Taking a moment to breathe

After an intense run of exams, I feel like I finally have a moment to breathe and reflect. And yet, the irony is, I can’t think of anything to say! Throughout my study sessions, interesting thoughts and creative ideas sprang into my head and teased me, trying to grab my attention. I came across some really insightful books that I wanted to read, movies I wanted to watch, and ideas I wanted to pursue myself in short stories and/or a novel. Now… either I don’t feel like doing any of that or I just don’t remember what those ideas were in the first place!

Why is it, every single time, that our mind invents the most interesting things at times when we can’t do anything about them??!

I have a feeling this has to do with the contrast between education and learning. Yes, they are different things, believe it or not!

The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education. (Albert Einstein)

Now why would Albert Einstein say something like that? If you think about it, the probable reason why so many kids hate school so much is that they aren’t interested in the taught material. The formalization of an education system forces students to take a particular path towards “learning”, which can be dentrimental in the long-term.

For example, I remember coming across some poetry in high school, outside of my English classes, that I really enjoyed reading. I thought about the poet’s message, and the way he chose and combined words to get his ideas across. I was actually analyzing poetry for my own interest, without a teacher forcing me to follow his/her method. Not only did this allow me to read poetry the way it has always been meant to be read (i.e. Robert Frost didn’t write poems so they could be taught in schools; he wrote them to convey his ideas in an artistic form and to possibly cause his readers to consider different aspects of religion and life), but it allowed me to truly learn how to read poetry.

When we read the same poems in class, my interest started to dwindle, primarily because we were required to break up the poem in tiny pieces in order to fully analyze it. That completely takes away from the feel and big picture meaning of the poem. I can easily imagine why so many teens hate poetry – when you’re only taught poetry in that severely dissected form, rarely seeing the big picture, how can you possibly appreciate the artistic form?

Similarly, I have a very deep interest in learning about medieval Europe and its kings and queens. In grades 6-9, I constantly read the Royal Diaries, which are fictional accounts from famous princesses in the past, such as Queen Elizabeth I, Bloody Mary, and Queen Victoria of England, Anastasia of Russia, Cleopatra of Egypt, and many more around the world. I learnt so much from these diaires, because I would often Google the queens and search for more information about them online. I also used to read the Dear Canada series, with fictional accounts from Canadian girls throughout history. Most of the Canadian history that I learnt was through these books… I was never interested in the material taught at school and quite frankly don’t remember a lot of the details that were taught to me, such as the War of 1812.  

As much of an interest as I’ve had in history, I have never taken a history class. Even in university now, when there are so many interesting history classes for me to register in, I don’t sign up for one. Why? Because I know that when the reading assignments and paper deadlines start coming my way, my focus will change from learning the material for my interest to just getting it all done as soon as possible. Where’s the fun and learning in all of that?

So, I guess to sum it all up, I feel like my problem right now is the same. As much as I love math (yes… I do, and I always have loved math, but…), if I’m scrambling to submit homework problems on time and to get through practice problems for the midtern, I can’t possibly see the direct applications of the material I’m taught. Courses like genetics, cell biology and organic chemistry are different for me, because I feel like I’m going to know something at the end that will help me help the world through research and whatnot, even if some of the things we’re taught right now are downright boring.

The ideal world would be one in which we attend university lectures, soak up all the amazing information that exists out there, and never be tested on it. Siiigh! We might not be practically ready to address the world’s problems when we graduate, but we would all be great thinkers, that’s for sure!

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A Taste of Health Care

6 weeks into my second year of university, as a Biochemistry major, and the full heat is on! Midterms are steadily pulsing my way, and I’ve already lost count of my cups of coffee… not a good sign at all.

On the plus side, I’ve just had two of the most amazing, most wanted, most sought-after opportunities burst happily into my life! 1) Volunteering at the hospital, and 2) Volunteering in a brain research lab (!!!!!) Today I’ll focus more on my first day as a Volunteer Visitor at the hospital.

As a Volunteer Visitor, my job is to visit with patients, and keep them company through conversation, board games, books, etc. Today was my training day – and it was a shocker! Not in the sense that I hadn’t expected any of the things I witnessed today, but in the sense that I hadn’t realized just how serious a role this actually is. Let me illustrate.

After explaining all the logistics of our job to us (signing in/out, accessing list of patients to be visited, etc.), our trainer gave us a tour of the hospital and especially the wards that I will be frequently visiting on my shifts. This was really helpful, because that hospital feels very much like a maze to me! I was told to confirm patient rooms on the board behind the nurses’ desks, and to watch out for biohazard signs, like putting on gowns or masks, and staying away from rooms that have a “cytotoxic” sign outside. Then, the meat of the training, actually visiting with patients!

The first patient we visited was a really nice, old man. He appeared quite happy and comfortable at first, reading a thrilling suspense novel when we entered the room. We started to talk and somehow it came to him mentioning that his son was killed in a road accident. As I was overcome with sudden grief, not really knowing how to respond to this shocking comment, he began to weep a little and said that he still hasn’t really gotten over it. Of course he hasn’t! That has to be one of THE most devastating events in a person’s life, losing a child to death. Thankfully the topic was changed by my trainer and we began to talk about his grandchildren…a happy subject!

The weird thing is, you hear of car accidents all the time, where someone usually ends up getting killed. But how often do you consider the family behind the incident? The loved ones who are grieving for the victim? Even though the connection between the victim and family isn’t really that vague, somehow I’ve never really gone across that bridge to think about the real implications.

And I’m sure it’s possible to hear of such accidents from other people who you know and encounter in everyday life – but to hear it from a man who was admitted in the hospital… somehow this scenario made the account infinitely more touchy and emotional for me. I think what really got me was the fact that he could’ve been feeling sorry for himself, but instead, in a troubling time of his life, he could only think about the son he’d lost. Although he has a loving family that visits him regularly at the hospital, he could only remember the son who will never come visit.

It’s that strange balance that we have to deal with in life. Being grateful for everything that we have, and yet honouring and remembering the past. Sometimes, recalling the past, especially a relatively happier one, can make us ungrateful for the present.

The next patient we visited was a woman who requested that we find her a lawyer or a social worker (!). She insisted that there was nothing wrong with her and that the nurses were imprisoning her…! And then, as we politely leave the room, telling her that we’ll let the nurse know etc., lo and behold, my trainer tells her: “Have a nice day!” You can only imagine the outburst that this could have caused! Thankfully this patient wasn’t particularly aggressive or anything, but she did speak out angrily “I can’t have a nice day!” and something else too that we didn’t hear in our hurry to get out.

It’s a tough job to be sure! I think I had expected rainbows and sprinkles and lollipops, that even though I’ll be working in a somewhat depressing environment, I’d be able to stay cheerful and optimistic and just make my patients’ days! On the contrary, the reality was a a bit shocking. I hadn’t expected my role to be so vitally important and difficult… I really am there to help these patients feel better; and yet there are going to be lots of occasions when I cannot possibly do that. 

Despite the odds though, I intend to find a way to force my volunteering time there to make a difference. Perhaps the “difference” that I make isn’t going to be what I expect right now, that I’ll make the patients feel happier. Maybe the best I’ll be able to do is to make them feel supported in their struggle against their sickness. Maybe my mere presence will remind them that they are not alone in the world. Maybe I’ll remind the senior patients of their children or grandchildren, and happier times. Or maybe the contrary. I don’t really know. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

I have to admit though, as hard as this appears to be right now, I feel that the dilemma I find myself in is an important one. Just having to deal with it makes me feel like a contributing member of society, and well on my way to practicing medicine!

Until next time,

thoughtsmanic

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First breath

Hello! Bonjour! Khush amdeed! Hola! Assalamu alaikum! Annyeonghaseyo! Salam! Namaste! Ni hao! Merhaba! Përshëndetje! Kaixo! Hyālō! Zdraveĭte! Pozdrav! Dobrý den! Hej! Ola! Gamarjoba! Hallo! Geia sas! Kon’nichiwa! Dia duit! Ciao! Sveiki! Zdravo! Buna ziua! Pozdrav! Dobrý deň! Vaṇakkam! Xin chào!

Never realized that there were so many ways to say a simple hello until I used Google translate for this! In any case, I’m glad to have made this step into the blogging world today, the first of many more to come I hope!

I intend to present this blog, on the whole, as an accumulation of my thoughts and experiences to be shared with you – an audience that may be invisible, but will nonetheless have real reactions and opinions in response to my posts. This thought makes me feel as if I have just been given a scary and exciting mission to complete. Anything that I state here may be read by countless invisible eyes, transmitting my ideas to countless invisible brains, and ensuing a multitude of thoughts in that as-of-yet unknown sphere. With my hands flitting about this keyboard, I might have the power to actually enrich lives, educate minds, and perhaps even convince some to change their opinions. What a thought!

But don’t worry. I don’t intend to turn you into my clone just yet. Most of the time, I’ll probably be rambling about some random thought that strikes me in the head – sometimes in English, other times in French. (I might as well add that my French will have some very horrible grammar mistakes, and I will have to depend on all you francophones out there to take pity on this little French-wannabe). As a Science student, just moving into second year, I think I’ll also present this blog as a much-needed guide for all those scared little first-years about to start university – I know exactly how it feels in your shoes, my friends. Never fear! Thoughts-maniac is here!

Oh, and a dire warning before you commit yourself to this blog: I’m known by my close friends and family as someone who makes very, extremely, horrifyingly bad jokes. I hope you’ll be able to stick with me even after cringing and shaking your head for a good long while. 🙂

Cheerios,

thoughtsmaniac

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