Old Age is Coming, Soon Enough

At the end of an impromptu upcountry visit, I was quite reluctant to get back to the mental drudgery of medical school. The serene countryside ambiance was naturally invigorating and enlivening, a stark contrast to city life. I had neither heard the disturbing, piercing cry of a woman who had lost her loved one nor encountered any tinge of hospital funk for the past approximately forty six hours. Two days! That was quite something.

So here I was again on a vehicle heading back to the city. I was waiting for other passengers to board so we could get moving. My mind drifted off to some obscure thoughts. The amount of mental clutter running to and fro in my cranium is sometimes enough to trigger an absence seizure. Anyway, my thought train ground to a startling halt when a boarding passenger heaved themselves on the seat right next to mine pushing me right up against the window.

I was forced to turn to get a glimpse of this person who lacked the decency to stick to the code of personal space. My stare landed on the plethoric face of a young, short and plump woman. She was panting a little. I guess the effort spent to defy gravity for a good thirty centimeters as she was hauling her body into the vehicle had left her lungs bereft of air. As I was settling from the sudden discomfort, she flung a flabby arm in my direction beckoning me to open the window a bit more. I did it reluctantly, after which she beckoned a hawker and asked for two cold Fanta Orange sodas. She then stuck her hand in a fittingly fat purse and after rummaging for several seconds, she dug out some archaic note to pay the peddler. With the drinks clamped under her arm, she proceeded to uncork one bottle, swung her head back and generously bathed her buccal cavity and throat with this cold, orange, fizzing, calorie rich liquid. I watched in bewilderment as the events unfolded almost hitting her with the cliche ‘food is not your friend!’ but I knew one better.

She was a young woman, the type that are laden with volatile emotion. Such comments no matter how sincere or true have the propensity to culminate in word battles, physical exchanges, gore or even burials in unmarked graves. You may call me timid all you want to. In my defence, I chose to stand for my pacifist beliefs. World peace shalt not be compromised by things as meagre as medical students telling fierce looking obese damsels to watch what they eat. I sat tight, plugged in my earphones and got my thought train chugging away once again. It was going to be a long two hour travel to Nairobi.

Back at home three weeks later, I am now trying to enjoy my holiday and feeling happy that my junior medic years are officially over. I suddenly realize something: this is my third last holiday at home as a dependent. I have mixed emotions about it. Before I even get my mind to think it through, I am jolted back to reality. My mum has just sat next to me letting out the ‘grunt’. You know, that noise old people make when they sit down? I call it the indicative ‘noise of senescence’.

Again it hits me. My mum has indeed aged. I joke to her about it. She laughs and blushes then resolves to renew her gym membership. Her face is not wrinkled, just treaded with womanly and motherly experience. Expounding that is beyond me. A lot has changed about her. She neither even shouts as loud nor as long as she could do when my brother and I were younger. That is when we would know that we were in real trouble. The days when mothers would yell at you to go to your room, not so that you can have some time to introspect about your latest breach of the family protocol, but to have limited space to manoeuvre during the inevitable whooping.

Isn't it interesting how certain ages, men and women look pretty much the same?
Isn’t it interesting how certain ages, men and women look pretty much the same?

My father walks in at that convenient moment. His physique too has borne the brunt of time. His stifled limp, a consequence of osteoarthritis of the hip. It pains him sometimes. His demeanor, however, is that of a young man. He too sits down with the ‘grunt’ and proceeds to sip his tea slowly. He takes the remote control and flips channels hoping to catch the news. He then relaxes on his seat and strikes me with some intriguing parlance, the kind that is intellectually erotic. Politics of the day, sports, relationships, philosophy, random people on the streets: topic after topic, we wear down the clock as conversation is intermittently punctuated with humor. My dad never holds  his laugh. He takes it from deep within his diaphragmatic recesses laughing heartily like a wild lad. His somewhat large belly trembles in unison to his guffaws. I often find myself in a dilemma on whether to laugh at his jokes or to  laugh at him. It is always a good evening when he is around.

I now fathom how the youth of the physique lasts only for a while.  For different reasons and at different rates, we all age gradually. How well that happens, depends on our genes and our bodies. Both my grandfathers lived to a century plus. I am not sure how much longevity or immortal blood runs in my veins. I do, however, believe in the need for us to take care of ourselves. I admit that I probably should have found a way to talk to our ‘passenger-friend’ about her weight ‘problem’. Maybe some carefully delivered counsel on obesity predisposing to a poor quality of life, restrictive respiratory diseases and heart attacks at a young age would have worked. I wouldn’t know.

I also think that young people should not despise their friends who don’t drink as much, party as hard, and who adhere to some structured diet. There sure is a chance that, at some point in life, we could all get hit by the proverbial ‘bus’ or be a casualty statistic to some unforeseen cataclysmic event. But if such morbid things don’t come to pass, some of us may end up taking our grand children for walks in the park while the rest are restricted to their wheel chairs, passing urine via a catheter, wearing an uncomfortable adult diaper, inhaling from an oxygen mask and frequently cursing the grim reaper’s poor swing of his scythe. It’s rather obvious who falls in which category. After all, you don’t really only live once now do you?

 

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A Tale of the Guy who feigned Malady

Like any blogger gone M.I.A, I should probably start this post by explaining my long hiatus to my imaginary audience and fans perhaps, if there are any. The frailty with which the latter statement strokes my ego tickles me I tell you. So I will just hit you with the usual ‘I am a medical student’ crass, ergo my absence is self explanatory. Bottom line, I’ve really missed posting here. Its been a while.

I have never had a brain scan done on me, but I have a feeling it would closely resemble something like this…

But here I go again…

There was this day last week, my two nerdy colleagues and I were just from sitting for the mother of all exams. The end of years for the first year of clerkship are surely no mean feat. The hardest part of junior clerkship is perhaps when you have to convince your seniors that you are of at least average reasoning even when sometimes they leave you wondering whether you have the intelligence quotient of an enema bag.

Summarily, I had walked into that exam room with caffeine in my veins and I walked out with diffuse axonal injury. That’s medic-lore for something more severe than a concussion. I actually had to grope out of the examination room. To our utter dismay the university transport available at the time wasn’t enough to ferry all students back to our campus which was half way across the city.

We decided to sketch our way to the bus station and use public means instead.

The scorching tropical sun, noise and choking fumes from the traffic did not make our early afternoon any easier. Couple that with cranky, overly sleepy minds and the colossal duress of examinations resting squarely on our aching backs and we were one glum trio. Somehow, we managed to hop into one of the commuter trains from whence the drama started…

As we waited for a few other passengers to board, some young man got into the bus. Well, there wasn’t much pomp about him until seconds after his uneventful entrance when some chesty, cut-throatish voices rent the front of the bus. Barely craning my neck, I noticed the same guy holding some banners and writhing his frame in the strangest of manner. It was a complicated blend of a drunkard’s gait, a seizure, and worm-like movements. His face was overtly bathed in big beads of sweat, his facial muscles contorted into a worrisome grimace: the portrait of a man who may have been experiencing his worst episode of constipation yet.

At this juncture, thanks to medical school, all my weariness slipped away fast as curiosity immediately sank in its place.

This fellow was passing the miniature banners around begging for money. When he got to the back of the bus where we were seated I tried to study him closely; his demeanor and behavior to figure out exactly what was wrong with him. His fliers didn’t help much either. All they had was a request for financial assistance so he may get medical help and what was supposed to create contrast and earn sympathy: a picture of a younger version of him in elementary school perhaps. Frankly, the only change this guy seemed to have gone through other than his very weird aura was physiological aging. I dug into my exhausted mind to get a fitting diagnosis but it clearly didn’t want any digging into.

Anyway after failing to get any help, the young man shuffled back to the passenger exit. Then something even more strange happened. He just totally snapped out of it. He straightened up and slapped the door vehemently asking the driver to slow down so he could alight. And all about him were clearly amazed and very perturbed by his act. Who really does that?

What do you even make of such a man?

I’ll tell you this. Other than the fact that his performance could earn him a place in a good drama school and probably be a sturdy foundation to a stellar acting career, I will choose to overlook the fact that his moral compass blatantly points to the true South. My diagnosis for such a man is nothing more than severe mental myopia.

Healthy and seemingly talented, he yet chooses to live in the paucity of fleecing plenty of hardworking others off their change. Maybe I am missing something. But for the larger part, I think it shows what happens when we refuse to recognize the profoundness of our natural abilities and hence fail to exploit them in vigor, beneficence and sincere gratitude.

As such this should not merely pass as an experience, but be ingrained as the important lesson that it is. Pulling weird acts in buses makes other people really uncomfortable. It doesn’t pay that well either. Okay, here is the real lesson- If there are better things you can do with your life, never settle for less.

Sitting Duck

A general practitioner, a pediatric physician, a psychiatrist, a surgeon and a pathologist set out for duck hunting one day. Shot guns in hand, they found a nice spot to lay in wait.

 

As the first duck flew within range, the GP trained his gun then hesitated saying, “Wait a minute, is that a duck? I need a second opinion…” The duck flew away.

 

A second duck approached the range. This time the pediatrician called dibs. He took aim but just before firing, he noted, “It sure does look like a duck, but what if it has babies?” As he contemplated, the duck flew past.

 

Another duck came in sight. The psychiatrist who was next in line took aim then hesitated as he thought out loud, “I know that is a duck, but does it know that it is a duck?” Before he could make up his mind, the duck was gone.

 

After a while, another duck flew within range and this time the surgeon took aim. ‘BOOM!’ and the duck fell into the ground. As the ringing noise in their ears died out, the surgeon nudged the pathologist saying, “Go confirm what it is.”

The Immaculate Conception

A mother and her daughter were at the gynecologists office. The concerned mother asked the gynecologist to examine her daughter. “She has been having strange symptoms for the past few weeks and I’m worried about her,” she said.

The doctor examined the daughter carefully then announced, “Madam, I believe your daughter is pregnant.”

The mother was flabbergasted. “That’s nonsense! I know my daughter, she has nothing whatsoever to do with men.” She turned to the daughter and asked, “you don’t do you dear?”

“No mum,” she said, “you know that I would never so much as kiss a man!”

The doctor looked at the mother, then at the daughter and back again. He then silently stood up and stood next to a window staring out. He continued staring until the silence compelled the mother to ask, “Doctor, is there something out there?”

“No, madam” he said. “It’s just that the last time something like this happened a star appeared in the East. I was looking to see if another one was going to show up.”

Why I want to be a Doctor

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The moment right after passing my high school entry examinations remains nostalgic. If I’d travel back in time and passed my exams well enough to get the media scurrying home, I’d wait for that ‘What would you like to be when you grow up?’ question and promptly answer, ‘Adult’. Yes I said it, -Adult. Here is why…

My take is that people have rather deluded ideas of what being a doctor is. The society and even some doctors think that being in the medical field is a calling. I used to think the same till I asked myself; ‘who really called me?’ If it even was a message -let alone a calling, me thinks it was hand written, in hieroglyphics; slit into a split stick and sent to me via the fastest runner within a hundred mile radius. Seldom, I think he only got to deliver that message because I wasn’t running fast enough in the opposite direction. That happens when I am on a low run of course.

The process starts with being a medical student. This is where you are confined to Med School Maximum Security Prison. They pressurize you with all the medical jargon here. The more you learn, the more you realize how much more you do not know and the more you forget. You even forget yourself. In fact, your social circle is relegated to your loved ones, a few like-minded friends with whom you share ‘sick’ jokes, and many more sick ‘friends.’ You appreciate what it really means to be sick get well and accept that people die. Your responsibility- to be seen and not heard… and when it’s required that you be heard, it should mostly be the sound of your tongue diligently licking your consultants boots and making sense while you are at it. Once your saliva is exhausted and your seniors can see a vague reflection of your face on their shoes, they may let you graduate.

Being a doctor is enjoyable. We derive satisfaction from fixing people. It is that rush of solving the mysteries of body versus disease that pushes us forward. The times we are able to cheat death and bargain with life for a little more time on behalf of our patients. Those amazing moments we venture even deeper to do ‘repair’ and ‘replacement’ as in surgery. Believe me, it takes people with more guts than a kid with mega colon. We feel like demi-gods while we are at it. Not many have the privilege to do that after all, let alone the balls. That is what our profession is about. Restoring life, health and purpose where it was dwindling. But then again, it is never that simple.

The world embraces you in its stony arms. Society thinks you are a miracle worker on a path to riches. You have a sworn duty to your patients, and you must keep abreast with new information to stay sharp. You lose sight of what is important. It all is anyway. They miss you at home, you are never there. You console yourself that you are going out life and limb for others, for humanity. Even the closest to you never seem to understand you. You got used to this in med school. Since then, there was never enough of you to go around. This either distracts you, or you resign to forgetting yourself all the more.

 At the hospital, you have many lives to save. Depending on how good you are, you save most and lose a few. Sometimes it is your fault, other times it is beyond you. It’s unfortunate that you can’t save them all. It hurts deep, this realization. You could sit down and wallow in glum; they call it being human. I’ve learnt to square my jaw and forge ahead like it never happened; I call it protecting my heart. Despite all that’s on your shoulders, you tell yourself that you have to do better next time. You don’t have a choice, you simply have to.    

‘Why did I want to be a doctor?’ I ask again. Too many times I have answered this question a little too hastily. I made a choice… No, I love it all. But once in a while, I am not so sure. I could do business, disaster management, or try physical education. Simple things to do, albeit you make way more than your input accounts for. Maybe I should find a better answer to this question. Until then, let’s have a moment of silence, I need to introspect: play me some good music, to whose lyrics I can relate: as I flip through a book, coarse enough to sharpen my intellect: just understand me for being me, that, I’ll truly appreciate.