Thursday, February 28, 2008

Cut-loss week

My second "shouldn't have gotten out of bed this morning" day this week. On Tuesday I was going to go swimming so drove to uni instead of walking, only to circle the campus for half an hour in fruitless search for a parking spot with the petrol meter already in the red. Then decided to screw it and went to find fuel. The first place I went to, as bad luck would have it, was completely out, so had to cross the suburb to fill up. The punchline? Couldn't have gone swimming anyway, because there was a school carnival on that day at the pool. I managed to tun the day around by treating myself to an icecream - panacea! - and it was actually quite productive study-wise.

Today we had a derm clinic: utter waste of time. There were about two patients in two hours. We ended up getting taught stuff off the internet, no joke. And got my first taste of hardcore pimpage from this toolish Viet reg who quizzed us on all the obscure immunomodulator drugs you can use on BCC's while he cut one out of a lady's neck. The other reg, on the other hand, was the one who had given us a lecture yesterday, and he only expected us to know how to identify macules, papules, etc etc. when we split up I made sure to be in the latter's group! Har.

Luckily we got to leave early so did a bit of study in the library and got a gross but cheapo lunch from the subterranean caf. Whose idea was it, by the way, to put the poor paeds wards underground, circles-of-hell style? Then left to drive to the city where they randomly scheduled two lectures. Foiled by bearshit again, this time in the form of a frigging monsoon. Guess who didn't bring an umbrella? And wore a white shirt? And got soaked down to her unmentionables? Gah. The car was no refuge either as could hardly see through the fogged-up windows and had to drive illegally sans glasses because they made my vision even worse. Was gung-ho at first and was going to soldier on to the lectures but finally decided that listening to two dudes read off Powerpoint slides wasn't worth indecent exposure, pneumonia, or a ten car pileup.

IV icecream please.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Why there will never be Grey's Anatomy: The Med School Years

Actual conversation today.
R: So what did you do yesterday?
Me: Mmmm nothing much. Studied. You?
R: Meh, same.

[5 minutes later]

Me: Any plans for tonight?
R: Study probably. You?
Me: Yeah, gotta cram for derm tute tomorrow.
The glamorous lives of medkids, ladies and gentlemen. Where is the sex in anatomy labs I was promised?!

This is just in case you were wondering why the posts about the actual process of aquackening are rather sparse here. Want to hear about, um, the textbook I read yesterday? Ophthalmology Made Ridiculously Simple, if you must know. Don't mock, it covered 90% of the stuff we got in lectures today. I bite my thumb at fat textbooks. Why get bogged down in detail when a skinny book with cartoons can tell you the basic essentials like: don't press on a possibly burst eyeball, for that will make the goo come out. Good to know.

Ophthalmology week has been pretty interesting actually. I like the anatomy and physiology of it, probably because we did heaps of vision stuff in psychology so it mostly makes sense. Briefly wondered why I didn't do optometry and then remembered that their whole job seems to be "now which lens is better, one or two? two or three? three or four? four or should I go with the gas oven or the razor blades?". Wouldn't mind ophthalm as a job except for the apparently crazy competition to get in...who's got that much ambition? The ophthalm lecturers we've seen so far seem cool. I've decided that I will probably choose my specialty based on whether I like the type of people who are in it. it is!

(cut to: Satan getting frostbite)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Why this blog is like safety scissors

It has no point.

(Do I see eyes rolling?)

Anywho. So there's been this story/play idea rumbling around ever since Vietnam, based on a family I met. I've talked about the wife (H) a bit before here, she's the doctor and "family friend" who saved us from evil Bac Q's house in Hanoi. She won us all over, including my mum, who isn't the easiest to please, with her sweet disposition and gracious hosting. I was intrigued by her.

On the surface, especially in public settings with parents and elders around, she's the perfect well-bred Vietnamese lady. Considerate to a fault, always tends to other people's needs, says all the right things- lavish with praise, slow to criticise, self-deprecating. For example, my dad mentioned once or twice that he had trouble sleeping, so she bought him some herbal sleeping tablets for me to bring back to Australia. I found myself taking everything she said with a grain of salt because she took so much care not to hurt anyone's feelings that white lies weren't beyond her, like saying how much she loved our crappy presents.

Besides this Jane Bennet aspect, there's some Lizzy as well, in her quick-eyed observation, an instantaneous understanding of people and situations. The first time she came to meet us, my mum grabbed her in the alley moments after she arrived and told her to pretend to be my aunt to simplify things with Bac Q's family. Once inside, she understood immediately how to play along, and how her Specialist Doctor Aunt label would give us a boost in that status-conscious household/hell-hole where we were lower than dirt. Also Lizzyish is her lively, occasionally cheeky wit. I got to see more of this the day we went to hospital together. In our halting half-English half-Viet we managed to joke around a bit- I teased her for being so paranoid that she made me call my (pro-democracy shitstirrer) dad from a phone booth instead of from home, for fear of Big Brother; she jokingly asked whether I wanted to shoot her for being a puppet of the Commie state, as a government-employed doctor. That day was strange, because we kept shifting from egalitarian English to tortuous etiquette-bound Viet, from student-teacher roles to guest-host to joshing equals. Stressful but interesting. Though I appreciate observant and sharp-minded people, it's so much easier dealing with the thickheaded ones who don't notice all your gaucheness!

The comme-il-faut manners, the gentle tact, the lively eye and humour - these are still the outer layers of the onion. As the day progressed and she grew more tired and strained, I noticed impatience, though of course not with me. With her housekeeper, daughter, husband and mother she had a quietly sharp tongue. In this setting she's no longer the demure hostess, but the exacting head of the household. Underlying these contradictions - or are they really? - there is a deep sadness.

See, the reason we know her is through my uncle L. She came to Australia for a 6 month study visit last year and somehow befriended L. It was a weird relationship. He was estranged from his unfaithful wife at the time. H too was apparently in an unhappy marriage. According to my grandma, husband and wife lived on different floors, just staying in the same house for appearance's sake, and for their 7 year-old daughter TH. When H and L came over to my grandparents' house, they acted like lovers, flirting and joking. I assumed she was his girlfriend. Everyone accepted that. Although before we went to Vietnam L's wife had returned - somewhere in the bargain a new car was included! their sorry story will have to be told another time - the understanding was that H was still kindasorta his girlfriend. I admit I judged them a bit for that, she had a little kid and husband, he a wife, what were they thinking?! Though the "internally separated" explanation on her part seemed fair enough, and the husband and kid were only abstract concepts.

It was seeing H in her world that made the tragedy and complexity of the situation more real to me. They live in this perfect display-room house, with modcons and luxuries impressive even by Western standards, staff to take care of everything. Her husband T is a high-level engineer for the state. A sophisticated, soft-spoken, gentle-mannered man, he would appear to be a good match for H. Their daughter TH is precocious, whip-smart, destined to follow in her parents' high-achieving footsteps. From the outside they look like a model upper bourgeoisie family. The only thing missing in this picture? Love. Well it is there, but only for the daughter, which is probably why she's spoiled rotten. I think TH may not even know that her parents are semi-separated; they still go on family outings together and everything. You have to squint to spot the cracks. It's in how H and T call each other "Mother" and "Father" instead of the standard "Anh/Em" endearments, how they never touch or joke or speak to each other except about practical matters- Stepdork and mum looked like lovebirds in comparison, holding hands, feeding each other, scolding. But this is on close observation; otherwise, it's an unnervingly smooth pretense.

I see now why H went for my uncle, with his boyish mischievous charm and rough romance. It's also clear why she likes my family and is in regular contact with my grandma and dad. Despite our Bac Ky origins, we've adopted the frank and direct style of the South, so different from the frigid Northern politesse that rules in her house. At our dinner table everyone talks and debates politics and jokes, food is passed to and fro, and even with my crazy grandpa stirring trouble and my uncle's abrasive teasing it's warm and lively. In contrast, I imagine meals are a lonely time for H and T, as TH eats alone with her nanny and the parents both work late.

My grandma said that H's parents had divorced and she had suffered greatly for it, which is why she won't split with T. Grandma has advised her that she's doing the right thing by staying with him for TH's sake, giving her a stable environment. I don't agree. My uncle in Canada did the same thing - stayed in the same house with his ex until his kids were in uni. The last time I met him he was bitter and disillusioned. At 50-odd, he had nothing: no one to grow old with, kids he thought ungrateful and disobedient, his assets chipped away by a war-of-attrition divorce settlement case. And who's to say that having two parents in the house is going to make the kid any better adjusted? Bearing the burden of guilt later on, not having an example of a happy relationship, being stifled by love that has no other conduit...that can't be good for a kid. For all the dark twistyness and slow-healing scars, both parents and I are better off after their divorce I reckon. Look at how normal and well-adjusted I am! (spluttersnort). No but according to grandma, there are other barriers to H and T's divorce as well - something to do with losing face and lessening of a woman's worth. Even worse reasons, to my banana mind...though I can see how divorce would seem an ugly black mark and a failure to H, who's worked so hard for perfection or at least the appearance of it.

It's vaguely obscene to plunder someone's life for a story, but I can't help imagining how it'd play out - it's so inherently dramatic and tragic. Our layered heroine in her tangled dilemma - mother vs woman; an apparently idyllic family that is a sham; two lovely, lonely people seemingly so well suited, unable to live happily together, unable to break away to make their own lives. Is a happy ending even possible? In literature the poor woman always seems to shoot herself or go under a train or something. But just as terrible would be the more realistic end: long years of status quo, resignation, unfulfillment, bitterness. They both deserve more.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Today is history

It is so weird having a government I agree with for the first time in my adult life.

Onya Rudd. Go now and read the Sorry speech.

Nelson's response isn't so bad in text...I'm a bit puzzled at the "fury" it provoked. That article has people talking about inaccuracies and stuff, but I think his real crime was going against the spirit of the day. I thought the collective turning of backs on him was pretty cool in a groupthink sort of way though.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

New Year's resolutions

Yeah yeah yeah, it's February. Well the lunar new year just passed, along with my 22nd birthday. I swore to myself I wouldn't be one of those women who are insecure/coy/precious about their age but OMFGIAMOVERTHEHILLANDWILLENDASPINSTER!!!!111!

Ok. Resolutions.
  • Read non-med stuff every day. Went book-crazy on my birthday and bough like $60 worth of fun books including Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks (two loves in one), Phillip Pullman's Northern Lights omnibus (Nicole Kidman made me) and The Odyssey (to see what all the millennia-long fuss is about).
  • Do some study every day.
  • Make exercise a habit. Already some progress: got a swim pass and swum 1.5k today.
  • Eat less crap. Helped by swimming cos calories have more meaning when counted in laps.
  • Write. Stop being in denial, apply ass to chair and ink to paper. Doesn't have to be any good.
But most of all, take no one's shit. After Vietnam and to some extent Airlie, I'm sick of being patronised and put down by men with planet-sized egos and presumably diminuitive....feet. One thing I've learnt is that there's an steel shard of self-respect buried beneath the tons of insecure neurotic baggage. Who'dathunk. This resolution is tempered by two others however: pick my battles and be kinder. Cos not taking shit can manifest in churlishness and defensiveness and that's hardly better than being a doormat.

Oy navel gazing again.