Silver Linings

By Anonymous

Sometimes (more like all the time), I wonder whether I’m going to be a good doctor. I’m sure everyone in medical school has thought about this at some point. There’s the constant worry over whether you’re doing the right thing: do I know enough anatomy about the lower limb? How many procedures do I have to do to be excellent? Why isn’t my mindful eating of this chocolate bar working?!?!  But sometimes that question can be a bit blunt and you find yourself asking ‘What if I’m not enough?’.

In a spiralling whirlwind of self-doubt, I often find myself thinking of all the reasons I wouldn’t make a good doctor. Sure, these begin with things like ‘I’ve forgotten the entire brachial plexus’ or ‘shoot, I should probably have most of my logbook signed off by this time of year’; but at the end of the day, it always comes back to one thought. How can I be a good doctor when I’m also a patient?

I’ve struggled with mental health issues for the past 7 years, and the stress of medicine most definitely does not help. I’ve seen counsellors and therapists and psychiatrists, tried medications, tried meditation and a heap of other things. After all that though, I’m still here. As a patient. It’s almost laughable how often I feel unqualified as a medical student – how am I supposed to look after other people when I can’t even look after myself? I’m meant to be learning how to help save lives, not contemplating whether my own is even worth living. Everyone expects me to arrive to hospital smiling and ready to engage myself in a wonderful learning opportunity yet some days, I can’t even get out of bed. Some days, I can’t bring myself to shower or eat. Other days, I make it to class but have panic attacks outside where nobody can see me. How can I be a good doctor, when I myself am plagued with a myriad of problems?

Trying to be a doctor, whilst struggling as a patient, is infuriating and heartbreaking and can make you want to give up altogether. But sometimes, there are moments where I am grateful for what I’ve been through. When you come across somebody with your condition, your understanding as a doctor becomes so much more credible. Not only do you understand the medical side of things, you understand what the patient is going through. Your sympathy becomes empathy. In some way, you feel more comfortable because you can relate to them. I remember first learning about mental health in preclinical years, and a simulated patient came in with ‘depression’. I could see the whole class looking at him with sad eyes, feeling sorry for him as he explained how he no longer enjoyed his hobbies and how everything took effort and seemed like a chore. As he continued to act, I wanted to nod along and say ‘I get it! I really do!’. I wanted to repeat the phrase ‘I understand things have been difficult for you’, but actually mean it this time because I did. I did understand! I was finally able to find an upside to my depression, and it was actually going to help me become a better doctor.

Being a patient and having a life-altering condition can seem like the most annoying and inconvenient thing at times. I wouldn’t wish ill health on anyone, but I guess once you’ve got it, flaunt it. Sometimes, it’s not such a terrible thing after all.

 


If you or someone you know, be it a friend or a colleague, have had a difficult time and wish to seek further help or assistance, you can call LifeLine Australia on 13 11 14, Suicide Callback Service on 1300 659 457, Victorian Doctor’s Health Program on 9495 6011 or visit beyondblue here and headspace here.

Say Cheese

by Joyce Ling

 

Smiles were incompatible with black, but thats not why I never wore one. It felt too personal, too intimate to show someone all your teeth, no matter how white or stained, how neat or braced. It felt like your whole soul was on display, pure and thoughtless feeling. And its fucking terrifying, being vulnerable like that

I loved black, once. If you looked in my wardrobe the whole thing would stare back at you, a dark syncytium breathing defiance. Hoodies and jeans, dresses and dress pants. My life was dominated by a single shade of washout, and I accepted it, because I was told it would pass. Just a mood swing, a phase that every teenager goes through. That made me sad, knowing how many of them were probably thinking about it too

I dressed in the role I perceived myself to have. An intangible, uncertain thing shadowing no one in particular. I was insignificant in this big, big world, a supporting act to other peoples flourishes. Confidence was what I yearned for, and defiance was what I gave. Blatant, resentful attitude. I trampled on my doubts with crude mantras and defied rules, subtly, through thought

Reading was a way, the way, for me to cope. A world of marvel, dashed with blood from the unvoiced. I learned to fill myself with the stories of other people, walked around in their skin until I was tired, asleep. They say you learn valuable things from reading, like empathy and perspective. That may be true, but sometimes I wish I hadnt tried so hard to escape from myself. Because the hollow feeling wasnt just a phase. It was there every time I resurfaced for breath

Coming to terms with who you are is a long, hard task. No moment is defining in an ultimate way, and Im thankful for everything, and everyone, that happens to me. Though they might not know it, every, single one of them has helped me discover who I am now. Theyre the ones that make me want to resurface despite the initial pain and disappointment. Their energy is the appeal of reality

Im grateful that Im here. A speck amidst a shimmering constellation, small and complete in myself. There are times when I want to go back, hide in a warm black corner and enjoy its comforts. But often now, I find myself beyond that. Walking beside the people Ive grown close to in light and shade

I couldnt replenish the emptiness with lives that werent mine, because that space was meant for someone else. Not for any expectation or impression of me, but for the person I am in each, given moment. Expanding with every breath into a new and familiar self

 

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A conversion from Convirgin to Conveteran at Convention

By Bowen Xia

Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre. 7 July, 1:35 pm

Hundreds of ‘tired and emotional’ medical students from the nine states and territories murmur in the crowd. In the middle of the stage sits the AMA WA President, AMSA President and other VIPs who could end your medical career with a single email. On the right-hand side sits the acclaimed UWA team whose university has blitzed the Emergency Medical Challenge, Sports Day and Brawniest Medical Student Challenge.  On the left, the battered and beleaguered away team from Monash, whose university has won a grand total of zero competitions (except the most emergencies triggered). All eyes are on what their first speaker has to say. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, there must be mandatory reporting of mental health issues in doctors.’

*Record scratch*

*Freeze frame*

Yup, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation and how I have a GCS of above 3 at Convention. But to understand how we got from ‘attending convention’ to convincing important doctors and our future colleagues that we are legally obliged to report them to APHRA at the mention of ‘burnout’, we will have to start at the beginning. And no, I did not pass out from a previous night and then wake up on stage conscripted to the Monash Debating Team.

Before I attended AMSA Convention, it seemed like an exotic event where medical students attended not only to create once in a lifetime memories and friendships but to lose them at the same time, the only remnant being a one-week memory gap and 20 unexplained Ubereats orders. I decided to attend, however, after some convincing from friends and a first-ever excuse for visiting Perth. Thus, I joined the enigmatic MUKEG and decided to place my name down for Convention Debating as a joke. I had debated before, but nothing could have prepared me for Convention Debating, where the aim is not only to destroy your opponent’s arguments but to also inflict third-degree burns on your opponent and their university. Personal attacks, once a reason for disqualification, were now necessary and sufficient for success.

At Perth, I was greeted by a lovely Melbourne weather experience consisting of a heavy downpour mixed in with regrets of not bringing an umbrella. On my arrival at the Convention Centre we were all outfitted in our battle gear for this week, the universally acclaimed Monash Camo, with Monash veterans of many conventions decked with more badges than a North Korean General. The camaraderie was palpable in the air, and I soon learnt the traditions of my Convention forebearers and the ceremonies of my elders, such as the boisterous singing of Monash-themed songs and the sport of ‘rowing’.

One of the amazing therapeutic benefits of Convention was the ability to wake up every day at 7 am – a momentous feat considering my immaculate record of absenteeism at 8 am lectures. All this to prepare for the first debate against Adelaide. The Monash Debating teams of previous years were not well acquainted with success after usually being knocked out in the first round. However, we were miraculously successful. We also witnessed the neurotoxic effects of Adelaide’s water as logic and reason were unheard concepts to them. Yet what they lacked in logic they made up for in their roasting, with one of our speakers repeatedly accused of ‘dressing like a sexual offender’. However, there is no trauma a good social night cannot cure. Each social night was a fascinating concoction of music, flashing lights and dancing. Convention socials allowed me to befriend the same person three times. First cordially before social, second during and third the next day asking if we have met before. I have to admit that I was a heavy drinker during Convention – a heavy drinker of water that is, due to one specific sport, ‘Remier League. If you ever spot a group of your friends slapping their arms and faces and making strange sounds, it’s not a satanic ritual, rather an opportunity to experience a decade-long tradition.

The other reason to wake up at 7 am is to register for the awesome academic workshops. I got to experience being a forensic pathologist, orthopod and a plastic surgeon all without placing any patients at harm. The speakers for the plenaries each day were extraordinary, from gold medallists to comedians, it truly was a Convention of brilliant minds and people.

Through a whirlwind of social nights, academic days, sporting events and unprecedented debating victories, the inevitable day of the finals drew closer. As a result of my contribution to debating I was awarded with the prestigious role of ‘Victoria Guard’. I was in charge of defending her honour and dignity but ultimately, she was harmed. My fall from grace, trial and punishment could warrant a new article but let’s return to the scene.

*Unfreeze frame*

My voice falters for a second. Riverside Theatre is silent. I think I have Broca’s Aphasia. I try to continue. Yet what if I embarrass myself? In front of my future colleagues and senior doctors? Then I remember why we were here and how tirelessly we worked to be on stage. I decide if I embarrass myself it will be because I went ‘all in’, not because I ‘folded’.

A tsunami of words runs through my mouth as I run through our model, arguments and a couple of mild bants against the opposition team. There is a bit of scattered laughter throughout the audience, but I do witness a mild smile from one of the VIPs. I end my speech and the debate continues. Both sides are neck and neck in terms of speakers and soon the adjudicators go to decide. They come out.

‘The winner of today’s debate is Monash’. After a second of making sure it’s not a ‘La La Land moment’ our team goes ecstatic. Proud Monash songs fill the room and I think I see Sir John Monash himself smiling in the audience. But all good things come to an end and convention was no exception. I left Perth with my bag a medal heavier, my heart heavy due to the end of Convention and my brain enlightened with lifelong knowledge, experience and memories.


Featured image from AMSA (Australian Medical Students Association): https://www.amsa.org.au/blog/perth-convention-2018-management-team-applications 

Don’t forget to feel

By Anonymous

Content warning: Sexual assault. Some readers may find aspects of this article distressing.

This first-year feels like the “looks can be deceiving” and the “don’t judge a book by its cover” adages have been used extensively in recent times. Probably because they are accurate and important for exposing individuals to the truth. On the outside, to their friends, this first-year seems bubbly, sarcastic, and always up for a joke. They’re on top of their university work, holding down a part-time job and maintaining a social life. What could be the problem? Everything seems to be falling right into place!

Behind closed doors, however, this same first-year is struggling. A lot. Not because of the stresses of med school. Not because of the crippling anxiety from society telling us we must “fit in”. Not even because of their financial difficulties at home. This first-year is struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after being sexually assaulted last year.

It happens to so many people; but it shouldn’t.

This first-year experiences flashbacks of that fateful night last year and cries. They cry and cry and cry until there are literally no tears left. They know it isn’t their fault. They know there isn’t much else they could have done to stop it. They know they have an incredible support network that is truly there for them, no matter what. But it doesn’t always help.

Living with such a debilitating condition is tough. There is such stigma surrounding mental health and too often we, as future medical practitioners, strip the condition back, leaving the individual raw, naked and vulnerable. This first-year recalls an ICL/PBL tutor explaining PTSD as “having bad memories”. Not only did this infuriate this first-year, as the tutor had reduced such a complex combination of thoughts and feelings to merely “bad memories”, but it made this first-year feel invalidated; like their experiences could be stripped down to mere words on a page that miraculously manifest themselves in the anatomy, physiology and pathology of a living, breathing, human. This first-year was just another number next to the name of a condition.

We have become so desensitised to the humanity of medicine. So often this first-year hears “give it time and you won’t be so detached” or “in a couple years you’ll be able to make more rational decisions” or, and this is the worst, “don’t be so emotional”.

This first-year is fed up with being told how to feel. Feeling is natural. It is such an ingrained part of the human psyche that to live without feeling is, in this first-year’s opinion, not living at all. Yes, we are influenced by the clean, crisp whites that surround us in hospital wards. Yes, we are warned of becoming too attached to patients and their lives. But it is reaching the point where we, ourselves, are becoming that sterile, clinical whiteness that surrounds us.

Enough is enough.

This first-year is not trying to tell anyone that the way they cope, process, or understand anything is either right or wrong. Not at all! This first-year is trying to open up a dialogue. A dialogue that attempts to break down taboo points of conversation. A dialogue that aims to strive towards equality and awareness in our community. A dialogue that brings these issues to the surface so we can be cognisant of the fact that these feelings are felt by members of this community and so we can ultimately make a goddamn change!

This first-year will probably cry tonight. They will probably cry and cry and cry until there are no tears left. This first-year’s life will not miraculously improve after letting these feelings out onto this page. But, this first-year’s life will not miraculously end now either. This first-year has a long road ahead and is writing this to begin paving a road that will lead to a more positive future. One with independent thought. One with acceptance and tolerance.

One with feeling.


If this piece has brought up any issues that may be affecting you, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, the South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault (SECASA) on 9594 2289 or the Sexual Assault Crisis Line (SACL) on 1800 806 292.