Let me tell you first: I had guessed that I'd be partnered with someone else, a girl from my own original team, because in our hospital, we were the only two left for Public Health. However, that letter proved differently.

There were a few things that concerned me about partnering with this person:
1. Like I said, I'd never worked with her before, so I hadn't been familiar with her work ethics and habits and all that are essential for professional success,
2. I hadn't known her personally because we had only been classmates but never friends (ya know, we didn't hang out together and all that), and
3. She would be the ONLY other team member in our team. It was only the two of us, so we HAD to work it out or we'd be doomed to hell extreme stress failure.

Thus far, I only knew Lala, as she prefers to be called, as a girl who was very much involved in virtually every major event and organisation at our campus. She had been an active student, she got to know the big bosses in a more personal way, and oddly enough she always managed to maintain her grades. Meanwhile, I was quite content with studying, although I did occasionally sign up for some organisations because I liked their merchandise (I love varsity merchandise, especially jackets!). I was more active in online forums and art galleries. I bonded with some professors, but always more professional than personal.

In short: I felt that she and I were too different.

I remember she texted me: "Kita IKM bareng ya Ann"* and I simply replied "Haha iya"** (of course my "haha" was as expressive as Kristen Stewart's face). Then the next day I did Awkward Thing #1: I asked her directly, and shamelessly, about her work habits. I asked her whether she was a last-minute person, or very scheduled, or what. I wanted it all laid out in the open so that I could have a proper expectation. Yeah I don't know what I was thinking!

But then, when you leave it up to God and endure what you think won't work, something strange happens: it works. It more than works, it works beautifully. Over the course of 8 weeks, Lala and I became very good friends. It turns out that she is a fun person to be with, and mind you, it's not everyday I consider someone that way. Lala is a total culinary adventurer, she took me to new eating places, all of them happened to fit my taste. She eats A LOT. She, like me, is a fan of cute things, especially teddy bears. She too, like me, has a similar style preference in fashion. And she, like me, dreams to travel the whole of Indonesia. She can discuss a wide variety of topics, from clothes to shoes to medicine (of course!) to guys to holiday destinations. It also happens that our differences are complementary to each other, instead of clashing.

Nearing the end, we found out that at first both of us silently questioned each other. Just like I had been surprised about getting her as my partner, she too had wondered why two girls from two different hospitals and possibly two different sets of personality could be teamed up together.

Now I'm wondering whether our clerkship director has been somewhat of a clairvoyant. Or a troll. Either one, I'm wholly grateful.

Looking back, I feel that I'm being reminded, again, about how God has a sense of humour after all. He is full of [good] surprises, and He is a great storyteller. He builds suspenses, He creates twists. With God, life is truly an adventure.

So. Here's to The Unexpected.

* "We're doing Public Health together, Ann."
** "Haha yes."

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

"Attitude, attitude"

Attitude, not brain, is the most important thing during clerkship. It has its own set of grading. It can mark you up or mark you down. And since clerkship is essentially a sneak peek of the [medical] workforce, it could be safely assumed that attitude is also the most important thing in the professional working world.

The problem is, the word "attitude" has a wide interpretation.

Merriam-Webster has a handful of definitions for "attitude":
1 : the arrangement of the parts of a body or figure; posture
2 : a position assumed for a specific purpose <a threatening attitude>
3 : a ballet position similar to the arabesque in which the raised leg is bent at the knee
4 : a) a mental position with regard to a fact or state <a helpful attitude>, OR b) a feeling or emotion toward a fact or state
5 : the position of an aircraft or spacecraft determined by the relationship between its axes and a reference datum (as the horizon or a particular star)
6 : an organismic state of readiness to respond in a characteristic way to a stimulus (as an object, concept, or situation)
7 : a) a negative or hostile state of mind, OR b) a cool, cocky, defiant, or arrogant manner

The attitude referred to in clerkship has a slightly different meaning, though clearly it is not "a ballet position". It generally means how you conduct yourself. But here's the catch: your conduct has to appeal both professionally and personally.

We all know the examples of a professional conduct in medicine: coming on time, doing all the assignments, dressing appropriately, assessing patients systematically, so on and so forth. There are written rules governing these matters, and usually no one has a problem following them.

A personally-appealing attitude, on the other hand, is a lot trickier. It relies heavily on the concept of respect; but what, then, is respect? This is when the definition of attitude, and respect, gets easily abused. Because, it's not only about, say, addressing your superiors correctly. Frankly speaking, often it's more about kissing people's asses and/or bribing. Actually, these two overlap so much so that I will just consider them as one and the same thing.

Well, kinda like this, but a little less cute.

Of course, most would explicitly deny the need of such [un]professional conduct (although yes, a few others will just plainly "request for your generosity"). But really? It's like, when you bring a gift to someone and they say, "Aw, you don't have to!", what would you do? Do you withdraw that gift? No, you still give that gift, and that person will still accept it. It may need a little soft coercion here and there, but we all know it: that polite rejection at the beginning is a reverse psychology trick to make sure that the giver is giving sincerely, without previous threats or pressures from the receiver or other people, even if said threats/pressures do exist.

That's what happens in clerkship here in Indonesia. The typical bribing in secrecy is very rare; it can be officially sanctioned, and even though the law enforcement is weak, still there's a law against it. Gift-giving, however, is very much welcome, because... well, it's a gift, an act of kindness. You do not refuse an act of kindness. The gift in question is commonly some kind of food or snacks for "daily ransom", and larger ones, even a full lunch with appetizers and desserts, for farewell at the end of each rotation. Depending on the department, some will require something else, like maybe a new vase, a new cupboard, a new couch for the doctor's lounge, a TV,... you can never tell.

No one ever begs to differ. And none of us wants to imagine what will happen if a group of students leave a rotation WITHOUT leaving something, a tangible object in that department. Well, there may or may not be a problem. But it would be so uncommon that problem is more likely. *sigh*

I'm aware that I'm walking on a tightrope here. There's a fine line between diplomacy and bribing. Throwing a feast, a banquet, a party, is an integral part of political diplomacy around the world. This is especially prominent in Indonesia, where the concept of "kekeluargaan" (Google translates that as "kinship") is still very strong. If you ask me now, I can't even articulate exactly when diplomacy stops being diplomacy and starts being ass-kissing. But somehow, you know it when you see it (or do it).


So. Dear people NOT in medicine, please please PLEASE respect your doctors! You had no idea, didn't you?

PS. If you can suggest some clear contrasting features between diplomacy and ass-licking/bribing, I'm all ears.

PSS. Fortunately, there are still doctors and professors who uphold competence, both theoretical and practical, in a superior place. God bless them.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Unfolding the Rosebud

It is only a tiny rosebud, 
A flower of God's design; 
But I cannot unfold the petals 
With these clumsy hands of mine.

The secret of unfolding flowers 
Is not known to such as I. 
God opens this flower so sweetly, 
When in my hands they fade and die.

If I cannot unfold a rosebud, 
This flower of God's design, 
Then how can I think I have wisdom 
To unfold this life of mine? 

So, I'll trust in Him for His leading 
Each moment of every day. 
I will look to Him for His guidance 
Each step of the pilgrim way. 

The pathway that lies before me, 
Only my heavenly Father knows. 
I'll trust Him to unfold the moments, 
Just as He unfolds the rose.

Unfolding the Rosebud by Bryan T. Burgess

Lab fishbones

This morning I had a happy accident.

I stumbled on a tweet by the ever-enlightening Dr. K (@medschooladvice) where he posted a link to a rounding sheet he once used. Brilliant, I could've used that for EVER. On that sheet, however, I spotted two curious shapes in the labs boxes, each made of lines crossing each other seemingly in a purposeful manner. I had never seen such things before. Someone else, probably one of Dr. K's fellow followers, helped answer my question, saying that those are called "lab skeletons" or "lab fishbones".

So I googled that and I found that these skeletons are helpful device to record of lab results in a very compact way. Here are some fishbones and their codes for you to use:

Coffee Theory

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Book Review: Madre

Judul: Madre
Penulis: Dee
Penerbit: Bentang Pustaka
Negara: Indonesia
Tebal: 160 halaman
Genre: Literary fiction, kumpulan puisi, kumpulan cerpen

Tadinya saya membaca buku ini di toko buku (dan berhasil selesai!) dan tidak berniat beli. Entah kenapa, Madre tidak se-menggoda Filosofi Kopi. Apa karena warna sampulnya yang oranye yang tidak begitu saya suka, entahlah. Pertama kali yang saya baca dari buku ini adalah puisi-puisinya. Seperti biasa, puisi Dee itu simpel, bahasanya lugas, namun cerkas; tidak mendayu-dayu namun romantis juga. Sementara itu, kisah utama tentang Madre si adonan biang, bagi saya awalnya tidak terlalu menarik. Apalagi, cerita ini sekaligus juga yang terpanjang. Nggak ngerti apa maksudnya menceritakan sebongkah adonan sepanjang itu. Tapi ya karena sudah terlanjur percaya sama Dee, saya paksakan juga membacanya. Dan akhirnya selesai juga satu buku ini.

Secara keseluruhan, Madre bernuansa lebih lembut daripada Filkop. Ya sesuai mungkin ya, dengan tema utamanya. Satu tentang roti yang soft, satunya lagi tentang kopi yang tajam. Satu lebih abstrak, satunya lebih praktis. Memang saya lebih suka yang kedua. Lebih nyantol di memori, tanpa perlu kehilangan sense of wonder-nya.

Madre sendiri berbicara seputar kehidupan yang bersumber dari benda mati ("Madre"), komunikasi dalam diam antara ibu dengan janinnya ("Rimba Amniotik"), pencarian jodoh seorang laki-laki berdasarkan tanda-tanda alam yang misterius ("Have You Ever?"), evolusi drastis yang dapat terjadi dalam diri seorang manusia ("Guruji"), dan jiwa bebas seorang perempuan yang pada akhirnya mendarat di tanah yang lama ("Menunggu Layang-layang"). Membaca cerpen-cerpen dalam Madre itu seperti diajak berkelana tak tentu arah, mencari sesuatu yang tidak jelas, tapi pokoknya mencari sesuatu, dengan harapan sesuatu itu ada, meskipun belum tentu juga ada. Bukan berarti ceritanya jadi jelek sih. Tetapi, bersama Madre, memang kita tidak ditakdirkan untuk menjejak bumi.

This review is also available on Goodreads.