Life in a Medical School

Published in Us Magazine, The News International. April 05, 2013.

The article is not, and does not mean to be a definite sketch of how life is in a medical school. Because life in a medical school eventually simmers down to how life in general is. And it all depends on who you ask about how life in general is…

Alia’s Story

Sitting in a clinic handling over prescriptions to patients never was Alia’s idea of life. She wasn’t carved out for such dullness, she thought. She had an aptitude for enterprise – the Armed Forces or even engineering would have done. But, coming from a family of doctors has its drawbacks all right, and that’s how she found herself in a medical school.

‘Haunted by books, surrounded by nerds and tortured by studies, I miss you, life!’ was what she put up as her Twitter info in her initial days at the college. The only saving grace (if one could call it that) was being generously referred to as ‘the cream of the country’. But time works in mysterious ways, it has an uncanny habit of making things fall into place. With advancing months, the gigantic world of medicine slowly assented to presenting her the views of greener pastures. Not that it cast a spell, and made things perfect – it rather changed her perceptions, and how! If there was one profession that had it all for her, she realised it was medicine. Defence personnel required their weapons to fight – her strength lay in her knowledge. Scientists would make merry on some new atomic discovery, her joy came with the successful diagnosis of an insidious ailment. Charity organisations swelled with pride on changing the lives of many – she disbursed charity every day. The religious would toil at God’s houses to know the Creator, she experienced Him often through his creations. She wasn’t changing the world, of course, but she was playing a little part. And that was what mattered. No other profession, and she could have swore on it, could contain such a delightful combo for her. Money, in Pakistan, wasn’t much, but for her the compensation made it a fair deal.

Years later, sitting in a clinic handling over prescriptions to patients wasn’t just Alia’s profession. It had become her life!

Asad’s Story

After Asad had cleared his FCPS Part I examinations, getting a training job came easy. As a side-job, he was assigned some histology lectures for Second Year MBBS students. At 28, he wasn’t old by any definition. Yet he felt more advanced in his age due to a self-inflicted state of mind, and this appointment as a teacher proceeded positively towards cementing this assumption. He had erected bars in his mind, and a mellowed version of his loved to gaze at the outside world at the vistas beyond these bars when at leisure. Even at his original age, there are some things that become clear, for example the very stupidly simple fact that life of a doctor is not even close to the glamorous, up-toned version they telecast in American shows. Or, that the doctors are no messiahs, and have as many shades of grey as any other professionals. Or, that medical profession in Pakistan has a very long way to go before it could justify even a meek comparison with international standards.

And there were things he didn’t quite know and it was disparaging. Just, for example, he didn’t quite know why his heart always skipped a beat whenever he looked into that green pair of eyes seated among his pupils. Or why his eyes would often protest to steal a glance at that tuft of black hair as he’d proceed from demonstrating about mucosa to sub-mucosa. There were bars. Mental ones. And physical ones. And then there were limits, mental ones, physical ones, religious ones, cultural ones and moral ones. A committed person, much less a teacher, should definitely keep away from such endeavours. Was it love? Infatuation? A crush? Or a feeling they haven’t yet devised a word for?

He didn’t know another thing as well: that in those breaks between mucosa and sub-mucosa, a pair of green eyes gleaming beneath a tuft of black hair also felt something towards the man who lectured at the podium. A feeling they haven’t yet devised a word for!

Sana’s Story

Holding a DMC in your hand that authenticates your success in 1st professional of MBBS, you can rest assured that further intimacy with Anatomy and Physiology texts is put on hold for a while. For Sana, however, it meant more. Third year meant her much anticipated voyage from the junior block of the college to the senior one. With this change of locale came that of subjects, too; pharmacology came out to play! For many, this acquaintance with the big, bad world of drugs meant a lot. It meant the use of drugs. And mis-use. And self-medication. And abuse. For Sana, however, it meant less.

Just about two months ago, she was your typical topper of the class; exasperating to most of the fellows but a sweetheart to the teachers. They say there are thousands of drugs being used in clinical practice. And with formulas ready on her tongue-tip for every class of drugs, and her hand always up in the air through mid-way of every question, this girl knew a lot. But these two months had seen her fall on a steep. For one, her hand seemed to have discovered a new-found solace resting on her lap. Only yesterday, when the associate professor in medicine ward asked her to name some drugs that shouldn’t be given orally, she didn’t respond. She knew the pneumonic all right: don’t put PINS in your mouth (Penicillin, Insulin, Neostigmine, Streptomycin), but chose against replying. Was it some lack of confidence? The whole class could testify for her excess of it. Hopelessness? It’s a sin.

So maybe it was her realisation of the murky reality that nothing, not even medical science, is absolute. You learn, you cram, take oaths for serving humanity; but those destined to go, abscond you anyway!

They say there are thousands of drugs being used in clinical practice, not one could save her father!

Kareem’s Story

‘So, what do you think? Do girls make better doctors or boys?’

‘Boys, man, definitely! Most girls anyway do not even pursue their careers after marriage. I’d rather say they waste a bit too many seats…’

Another day – another place in the college.

‘Do you think this quota system is justified? I mean, shouldn’t those on reserved seats be made to practise in the area they’ve come upon whose seats? Their admission is lenient, yet they get the same perks as us.’

‘Come on yaar, these people from remote areas always have sufferings. Why add to them?’

Another day – another place in the college.

‘I tell you, babe, Life of Pi is just awesome! Dekhi tumnay?’

‘Nope, first I need to finish up with ‘Ishq-e-Mamnu’ on Youtube. Behlool’s so handsome babe, dekha tumnay?…’

Another day – another place in the college.

‘Yaar I pray every day Imran Khan wins the elections. He is the last hope for our country. Tu bhi dua kiya ker uss kay liye.’

‘Um, I will. First let me pray in detail for Manchester United. Yeh mulk tou itnay saalon se Khuda chala hi raha hai, agay bhi chalata rahay ga. MU walon ko tou mehnat kerni perti hai…’

Another day – another place in the college.

‘Have you checked out the girls of first year? They’re really pretty!’

‘Tell that to those who care…’

For the last ten years, this was how Kareem’s life had been. As the chief sweeper of the college, his job afforded him a number of opportunities for eaves-dropping. Everyone in this college had a lot to say. Good things. Bad things. Meaningless things. Different things. And all these things had seeped deep into Kareem’s being, as a permanent part of his persona. Their stories, in inexplicable ways, had become a part of his own story.

Who says life in a medical college is monotonous? Kareem’s came with a different plot every other day.

Ali’s Story

It definitely wasn’t the first time Ali had come out of the gate. There had been innumerable times before, most likely in thousands. But this time, moving his steps seemed to be an incredulously mean task, if as the Earth had amplified its gravitational force with the hideous intent of dramatising the moment. He looked back at the building that stood tall, where he’d spent a good five years of his life. Only that today, unlike ever before, the building seemed very inviting.

A flurry of mind-numbing memories came rushing through his mind, a kaleidoscopic journey of his life at this college. His transformation; from a meek, introvert first year to an authoritative final year. The bitter-sweet memories of ragging and getting ragged. Buying all sorts of standard books but thinning down to the very basic ones before the papers. Sleeping like dead after taking stages. Bunking boring classes, only to get more bored outside. Dodging eye-contact with teachers so as to escape their questions. Nights in the hostels, full of laughter and banter. Coming up with all sorts of goofy nicks for the female classmates (and occasionally the male ones too). Making study time-tables for preparation leaves and never coming solid on them. ‘Proxifying’ and getting ‘proxified’ – and getting fined when caught. Socialising, and learning lessons of life. Studying like mad, understanding some concepts and plainly cramming those very difficult to understand. Tension-filled vivas – attempts to confuse the examiners when convincing failed. Taking histories of patients in the hospital, getting snubbed by some, welcomed by others. Hurrying to attend the good wards and coyly keeping an eye on the watch in the worse ones. And matters of the heart – friendships, enmities, crushes, heart-breaks!

So intense was the upsurge of all these memories that he swore he could touch them. It all seemed like yesterday – only that it wasn’t.

A new chapter of his life began that day; his practical life as a doctor. This chapter of his life closed forever. He wished it hadn’t!

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2 thoughts on “Life in a Medical School

  1. To someone as enthusiastic about medicine as me, this is what I sense my life would be once in and out of the medical college. Laughs and grief, tears and smiles -this narration was beautiful, like a ride into a prospective future, well ridden with nostalgia. Totally worth reading; Beautifully written! :’)

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