I enter the corridor of my new workplace. I’m welcomed and introduced all around. For some reason, best known to her, the human resource lady took so much of my time that I am already pissed and looking angry. I don’t feel comfortable in this different setup, and I miss my old workplace. Every single thing about it, which previously used to get on my nerves, I miss.
However, I succumb to my new work because it has been over a year since I practiced medicine, and the sole reason for me to be here is to get distracted from my mental chaos and to focus elsewhere.
In a matter of hours, I find myself adjusting and understanding the work dynamics and the system. It’s easy — not challenging, likely because there’s ample time at hand which I can utilize to study while earning. Not a bad deal!
This is a dialysis department of a semi-private hospital. Every patient here is dependent on dialysis, two to three times a week. That is their lifestyle, while for most of us, lifestyle is defined by our status symbols and acceptability in society — something we work for, day in and day out.
I see patients from all walks of life and all ages as they walk through the doors at their scheduled times. They align themselves according to their token numbers: some patients race to reach us before the others; a few enter the hall with frowns, likely upset about being here, while others enter with a smile, greeting us and bringing us sweets. After they have been put on dialysis to kill four tedious hours, they watch television, read a book and sleep. Some engage in conversations. This group tends to be the chronic patients who are well acquainted with each other, so they converse easily on politics and religion. Then there are a few aged patients who even yell out in anger about their life’s miseries.
I do my round. They greet me, and I greet them back. I observe a profound warmth between my fellow doctors and the patients — an impeccable kinship worthy of admiration. At the back of my mind, I’m still thinking which other job to apply for or if I should continue this one.
The shift ends, and I am writing the post-dialysis weights of the patients as I ask them their names. My eyes are more focused on the weighing machine than on the human being standing on it.
“How much is my weight, again?” the question breaks my fantasy about my envisioned dream job while writing down the weights of the patients in the log book. The girl standing on the weighing scale, the log book tells me, is the same age as me — 27. She’s a pleasant-looking young woman wearing lovely eyeliner and a nicely styled abaya. I wonder of all the other 27-year-olds, myself included, and their everyday struggles, this one’s issues take on a different dimension altogether given her almost daily dialysis routine.
In a mere instant, I glance back at all my problems in life that presumably begin and end with the USMLEs, those problems I have chosen for myself. Problems like: How every doctor I know in my age bracket is worried about the USMLE exam; how our day begins and ends with the thought of the number of hours we can study; how much we will score; how many publications and international electives we have under our belt; above all, whether we will match or not; how, if we don’t match, our life is going to end.
I realize every day we are stressed about the future — to the point that we fail to enjoy the present.
Here’s a patient, a woman my age, having to come for dialysis three times a week and smiling through it accepting it as part of life — she is truly a winner.
That moment changed my perspective.
Now, I continue to work here. In one week’s time, I find myself talking to these patients about more than their illnesses. I really hear them out. I also enjoy the view outside the ward I work: both early mornings and sunsets. The greater part of the city outside that I can glimpse from the ward gives me a sense of tranquility. And in all those observations I realize I have found a sustainable happiness, regardless of the uncertainty my future holds.
Natasha Khalid is a physician in Pakistan.
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