20 and a half- What I’ve learnt

It’s strange that people only talk about ‘half’ years when they are either really young or really old. “I’m 4 and a half” or “I’m 91 and a half”. I think the rest of us are missing out. Six months is a long period of time and one that perhaps deserves recognition. In an attempt to ‘celebrate’ that fact, and partly due to procrastination, I’ve decided to undertake a deep introspection of what I feel to be most important in life. I would love to look back at this and see how my views have evolved or changed, maybe even write a followup when I hit 30 and a half…


1. “You know nothing Jon Snow”

The fact is that I know nothing. Nothing beyond my initial surroundings, interactions and schoolings. With that comes only a deep respect for everyone I encounter, since they have a unique experience of life and a perspective that can offer a view on the world. I try to listen to everyone.


2. A life not shared is a life not lived

I identify as an introvert. That doesn’t mean I prefer to sulk away in the corner and keep to myself. It just means most of the time I prefer to do that. Yet I have an incredible gratefulness for family and friends. They are the people you can share your happiness with, or troubles when the time comes. That said, I could definitely work on trying to be more sociable though. A close friend who loves to initiate deep philosophical chats that I am never prepared for once told me – “We avoid risks in life in order to arrive safely at death”. I’m sure he stole that one from somewhere.


3. Health is one of the best gifts you can give yourself

A tangible sense of dread would wash over me when I had to do any form of physical exercise in my early teens. The bleep test was the stuff of nightmares. My diet was reasonable, mostly due to the blessing of a health conscious mother, but needless to say, cardio was a word I was not aware of. I would love to say how I was inspired to change, but in fact it was just the underestimated power of establishing a routine. I started going to the gym and lifting weights. I force myself to go and the process becomes mechanical. Heeding the wisdom of the modern philosopher Shia LeBoeuf, “Just do it”.


4. Travel

I am incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel and experience living life in a different culture. I was  born and raised in India till the age of six and that was when I moved to England, with a basic understanding of the language. I remember running to my Father in blockbuster because I had no idea how to speak to the staff about renting a DVD. The fact is that humanity is incredibly diverse. There are different cultures, systems, environments, climates and most importantly, people. It would be extremely limiting not to experience the countless ways that humans around the globe live their lives.


5. Culminate a deep passion for whatever you want

I didn’t get into medical school in my first year. I try and rationalise that by saying that “I didn’t work hard enough”, which is partly true. Looking back however, it was because I lacked a passion in what I wanted to pursue. I imagine that apathy came through in my interviews.  What has become more clear, is that having a grounded sense of ambition and passion and throwing yourself into what interests you the most, seems to ‘feel good’.  Currently that seems to be picking away at my guitar, reading and ‘being a medical student’… I’m loving it.


6. Be Open and Honest

It’s a simple concept that I prefer referring to as  being ‘chill’. Language is undermined with gossip, exaggeration or deceit and I find that by coming from a place of honesty, much the deadly sins of language seem to vanish. I’m probably one of the worst people to gossip with. By being open and honest, you tend to polarise people who harbour animosity or ulterior motives and attract those who like your company. Although its a cliche topic and I cringe writing it, a fantastic quote by Dr Seuss encompasses the idea perfectly.

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”


7. Reading is food for the soul

Reading offers perspective. One author I strongly recommend is Atul Gawande. He is an incredibly relatable author who talks about a range of topics from mortality, to the use of checklists in surgery to inevitable complications in medicine. His most recent book called ‘Being Mortal’ explorers how medicine is not coping with balancing technological advances with the needs of the ageing population. He delves deeply into what really matters in the final moments of life, essential insight that I think every healthcare professional should have. It had me in tears at points and has changed my perspective on end of life. That is the boon of literature.


7 1/2. Sweet Potato is a gift from God

A brief point. Cooking has been an incredibly frustrating yet endlessly rewarding task. I have found solace in sweet potato. Following the timeless advice of Samwell Gamgee- “Boil em, mash em, stick em in a stew”.


8. Gratitude

“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.”

I’ve been reading about stoicism lately and have found it endlessly enlightening. I love this quote but also really don’t want to sound like the philosophy student spouting garbage from that scene in ‘Good Will Hunting’ so rather than analyse it, I just take it at face value- to be grateful for what you have.

Grateful for family and friends, for an education, for shelter and food and of course for good coffee. Even gratefulness in the smallest of things has resulted in feeling incredibly satisfied.




Side note:

If I am reading this in ten years time, keep writing. No matter how convoluted and nonsensical it may be.


My experience of dissection

I was one of those people. On the first day of dissection, I inadvertently fainted, falling back rather unromantically into the arms of the person behind me. It was strange as I’d had a preconceived notion to how the process was going to be. I thought there would be a body, perhaps vaguely resembling a human being in front of me. We would then get busy to work learning the intricacies of human anatomy and dissecting various systems of her body. I expected this on the first day. There was also the fact that ever since doing work experience in the field, I was determined to become a surgeon. So fainting in that sense, felt like a failure, albeit a humorous one. Looking back on the moment, I remember our group unzipping the off white plastic body bag, the smell of formaldehyde (one that was completely new to me) and feeling a form of nervous excitement. It was still excitement though. However when the body was completely out of the bag and lain on the cold metallic table, I couldn’t help but feel unsteady. It was the face. Looking at the face, I realised that this was a person in front of me. A person who had once been a child, sister, mother, daughter, who had once had a job, friends and family. A person who had experienced joy, sadness, grief, anger, jealously and countless other emotions. I imagined a family or friend in that same position and simultaneously felt the blood rush out of my brain. The rest was a blur, but I tried to engage in that first week as best as I could.

Oddly enough, in the following weeks, it just seemed so routine. I had absolutely no difficulty cutting and exploring this person in front of me. Something had changed. Looking back, I feel as I suppressed the idea that this was a person. It may seem daft, but at least it helped me.  Another reason is the sheer volume of anatomy we had to learn. The human body started to seem less and less mysterious and more and more like a compendium of names for various parts. It was like a  piece of machinery but with complexity beyond that of any machine made by man. One that humans were nowhere close to fully understanding. Someone told me that on average, medical students learn a total of 7000 new words by the end of the first year. I assume that number only climbs as we progress. The vast amount of knowledge in a way helped process my misconceptions about the body. I for one, expected everything to be neatly arranged much like in a textbook. In reality it was a mess of fat and fascia, with loops looped around other loops, blood vessels and nerves navigating through muscle and bone. It felt like an incredibly large and precariously packed suitcase. It is of course a three dimensional concept rather than a two dimensional one. I absolutely loved the entire process and threw myself into trying to learn anatomy. Fortunately what seemed like a mystery at the start, now seems slightly more manageable.

Nonetheless, the time sped by and as I come to the end of the process this week, having spent a total of a year learning about the body, I can’t help but feel grateful. Grateful for the opportunity and especially grateful to our cadaver. As the amount of anatomy has dwindled, I’ve started to think of our cadaver as more than  piece of machinery, but instead as a human being again. However now I feel a sense of pride and deep respect. It takes a special kind of human being to donate their body to medical education. One that would want her body to be put to a good use by others after she had no use for it herself. Although I know almost nothing about her as a person, I know for a fact that the virtues of courage and stoutheartedness were not lacking. In the end, all I can say is thank you.