Medical School: At Crossroads with Life
Her eyes conveyed a million unsaid thank you(s) as I stood there in the busy aisle holding up the saline drip which slowly and steadily entered her ailing husband’s veins. The ward was bustling with patients that day and there was hardly any bed to accommodate this kind, old couple. I was busy taking history from a patient when I saw this poor lady with the saline drip clutched in her withered hands. It had to be held at an elevation since a stand wasn’t available and the drip refused to pour in when held at a lower level.
Quite some time had passed and I could clearly see her hands were tired and trembling. I felt an urge to help and so I rushed, to be rewarded with her blessings and a radiant smile. To date, my thoughts light up when I reminisce her fond smile. This warm fuzzy feeling is not just a mere emotion; it’s something to live by. Such is the magic of gratitude and of being blessed enough to extend a helping hand to those in need.
Before entering medical school, to me thankfulness was more or less an elusive concept. It was so ephemeral that I could never fully appreciate it. Like a butterfly that comes and perches on your shoulder but is gone by the time you start to notice its immaculate beauty.
Years slipped by and I eventually found myself living my dream of studying in a medical college. The first two years were more like a roller coaster ride as I juggled with bulky tomes and the basic sciences they contained. Third year soon loomed ahead, the time when medical students start their clinical rotations at an affiliated teaching hospital. A daily visit to the hospital meant the start of promenading under the hot afternoon sun on rutted hospital roads overflowing with open sewerage lines.
Little did I realize back then in all my naivety that it was the beginning of an entirely life changing experience, an experience that’s beyond words. The life lived by innumerable less fortunate souls on the other side of that meager brick wall (which separates my medical school from the hospital) is one none of us would ever wish to live and yet those people who live it daily possess such indomitable courage and fortitude which we can probably only dream of having. It was during this time that I learnt an extremely important lesson of life. The lesson of gratitude, hope and kindness.
To quote Buddha, “Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.” However no matter how clichéd they may sound, the above lines hold the real essence of life. I did not realize this either, until I saw the misery and suffering of the destitute patients with my own eyes. Suddenly, my petty issues and senseless complains seemed so tiny in front of people fighting for survival in the midst of utter poverty, accompanied by the helplessness of being unable to afford even medicine.
At times when my day starts with a litany of complaints; no electricity at home, unwashed socks, clothes not perfectly pressed for the day; I end up feeling miserable on the slightest of issues. The clock strikes eleven and a visit to the hospital perks me up, for therein is a world completely different, where my trivial complains diminish into non existence in proportion to the misery and suffering which meets my eyes. Amidst all this however, is also the joy of a wound well healed, of a prayer that comes true. It’s all so magical, the swift transition of sorrow into happiness.
It has been a year and a half; and life with its many sides, seems to be settling in meaning and purpose. As I enter the wards every day, smiling faces meet me as my gaze does the rounds, only to realize soon enough the painful stories behind those ever glistening faces. I have learned what “smiling in the face of adversity” meant all along. Some patients, even with their life slowly slipping away, sit up to talk and amiably share stories, of family and ailments.
Is it not simply amazing how these people are so resilient and hopeful about everything that crosses their path? I am struck with awe every time a patient reclines on his hospital bed and thanks God with every sentence; such is the beauty of insurmountable faith and thankfulness! I have learnt that there are countless good things going on in our lives which we overlook and they remain masked by all the things that go wrong and our cognitions remain on the negative. Hence it’s imperative for us to be thankful for every single moment and every blessing, tiny or tall – for gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It is gratitude that turns what we have into enough, and more. It brings out the best in us, not in terms of fame and money, but in terms of goodness of character and soul, optimism and hope. This often reminds me as being analogous to Ernest Hemingway’s novel, “The Old Man And The Sea” which revolves around an old, malnourished, crippling man called Santiago, who set out to catch the largest fish in the sea. Santiago met unfathomable barriers along the way but his resilience and positivity led him home, victorious.
All of us have an inner Santiago; we simply need to evoke him through such invaluable lessons of life. My sister often questions me as to what precisely made me chose this field. This I do not know, however what I know for sure is that I cannot trade this for any sparkling treasure.
My patients have taught me more about life than what I learnt in twenty-one years combined. I thank God for giving me an opportunity to experience the reality of life so closely. I feel truly blessed. This profession in all its entirety is priceless to say the least.
About the Author: Anum Wasim is a fourth year medical student at Dow Medical College, Karachi, Pakistan. She harbours a keen interest in psychology, cognitive neurosciences and rehabilitation medicine. She can be reached at [email protected]
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