by Sahail Wani
If someone asked me to tell them how my first year of medical school went, I would say that I thought I would be happier. Continue reading
If someone asked me to tell them how my first year of medical school went, I would say that I thought I would be happier. Continue reading
There are many things that bind the medical student community together; our love of stealing food, the ability to still be bamboozled by an ECG, and of course, our innate skill to lose pens at a rate that Ebola has got nothing on.
But have you ever truly wondered what happens to a pen? Where does it go? What adventures does it have? Ever wonder about the people and things it sees?
Well, if you’re reading this article, you can guess that I have.
My pen’s journey began last year, when I lent it to my consultant who snapped their fingers at me and gestured to my pen as they were on the phone. “Do you also have some paper?” I was also asked, while begrudgingly handing over my favourite black pen.
I was unfortunately called away by a registrar, lured away with the promise of being able to cannulate the next patient. As you can expect, I never did get that pen back, and I assumed it had been lost in the depths of the pen blackhole that is a hospital.
At the same time though, I also imagined that my pen saw many exciting things in its life. It would likely have been used to draw up a drug chart to save a patient from a DVT, or sign path forms for a renal patient on dialysis. It could have been used to write down obs on a glove in ED, or provided comfort to that paeds patient who had left their mark on the hospital (likely on the walls, possibly on the bed covers). It could have also vacationed in world of hospital administration, and heard all the juicy gossip about the number of beds that were not available that week. Who knows what the pen could have done; the possibilities are endless!
Well, in some exciting, awe-striking news, I found the pen.
Nearly a year later, as I rocked up to the first day of my new rotation, I found “pen”, as I affectionately now call it, sitting innocuously in a surgical theatre. “It couldn’t be,” I thought to myself. “After all this time?”
Now, I can imagine some of you scoffing at this story, and some perhaps even accusing me of stealing a pen that perhaps did not even belong to me anymore, for it now belonged to the hospital. Pish-posh, I say. This event was a reunion that would have put The Notebook to shame, and made you weep like the time Mufasa died (it’s been 24 years, and I still cry. Every. Single. Time.)
It would have been a reunion story for the ages, a tale so splendid that David Attenborough would have wanted to make a documentary about it.
That is until the consultant snapped their fingers, and off my pen went on an adventure again.
Featured image from user FP Network on The Fountain Pen Network
My relationship with Medicine has been a tumultuous one. It is very much like I’m dating medicine…
My love for Medicine started with an infatuation – a crush, as some might say. I was attracted to the prospects Medicine offered me. ‘He’ appeared reliable, strong, caring and sometimes even mesmerising. But that is all I know about Medicine. I was attracted to the security he provided me with, the respect everyone seemed to have for him, and his seemingly endless intellect. But that’s not why Medicine was attracted to me. He seemed to respect my diligence, my willingness to make sacrifices for the things I wanted. He appreciated the fact that I could hold my own against him.
Then Medicine asked me out. I vividly remember the day he did so – it was nearly 3 years ago now. Even the fact that he bothered to ask me out seemed like such an honour – people were practically throwing themselves at him – and here I was, a plain Jane, that Medicine asked out. I was elated to say the least. On our first date, he woke me up at 8am in the morning, with a call – telling me not to worry, the first few months of a relationship he said, were always the best – the Honeymoon period, or so he called it. And he was right, Medicine for those months, never ceased to be charming, provocative and ultimately seductive. He could’ve seduced those who were at first, totally uninterested in him, and put off by his demanding attitude. I did not just want to be with him, I wanted to be him.
And then we celebrated our first anniversary. The first of many, I would’ve hoped. He gave me a utilitarian, digital watch and says, ‘I don’t want you to miss any of our appointments – they’re all important’. I was so pleased at the gift – I hadn’t expected any, but at the same time, I was profoundly confused – surely, we will have some time outside of each other?
It was by third year that the cracks in our relationship started to appear. At first, the thought of spending all my time with him had made me so happy, but all of a sudden, as I watched my friends enjoy their social lives, I realised how restrictive our relationship had become. And that wasn’t all. There were stories. People who had dated him before told me to beware of the initial allure, of his initial charms. ‘He doesn’t work out for everyone, you know’, said a friend.
Third year, the relationship had become a chore. He wanted more and more. He was insatiable. My time, my intellect, my life: everything was not enough for him. Nothing was ever enough. Maybe our shabby foundation had started to rattle us. We decided, or rather, I decided, that I needed time away from him – time to do what I loved to do, without him intruding. I just didn’t feel like me anymore – I felt like my life was overrun with assignments, OSCEs, hospital placements and more.
During our time away from each other, I realised how shallow my reasons were for dating Medicine. What had attracted me to Medicine? Was it the unattainability? Was it the glamour? Was it the constant challenge? Was it the allure of making a difference? Perhaps it had been the strange amalgamation of all of the above.
As I contemplated my return to Medicine, I knew I would have to confront all I had learnt in the past 3 years. The reasons that had drawn me to Medicine initially, now appeared feeble – or even slightly repulsive. A return to Medicine would require stronger foundations. I needed to be able to justify the long hours, the years of less than desirable working conditions, the intellectual rigour and the physical exhaustion.
At the end of my deliberation, I decided to return to Medicine. In my cynical moments, I thought I was returning to him because I had nowhere to go. In my moments of positivity, I felt I was returning because of a faith that things would work out between us. But ultimately, the appeal of either of these extremes never lasted. I didn’t want to return to Medicine cynical or hopeful. What I did want to do however, was to return to Medicine not in a way that consumed me; but in a way that allowed me to retain who I was.
This is why we couldn’t date anymore. I look at Medicine now, as an equal. I’m not exhilarated by his presence, and I am no longer ignorant to his flaws. I want Medicine to be part of my life, not my whole life.
Featured image from Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
The Emergency Department had had a quiet Friday evening, and as usual, no-one
dared to actually utter the ‘Q’ word unless they were ready to face the wrath of some
veteran Emergency staff. Just a few broken bones, a few cases of pneumonia, and
the typical bread and butter glorified GP cases – just the usual.
It was a quarter past eleven, and I had just finished documenting the details of my
previous patient, when the ANUM appeared at the door of the hub, straddled the
door frame and announced, “10 minutes before our urosepsis gets here. Get
I had always wanted to see a resus in action, to feel the adrenaline coursing through
my veins – it had only been a few weeks earlier that I had taken part in a simulation
session. There were certainly recounts about how an effective resuscitation would
ensue: clearly defined roles, a steady stream of communication, a strong leading
clinician who were the eyes and ears of a smooth seamless operation. Patient
saved. Simulation session successful.
I’d been strongly encouraged to take part in a real resuscitation, to put what I’d
gained into practice, to refine those skills and to see the ED clinicians in their
element, so when I was asked if I wanted to be involved, I seized the opportunity.
By the time I’d gathered my belongings and opened the curtains, I was greeted by a
flurry of activity: putting on gloves, drawing up medications, powering up the
defibrillator and monitoring system, checking the oxygen, readying the resus
“Ready? Ever done CPR before?”
“A few times. But never on a real person before.”
“Well, now’s your chance.”
It was all I needed to understand the gravity of the situation: this was a grandmother
who only just half an hour ago had been at home, laughing at a TV show with her
husband, on the phone with her two children, or Facetiming with relatives from her
native home country.
And as she was wheeled in by paramedics, I could see her laying on a stretcher limp
and spread-eagled, devoid of the pink flush of life, with each passing second
punctuated with the pneumatic hiss of an automatic chest compression system.
Even among the clamour of the beeping monitors, the clatter of medication vials, and
the cacophony of voices, I could just pick out a few snatches of the conversation.
“82 year ol—yes, from home with her husb—”
“—ext dose of adrenaline ready!”
“—vious history of a UTI, felt unwell after dinn—before she collaps—”
But it seemed that this was no easy resus.
As I alternated in and out of hovering out of the way and performing a cycle of
compressions, I was aware of the hiss of oxygen as two airway doctors managed her
airway at the head of the bed. I could vaguely hear the drill of an intraosseous port
being inserted into the head of her tibia by a nurse, who had only shown me the
technique earlier that morning. I glanced over and saw that the senior registrar, who
had only earlier that week single-handedly managed cases of ruptured ectopic
pregnancies and trauma, had beads of sweat collecting on her forehead, as she
positioned herself to place an IV line amidst the jostling of the arm, dangling
precariously off the side of the bed.
I hadn’t noticed that an hour had passed, nor the fact that my stethoscope had fallen
off my neck during CPR and lay forlornly on the resus bay floor. It hadn’t occurred to
me that I was drenched with sweat, or the fact that it was now a Saturday. And as I
returned to my umpteenth cycle of compressions, I felt a hand on my shoulder.
It was over.
It didn’t matter now that the paramedics had arrived at hospital within just 20 minutes
of her collapsing at home. It didn’t matter that we were a well-oiled team, rehearsed
to the very last detail. In fact, it didn’t matter that we’d done everything we could,
given her all the right medications (even gone for an intraosseous line!) and placed
lines, ports, and leads in nearly every part of her body in our unsuccessful attempt to
I gathered my belongings and was ushered out of the cubicle by a nurse. As I turned
back to look, I could see her husband cradling and sobbing into her left hand, and I
realised that—despite all my training, the numerous tutorials, simulations and
drills—nothing had prepared me for this.
My medical training could train me to mechanically recite the DRSABCD algorithm,
and practise advanced life support until it was imprinted in my memory. I could tell
you the number of times that I’d practised and even taught the correct technique for
compressions, even list out every single MET call situation when I had been a
Yet this was controlled chaos – the only way to describe the choreographed and
calculated way each clinician moved through the resuscitation bay, directed by a
consultant standing at the foot of the bed, with hands in his pockets. Everything was
orchestrated, thought-out, planned – no miscalculations or missteps, a symphony
without a baton, a performance without cues.
Ultimately I wished I hadn’t been so naïve and that I could have prepared myself
better. But there was no way I could have. The gruelling nature of the operation, the
futility of the whole exercise, the difficult decisions to cease resuscitation, the ephemeral nature of human life, and the emotional aftermath: these were all things
that I could have only learnt by being present. These were lessons learnt the hard
But despite it, there was nothing I could have done anything differently, and perhaps
in some ways, it is a rite of passage for many of us in medicine – an emotional
catharsis of sorts.
As I left the ED, I bumped into the ANUM at the exit, who gave me a weak
“Now what you saw back there—that was a good resus.”
金継ぎ（きんつぎ） – Kintsugi
A Japanese art form; to repair and mend together broken pottery with lacquer mixed with, or dusted with powdered precious metals. Continue reading
‘Toughen up,’ ordered the grade 6 teacher at the student upset with their C in a history assignment they had spent hours on.
‘Just let it go, who cares?’ laughed a friend when the year 9 student came to them, frustrated with the bullying that permeated their friendship group.
‘You’ll never be a good doctor if you care so much about everything,’ shared the doctor who had spent the prior twenty minutes lecturing the year 12 student about how they didn’t suit the medical profession.
‘The people who don’t care as much always do better,’ reflected a friend after the year 12 student told them about yet another application that fell through.
‘Maybe you should take a leaf from their books.’
And so I did. I took their leaves and transplanted them into my metaphorical tree. I began to shift my perspective; from valuing the act of caring, to seeing sensitivity as a flaw, something that had and would continue to hold me back. I would still care… a little. I would distance myself; close enough that I would do well, but detached enough that when things inevitably fell apart, I could immediately bounce back and keep looking forward. I would no longer be seen as weak and malleable, but strong and steady.
Sweaty palms and shaky knees transformed from fear to fuel. A composed face and rehearsed smile would surpass any expression of weakness. Tears were a waste of hydration and hope always meant there was further to fall. Rejection would no longer shatter me into a million pieces, but barely leave a mark.
All of this fell into place for a perfect millisecond. I was stoic, composed and immoveable.
But I was denying myself.
Is this what success looked like? A chain of hidden vulnerability. A pursuit of insensitivity. A journey to diminished feeling. An escape of emotional investment.
As Hannah Gadsby reflects in Nanette, ‘Why is insensitivity to strive for? Why is sensitivity a particularly bad thing?’ Yes, big dreams and self-investment may have made me more prone to falling, but also had the potential to build me up. Yes, helping others sometimes meant I didn’t help myself, but in another sense helping others does help me. It’s a source of growth, of personal fulfilment and an integral part of my identity.
My caring too much had proven to be a problem, but not caring couldn’t be the solution; it’s not a choice, but something I had to compromise with. Doing well could no longer be analogous with my supply of oxygen, but I still needed to inhale hope and exhale hard work to survive.
My caring too much, my sensitivity, are part of who I am. My ambition may fling me into the depths of failure, but it’s also my propellant into the heights of fulfilment. As soon as I tried to skirt around the feelings of loss, disappointment and sadness, the other end of the spectrum became fractured.
My caring too much, my vulnerability, makes me human, and this humanity isn’t a weakness but an asset. It’s the seed from which passion and dedication grows. It’s what makes both failure and success real. It drives me to do what I do, to study medicine and work to create change – we just have to make sure our hands are firmly gripping the steering wheel.
Everyone made the act of caring so binary; you care, or you don’t. I thought that sensitivity was either intrinsically good, or intrinsically bad.
This is the advice I received.
It’s become so clear that caring is not an on/off switch, but a dial in our machinery, one that we learn to control with time. An inflated balloon may burst at the touch of a needle, but without air it will never rise.
This is the advice I wish I had taken.
‘’When people kill themselves, they think they’re ending the pain, but all they’re doing is passing it on to those they leave behind’’ – Jeannette Walls Continue reading
The closet is a strange land of diverse ideologies, trending political beliefs and outdated social norms. It’s a cluttered space to hide our skeletons and to store our gifts. It can be impossible to remember why you came here and, for some of us, impossible to figure out how to leave. That all changed for me the day an eclipsing slice of light peered from beneath the door, illuminating my surrounds. That rectangle of light became a shoreline and the world beyond it an ocean: An enigma whose waves tugged at my feet but whose depths I would seemingly never experience. My fingertips creeped beneath the door as I grasped for answers and probed the perimeters of the unknown, but it wasn’t enough. I mustered all my courage, placed my quaking hand on the door handle and stepped into the light. I interlaced my hands and placed my thumb and index finger above my head, exalting this illusory weapon of strength towards my higher self as I dived into the openness. After blasting through the surface, I was suspended in the murky waters of self-doubt and words left unspoken. I waited for a response, hanging suspended by the makeshift rope of strength I had constructed.
Shortly after, the silence was filled with the echoing words “It’s just a phase”. This was the blade that cut my rope and sent my head spinning. My fragile beliefs were shattered into indistinguishable fractals, scattered into the wind above me as I swam back to the shoreline. For many years I cast stones of fantasies into the future, longing to put the pieces back together, watching as missed opportunities rippled into the horizon. For me, this is what it felt like to come out of the closet. Those words are etched into the pages of my narrative like a watermark, the story never to be read the same again. I regret taking these words as a gospel and rejecting my identity as this cultivated a willingness to be shaped by the razor-sharp edges of rigid ideologies. This became a habit of commodifying my soul for social currency. The curation of an idealistic self to meet the expectations of others is act of daily mask wearing, constant tongue biting and facial flushing. It is building a life upon the emotional rubble of denial which widens the gaping abyss between truth and lies.
It can be impossible to live stranded on an island or locked in the dark. Yet our society raises the tides and bolt down doors with ideas of normalcy and a fear of the unknown. These closets are not unique to sexuality and gender, but apply to race, religion and any individualistic trait of self-identification. The danger of self-denial is not merely the truth that keeps us trapped, but instead the wider cognitive framework that it encompasses. It has taken many years to reject those words and to comprehend that even our idols may not understand us, and that we may not understand ourselves, and that’s ok. There is often a moment in our lives when we realise that these walls that entomb us are mere lines in the sand. In my case it was realising that I was shackled by comfortability, wrapped tightly by fear of exposure and controversy. Today this is no longer the case. Instead I wield the flame of individuality and set alight to the pages of my history in an effort to incinerate the parasitic dogmas which plague our societal narrative. This revolution begins with a spark, a toe in the ocean or a hand on a doorknob, and ends in a roaring fire. It is the melting away of masks like candle wax, returning their malleable like clay for us to shape into our own works of art.
I am not suggesting that piercing the veil of cognitive biases and unbolting doors is an easy process. Yet once the flames settle a phoenix will rise from the ashes, a symbol of freedom and liberation that will take our society to great heights. To a land where doors no longer exist and oceans can be traversed. As medical professionals, friends and parents we are in the position to float a raft to anyone who may be drowning or stranded. I urge you to consider the oceans, the shorelines and the flames that reside behind closed doors, and to nourish the strength it takes to leap into the unknown. By alchemising our biases into a precious stone like state we can harness the kaleidoscopically vibrant light of individualism, because in the dark a rainbow goes unseen, even if it is just a transient “phasic” beauty.
Medical school can be stressful. In the preclinical years, we are bombarded with mountains of lectures that leave us feeling constantly behind. When we finally enter our Continue reading
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.
Smiles were incompatible with black, but that’s 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 it’s 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 people’s 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 hadn’t tried so hard to escape from myself. Because the hollow feeling wasn’t 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 I’m 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. They’re the ones that make me want to resurface despite the initial pain and disappointment. Their energy is the appeal of reality.
I’m grateful that I’m 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 I’ve grown close to in light and shade.
I couldn’t replenish the emptiness with lives that weren’t 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.
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.’
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.
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
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.