To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.

It’s not about that warm, fuzzy feeling inside

I have recently been involved in the Neighbourhood Health Service (NHS), a project by the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine that aims to provide free health screenings and follow-up care to Singaporeans in the heartlands. It has been a real struggle, but a rewarding experience nonetheless. Most importantly, It has set me thinking about my future career in medicine.

During NHS, I have had the opportunity to talk to Singaporeans from all walks of life; from young medical residents on the rise, to socially isolated elderly with a plethora of health and social issues. As I was helping out at the various screening stations, I interacted with “dream patients”. These patients were friendly, understanding, patient and a joy to talk to. Helping them gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. I found myself constantly thinking afterwards, “This is why I want to be a doctor.” I was helping people who were grateful for our actions.

On the other hand, I also encountered “difficult patients”. They were rude, impatient and confrontational. Initially, I found myself increasingly frustrated with them. Here we were, trying our best to provide a free health service with limited resources and yet they still were so demanding, impatient and even unreasonable at times. Talking to them and trying to placate them was emotionally draining and left me feeling hollowed-out. I was worried, would I have to deal with this all the time in my future career?

It was only as I was taking the train home, after a long and grueling 15-hour work day, that I began to realize that maybe I had gotten it all wrong. If the only thing that was fulfilling to me was helping “dream patients”, perhaps I had chosen the wrong profession and was setting myself up for a lifetime of disappointment and unfulfilled expectations.

People see doctors when they are at their most vulnerable and worst. It is understandable then, that patients are often frustrated and unreasonable. The role of a doctor is to engage patients with empathy and understanding; to swallow pride, cast aside prejudice and look beyond the many layers of frustration and belligerence encasing patients like a shell; to find that little glimmer of humanity within them, their true, vulnerable and profoundly human side; and then to appeal to that common understanding of what it means to be human, what it means to suffer and experience tremendous unfairness and loss.

As the poet Ted Hughes once said, “The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.”

To be a doctor, is to be your best when people are at their worst and to never stop searching for the best in them. It’s not about chasing that warm, fuzzy feeling. It’s precisely the feeling of being emptied out inside and emotionally drained that proves that you truly invested enough heart in your patients. Nothing else really counts at all.

Straying off the Path

I feel like I’ve been all over the place these few days. I’m directionless and because of that I rely too much on external factors to keep me happy and sane. I use exercise as morphine and BJJ to validate my worth.

Now that I’m injured (or rather, now that I admit that I am injured and I need to rest), I think I need to recalibrate everything and re-think my life. I know I’m going to throw myself into medicine and work towards becoming the best doctor I can possibly be, but I need to work out the little things. How can I keep sane?

Things I want to do:

1) Start writing more. I should aim to write a poem a week.

2) Brush up my Mandarin and learn conversational Cantonese

3) Contribute to the community. Help MDAS with the transport review and either do NHS or volunteer at Lion’s befrienders.

4) Be more supportive towards Faith.

5) Pick up reading again. Read An Astronaut’s Guide to Life, Mastery, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,  Smiley’s People

Icarus

When I was young, I dreamt large
And nothing was ever enough
I conquered my little world
Looked up to the skies and yearned
For the giddiness of freedom

Charging headfirst into battle
Showing no hint of weakness
All this, evidence for the world
Or maybe, just for myself
Validating my existence

Enticed by the thrill of adventure
I crafted wings of feather and wax
To take me where the brave men search
For gold, for hardship, for glory
Forgetting, it is the same place
Where these men go to dig their graves

To me, young and invincible
Throwing caution into the wind
Familiar rules did not apply
You either aimed for the stars
Or you did not try at all

But I forgot that stars burned
With more fire than my passion
They melt the wax holding my dreams
Leaving me hollow and burnt out
I was dead before I hit the ground

It is true what the wise men say
Hopes and dreams make the best tinder
My head was stuck in the clouds
And I did not hear their warnings
“Do not fly too close to the sun”

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Viktor Frankl, who would’ve been 99 today, on the meaning of life (via explore-blog)

Grit is the disposition to pursue very long-term goals with passion and perseverance. And I want to emphasize the stamina quality of grit. Grit is sticking with things over the long term and then working very hard at it.

Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Grit and the Secret of Success – fascinating look at the work of pioneering psychologist Angela Duckworth, who studies the one personality trait more predictive of success than any other. (via explore-blog)