It’s coming up to the last few weeks of FY1 and after a long week of on-calls, the mountain of shit I have to do begins to crumble on top of me, one pellet at a time. So a massive bar of chocolate (no regrets) and two cups of tea later, I find myself muddling through a presentation about… bones. In the midst of my grand struggle, I recall that I have multiple sets of notes on orthopaedics that I wrote in medschool that I could copy and paste out of so, why, dear lord am I wasting my time on this utter nonsense?
So I hit up the old document region, venturing cautiously into the folder labelled ‘Fourth Year Medicine’, a dark and melancholy abyss that I had conveniently forgotten all about for a year. My mouse furrowed its way even deeper into ‘Musculoskeletal’, then even further still into ‘Lower limb orthopaedics’.
In that instant, my world just broke.
Before my eyes, I see reams and reams of typed notes that I had forgotten all about, complete with diagrams and jokes (yes, JOKES because I had to entertain myself through the extreme boredom and time commitment involved in writing them). Stepping back and inspecting the cave that is ‘Fourth year medicine’, laid out before my eyes are multitude of beautifully typed documents, exactly like the one I had open on my screen. Then I picture my attic floor. Therein, sit eight massive files full of colour coded, handwritten notes that literally have their own gravitational field. Want a summer body? Squat my medschool files. Suddenly, I’m absolutely seething.
‘Fuck you, medschool!” I think. When my gorgeous boyfriend describes all his hilarious nights out with his crazy friends during his university days, I’ve often found myself sitting there thinking ‘I swear I’m fun… why are my medschool memories so patchy?’ And here, in front of me, I see the answer, clear as the sky above the Love Island Villa. I spent five years pouring my sweat, blood, time, emotions, tears and life into ‘Lower Limb Orthopaedics’ and the equivalent. I worked until my brain could no longer function. And for what? For a grade that said I’d passed, issued in a heartless building that couldn’t give less of a flying fuck in those fleeting moments before finals where I thought I would never make it through the depression, the low self esteem, the shit, in essence that medschool bestowed upon me.
You know I passed my French A-Level with the highest grade in my year? If I’d tried, I could’ve studied Languages at Oxford or Cambridge and had something to show for my abilities. Something more than a thankless degree and not enough nights out propelled by strong gushes of tequila, not enough memories with my friends… not enough of the good stuff, the stuff that really matters.
I take a long, hard look at myself. Let’s accept the reality of life. I have never had the raw intelligence, nor the memory, nor the conceptual brain needed to satisfactorily wade through a medical degree and enjoy my life at the same time. I sacrificed a lot of it, in exchange for sheer hard work and seemingly little reward. I got my piece of paper and the black hat on my head for a day, a few photos on my mum’s phone and walked out, never looking back.
And for what? Was it actually even worth it?
As a junior doctor, and general dogsbody, I’ve come across two types of people. They are broadly classified into ‘Lazy’ and ‘Not lazy’. I fall into the latter category and I’ve often found that the fact I work hard and don’t cop out of shit jobs means that the nurses like me just that little bit more and make me cups of tea during a hellish on call where my bleep doesn’t shut up.
Then there was Chris on the surgical ward yesterday who’s just had his appendix taken out. He’s been feeling kind of rough so I do what all good doctors do- made fun of him and told him the reason I’m not coming back this weekend is because I don’t like him. He told me to stop making him laugh because it hurt his abdomen.
Two months ago, I bent over backwards to arrange a scan for Beth who was 95 and I just knew she was dying. I would’ve done anything for it not to have been on a hospital bed but it was. Days before, she squeezed my hand and said ‘Thankyou Dr Gowri for everything you’ve done for me’. The day she passed away, I hid in the toilet and cried, thinking… I wish I could’ve done more.
Alison left the ward last week. She’d been in before and I happened to find a lump in her breast and thankfully it was benign. This time, she came in for surgery and cried relentlessly for two days after it. When she cried, I went and sat with her, gave her tissues and told her it was normal to feel like the shit trickling out of her stoma bag. The day she left, she gave me a massive hug and I said ‘Alison, in the best way possible, I hope we don’t see each other again’. I don’t think I’ve ever made anyone smile that much.
Then there was Jen who invited me to Cyprus with her, Liz and Betty who let me unleash all my medical students on them so they could practise for their OSCEs, and Ruby, Dot and Paula who all got better from their mental health problems and walked out into their own homes after their long stays in the psychiatry unit.
Once, a colleague told me that he thinks it’s really amazing how I remember people’s names (for clarification; none of the names I’ve used here are real). It’s funny because memory was one of my biggest weaknesses in medschool. But I remember names because I find some way to connect with these incredible people and their amazing stories.
It’s weird how the things other doctors value: clinical competence, knowledge and skills are often different to what patients value: connection and a sense that you’re doing right by them. Interestingly, I never learnt any of this during my degree.
Yet, the fact of the matter is, guys… French at Oxford couldn’t have given me this.
I still feel mad when I look at my medschool notes. I even feel bitter that I could’ve had a better time in my early twenties and I gave some of it up for a piece of paper. Yet, the truth is… that piece of paper gives me the opportunity have these little moments a few times a week, throwing myself into a world outside of myself for people who need it; even if most of the things I do aren’t clever, newsworthy or validated by my senior doctors.
The more of these moments I have… the more I think ‘Yes, yes, yes. It was absolutely fucking worth it’.