Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Guest Post: When medicine gets personal (Part 1)

My journey in medicine has been somewhat semiotic; an ebb and flow journey that has been almost entirely governed by signs. My journey in medicine would seem to be predetermined and there have been many signposts to guide me along the way.

Some call it fate.

Upon hearing my story you might call it bad luck.

Or maybe it’s ‘just the way the cookie crumbles’.

I? I believe I have been blessed.


Once upon a fairy tale, I wanted to be a vet. As a little girl all I wanted to be was a vet – I loved animals and the arduous training schedule appealed to my über type A alter-ego. My decision to ‘bat for the other team’ and pursue a career of experimentation on humans came later, much later.

In fact it wasn’t until my final years in high school that I decided I wanted to be a doctor. Cardio-thoracic inspired. It came to me like a cosmic ray, complete with visions of fame of wealth, and probably the standard quo but ubiquitous desire to ‘help people’. I can’t really remember, but I concede that visions of a leather interior Marilyn Monaro did dance in my head!

What? You don’t know what a Monaro is?!


Puh-lease!!! I would have looked HOT in a Marilyn Monaro! The wind blowing through my hair...

In reality, today? Today I drive something Toyota-esque, fitted with child restraints, with the occasional projectile vomit from the backseat breezing by my head. NOT exactly what I envisioned!


As a naïve and self-absorbed pre-med, I had my life all planned out and I never, not for an instant, thought it would ever go otherwise. My entire life I had always been successful, the top of my class, and I was a stranger to failure. I was arrogant, it’s fair to say, but I had my healthy aspirations to ‘do good’ too.

I grew up in a family which was entirely devoted to community work and the advocacy of social causes. My parents in fact spent more time helping people than they spent taking care of themselves. I wanted to help people too, but medicine was also going to be my way of doing a little better for myself than my parents had. I was a zealous surgeon-wannabe, with just the right amount of arrogance and pride to dream of saving the world.

We all, I believe, want to help people and it’s a big part, hopefully the BIGGEST part, of why we pursue medicine as a career. The desire to help people is quintessentially pre-med, almost every medical school applicant pulls the line ‘I want to help people’, but some mean it more than others. This desire, however, means very little until you have something to back it up with, something to serve as personal motivation. Something.... that can take that desire to change the world and turn it into the desire to be the change that you want to see in the world. Ghandi knows best! After doctors of course ;)

I was knocked from my pedestal early on. The ink was barely dry on my medical school applications when the phone rang and I heard the news that my older brother, a long-term mental health patient, had taken his life. In the dark of the night, amid the reclusive bushland of Australia, he had drunken himself into a stupor, taped a hose to the exhaust and, piping carbon monoxide into his car, put an end to his life. It was not his first attempt, but it was his last. And the sound of the telephone ringing can still send a chill up my spine.

I attended my brother’s funeral just 10 days before I was to sit the final exams that were to determine my entrance into medical school. Standing before his open casket I was impressed with the life-like pinkness to his skin, his face looked almost flushed, full of energy and vitality. Today I understand this as a direct consequence of the CO poisoning, but at the time it seemed in stark contrast with the coldness and rigidity of his hands. I know what his hands felt like purely by accident as I was too terrified of the presentation of death before me to touch him. But, as I tried to slip a note into/under his hands as they lay cupped on his chest, my fingers brushed his with a sensation that I will never forget, and I met death. His was a death that could have been prevented, and in that instant as our fingers brushed, his with so much left undone, mine with so much yet to do, I also met myself and I found my reason to be a doctor.

The note? The note was a simple declaration that I would become a doctor, in his honour, and I’d have better faith in, and care for, my patients than that which was afforded to him.

I had found my personal motivation, my reason to ‘help people’, but I was still yet to encounter my Ghandi moment.

This was just signpost 1.

(To be continued)

DSM-IV 299

DSM-IV 299 hails from Australia where she is currently a fulltime mother to Ocean Boy (4), Mini Me (coming up 3) and Freckles (18 months). Now aspiring to a specialist career in developmental paediatrics, having once graced the diseased halls of sexual medicine until one day her life collided with a rainbow... more revealed in Part 2.


  1. A fellow Aussie
    You have a remarkable way with words and I will be stalking this blog for part 2.

  2. I did not know what a Monaro was!

    Can't wait to read more.

  3. It will all make you a better doctor.


  4. Wow, great writing. Thank you for sharing. Likewise, I am looking forward to part 2. My younger sister is in med school in Melbourne.

  5. I saw the word Monaro and got excited that you might be a fellow Aussie!

  6. You are not alone. My brother took his life a few weeks before my MCATs. I do not want to put my name on here or post too many details, but if you would like to get in touch we can figure out some way. It is a small relief to me to know that I am not alone either. Most of the time these days I am settled and fine, but every once in a while the enormity of it all comes over me. I am truly sorry for your loss.


Comments on posts older than 14 days are moderated as a spam precaution. So.Much.Spam.