Wednesday, May 30, 2007
I've tried finding the joy in what I'm doing, learning by asking questions, focusing on core concepts, losing myself in my work, and positive visualization. I've tried naps and hot tea and sit-ups and reminding myself that the material isn't that hard. But mostly I just want all this to be over, all of these multiple-choice tests that boil the infinite wonder of the human body down to A, B, C, D, or E.
The A-B-C-D-E stuff is foundation, and everyone knows foundation is ugly. It's digging and concrete and rebar and Teamsters and mob bosses and relentless testing. It's the most important and most thankless part of any edifice. And while I know every doctor should be able to deliver a baby on an airplane or manage a tracheostomy or tell Aunt Sally what to do about that lump on her breast, I kind of want to hang out at my house and check out the latest rumors on club transfer markets and go forum hopping to mourn Buffon's possible transfer with fellow Juventini. I want to order sconces. But all of this right after I learn about diabetes. For the fifteenth time. Repeat to fade...
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Why do you hurt? Are you alone and forgotten? Have you been abandoned and lied to? What can be so terrible to cause a blissful façade by day and this sorrowful heap by night? Is it wrong for me to feel sorry for you? After all, what's wrong for me may be right for you. Still, I can't help but think of what some would give to have the choices you are choosing not to make. But then, I don't know you. Perhaps you're an artist waiting for inspiration or a writer seeking a muse. Yet, day after day for over a year now, I see you drift on by unnoticed as you fade further and further into obscurity and though my eye may have accidentally caught yours only once I wish I could ask you, why do you stay in prison when the door is wide open?
Can you see beauty even if not every day is pleasant? Or like a bird caged so long you've forgotten how to fly?
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
I wish I had said something along those lines this morning to the man that kept dialing my number in the dead of night, but all I could do was mumble, no, and then ask what number he was trying to call. The line went dead in my hand, though, so I never did find out what the guy meant by "forever" and why he thought he could find it by calling me. I went back to bed and tried in vain to get some sleep. I closed my eyes for what felt like a few seconds and when I opened them it was time to get up. It's been that kind of a week.
It's late Thursday afternoon, and the weather is god-awful. The city is buried under a layer of sand and humid wind, a truly hideous combination that makes walking, driving, and living in general pretty unpleasant. I trudged up to the local mall to meet up with a friend and catch a movie but I pulled the plug early. Walking was so difficult I just wanted to go the hell home. The move to Haiti I keep promising myself is beginning to seem inevitable now.
I've been thinking about the play "Da", a play by the Irish playwright Hugh Leonard, which I saw a couple weeks back at MN's place. The protagonist is a successful playwright who comes back home after his father's death and is haunted by his dad's ghost. It probably wasn't the best choice for me, given my father's recent passing, but I've wanted to see this play for a long time and being only the single most passionate person that I know on all matters of literature, art and politics made MN the perfect candidate to watch it with; nobody is quite the patron as she.
The father character was quite unlike my Dad - far too mild and nowhere near as furious or angry. For me, the most disturbing scenes did not occur between father and son, but between the 40-something hero and a younger version of himself. "I have to tell you," said the young punk to his middle-aged self, "I'm a little disappointed. I thought I would have accomplished more by the time I got to be your age." I felt that one land. I could only imagine what the 20-year-old rendition of me would say to her almost half-century self. I'm not sure how I would answer, except shrug and say something deep like, uh, gosh, I don't know, the time kind of flew by I guess, but by then my doppelganger would have picked up the nearest blunt instrument and chased me over hill and dale screaming ,"Die, die, die!"
I was pretty excitable as a kid and in more ways than one I still am, very much so. I have little or no worry of the future. I live in the now and am easily amused. But as I watched on, I shuddered to think of a life of little meaning when I hit the 50 mark. So, I thought about it. A lot. What translated as giving meaning to life at the time escaped me soon after but the feeling lasted.
In addition to late night wrong numbers, there's that dream I had during the week where I lived my greatest fantasy and decided it wasn't all exciting. In the dream, I felt angry and restless, wanting desperately to be someplace else. Even the insufferably fake sweetness about the checkout lady made me want to smash her face in. This was one of the dreams where, upon waking, I literally thanked God it was only a dream and not real life. I didn't need some loser dialing a wrong number to get me out of this one. My subconscious mind apparently pulled the ripcord and got me back to the land of the (semi) living.
So, clearly I've got a problem letting go of the past and forgiving myself for my mistakes - anger and restlessness are my Scylla and Charybdis, a phrase I've been itching to use for a while. Yeah, I should take more risks while I'm still young, do something more about my dreams than just dream about them. Hell, maybe I could pass the buck back to my younger self when I'm older and grayer. You were younger and stronger than I. Why didn't you do something more than just let the time pass? But buck-passing is never good and when you do it to yourself it's a little wacky.
I was very sorry to learn of Kurt Vonnegut's death this past week. Like my father, he was a war veteran. The similarity pretty much ends there, but it's tough to see another member of that generation fade away.
There was a time in my life when it seemed I was reading nothing but Kurt Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse Five, The Sirens of Titan, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, I read them all and wanted more. He had a book of short stories, Welcome to the Monkey House, which really showed how he evolved as a writer. It's been a long time, but I remember reading a few stories that I would be tempted to call clunkers. There was a story titled "Deer in the Works", which, as I recall, was about a man who works at this huge industrial plant - Vonnegut worked at a GE plant in Upstate New York - and at one point he's watching as a deer runs frantically through this vast, unfriendly place. The story was very simple but the image of that terrified deer was unforgettable.
Sometime in medical school I slowed down on Vonnegut and gradually moved on to other writers. I wonder how he'd write up the current freak show that our society has become. The disaster in Iraq, the Israeli assault on Lebanon - this is great material for a man like Vonnegut. Like a lot of things from years ago, I don't remember his work so much as I remember my obsession for it. He was just so big in my life at one time. Maybe I should dig up some of his old paperbacks and read them again.
I have to confess that one of the first things I felt reading his obituary after sadness, of course, was a strange kind of liberation. I sometimes feel guilty about my father's death, as it happened when I wasn't there. I felt badly for a long time. That feeling slowly faded, but apparently it was still inside my skull someplace, floating around, waiting to come out. I don't know what to make of all that, but I bet Kurt Vonnegut would.
I think of how Billy Pilgrim would move through time and then look at how I carry the past around with me. I still get angry over things that happened years ago, still regret the things I did and the things I didn't do. In a sense I'm unstuck in time, too.
I'm wondering now if that was my younger self on the phone this morning, calling to ask if I - we - would be around forever. No, Younger Me, we won't. We all have to go sometime and, Lord willing, we're not driven by dark forces to hasten the process.
So, a good day to me, to you, to all those reading these words and even those who aren't. Don't fight with the past, don't argue with your youthful ghost, just put on your club's finest and get out there and grab a glass of soda. Here's to a great weekend and remember that nothing lasts forever.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
In view of the fairly recent slaughter at Virginia Tech, it's impossible not to talk about the trigger. As with other massacres, this incident will spark a lot of debate over gun control and you can bet some bleeding hearts will have the nerve to suggest outlawing guns, yet again; while the neocon pistol-humpers have no problem with gun laws that allow psychotics to get their hands on lethal weapons. Oh, no, of course not. We all know that guns don't kill people, people kill people. The guns are just fine and the gun makers are just nice, decent business people. Makes you love America, doesn't it?
The entire country is sure to have taken a grim familiarity to news footage of the sort and by now people know the drill. The story comes out in bits and pieces, with reports of a shooting at a certain location. Then it turns into multiple shootings and the public gets the shaky news footage of people running or sobbing into each other's arms, ambulances and squad cars roaring up to the scene, cops in SWAT gear running in all directions. Then there's the diagram of the killer's progress, mapping out the assault like a historical battle, rather than fresh carnage. Gradually, the whole story comes out, usually a variation on the disgruntled loner who got his hands on a gun. We learn of the innocents who died, hear about acts of bravery. We also get the rundown of previous massacres, reported as if they were sports statistics. You could probably run the same footage every time and few people would know the difference. To paraphrase the conservative icon Ronald Reagan, you've seen one massacre, you've seen them all. There will be candlelight vigils, speeches by politicians, as people vow they will never forget these terrible events and never let them happen again.
And then it will happen again.
While newspapers around the world ask what the hell is going on in American and why innocent men, women and children are being slaughtered, Americans will be going on about their constitutional right to carry guns, even though the amendment was written at a time when people carried flintlocks, not semi-automatic handguns that can blanket the air with bullets.
Some pundits are actually suggesting that if Virginia Tech hadn't outlawed firearms on campus, the students might have been able to fight back against their attacker. Let me see now: we have a college campus, where young people drink, deal with the pressures of their studies, their families, and their relationships. And sometimes they get really angry. So, of course, letting them carry guns to school is the perfect solution - if you want to have a massacre every weekend, that is. But then, of course, it's their God given right to blow each other's brains out.
Meanwhile, the gun industry has nothing to worry about. In case you're confused, just remember this little ditty: the NRA will always have its way in the USA. As long as the gun lobby continues to stuff money into politicians' pockets, authorities will be zipping innocent people into body bags. And matanza will keep appearing on front pages. Yes, that's America, where they regulate abortions, but not assault weapons. Focus on the fetus, but not the stacks of corpses that continue to pile up.
So get out there and start shooting. Shoot your neighbors, shoot your goldfish, shoot your dentist, shoot your plants, shoot everything that moves and maybe a few things that don't. Let's have more massacres, more senseless shootings, and more grieving families. It's the American way, after all, how could you object to it?
Unless you're some kind of commie.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Most days they can be awful hard to find and if I went searching for one, a huge corporation would be the last place I'd look. But that's what happened today when I called the insurance carrier on my car to find out what I could about a claim on the accident I had been in a couple weeks ago.
My mother has always been the one to handle the financial and legal paperwork of the family, although my father always maintained he was the brains of the outfit. Since his death, a lot of records have pretty much gone to hell. I've done my best to keep up, but my hatred of all things legal and financial plus my stunning lack of aptitude in these matters has resulted in some rather sizeable gaps in the family's portfolio. And of course, it doesn't help to have documents constantly exchange hands and move back and forth between here and the family home in Abu Dhabi.
So, I decided to call the insurance company and get it right. I won't mention the name, but they've got cartoon dogs and greed on the payroll so you take it from there.
Naturally, I had to go through the answering service contortions, pressing button after button until I got a real person. Her name was Anna, she had what I think was a Filipino accent and she wanted to know how she could help me today. So, I ranted on for a minute or two without pause for breath. I told her about the state of the scattered papers, explained that my car had previously been registered in my father's name and that I was calling because now I had no way of knowing.
Now I'm not sure what happened next, but somehow Anna went from being another telephone android to this kind, caring flesh and blood woman who really did want to help me.
I know what you're going through.
That's how it started, when Anna said she understood my situation. She told me about her mother, a former school teacher who had Alzheimer's. She was known for her great spelling ability, but as the disease progressed this same woman didn't know how to put her shoes on. She had trouble recognizing her own daughter and then slowly but surely began to fall apart bit by bit and gave in to death. Anna went on and on with this story, pouring all into my brain from some telephone call-in center somewhere in the UAE. It was such a jarring combination of the intimate and the impersonal; I didn't know how to handle it.
Anna finally finished her story and wished me luck. I was almost in tears by then and I thanked her for the kindness. This kind of compassion, real compassion can't be taught in some kind of telemarketing school. You've got to be born with it.
I'm sorry I didn't get Anna's last name because I would have actually written a letter to her supervisors telling them what a gem they had on their hands. I wonder if they would frown upon such familiarity with the clients. You're supposed to be a heartless robot like the rest of us. Get with the program or turn in your headphones. Let's hope not.
So, Anna, I'll thank you through this blog. The few minutes you spent talking to me about your mom meant more to me than you could ever know. And I guess the best way to honor your kindness is to pass it along.
Be well, Anna. I'm so glad we got to talk.
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
Did I ever say that Psychiatry was a load of old guff aimed at the gullible and the desperate? I take it all back as, surely, here is irrefutable proof to the contrary.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
There is a sign leaning up against a tree across the hospital's emergency exit that reads: "If tears could build a stairway, and memories could build a lane, I would walk all the way to Heaven. And bring you home again." I see it whenever I go out for a smoke and I remember Dad every time. The logical side of me says it's just some mawkish bit of poetry. But the emotional side, which has lately been calling the shots in my psyche, doesn't want to hear it, because that's exactly how I feel.
I saw that sign again today when my friend and I went out for a breath of fresh air, and I cried. My family has moved out of one community - those who celebrate with their living fathers - into the one that goes to the cemetery and celebrates with memories. I wish I could have put my membership off a lot longer, but so many of my friends lost their Dads when they were in their teens that I feel like I have no right to complain. For now, though, I grab peace in bits and pieces but it's the sort that exists alongside a kind of perpetual mourning and restlessness as I picture us singing along, harmonizing our voices, dancing the familiar dance and matching each other's steps; ancestor and descendant, teacher and student, father and daughter.
You prepared me to carry the threads you laid down when you moved on. And though, I've got an ocean full of tears and a stack of memories a hundred stories high, but still no way of getting you back from Heaven, I just hope I bear them well.
Monday, March 19, 2007
As I took a shortcut through the Casualty Unit on my way home, I couldn't help but notice the commotion going on around a DOA (Dead on Arrival). The victim was an 8-year-old boy propped up on a gurney with tubes sticking out and an airway device in place. He had bled to death after massive internal hemorrhaging following a hit and run. Next to his lifeless body sat his grandmother, a once full of life, small and shrunken elderly woman clutching her oxygen tank. It was heart-breaking. I was quite shaken, not just by the tragedy but how those two seem to be our choices in this life: go before your time or slowly fall apart.
I decided to drive down to the beach and take a walk. The day was beautiful, unseasonably warm, as they say; reminding everyone that winter was indeed coming to an end. After a short stroll, I started my march back toward my car. I looked out on the water and saw a huge ocean liner, all lit up and sparkling like a fabulous jewel, heading out for open sea.
I never thought much of cruises. The idea of being unable to leave a group of people who turn out to be boneheads never appealed to me, add to that all those stories of ship-board plagues, accidents, assaults, and other tales of woe, I pretty much scrapped the whole experience off my list.
But last night was different. I've spent so much time studying, working and dreaming about being a great doctor or writer, I sometimes fear that my ship might sail without me. I wanted to be onboard that ocean liner so badly I could taste it. I pictured myself standing on the deck eyeing the shore as the city lights and my pain with it grew smaller and smaller until they disappeared. Wait for me, I whispered at the shrinking vessel, wait for me.
I would create a new identity and give out a fake name, I thought. Maybe put on a quasi-European accent, just to keep my fellow passengers guessing. I would hit the dance floor every night and sleep until noon the next morning. I'd meet lords and ladies, counts and countesses, industrialists, and stock market wizards. I'd begin a whole new life as somebody else. Selfish? Of course. But then I will be the one bearing the brunt of patients and their families once I return to the hospital. Still, just this once it felt nice to sail away and into obscurity.
But then I decided to go back to work, my meek existence in tow, do the right thing no matter how hard and unnerving it got. I went back to the ER, spoke with the family and comforted them the best way I knew how. My Arabic amused them and briefly filled the room with muffled nasal laughter. Something gained, I decided; however trivial.
Meanwhile, I'll work on my accent and keep an eye out for passing ocean liners. For whenever I need to jump ship.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Others I have now outlived:
ALEXEI ROMANOV, 13, ASSASSINATION
PETER II TSAR OF RUSSIA, 14, SMALLPOX
EDWARD VI OF ENGLAND, 15, TUBERCULOSIS
ANNE FRANK, 15, TYPHUS
GRAND DUTCHESS ANASTASIA, 17, ASSASSINATION
TUTANKHAMUN, 18, GANGRENE
RONNIE CALDWELL, 18, PLANE CRASH
JOHN SPENSE, 18, SUICIDE
JOAN OF ARC, 19, BURNED ON STAKE
BILLY THE KID, 20, GUNSHOT
SID VICIOUS, 21, OVERDOSE
BUDDY HOLLY, 22, PLANE CRASH
FREDDIE PRINZE, 22, SUICIDE
IAN CURTIS, 23, SUICIDE
And, of course, RIVER PHONEIX, 23, "Multiple Drug Toxicity" which would be an "overdose" for the rest of us.
If 17 and 22 didn't get me, I think I'm good for another few years. Also, I'm pretty sure Tuberculosis and Smallpox aren't going to get me.
"Death by FOX News", perhaps?
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Exactly what makes them steal food off a poor man's table when they have want for nothing?
A rather heated debate ensued on the losing end of which she sat, all thanks to her hopelessly wanting logic. The poverty of her ideas out of concern, as hypocritical as the virtue-flaunting of politicians, forced me to make my exit. Reasoning with tragically stupid sheep little good will do.
Alas, there shall be a judgment day.
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Be afraid. Be very afraid. Boxed into a corner like so, I couldn't have pulled any manner of educated guess to discern which was right. That detonating could not be helped, see. Or else I would've timed at a record 45 seconds, give or take a few, with interruptions for applause. Guinness Book, here I come. *war cry*
A call from UNMAS is imminent, methinks. Or not.
Friday, February 23, 2007
Not the torturer will scare me
Nor the body's final fall
Nor the barrels of death's rifles
Nor the shadows on the wall
Nor the night when to the ground
The last dim star of pain is hurled
But the blind indifference
Of a merciless, unfeeling world
Roger put on what can only be described as a life-altering event in a performance that was as visual as it was musical. In struggling to capture the essence of the show, I find myself at a loss for words to describe it in any meaningful way to anyone who wasn't there. "Epic" is one word that comes to mind and that is about as descriptive as I'll ever get.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
As an intern, I learned early on that it's best to accept the fact that your workplace will depend on you to perform the menial tasks no one else wants to perform and all of it must be endured to earn the blood stains on your scrubs. But admittedly, when I first came on, I brought with me an innocence and nonchalance about the inner workings of the workplace and the hierarchical corporate culture, an attitude that took a massive blow only a few weeks into my internship.
Notwithstanding the unbearably long hours, interns more often than not receive no wage for the services they offer. But I like to think that sometimes the greatest perks aren't in the money or the requirement credits. Rather, they are in the experience. In mine, I have not only learned to put to use my sense of clinical judgment (or lack thereof) but have also been made aware of workplace culture, which is one of constant politicking and backstabbing. Our specie (of the unstipended intern) is no exception and we are known to take quite a few knocks along the road to "adulthood". Murphy's Law being what it is, combined with hospital bureaucracy, we get kicked where it counts, and then while we're down and out, we get kicked some more, just for good measure. I thought we were all equals. But it seems that some people are more equal than others.
I'm being harsh, but unapologetically truthful when I say that in losing sight of the line between being competent and streetwise, a lot of interns play Helen Keller to the blatant bias and bypass much of the abuse the system is designed to hurl at us by becoming bottom feeders in the ass-kissing stepladder. In medical terms, that makes me a complication because that sort of attitude only serves to send my neurotransmitters into disarray and I can't keep my mouth shut. That I have lasted as long as I have is nothing short of a miracle and I realize this as I choke back the Roger Waters line* which in essence states the same, if not in as much words.
An earthquake hits the theatre
But the operetta lingers
Then the piano lid comes down
And breaks his fucking fingers
*It's a miracle
Not wishing to end on a sour note, let me just mention that I can't wait for the highlight of my week to take the stage - Roger Waters. The gig is in two days and I'm biting my nails in anticipation as I listen to the soundtrack of my life - Amused to Death. How fitting.
Friday, February 16, 2007
Yet, there are times when I'm reminded of the days when I was young and foolish. Last week, as I rummaged through a stack of old journals and papers in my bedside table drawer, I came across a note I'd written to a friend back in high school complaining about how I thought my parents were ruining my life. It brought back vivid memories of some of the despicable things I once said to my Dad under the influence of raging hormones. Today I'm sorrier than I can say. A father is his daughter's fiercest protector. While the daughter may not appreciate all that yelling and screaming; she should allow it to happen and be glad for his protection, because one day he won't be there to do it.
Following the death of my father, I found myself getting increasingly mad at him. Even in my sorrow I felt trapped because I didn't have him to share it with. I thought him selfish for abandoning me, especially after having devoted the entirety of his lifetime to us, his children. But now the storms are calmer and I know he didn't take leave of his own free will. It was his time. It's funny and sad and amazing all at the same time, the force with which life continues, even where and when death is impending or has happened. Within my own family, while my Mom was spending her days with my ill father, one of my sisters was getting ready to get married in a matter of weeks. I didn't think life must end or cease to be. But it must. Yet, life goes on.
In my line of work, you see people essentially having to watch a loved one die, inch by inch as their life ebbs from them - first losing coherency then being unable to recognize their own family as they slowly succumb to the disintegration of knowledge, memory and their friends with it; while becoming incontinent and experiencing all the other indignities visited upon the terminally ill. Consequently, they not only lose their loved one but also the brightest memories of them. Part of me is at ease because I realize I was fortunate to lose my own father quickly, painlessly, and without warning, so my memories of him at his best are intact and not overwhelmed by less happy ones. And as an adult living far from home, those times etched in my memory are perhaps more precious to me than the man himself.
My father did right by me. One of the greatest heartbreaks of my life is that he would not be there each time I hit a milestone in my life – graduation, career, marriage, and children. But even in the midst of the grief that crashes over me I have the satisfaction of knowing that my father lived long enough to see me make something of myself. And I know he was proud of me because as he lingered for three very hard days in the hospital at the end, he spoke of me between varying degrees of lucidity. And in all the years I knew my father I don't think there was any time I knew him happier or more content than in the final years of his life. Still, I worry. I worry and grieve about whether I made it clear enough while he was alive how proud I was of him, how much I loved him and how he'd been my anchor through my life. He meant so much to me that my fear of his death sometimes scared me away.
Dad, thank you for creating the spark that ignites the passion within my soul. And thank you for doing your very best, every single day. You earned your place in heaven.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Visiting Dad now is always a sweet and sad reminder of the final months of his life and it makes me wish that I had the strength, humor and foresight my sister had when helping him face the end of his life.
Dad lived a long and, by all measures, full life. I knew even then before his death that every moment with this larger-than-life man was precious. He was the strongest, smartest and most accomplished man I had ever met. He worked hard and was eternally devoted to his family. He would help anyone that asked, and some that didn't. All of my life, I haven't ever been without. That was Dad. He kept giving.
I've spent many months struggling with and celebrating his imprint on my life. Since he died though I've realized how profound an impact he had on my life, how much he shaped me; how the main guideposts of my life were ones he put in place. How much I was, in a word, his daughter. Over the years, he made sure that I wouldn't make some of the mistakes he did. Others, he let me make on my own. The one thing he never taught me was courage, there, he led by example.
As a child, I never felt much need of him in my rush to explore the world. It was only as I was nearing the end of medical school and beginning to settle into this career and get comfortable with it that I longed for his advice and guidance on worldly matters, going through the nightmare called life. Even now, I yearn for his pride, his approval and just assume it is there. Whenever I remember him, I see a solidly built man, with the confident gait of a lion and a kid (me) strolling along in his shadow.
I knew my father for close to twenty four years. But in the months following his death I've struggled to know how to describe him to those who didn't know him. I can see him in my mind's eye. I can feel who he was. I remember the texture of his skin and all his unique gestures. Yet, I find it difficult to explain who he was, how to decide which details to pick out of the panorama of my life with him. The qualities I remember are his curiosity and his integrity, his gentleness of spirit. The sounds and memories are of his laughter and wit, his lack of cant or pretense, the way he called me 'Ashee'. But these recollections each stemmed from those first three qualities. He never had any real wealth and never held a position of power. But at every stage of his life he was surrounded by this web of devoted friends who gravitated to him, like something that grew up around him wherever he went.
When I was child I couldn't see this, or rather I didn't understand it. When we're young we treat everything we experience as a given. Only when we grow older and our horizons broaden do we see the range of alternative possibilities in life and start to understand who we and those around us really are. As I grew older and stopped seeing my Dad as the all-knowing, all-powerful figure I saw through a child's eyes, I saw him as a man. And I saw how people were drawn to him, loved him. I would come back home for holidays to see him in some new community or setting but with the same pattern always recreated. He would introduce me to the new people in his life. And they wanted to know me, in part I think because of what he'd told them about me, but more, I knew, because they thought I'd be some reflection of him.
You don't measure the life of a man by simple facts, simply told. It's been said that you measure it in the truths he learned, or in the times he cried, in the bridges he burned, or the way that he died. In his 63 years, my father learned much, rarely if ever cried, never burned a bridge and pretty much knew when he wanted to make his exit.
Here is how I measure my father's life. I measure his life in the warehouse of photographs, movies, and the trail of soundtracks he left behind. I measure it in the size of his hands. What I remember most about my father is his hands because from my earliest age, he held my hand in his and we discovered the world together. I remember my times with my father as vividly as a great piece of music where you know every word, every note, and every solo. You know it until it becomes part of you, until it becomes you.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
His wound is bleeding day and night
By his bedside kneeleth a maid
And she weepeth both night and day
- Jeff Buckley
The loss of a parent is forever life-altering, no matter how you look at it. It dawned on me only yesterday that a good half year into the death of my father, I continue to blatantly refuse dealing with it. I know the time is fast approaching when I will need to grieve and sort through so many of the feelings that I've silently buried and locked away within me. Before today, I had never tried to make sense of the experience of losing my father, because in my mind the death of someone you love cannot be understood; only borne. But there is nothing I can do to cope, I can only exist, just plod along and wait it through. I miss him more than life is worth. I resent everyone with a dad and hate myself for doing it. I have learned so much, and regretted so much. I have reflected and pondered and am still at a loss. How does one even begin to talk or make sense of something so devastating?
On July 31, 2006, at an estimated 11:20 AM, only days before my graduation, my father didn't lose his life. He completed it. And as I knelt before his grave today, I did my own crying; not so much for his absence but for what could've been. I can still feel the vast empty expanse of the loss as fresh today as it was then. Only now, where there used to be pain, there is a scar - dried up and permanent. He was so central to my existence, yet, even now I still fear the thought of forgetting his face. Still learning that another month forward is another month without him, and that future events can only be made more difficult by his unfortunate absence.
In the weeks preceding my Dad's passing, I hadn't been home to visit much and six months ago yesterday; I got the call from my sister. My senior and I had just been wrapping up rounds at the male Endocrinology ward, preparing to take a much-needed break and rush on home as we'd both had a pretty rough on-call the previous day. I didn't think anything of it until I heard her speak. Her voice was broken and distraught. She said, "Baba" and then cried my name in a way I'd never heard before. I could tell she was crying for my pain. I knew. But even then I didn't quite know. There was still a split second trying to process what she meant. But 'process' is too methodical, it was more like a moment of desperate tugging and tearing at the words to see if I could find any way out. Any way free.
I froze, shocked by the news for a few minutes, just trying to mobilize into decision-making. Minutes later I called my Mom, her voice quaked as she spoke and that's when it slowly sunk in. That was the first moment I felt grief and sadness more than shock. My chest tightened and I felt my legs losing strength so I sat down at a desk in the doctor's lounge and put my head in my hands. Then I slowly got up to look out the window at the back of the hospital. I stared blankly in a daze of loss at the ocean as I spoke to my senior. I told him matter-of-factly because I couldn't think of any other way to say it. He walked me out and drove me 150 kms to where Dad lay.
Throughout the ride home I was unbelievably calm and was surprised I still knew what time of day it was after just having lost my best friend. The world was still functioning, the grass still growing, and the sky still blue as ever... everything was exactly the same. But it wasn't. An hour and a half after first receiving the news, I walked into a house that was vacant of my Dad's presence. He would usually come to meet me on the sidewalk, watching for me. This time he did not. Those first few minutes were crushing.
Where do you go when the only place you know you can go is gone? I stood there for quite a while. I didn't cry, in fact to this day I haven't found any tears for him. I just closed my eyes against that miserable scene and remembered his face and the warmth of his hands and the many hugs and kisses and smiles and words that told me so unequivocally and throughout my whole life, that I was loved.
I found the loss of my father very numbing. I had no emotion. I didn't talk, I just stared and comforted my Mom and siblings. I told them to be strong and that everything was going to be fine. I didn't know that. I just said it. It was more important for me at the time to make sure they were alright than to express any emotion myself. We react very strangely when a death occurs, this was my first and I was awestruck by the way I was acting.
They say the pain eases with time. No, it never does. The more time that lapses is the longer I haven't seen him and the more I miss him.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
After much pondering, I decided it might help ease the pain if I resumed work on the book I'd started months ago. Somewhere into its sixth chapter, I had tossed it aside leaving it to gather dust; not so much from lack of wanting but more from the absence of courage to beckon my demons surrounding the death of the king of our little kingdom. Picking it up where I left off would be too hard, I concluded; since I can't be expected to write on a whim, I need to be inspired. So, I decided the only way to begin making dialogue with my scared little inner child was to get it out of my head, if only for a while, by writing about it here. It might help me understand, I told myself. So today after returning from visiting my Dad, I began to write. But so far what I've written is riddled with incomplete sentences and only marginally coherent thoughts. There's not much structure to it. The topics jump around wildly and the individual trains of thought are hard to follow. At least what's on the screen resembles my current state of mind.
I am not sure what the true test of life is, but death definitely qualifies. My family is not the first to experience such sorrow, nor unfortunately, will it be the last but all in all, it is possible to go on to a place where it hurts less. And I'm going to go there if it's the last thing I do.
That's a start.
Thursday, February 1, 2007
If only I'd said that; armed with my meanest face which, according to some, is also my usual face. Alas, who gives an exam right after an almost-vacation? Have a heart!
One of the instructors today spoke like the bad guy in the Matrix. All slow and accurate. Mostly just amusing. And the rest seemed not the least bit annoyed at having to hold up to me the basic principle of all life support, time after time. Fair play to them.
Since I got to the hospital this morning, I've been sweating. I think there is a layer of dirt on me so thick that it won't come off even if I took at least 2 showers or autoclaved myself. Yep, I'm living the good life.
Got a headache. Hurts like a mother. I know some of you know exactly what that's like. Don't deny it. I believe a regiment of extensive napping is in order. Better conserve all my energy to play my big time at the PlayStation tournament, something I never cease to feel childishly gleeful about.
Day off tomorrow. Sweet.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
My testosterone-laden feline, Bonaparte, passed away last week just a couple days shy of his birthday. And while I miss him, it must be some shindig for all the girl cats in my area while he chases his tail around in circles somewhere beyond the rainbow. Not wanting to spoil their fun or anything, but what part of meow don't these beings get?
Today I got away with fooling a bunch of clinicians long enough for them to think my presentation was superb. One down, three more to go.
I'm looking at my notes for the up and coming prep course. Most of it is in code. It's going to take me a few days just to weed through and decipher all of these. It's a good thing I have until Wednesday to unravel this mystery. Okay, I'm stressing out about an exam. I need some really loud music to play air guitar to. Thanks to MN's Metallica CD, now I too can go bonkers.
I've just noticed how one of my colleagues insists on speaking to me in an accent especially formulated for me. I know this because I've heard him speak to others in English and it's not the same. My personal favorite is when I ask him to do something for me and he responds with a "I canhot [sic]!" Of course I'm inclined to request absurd things just so I can hear him say it over and over again. Something about repetition that's just always amusing to me.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
In true Ash fashion, I got inspired and decided to jump on the Orkut bandwagon (where pretty much everyone from my school days seems to have set base) to check up on my schoolmates. I go there periodically when I don't have any scabs to peel or teeth to pick. There is this one girl whose life I keep tabs on by reading her blog. I liked her back then. I like her even more as an adult now. Though, I find it interesting how she talks about her school days. Every once in a while she makes references to that page in our lives when we were all awkward and insecure. Except, she doesn't quite talk about it that way. She writes about how all the kids got along and how much those years meant to her and helped strengthen her because of the people that surrounded her and everything we went through (we did go through a lot but somehow I didn't tap into this whole team spirit or bonding experience back then). In her musings, there is this feeling of nostalgia of good innocent times gone that prepared her for the real world. I agree with her on the strengthening bit. Nothing like a bunch of assholes and pricks to REALLY strengthen your resolve and come out of the gates at a pounding gallop to get the hell out of... well, hell. Maybe it's because I remember things being a milder (or maybe not so mild) version of 'Welcome to the Doll House'. Perhaps her version of grade school/high school was more of a 'Freaky Friday' kind. A few annoying knocks but inevitably everything turns out okay and for the best and we can look back and have a good guffaw. Not scar you for the rest of your life, keeping this huge bitter chip on your shoulder to save and hurl at the losers of old when you run into them. Or, maybe we just didn't grow up in the same town and go to the same schools. *pause* Yeah, we did.
Obviously, I'm in that group of people that don't look back at those days of preteen/teen angst as being 'fun and frivolous'. I always thought my particular group was a really big one which is why I am usually shocked when I hear those years being referred to as 'happy'. Don't get me wrong. There were pockets of fun and some really great people. But overall... *shivers* never again. I guess being an ugly, under-developed brown tomboy into sports, cars, guns and swords isn't the recipe for happy preteen/teen years. But, I could be wrong. I'm sure things have changed since I've left the school system and everybody gets along really well.
Anyway, I did visit my school community over at Orkut where people talk about their lives and what they are doing. My question is, HOW THE HELL DID EVERYONE GET SO OLD? Am I behind the times again? Did I flunk the class of adulthood? I mean, there are people on that list with veritable broods. I'm talking married with 4 to 5 kids, a mortgage, two cars and PTA. Wow. I didn't think we had enough time for that. One guy has his picture listed, non-existent crowning glory and all. His six-foot frame and athletic build now rough around the edges, sporting an unmistakably receding hairline, graying temples and androgenic male pattern baldness. Good Lord, what happened to make him age so much? The very few friends that I have kept in contact with seem to be young, vivacious, with it and hip. We seem to be in the minority now. I am thinking that too much soda, virtually no exercise and a poor diet have contributed to what has made my present day classmates.
Maybe, on adulthood, I've actually skipped a grade or am ahead of the game. A friend of mine a few days ago told me she was going through what felt like a mid-life crisis. I'm not sure how that happens in your twenties with a life expectancy of about 80 years, but that's how she phrased it. I thought about it and realized I might be getting a mid-life crisis out of my system before it happens. Getting all of it out without being attached to the responsibility of a husband, kids or paperwork. I'm hoping that I learn to live with my choices, conscious or subconscious, and not poison my life with regret. I'm getting the things that I want to do done and not look back on life thinking "I really wish I had done these things... or I always wanted to..." I know there might be a lot of pleasure to derive from 'graduate high school, go to college, meet college sweetheart, graduate college, get engaged, start career, marry, have bouncing babies... etc.'; but that's not the timeline I ever imagined myself on so, it wouldn't have worked for me.
So, to that guy from my class that I bumped into a few weeks ago who said, "Ash, you've really got it together, you deserve to have a husband." Umm, no I don't. I've always been deserving of most good things in my life. To have someone that deserves me is a different story. I really like my life which was probably shaped from those hell years. So, I guess in some weird, fucked up way, those might have been the best years of my life. They gave me the resolve not to end up like the majority of people I grew up with.
Yeah, the bitterness is definitely gone.
Friday, January 19, 2007
Currently my life entails, among other things:
- Loacker and caramel milk for midafternoon breakfasts – four days running.
- Frozen pineapple and strawberries for dinner – nearly every night.
- Substitution of potato munchers and popcorn for all things.
- Being an expert on all take-out joints, citywide. (Note to self: must learn to cook and delight in it.)
- Taking singing to dangerous heights (or lows depending on who's listening).
- Discovering that bills need to be paid on time.
- Watching the CSI Marathon - uninterrupted. (Read: wasting countless hours without being made to feel an ounce of guilt.)
- Lazing around the apartment in a t-shirt and boy shorts while listening to the cheesiest 80's music I can find.
- Piling up dirty laundry to the point of running out of fresh wardrobe.
- Shamelessly oversleeping more often than not.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
They say an individual's sickness serves as expiation for his sins. I wonder if the past couple weeks have made me a different person. But really, I don't feel any changes, nor did I even think to pray for any. I'm told a sick person's prayers are granted. So, I prayed some extra. For Dad and the family (people I'm mainly nice to because they love me and make me soup even when I'm cross and childish), but other than that the days and nights were blurred into a continuous stream of fever, chills and restless sleep and gulping down copious amounts of soup and swallowing back endless pills and sleeping some more. I don't get sick often enough to recognize the symptoms well. But after sensing a dry throat coming on, I was smart enough to take two Aspirins and crawl into bed with a relieved sigh. I felt like such a druggie, a pill-popper or something.
Thankfully, the flu is over. Praise the Lord. All that's left now is what sounds like a smoker's hacking cough. Sometimes it nearly brings me to my knees. Usually I'm just bent over double, breathless with the pain of incessant coughing, assailed by a crazy dizzy fear that it won't ever stop. At least the changes it's wrought in my voice are amusing. Most days I sound like an 80-year-old man; when I'm not sounding like a prepubescent boy.
This is how not to be stupid like Ash: Don't pull all-nighters. Don't pull almost-all-nighters. Try, try, try and try to get work done ahead of schedule. And when your barely-started 6-page paper nearly brings you to tears on Sunday morning, remember the fact that you never cry over academic assignments, no matter how frustrating, and that your tears must be related to other things. Like the fact that you have an excruciatingly-painful backache, a throbbing headache and for God's sake, a sore footballing knee that even the magical Elmetacin spray won't take away. Why, oh why are you even sitting here pretending to get anything done?
The days and nights of sleeping, lazing about and senseless reading are over. Tomorrow I'm returning to the hospital after a week off, and the sheer amount of work waiting for me is frightening. I still have to study for an exam, finish writing that damn paper I failed to get an extension on, read some research articles for a workshop and present at the inter-departmental meeting on Thursday to a group of clinicians who'll likely be fidgety and suffering from A.D.D., just my luck. And then more exams and projects and workshops, seemingly back-to-back. Oh my Lord, grant me strength, strength, strength. And then some.
Sometime on Tuesday, after I had e-mailed my senior asking for an extension on my presentation, he sent back a reply that began: Relax, it's going to be okay. I laughed. It must have been a really frantic e-mail I sent him.
Breathe, Ash; it's going to be okay.
Friday, January 12, 2007
I've waited this long to update because I've been thinking thoughts. Maybe not thinking so much as sorting. Here's what I have.
- After seeing how my world had shrunk to the walls of the hospital and those of my bedroom, I decided to join some friends for a wicked New Year's at the Irish Village. Spy Candy performed, people danced and I felt hopelessly out of place. It made me realize I was quite obviously not fashionably sophisticated enough for the place. Still, I found a way to out myself as I always do. Safe boundary lines shifted and blurred and long story short, I found myself waking up on El Dude's couch the following morning with my face on sideways.
- Later. Not now. After this. Only factor for sure is time will play along as I procrastinate. And it's what I've been doing. A lot. I'm usually known to put the 'pro' in the word but lately I've been stalling just about everything I can afford to (and sometimes cannot) and for each time I've got a ready-made excuse.
- Been sick for weeks. Feverish, chills, a whack cough and shivering sleepless through the night. And on-calls. I've been dragging myself to work for the last week and a half. All that has been useful to a degree. After all, being sick is the most effective reminder of how nice health is and how much of a luxury it is to be able to stand up straight after you've been curled up fetus-like in constant pain.
- After having eaten next to nothing throughout the duration of my illness, I began to grow despondent at the lack of food in my fridge. So, today I decided to make up for it with some Pasta (food of champions) from News Café down at Le Meridian. It didn't taste quite as sexy as the glossy menu shots made it out to be. I left the place with hunger pangs still bellowing out my stomach. Shoot, all I really wanted was to pig out at a decent place, but funds were low. Story of my life.
- The biggest topic of conversation amongst my friends, colleagues and acquaintances these days has to do with who is graduating, who is staying on for another year, who has applied to the residency program, who is moving back to his/her hometown, who already has a job lined up after graduation, who has taken licensure or some form of postgraduate exam(s). Basically, all conversations center around people who seem to have at least a vague idea of what they're doing, which is more than I can say for myself. It's not that I don't even know what I want to do. It's just that I want to do too many things, which is why decision-making is so troubling. Somewhere in here is a perfect analogy for my indecisiveness and lack of direction and the constantly swiftly-shifted plans that epitomize my life at the moment. Someday I hope to understand it myself. Lately, though, I feel like retiring and I haven't even done anything with my life yet. Tell me, is this slightly problematic?
- I have a wedding to attend next week and in a desperate attempt to cover the bald patch on my head (one I received after splitting my head open a couple weeks back) I reluctantly went for a haircut. Due to a tragic combination of piss poor judgement and even worse sense of style on the hair stylist's part, much to my dismay I left the place looking so much like a boy that my friend couldn't help but quip, "Put a tux on and attend on the men's side. Tell us what really goes on there". Yes, that much of a boy. Oh, the horror! So, now I'm working on perfecting my disdainful look but it's not working out real well because I have a tendency to roll my eyes and burst into laughter instead.
- I suspect le boyfriend thinks I'm secretly contemplating of ways to kill him. He's strange like that. But I still love him.
- I have a Journal Club presentation soon and I'm fresh out of excuses. Tomorrow will come far, far sooner than I like. I'd cancel tomorrow if I could. So, now if you'll excuse me, I need to go be productive and bullshit my way through real life.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Hello and welcome to the blog of a medical intern who, on better days, passes for a madcap scientist of sorts on an intellectually-driven pursuit of knowledge and is often sighted wandering aimlessly about the halls and wards of the hospitals around town. The glasses are for real, I kid you not. A journal of this kind has been long overdue but all thanks to medical school (read: life of a recluse betrothed in marriage to a monstrously towering stack of books; all strictly of medical nature, mind) and other worries of a more serious note, I lacked both the time and motivation to vent to a cosmos of kilobytes and generally be a nuisance. Now, I am finally on the loose. Yet, between on-call scrubs, nicotine trips and nervous breakdowns; my quest for sanity continues...
With this blog, I hope to be able to kick the habit and go back to the bliss of my smoke-free existence. I want to be there when my little burrow makes that transition from being a platform for all things small-fry in the eyes of all y'all to when I finally find that scholar within. I really am just a tormented artist at heart waiting for inspiration from the big time, or so I like to think. In the meantime, I shall talk about whatever grabs my fancy and will attempt at one decent publication every day (okay, I'm willing to bet my cinnamon roll that isn't going to happen but still). I will strive to keep this as apolitical as it gets *all your base are belong to us* because it's enough that I compulsively bite my nails; for all is wrong with the world, there's people starving, children dying, hypocrisy is rampant and all that jazz. Meanwhile, I shall continue to doctor Dubai. One patient at a time.
And in other news from the World of Warcraft; despite taking a massively crippling blow off the shores of Rut'theran Village, my insanely sexy Kal'dorei - Galbraith - continues to soldier on.
The Nicotine Calculator
Day(s) since last smoke: 0
Moment(s) of weakness: 1
Just bought my last pack of Golden Virginia and the temptation to roll myself one was greater than I could resist.
*proudly blows smoke rings, begins to cough violently, chokes, dies*
Okay then, let's get this show on the road.