Saturday, 12 May 2012

If I could go back in time...

...would I change it all?

Last week I had the opportunity to do one of my all-time favourite activities: girl-talk with mum. I asked her, over a bowl of fruit salad and a glass of oatmeal drink, was she pleased with choosing medicine and being a doctor as her life path? Had she ever regretted her decision? Had she envied the lives of her non-medical friends?

Before I go on, let me tell you: at that time, I was experiencing my lowest point. A low point in life for me is when I suddenly lose interest in what I'm doing. It's when I suddenly stop and think, What am I doing right now? What's the point of this? Am I actually getting somewhere? Or am I just torturing myself and pretending that I'm going forward while in reality I'm dead-stuck? Then usually I would look around and find my friends in other fields seem to bathe in the joy of a simple life with no pressure, no night shifts, no carefully calculating dosages of medications or measuring people's urine output every 8 hours.

I have to admit, I get very jealous sometimes. I especially envy people who work in the creative industry.  Those who know me well, know that in addition to being science-minded, I'm also very artistic. One high school teacher once told me that I have a balanced brain. I'm proud of this identity, and if there's one thing I fear in life, it would be giving up one side of my brain. Sometimes I worry that medicine demands so much of my scientific side that I forget how to paint a beautiful tree, or how to describe an alien planet from imagination.

But anyway, here's my mum's answers: 1) yes, she is pleased with her decision, 2) no, she had never regretted it, and 3) no, she had never envied her non-medical friends. What the hey? My first impulse was to push her a bit, to find out if she was lying just for the sake of encouraging me. But I decided to ask her this instead: WHY?

And mum being the ever-so-prepared mum, she gave me these:

1) She is pleased with her decision because being a doctor is all she had ever wanted.

2) She had never regretted her decision because of the same reason above.

3) She had never envied her non-medical friends because thanks to medicine, she knows what her friends don't.

My mum always describes medicine almost as a sacred field, exclusively handed down to only a select handful. And she has always known that she's meant to be a doctor. Nice one, I think, but unfortunately my life goal isn't that sharp just yet. There are a lot of things I want to experience, and I have this strange desire to be remembered as Anna who is a... [insert a main job] but is also a.... [insert another cool job here] and a.... [maybe another one would do?]. In short, I don't want to be easily categorized and thus stereotyped. Yes, this might be my ego speaking, but at least my ego is honest. And the problem is, right now medicine is starting to drown me further and deeper into itself.

There are indeed times when I am proud, and happy, that I am in medicine. I won't deny, there is certainly that feeling that everybody looks up to you. Especially if you live in a third world country. Historically, a healer is the king's advisor and often also a high priest. Going from that tradition, lots of people will automatically trust you when you are a doctor. If you are a good person, that will give you a sense of being humbled, of having a huge admirable responsibilities.

The uniqueness of being a doctor, I think, is that we are strangely intimate with our patients. Maybe even without us realizing it. We doctors, we come to care about strangers who we normally don't give a damn. Patients will tell us about their urine, feces, sexual habits, and God knows what else, just because we casually ask them. Patients will go naked for us. Patients will let themselves pricked, punctured, sliced, invaded, by us, because they trust us so much. Most of us will just be coolly professional about this, but think about it for a moment.

Then the intimacy gets a little overwhelming. Sometimes patients seem to forget that we are mere humans, just like them. We need food. We need sleep. (Heck yeah, we NEED sleep!) We need some "me" times. We need relationships. We need a TV show to laugh at, music to enjoy, our own family to care for. Normally people would understand this and refrain from asking for help when they think the other party is unavailable. But when you are a doctor, or a med student even, people will be more comfortable of asking your help ANYTIME. They don't care if your legs are starting to feel like they are coming off. They don't care if your sanity is slowly slipping away. Patients, I'm not blaming you, but have you ever considered that your presence in the ED / clinic / ward could turn us a little less healthy?

That being said, I have finally decided that I am grateful to be a [future] doctor. Why? Because as a Christian, you're supposed to love until it hurts. Sure you can do that in any other fields, but medicine certainly provides the second best opportunity after priesthood, to be in total service for others. It is a neverending school of God's divine love.

So the question: If I could go back in time, would I change it all? Very likely that I would, but then the regret will be unbearable.


  1. "Because as a Christian, you're supposed to love until it hurts. Sure you can do that in any other fields, but medicine certainly provides the second best opportunity after priesthood, to be in total service for others. It is a neverending school of God's divine love..."

    Just like this statement above. I think, you have known that we as a doctor is being a prolongation of God's helping or prolongation of God's hand. So, we have to serve the patients or anyone carefully without hurt them as we can. :)

    1. True that. But sometimes we get drowned in details and forget the big picture :-/


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