Take 8, Call a Mate

By Monique Conibear

Last semester as the minute hand ticked over to 5 o’clock my brain began to pound at my skull, screaming to be let out. The pictures on my screen were blurring into one, diagrams of the lungs and heart forming into something else entirely. Eventually, I slammed the computer shut and flopped onto my bed, pressing my fingers into my temples. Maybe I could get out and go for a walk? No, it’s almost dark. Maybe I could call someone? No, they’re probably too busy, and I don’t even know if I have the brainpower to make it through a conversation. Instead I put on some slow songs and closed my eyes, trying to take a quick powernap.

Suddenly, the music stopped. My phone buzzed. Shooting up, I grabbed it off the bedside table and glanced at the name. With a big smile I answered it. It didn’t even make sense. Two minutes ago, I couldn’t even sit up without my head thundering yet now, as I talked to my friend, I felt excited, happy.

Has this ever happened to you? Unfortunately, in this day and age it likely hasn’t. Or if it has, it is likely quite rare.

We hardly talk on the phone anymore. If we want to talk to someone, we often send them a message, or a Snapchat, or maybe even feel too awkward and decide it isn’t worth them getting the wrong idea. Maybe they are just someone that was in your Anatomy lab last year and you only ever spoke to them at uni. Or maybe you’re close friends but you usually just text or talk in person. You have never had a need to call them. Is this more accurate?

That is how I felt at the start of the year. As I was driving away from my on-campus accommodation towards my rural hometown, I realised I would likely not be speaking to my friends for a while. I would probably text them or talk to them on group chats but calling them? No, that would be too weird. They might not like talking on the phone.

I had a thought. What if I put a post on my Facebook? Put out an offer that anyone who wants to chat can just message me or comment and I would give them a call. It was simple enough, but it would give me an excuse to talk to people I wouldn’t usually talk to and if anyone was struggling it would give them an opportunity to reach out. For the rest of the 4-hour drive home I kept thinking about the details. How would it work? What if I only got one reply? What if I got hundreds of replies? Eventually I realised I didn’t mind if I got too many replies. People would understand if I couldn’t call them for a few weeks and I could keep the calls short.

So, I did it. I took a leap of faith and posted it later that week. I ended up receiving about 6 replies. It wasn’t much but I was still incredibly excited. Two of the people I hardly knew, I had only spoken to them once or twice before and this was a great chance to get to know them more. Another two were friends from Uni that I would stop and talk to if I saw them on campus but would never message them outside of that. The final two were closer friends of mine and I was excited to have an excuse to call them for a chat. Regardless of who they were, I knew they genuinely wanted to chat and that alone made me excited to call them.

For the next two weeks I called everyone on the list, even going out of my way to call my closest friends too. Even though I was hundreds of kilometres away from campus I still felt just as connected as ever. I eventually told my Dad about it casually one night over dinner and he inspired me to take it further. During this time, so many people are feeling alone and often just the thought that someone else taking the time to call can mean the world. So, in the dim light of the kitchen table one Thursday night, ‘Take 8, Call a Mate’ was born.

The idea is simple. Take 8 minutes a day, 5 days a week to call someone and check in. In practice it usually won’t work quite like this. Depending on the person I might talk to them for 5 minutes or 40. I might call 3 people in one day and then no one for a while. Some people I would call randomly and others I would schedule a call. Either way it was keeping me connected and was made me feel as though I was making a difference despite being stuck at home. I could never know how many people it actually reached but if just one person benefitted from it, I had done my job.

One of my friends had an incredible testimony. She told me that she hadn’t spoken to her stepdad all year and their relationship was on the verge of breaking point. She shared the ‘Take 8 Call a Mate’ video and he heart reacted so she gave him a call. They ended up speaking for an entire hour and she came away saying she felt closer to him then she had in months. If that was the only person this helped, then it was definitely worth it.

Who in your life can you reach out to? Who might be struggling? Who might be going well but would still be keen for a chat?

Send them a message. Maybe something like “Hey … just wanted to check in. How are you going?”.

Or if you feel comfortable give them a spontaneous call. Or try and plan a call.

There are so many options, but the idea is simple. Reach out. Check in. Stay connected.

A Hapless Hypothesis

BY NANDITHA HAREESH

The following piece received 2nd place in the Writing (Preclinical) section of The Auricle’s 2020 Annual Writing Competition.

“What is your full name”?

“Megha N”

“And how would you like to be addressed?”

“Just Megha is fine”

“Thank you Megha, what’s your occupation?”

“I used to be an English teacher, but I’m not working now”

“That’s wonderful, literature is an intriguing discipline indeed, hope you don’t miss it too much!”

Her (is it a ‘her’? A ‘him’? an ‘it’?) mellow voice never lost its grace, even the inflections were measured. The literature comment did sound a little passive aggressive but then again it had not mastered the nuances of sarcasm yet, so she was still safe. The semantics student in her marvelled at how the AI nurse could sound so profoundly Homo Sapiens yet not quite human, like an intricate melody that was missing one chord.

“What would you like to discuss today Megha?”

The moment she was dreading had arrived. She felt the struggle her students had so often complained about – the introduction. The inability to start an essay on blank paper, the sudden moment when all your words leave you. She did not know where to begin.

How could she put into words the intangible ‘sadness’ engulfing her?

How could she convey the grease in her hair from not showering for weeks, cuffs in her jeans from wearing them every day, dots of blood on the ends of her fingers where she has obsessively bit her nails of, the knee that wouldn’t stop jerking, the dreams that wouldn’t stop coming, the darkness that never left. The English teacher who used to spend day after day adding, changing and enhancing words had none herself.

What brought her to the clinic today was the incessant pressure from her mother and brother, their slight concern growing to serious worry as the days passed. Her matted hair and downcast eyes had told them all they needed, but it didn’t seem to be enough here.

The doctor’s eyes blinked every 2 seconds, convincingly human shaped and the iris startlingly intense, as though they were looking right at you. But they only saw what they were trained to see, not beyond.

The question came again, the same pleasant, inviting question – “what would you like to discuss today?”

“I have …. a headache, and I haven’t been able to sleep properly”

Was there ever such an understatement.

What followed was a well-rehearsed set of follow up questions, everything from the type of pillow she used to her menstrual cycle. Then she was briskly escorted for an MRI scan, to “rule out any complications”. A well animated video of how it works played as she was wheeled into a dark metal room. The vortex like MRI machine towered over the space, a huge metal tube.

Megha turned to the nurse strapping her in – “will I be okay?”

“Of course! an MRI machine just employs powerful magnets which produces a strong magnetic field that forces protons in the body to align with that field – you will be very safe”

Powerful magnets and proton fields did not sound safe to Megha, but she took the nurse’s word. The contraption turned on, whirring and grunting, like a monster waiting to be fed.

She needed a hand to hold.

“can I hold your hand?”

“of course you can, I’ll be right here with you” came the kind reply, ever so controlled.

Megha slots her hand into the nurse’s and closes her eyes, preparing to be sucked into the vortex of the MRI. Her hands were unbelievably soft, like the ones on hand cream advertisements. The palm lines were faint, the skin responding to even her lightest touch, as though it was translucent. She could feel the ups and downs of veins and the tough nails, even the rough cuticles that separated them. But there was no pulse. The rhythmic rise and fall of skin that was ever so comforting, the consistency of blood flowing in and out of the heart – a constant reminder of life and energy. The softness of the skin and the grooves of the palm lines soothed her nerves, but the cold of the nurse’s hand remained the same as the cold, hard metal machine she was in.

A long wait, a mental health questionnaire and an iced coffee later, the doctor comes back with a dainty piece of paper with her diagnosis and options.

“questionnaire indicates early signs of clinical depression, in accordance with DSM-5 diagnostic criteria”

“patient can indicate preference for psychologist appointments or self-directed therapy via tele-counselling”

Separated by a neat thin line lay her two choices, with a comprehensive list of pros and cons. The pastel writing was the only reassuring aspect of that sheet. Neither of those made any sense to her. The fear of a daunting diagnosis competed with relief of medical validation within her. She looked back into the doctor’s eyes. This pair was deep brown, the shade of hot chocolate.

“what do you think I should do? what would you do?”

Her face widened in an understanding smile, corners of her eyes crinkling, but the eyes did not smile. They simply stared – still blinking every 2 seconds.

“both options have their own merits, but we believe that the patient should have a role in their treatment”

“why don’t you take some time to read through them and come to a decision”

She had answered the question Megha spoke but missed the one her eyes asked. They darted across the sheet of paper, wide and confused. Which one of these would help her get out of bed in the morning? The doctor had already left, probably with an internal timer set for however long research indicates a patient needs to make a decision.


I wake up in cold sweat, scrambling out of bed to find my laptop.

The essay sits there, pristine, well researched, the fruit of over a month of labour.

I look at the topic: “Artificial intelligence will eventually render healthcare workers obsolete

Control A, Delete

A blank screen replaces the intricate graphs, multilayered diagrams and painstakingly compiled bibliography. Essays written at 2 am continue to be dangerously delirious.

I begin again, this time about a young woman who was all alone and needed some help that an algorithm could not quantify. About the empathy of trust, of listening and of caring that cannot be programmed.

After all, the success of a flawless robotic surgery won’t do much more than make a flashy headline if there wasn’t a hand to hold through it. A hand with a pulse, a rhythmic reminder of life and being.

 

Uncertainty

By Megan Herson

Has anyone else had one of those moments where you start at ‘will I eat the plain or chocolate Digestive biscuit now or later?’ and somehow end up at ‘I won’t be a competent doctor…’?

Last weekend I went for a long romantic walk on the Brighton beach footpath (by myself). The sun was setting, and it was that shade of pink that reminds you of the Wizz Fizz sherbet you ate as a child that sent you bouncing off the walls.

Of course, the sherbet reminded me of sugar. And the sugar reminded me of the humble, not-too-sweet but not-too-savoury biscuity snack I adore (plus, Digestives contains fibre, so surely that’s healthy – right?). And the biscuit reminded me that I’m actually a child. And this reminded me of my paediatrics rotation, which I am currently on. And I can’t tell you exactly when or where along the path it happened, but 30 minutes later, I was at the St Kilda end of the beach, questioning my future as a doctor. One negative thought led to another, and I had spiralled down a sinkhole of uncertainty that concluded in me convincing myself that there is no way I will be able to acquire the knowledge and skills that I need to be a capable intern in 2022.

Uncertainty.

To be: uncertain.

You can’t quite say why you feel like you do, but something inside just doesn’t feel right. It’s the worst emotion because there aren’t any actions that you can take to make things certain – the only thing that will resolve the bubbling anxiety is time. It’s impossible to stop thinking about an uncertain situation because there is no final answer to satiate the relentless questions in your mind.

Uncertainty.

To be: uncertain.

It’s how I’ve been feeling most of the year. It’s how my friends have been feeling most of the year. It’s how the entire student cohort of 2020 (not just med – EVERY STUDENT THIS YEAR) feels about their prospective careers.

Uncertainty.

To be: uncertain.

It’s a human emotion stemming from the inability to predict future events. As humans, and especially as type A’s, we reject uncertainty. We don’t like the idea of not being able to anticipate a future outcome, or the inability to change the natural progression of a situation unfolding.  The unknown.

The brilliance of the concept is in the absolute irony that the one thing we can be certain about in 2020, is, uncertainty. Worrying about our medical degree, from the finer details of our assessments to the end-outcome of our clinical capability, is a completely normal and natural response to what is happening around us. We may not all express it, but we’re all thinking it. It’s human emotion that stems from the sheer uncertainty of the situation in which we find ourselves.

I find that it helps to just sit with the emotion. Acknowledge that you feel uncertain. Remember that it’s a normal response to the current context of our world. But if you find it difficult, and you find you are being suffocated by the weight of it all, please tell someone.

Tell a friend

Tell a parent

Tell a GP or a counsellor

Phone counselling service @ Monash

Call 1300 788 336 [1300 STUDENT]

  • Telephone counselling open 24 hours.
    • From Malaysia: 1800 818 356 (toll free)
    • From Italy: 800 791 847 (toll free)
    • From elsewhere: Students +61 2 8295 2917 | Staff +61 2 8295 2292

More information can be found here.

MUMUS Community and Wellbeing

E: mher20@student.monash.edu