Here’s a confession; I’m a really private person. I don’t talk or socialise much and am nowhere near comfortable enough to be at the centre of attention. I love to spend my free time alone at coffee shops, doing things according to a list I’ve already prepared beforehand which tends to involve documenting my thoughts, reading the newest book I may have purchased, or starting a new project. It then comes as an irony when I think about the course I’m pursuing at the moment – I’m actually a medical student with a year left before I complete my degree. My daily routine is actually to clerk the patients, to present my cases in front of my specialist lecturers, as well as to participate in a study group among my peers.
Despite my longstanding ambition to become a doctor, my pre-clinical years were overshadowed with doubt; I had never been sure if this was the right field for me to pursue that suits my passion. I loved to write. And I loved to know more of the science of people regarding their feelings and their mind. One time during an anatomy class that focused on parts of the body and its function, we needed to dissect a brain. My friends were fascinated to see the various structural parts of it and all the while I was thinking about the content of this beautiful brain when the person was still living his life. Similarly, during a pharmacology session where we had to memorise the drug classification for the diseases, I wondered what had actually happened and what led people to find the cure as the treatment. I felt everything was totally physical in this particular field and here I was, stuck and struggling to be a person possessed with an abundance of thoughts, feelings and emotions.
Had I been asked at that point in my life why I was at a medical school, I wouldn’t have known how to reply to them.
Things got better when I started my clinical years. During this time, we did the attachment at a hospital setting according to our department rotation, thereafter completing 3 years of pre-clinical settings, and learning all the facts and theories on-campus. Interacting with the patients in the ward and listening to their life stories is something you can only get if you’re a medical student. Apart from getting to know more about their presenting illnesses, I actually got a chance to learn about life. When I took the time to ponder it, somehow it seemed surreal that this was real life and not something from a fictional story. I had encountered countless occasions in each rotation of my posting as each department was unique in its own way. In one medical ward, I had listened to endless confessions, where people told me that they regretted not quitting smoking earlier; if only they had known how painful it was to feel as though they were being suffocated to death, wondering if it was to be their last breath each time they inhaled.
Out of all postings that I had been through, there was one particular posting that gave me a different feeling to anything I had ever experienced before and that was during my psychiatry posting. It was overwhelming to see the patients who came in with me at the beginning of my posting and seeing them all the way through to them being discharged and sent home, and witnessing how they responded to care and medication. At times, I couldn’t help feeling solemn, especially when I came across patients who were roughly the same age as me and had lived through depression and anxiety their whole life; it felt as though they had dealt with too much pain in their short years, pushing them to finally seek help at the clinic.
With this, I realised I was no different to them, and I knew I had never sought help or treatment for my own problems simply because I didn’t feel as though they had ever had an effect on my daily life. Multiple broken relationships made me feel as though I was extremely unlucky with my love life; I was faking a smile in front of everyone, and it was becoming easier to do so as years went by. But I knew that I still woke up finding myself crying in the middle of the night. I felt that nobody would understand me. Or to be exact, I didn’t trust people to help me understand my emotions, to understand myself. I refused to portray myself as a weak, vulnerable, worthless person even though I felt that way within myself.
But I had to be strong in order to make others gain their strength back. I had to help myself in order to help others. And I had to heal myself in order to heal others.
Being a medical student was nowhere near the expectations you have of it. Many of the things I have learnt and experienced in the past 6 years have shaped me to be the person I am today. If other fields require the synonymous function of mental and physical strength, the medical field required you to apply them both at the same time, as well as another strength that challenges us the most – the emotional strength, regardless in which posting or department you were currently in. I am just the same as anyone else – in the middle of a journey to find the purpose of this life. Have ended up lost somewhere, somehow and am constantly thinking that maybe things will be better if I am in a different place. We all need something to push us towards the right direction, to encourage us, to keep us going and to keep us sane, and that is exactly how being a healer and being healed looks like.
To be a healer and to be healed is to have a complete faith in the Ultimate God because He knows you better than your own self. He won’t put you in something that you aren’t capable of handling beyond your self-capability because where you are now is exactly where you should be.
by Balqis bt. Muhamad Kasim