Whirlwind

Present, Equator

Only 20 minutes in and the humidity was already killing her. She tied her hair into a pony tail, as she waited for her phone to connect to the airport WiFi. Two decades into the century and the WiFi was still unstable, and baggage collection still took forever.

Waiting for my luggage. It’s gonna take forever,’ she typed.

K, just wait for me at Gate 6,’ her best friend replied.

Her head jolted up as the conveyor belt started to move. A bright blue luggage came out, it’s tag reading DXB in bold. She went to check the screen again, and sighed in frustration. The Dubai flight landed 5 minutes later than hers, it made no sense. She shuffled her way back to the spot where the bags make their first appearance.

It can’t be, she thought to herself, her feet stopped moving, her heart beat became increasingly noticeable, as she spotted a side profile that she would never miss, even among the busiest crowd.

He was scrolling through emails, working even after a horrible long haul. He caught a glimpse of his bright orange suitcase, and looked up, only to see a face that he thought he would never see again, not outside a screen. He stood motionless as his luggage approached, went past her, past the space between them, then past him, in an airport they were both most familiar with.

‘Hey,’ she finally broke the silence.

He had a million words lined up behind his tongue. What are you doing here? How have you been? How’s your family? Are you with anyone? Do you still think of me? 

‘Hi,’ it was all he managed to say. I missed you.

 

Three years ago, South

‘I used to wish I had one of these bunk beds with a slide,’ she said, as they strolled through the mazes of Ikea, holding hands, both extremely full as he got greedy and ordered too many meat balls, as usual.

He told her that they should get one for their future kids, and she smiled at him, the smile that made him fall in love over and over again. She loved it when he spoke of the future as if it was happening tomorrow, and he loved how she’d smile and lean her head on his shoulder. He stole a sniff of her freshly shampoo-ed hair, she rolled her eyes. She could never understand his obsession with her hair, and why, if he loved the smell so much, did he not get the same shampoo.

They were two poor students, in an expensive foreign country, working multiple jobs to make ends meet. Despite the constant tiredness and small arguments about who contributed more to the surge in their electricity or water bills, she was contented. She was studying culinary, with a vision to open her own confectionery store in her new-found home. They were always busy through day and night, juggling between classes and jobs, but they always had each other to themselves at the end of the day, and it was all she needed.

He was frustrated, tired of the status quo. He’d notice the businessmen in suits and ties, chuckling over glasses of imported beers, as he cleaned after a table of messy eaters, and sigh in envy, those people must have nothing to worry about. Him on the other hand, was working day and night to pay bills that were barely his doing, saving up for a business which, at this rate, he would never start. Also, how was he going to save enough to marry her, without her mother giving him the cold shoulder as if he was never good enough for her daughter.

‘Who does she think she is?’ she was ranting about a co-worker again, the one who made her weekend job a living hell.

‘I forgot that I have an assignment due next Wednesday,’ he talked over her as she went on and on about things he was hearing for the hundredth time.

She threw him a glare, stormed into the bathroom, and slammed the door behind her.

Of course, her problem was always the bigger problem.

 

Present, Equator 

‘Thanks for meeting me,’ he said, as he sat down opposite her, in an empty Starbucks. He cracked a slight smile as she handed him his drink. Mocha Frap, his favourite Starbucks indulgent years ago, but it was too sweet for him now. He would’ve gotten a latte, but he kept that to himself.

She looked great. Her hair was long, with soft mild curls now, and red highlights, a colour that he’d always convince her that she would look good with, and she’d say, what if I regret?

She laughed as he made remarks mocking the new Starbucks drink, updates about his family, his new niece, his new job around the corner, his first car, his recent ex-girlfriend who turned out to be an obsessive shopper and spent way too much on eyelash extensions, how he almost died running his first marathon, and a Beagle puppy he just got.

‘Two years huh,’ he said as their gazes locked, ‘It feels like forever.’

‘I know, ‘ she pursed her lips, worried that the next sentence would escape her mouth. I missed you.

On a humid Sunday afternoon, two people, who once believed in forever, now as unfamiliar as strangers, tried to fill in the gaps of those two years they spent pretending not to give two craps about each other.

 

Two years ago, North

It was her first time visiting him, after 9 months apart. He moved here for a job opportunity, one that he had been eyeing for months before.

She stepped out of one of the busiest airports in the world, into the crisp autumn air. Her eyes darting left and right, looking for the bus stop. She’d asked him not to see her at arrival, because she knew how much trouble it would be for him to take time off work.

She dragged her luggage up two flights of stairs, into his tiny rented studio, surprised by  empty beer cans and take out containers that greeted her. He’s been very busy with work, she told herself to calm the budding annoyance, and started to clean up the room.

His phone buzzed in his pocket, disrupting his chain of thoughts. It was a text from her.

‘Are you meeting me for lunch?’

‘Busy. Dinner at 7. I will send you the location,’ he replied.

He grunted at the ‘D:’ which appeared on the screen 2 seconds later. Did she not understand that he had work to do? She shouldn’t have come. He had warned her multiple times that he had no time to entertain her or to take her around. And yet, she still went ahead to book the flight tickets.

He still loved her, but it was a different love now. It was a love that cared for her deeply, but not one that longed for her like it did 2 years ago, and it bothered him. He wanted a career that will prove his worth to those who doubted him, and he was prepared to give it all he had, and she was of no help. He’d go home after 14 hours of work, and she’d call him, telling him about her day, and get whiny when he said that his day was ‘ok’.

‘You need to find ways to solve your own problems, I can’t always be there for you,’ he told her once, while she was going on and on about her new boss, his friends raising their brows at him over two buckets of beer. It caught her by surprise. She apologised for ruining his night out, hung up, and cried herself to sleep, his last few words replaying in her head on loop.

She knew then, that she had to build a routine for herself, based on happiness that was independent of him and his attention, and she did. She had newfound reliance on her friends, things to do on weekend nights that took away the loneliness, and she became a person who was her own.

‘I told you! I can’t just ditch work for a day, just because you want to see a stupid museum,’ his voice stern and almost loud. She was stunned, blinking back tears.

‘I only asked you a question. It was an invitation, not an obligation. I really don’t need you to live you know,’ she turned, grabbed her handbag, and left the studio, already regretting the last sentence.

It was the second last day of her stay there. Guilty of her outburst, she made him dinner that night. He came home to a piece of sirloin steak, roasted baby potatoes, and a few stalks of asparagus.

‘How was your day?’ she asked, her eyes wide and bright as she grabbed the cutlery.

‘It was okay,’ his gaze downwards, studying his medium-rare steak. It wasn’t the only thing that was bleeding in the room. She stopped trying, and they finished their meal in silence.

‘I can’t do this anymore,’ he finally gathered the words to say, the water was still running, her hands in the sink covered in soap bubbles. He stood behind her, and watched her, in slow motion, cleaned her hands, and dry them with his red checkered table cloth.

The truth was, she saw it coming. She never imagined it being said out loud, but that night he told her that he couldn’t always be there for her, she knew it would take a great deal for them to end up together, forever. Previously, it never crossed her mind that they would come to an end, perhaps because she was willing do anything to keep them going, maybe because those times when they were happily together, that those memories would stop him from pulling the trigger. However, at that very moment, she knew that she’d never be enough.

‘I’m sorry, but I realised that I’ve stopped caring, at least not the amount that you deserve,’ he explained, his voice soft, mildly trembling. Lie. He felt his insides twist and his chest tightened.

‘I can’t see a future with you anymore,’ also lie.

She was sobbing now, still not a word said.

‘You deserve someone better,’ he said, straight out of every on-screen break up scene in the world, ‘Thank you so much for the memories, and your love. I’ll always appreciate that.’

She shook her head in disbelief. She looked at him, and saw a man she now barely knew, reciting words he thought were the ‘right’ things to say. His gaze was gentle, his face unreadable, emotionless, he looked away. She opened her mouth, and closed again, unsure of what to say.

‘Is there someone else?’ she finally muttered.

‘No,’ he answered quickly, and felt his heart ache a little more from her distrust.

‘Wow, so it’s all me then,’ she spoke through her sobs, never felt worse about herself her entire life. Within minutes, she saw her hopes and dreams, her comfort zone, her trusty pillar and anchor break into pieces, and vanish into thin air.

They didn’t sleep that night.

He told her that they were heading in different directions, that he couldn’t be the one to care for her anymore, that he had too many plans for the future, none of them involving or accommodating of her. He told her that he still loved her, but not the way a lover would. His love was almost out of pity, out of guilt, and bits of responsibility.

The irony, she thought, was that she always felt lucky to have him. Despite his shortcomings, and flaws in their relationship, she always felt blessed to had share her life with him, and to carry his burdens and his fears. Little did she know, she was a liability.

She was very quiet. She didn’t dare to say anything to salvage them, because she was scared of what he’d say to reject her plead, because she knew how cruel he was capable of being, and how he can destroy her soul with merely a few careless words. She kept quiet, and she’d spend the rest of her life hating herself for being too cowardly to even try. She’d spend the rest of her life wondering what things would be like if she had begged him to take her back.

 

Present, Equator

They were back for good now, both with new jobs, living 20 minutes away from each other.

‘You want meatballs?’ he took two days to summon enough courage to type this, and erased it again. He stared at the picture of her next to her name for the next 5 minutes, wondering if she was happy, if he should come barging into her life again, and if she would allow him to.

She let out a huge sigh, eyes fixed on her phone, at the word ‘online’ under his name, wondering who he was texting.

 

 

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2 months

61 days.

I was staring at my screen for a good minute, trying to think if I’m feeling much today. But I think this is one of my up days. Or maybe it’s a sign that I’m actually progressing.

I chose to write today, to remind myself of the days that didn’t feel so awful, when I didn’t feel too alone, that I was sure that I’m better somehow.

Someone told me that I’m entering this phase, after sadness/feeling of loss. I find fault. And I have never been more disappointed in you my entire life. I’ve known you for 5.5 years now, and you never lacked integrity as much as you do now. I’m glad that I have learnt enough about you to be able to step out of my ideal world of ‘if it’s written in the stars’, because these things don’t exist.

People, in order to stay in each others’ lives, put in effort. They love through the difficult and the ugly, the stressful and the chaotic. They love, even there might be urge to blame or grunts of dissatisfaction. If you love, you’d continue to do so, and to fight what reality throws at you. You can’t tell someone that you’ve loved as fierce as you could, and turn around and give up, and tell them that you hope that it’s all written in the stars, and that you hope that things will somehow fall into place again, when the time is right.

You’ve loved me good, I will never deny that. But not enough.

I just really need to put my emotions into words right now:

Sometimes, I still miss you.

I still miss all the hopes and dreams we shared, the memories and the littlest milestones. I’d smile to myself when I see things that brings back little snippets of inner jokes and scenes we once experienced. How bittersweet is this? Grateful for having these memories, sad that I no longer have you to reminisce them with.

I still miss hearing about your day, and making remarks that make you chuckle and roll your eyes, our goodnight routine and making plans for the future.

You’re a book that I’ve clearly finished but refuse to close and put down. Instead, I keep re-reading highlighted paragraphs, in disbelief that they were once real.

I always took pride in knowing you, at times more than I know myself.

I was wrong.

As familiar as I am with your tiny quirks and habits, your food preference, your favourites and least favourites, I failed to recognise distress and discontentment. I couldn’t tell when you weren’t getting enough, that you wanted more. I failed to reassure you, like how you’ve been my trusty anchor for the past 4 years.

I hope this decision will only take us to better places, to meet better people, to enable us to follow our dreams, to fly high, no strings attached to the ground.

You were the person who made me laugh the most, and shed the most tears. I didn’t know it’s physically possible to finish a box of tissue. But like you said, it’s because we invested to much emotions in each other, and how lucky am I, to have a first love that was so hopeful and wonderful.

Thank you, for loving me and letting me love you.

I will try as hard as I can, to tell myself, that this is for the best.

twenty-seventeen

twenty-seventeen,

i flew off to the land down under lived in a foreign country for the first time

there was a lot of learning and adapting, some late-night crying, and lots of friday night alcohol binges

visiting banks, GP clinics, groceries and lots of k-mart runs

i scrubbed into surgeries for the first time, my first one in upper GI being a small bowel exploration which i held loops and loops of small intestine as my fellow searched for a leak

saw a case of pancreatitis that occupied the bed for 2 months, and helped pull out a black, stinking, necrotic pancreas

sat for my first ever osce in australia, scored a B

got extremely stressed for every single end-of-rotation exams for no good reason

i jabbed people for the first time, cannulated some of them

drove 8 hours from adelaide to melbourne and back again, over easter

i witnessed a code blue for the first time during my medical rotation, ran ABG’s, multiple ABG’s because he was severely acidotic, a CO2 retainer. he survived.

visited the UK alone, for the first time, and had lots of first-time’s, things my parents should never know, and i’m missing every minute of it

came in very close contact with cancer in oncology and realised that although incurable sometimes, you’d be so much better off if you were diagnosed in a developed country, but i also learnt that there are plenty that are pretty curable, it’s not the end

i knew for a fact that i’d never go into ortho

thought that i’d like psychiatry but no, it’d go mad trying to get a manic patient to answer my question when all she could do is to blame the universe for that blister on her toe

studied my ass off for the first time, during my 3-week-long swotvac, and it was horrible, and stressful

passed my second-last exam in med school

officially a 5th year med student

visited a a previously-communist country and actually came close enough to communism to really know why we’re lucky to have escaped it

very reluctantly, forcing my self to start studying paediatrics before i regret

Hold on tight

Dear you,

Your presence for the last two weeks had been so amazing, and now I understand what they meant about ‘seeing them  in the airport for the first time after being apart for the longest time’. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited and anxious to see you, or that a hug could feel so good. I didn’t know that having you here, would change my entire perception of Adelaide.

I love the way we covered the entire city with our footsteps, hand-in-hand, through the rain and sunshine (and wind). It was such a pleasure, showing you my life, the cafes I like, the food I enjoy, because trust me, every time I try something new or discover a new spot, I made a mental note to bring you when you visit. Overnight, Adelaide became so romantic and dazing. Cold rainy days that I despised became your arms draped over my shoulders trying to squeeze under my tiny foldable umbrella. Mornings were warm and cuddly, your restless turns replaced my morning alarm. Classes were harder to attend because it meant leaving you, but easier to get through because I knew I had you waiting for me at home.

As cheesy as it sounds, I adored having my life revolving around you, once again. It will always be a commitment and dependence that I’d gladly give in to. It felt so right and comfortable that when you left, I felt like reality had taken away my pillar, despite my efforts over the past 7 months of trying to build independence and a sustainable routine.

Now that I know how good having you here feels, it’s difficult to accept and live with my status quo. Adelaide feels strange and familiar at the same time. I’m afraid of how it will feel like, walking along Rundle Mall now, alone, or staring out cafe windows next to an empty seat. I swear, every nook and corner of this city sparks a memory of you, the conversations we had, the things we saw and laughed at.

I haven’t been so excessively emotional for a very long while, the last time probably being January when I first got here. I don’t know why it’s hurting so much because all I need to do is to go back to exactly where I was before the 11th of August, but I think I have already forgot how I lived back then, just like how I have minimal memory of how life was before you came along.

I don’t know if one can miss a person any more than I miss you.

And it’s only been two days.

Learning outcomes

4 weeks into the second semester of Year 4, I’m getting more sleep and study time than ever. I started the semester with two very chilled rotations, which gave me a lot of insight regarding what studying medicine and being a doctor really means, at least to me, and I’ve never been so sure about my choice of career.

Medicine is paradoxical, contradicting and altogether confusing. We are trained to analyse a person’s features, posture, behaviour, and be able to have several ideas, diagnosis and plans in mind within 5 minutes, basically giving someone a label after 5 minutes of shaking their hands and getting their names right. Also, we are taught again and again, to never judge too quickly, to always pry into their lives and stories, that anything and everything under the sun is possible. We are always drilled on the ‘classical presentations and features’, and yet, they always ask us ‘What else?’.

These few weeks have exposed me to a huge variety of people, and it made me love humanity, and made me realise how much one can develop themselves just by being around people.

For the past 3 weeks I was writing up on a psychiatric case, which gave me a huge opportunity to read up and understand what psychiatry really is, even before my psych rotation at the end of the year. People call them ‘crazy’. Yes, they are not normal. Yes, some of them have a tendency to become aggressive, and might impose harm on you if you’re within reach. Yes, they are humans too. They didn’t choose to be mentally ill, to be locked up in a guarded ward, and they certainly didn’t choose to receive those judging gazes just because their hair was messy or they talked funny.

I like how they treat psych like any other department here. Although there’s still a lot more that can be done, the awareness is far greater than what I’ve seen back home, where having a mental illness meant that you are too weak to cope with what everyone else goes through too, or that you’re attention-seeking or just plain crazy. Meanwhile, people spend hundreds and hours just to see a freaking gastroenterologist after 2 bouts of diarrhoea because ‘GP’s are useless’. Talk about crazy.

Psych isn’t meant to be shunt at that small isolated building behind a tertiary hospital. Psych should be IN the main building, with clinics as frequent as Rheumatology clinics. Psych should be on signboards, with it’s own hotline and emergency contact, because it is as serious as hypertension, and these people need as much help as the diabetics, if not more. Mental health deserves more attention and awareness than it has, because it is not that they don’t care about their own well-being. It’s because they don’t know, don’t realise, or have too little information on what to do and where to seek help.

Multiple times I’ve heard drug addicts and alcoholics being called ‘parasites’, and all kinds of nastier things. To be honest, I used to think that they didn’t deserve this amount of help and care, as compared to people with medical issues, because while some people get sick for no reason, they actually brought those diseases and psychiatric problems on themselves by drinking and taking drugs. Not until my previous registrar said something that changed my mindset. He told me that these people need whatever amount of help they can get, because they didn’t know better, they didn’t choose to be sick either, and they really are sick. I know that we tend to deem drug or alcohol induced problems, psychiatric or medical, as illegitimate, because they’re not ‘organic’ problems, and also using drugs is a crime in most places, making these people more criminals than patients.

My registrar made me realise that as a doctor, illegal or not, right or wrong, it’s not for ours to judge and act. As doctors, we treat. There’s no such thing as a legit sickness. If you can’t go to work, can’t eat or sleep or poop like you used to, if you have trouble feeling joy and pleasure in what used to make you happy, you’re sick. If they’re sick, we treat. They have the law and the society to punish and judge them, and our job is to make sure that at least someone is taking care of their health, both physically and mentally, because everyone deserves to be healthy.

People generally don’t become dependent on substances for no reason, that’s the benefit of doubt I’ve been practicing. It will be great if we could find out the reasons and fix them, but generally, behavioural problems are caused by trauma that have been going on for an extremely long time. Not everyone is as privileged as us, to have a mother who cares enough to whack that cigarette off our hands, or worry when we’re acting a little differently. Not everyone is fortunate enough to even grow up with shelter, food, and support. You have no idea the amount of trauma, harassment, loss and neglect a person had to go through to drive them into having a personality that people call ‘crazy’.

The past week in oncology made me feel all kinds of things. I’ve seen people who are so sick that eating half a teaspoon of baked beans was a struggle, people who are almost at the entrance of death and know it, people who were just told that they have an incurable disease and was thrown a million facts and information and asked to make choices they never thought they’d have to make, people who are told that their treatment have been working and that they’ll soon be cancer-free, people who have been cancer-free for awhile but paranoid of every tiny ache and glitch, people who had recently become cancer-free but are still haunted by the amount of pain and suffering they went through, people who see their loved ones becoming paler and more frail everyday, people who are so motivated that they know twice as much about cancer than I do…

I’ve gained a great amount of respect for oncologist and palliative care physicians and staff. I’ve seen kind people, but their kindness amazes me everyday. It’s definitely not easy, dealing with hundreds of patients with terminal illnesses, and family members who have different views and demands, but they’re always so keen to listen, to help, and even arrange even more help. I’ve been very happy with patient care here, but oncology is a whole new level.

And this is how I realised I can never be a surgeon lol.

 

Edinburgh

This, is Edinburgh to me – the simple and sophisticated, all in one.

Sophisticated is the history behind those tall, narrow buildings, and dark, intriguing alleyways (or ‘closes’ as they call them). The humongous castle on the hill, screaming for attention, you can’t help but wonder how life was like a couple centuries ago within those concrete walls.

Simple are the modern time Harry Potter trail and references, mac and cheese occasionally in a pie form, and just strolling along Victoria Street with an ice cream cone in hand.

Week 17

Seventeen weeks into Semester 1, and I’m so very ready for a break.

Honestly, Adelaide has been extremely beautiful lately. The trees are changing into shades of warmth, as if trying to make amends for the cold, single-digit mornings. I like how walking under a cloudless, sunny day feels so perfect these days, though I really don’t get to spend much time outside the concrete of the hospital, since the days are so short now. Having a cup of coffee in hand never felt so amazing, on (not so) rare occasions when we have time to sneak in a coffee run after morning rounds.

I like how the horses I see along my usual running route have started to put on clothes, and that autumn fruits are popping up with prices dropping every week (yay for apple crumble), and that my breath becomes fog when it hits the morning air.

When I was little, the biggest reason I wanted to live overseas so badly, was to be able to experience the seasons. And now I’ve come to understand that what’s beautiful about the seasons is not the variety of clothes or not sweating after walking 300 metres (ie. Malaysia). What’s breathtaking is the transition: the trees, the flowers, the animals, the fresh produce, the menu’s in cafe’s… the change. And maybe the ever confusing daylight-saving.

happy birthday

I could tell our story over and over again, same words, same scenes, and still smile, hoping that whoever hearing it would feel that innocent trace of spark, or be amazed at how things can turn out to be, the most unexpected ways possible.

I think over those 3 years, my mind has shaped those memories into what feels like the dreamiest scenes from Korean dramas, where the pictures are slightly blurred, with pink sparkly edges, and I’m more than happy to keep it this way. It was two people, fresh out of high school, going towards somewhat different directions (or people *chuckles*), crossing paths, friends, close friends, best friends, platonic for way too long, and decided to up the game on one Valentine’s day, over a cartoon movie.

You have no idea how often you cross my mind. Random cafe with good music, I’d picture us attempting to study, your laptop open, highlighter in my hand, you laughing at how I’d get distracted by the cakes and pastries at the counter. Walking down the pier in Victor Harbour, was me wishing that I could just reach out to grab your hand, knowing that your presence will make the view a thousand times more stunning. In Melbourne, a place that serves the thickest matcha latte and the best pizza I ever had in my life that I knew you’d enjoy. Walking home on a chilly Friday night, thinking of ways to steal your jacket if you were there.

As much as I like being where I am right now, things would be a million times better with you by my side. I miss burying my head into your chest after a long, bad day, or making a trip to McDonald’s at midnight just because. I miss feeling your hand gripping firmly on mine when we cross the road, and catching you staring at me like there’s nothing else better to do. I miss agreeing that you’ll order an item in the restaurant and I’ll order another, and ending up ordering both my preferences because I couldn’t decide between them.

Love, I can’t wait for August, for you to be all mine for two weeks, and to celebrate Valentine’s Day, our anniversary, both our birthdays, all at once.

Thank you for all these years of patience and compromise, for the endless love you showered on me and the people I love, for always being my pillar to lean on and the anchor to our relationship.

I hope that you’ll have a good birthday, and that you know that you have my very best wishes.