Sunday, January 29, 2006

First week almost over already?!

The first week of MBBS II has finished and it seems that my brain can't get into it! Fortunately (maybe unfortunately as well), many of my friends and classmates are facing this as well.

Academically, this past week has been a bit of a blunder because the gap between Year I and Year II seems to be quite large and this year the School of Medicine has decided to change a number of things (surprise, surprise). The week runs from Tuesday to Monday (no uni on Saturday or Sunday) as opposed to last year, in which the week ran from Monday to Friday. I have PBL on Tuesday morning from 8 to 11, and then I have my clinical coaching sessions at Redland Hospital, which is at least 30 km outside of Brisbane. I'm not too happy about my placement (I'm not the only one, the 8 other members of my PBL are also stationed there). It takes almost 2 hours to get there from my house and more than 2.5 hours to get back to my house. I'll keep you posted on how that turns out, as I've emailed the Head of Year II and hoping that there will be some resolution to this issue. Wednesday and Thursday, we have lectures from 8 till whenever (normally never lasting more than 4.5 hours, at least that is according to the Master Timetable that we were given). Friday, there is usually a Clinical Large Group lecture from 8 to 9:30 and then I've a 2-hour PBL session from 9:30 to 11:30. Then I have two 1.5 hours pathology and anatomy practicals each week. PBL and clinical coaching are the only two things that we HAVE to go to; all other schedule lectures/clinical large groups/clinical reasoning lectures are optional. Also, this year will be about pathology. Year I is a year to learn about what's normal (with some level of pathology) and how that relates to the different body systems. In Year II, we learn about why things fuck up and how to fix it. The SOM has designed the year so that we have maximum time for self-directed learning and opportunities for clinical practice, as this year is considered to be the "systematic preparation for practice".

Okay, that was boring...on to the fun stuff. We had orientation on January 20th and apart from the administrative stuff (congratulations on passing first year, this year will be harder, blah blah blah, ra ra ra), it was so good to see people again! I knew that I missed my friends but once I saw them, I didn't realise how much I've missed them. Many hugs and kisses were flying about. I was able to meet new people (well, people that I didn't know last year), which is great because one of things that we were told to do by the Head of School of Medicine was to network and develop professional relationships with our peers. Good God! If that's the case, then I might as well just stop now because I don't think that my brain can handle the multiple number of Robs, Daves, Matts, Claires, Kims and the like. Friday night was great as I hung out with Leanne, Claire, Annabelle and Brownlie. We all talked about our electives, drank some good Australian alcohol and headed down to Ludo, a bar along Caxton Street. This bar is owned by a second year medical student in my year. Drinks were free until 7pm; needless to say, the four of us (and the other med students that were there) made sure that we got our free monies worth of drinks. :) After that, I met up with Param, her friend from Vancouver, Marlo and Melissa at Caxton Hotel for some more drinks and a little hip shakin' on the dance floor, until Annabelle's brother dropped me home (so nice that your friend's younger siblings can be the responsible ones and take your older siblings and their friends home). Saturday night was another long night as many of the Canadian students went out to a very posh vodka bar in West End called the Lychee Lounge. After having our tummies filled with many good things, we headed down to into the City and went dancing at a nightclub. We left when the bar closed (around 3:00am) and then I headed home, where I stayed up for a few more hours before going to bed.

The Sunday was a day of preparations for our (Dave, Suz and Veevek) housewarming. We spent a bit of money on getting the food prepared. Originally, we were only going to invite a small number of people but then that got out of hand; I reckon that at least a 100 invites went out. Fortunately, we didn't have that many people attend. The most number of people we had was 43, which was great! Lots of great food, drinks and conversations were had by all. The best part was is that Dave, Suz and I have set the standard for the higher quality of parties that can be done by 2nd year medical students. Most house parties are just sorry excuses to drink excessively and be surrounded by abrasive people. Here are a couple photos:

The socialising aspect of the first week back was probably the biggest factor that made getting back into the academic side of things very difficult. But who is to blame us? Wednesday evening was the eve before Australia Day (akin to Canada Day or 4th of July for the Americans), so Annabelle and I went over to Claire's house to make sangria and get things ready for the party. The next morning, we were up and ready to go! Australia Day!! It was fun! I remember las t year, Cam and I didn't know anyone yet so we stayed at home watched tennis and cricket and enjoyed a couple of beers. This year, I had Australian flag tattooed on my cheek, partook in singing the Australian national anthem ("Advance Australia Fair"), even though it was grotesquely out of tune. Here are some photos:

(The brown stuff on Claire's toast is vegemite! mmm..mmm...good)

The next day was the first med keg of the year! Last year, it was a horrible display of how much I drank. This year was a whole other story! It was fun and not as packed as last year. I checked out the new talent that the MBBS I cohort brough...and I was quite impressed. I met a number of first year students and re-connected with some people in my year (oddly enough, that the re-connection happens in the presence of alcohol). I left at a decent time, only to come home to drink some ginger beer and then some vodka with Liam (Dave's friend from Canberra). Fun times were had all round!

The Saturday after the keg was a great day! Dave, Liam and I went to Burleigh Beach (which is along the Gold Coast) and I ended up getting a sunburn on the left side of my's quite gross considering that it's starting to peel. That evening, I stayed on the couch watching Jurassic Park III, while the others went to see Brokeback Mountain (I had already seen it with a friend in Calgary). I was supposed to go out with my friend Leanne but that fell through. That being said, every cloud has a silver lining, in the sense that I needed an alcohol-free night. :) We have been taught that you should have at least two alcohol-free days a week. So far, so good!

It is now Thursday night, and I've just finished the week's work (this week's case is on eczema). I'll go over it in greater detail this weekend. I'm glad that my brain has been jumpstarted into it. I'm excited about this new year!

A dedication to some special people...

Well, the first week of uni has gone by without much incident (academically speaking I mean). But before I go into what has happened in Brisbane since my arrival, I wanted to touch upon some people that made my time in Calgary just a bit sweeter.

Coming back to Calgary always fills me with a mixed bag of emotions. Apart from the friends and family that are there, the city is only a shell that has been filled with the majority of my life's experiences. However, in the moment, the city does not hold that for me. As for some of the friends that I have, are still stuck inside a time-warp that exerts itself on some of the inhabitants of Calgary.

For the most part, majority of my friends do not fit that category. They are forward thinkers and willing to accept the uncertainty that the future holds, especially with regards to the dynamics of relationships (especially those people that have had to put up with uprooting and relocation every few years). This blog is a dedication to those people...

This is Trish. We met in a genetics lab that we had together. We sat beside each other and bitched about the 12 hour reporting we had to do with our fruit flies (I tell you, every time I see a fruit fly, I have chills running down my spine), amongst other things. We had many of the same classes together - organic chemistry, botany, genetics and biology. She recently finished her undergraduate degree in biological sciences and now wants to pursue what has been her dream of music (before it was medicine but her vocal talents would be wasted!). Trish has the voice of an angel (akin to Charlotte Church). She is one of those people that has grace, in the sense that she always has the disposition to be generous and helpful, and that she doesn't discriminate against anyone when it comes to that. Everytime I come back to Calgary (and if she is there as well), we have afternoons filled with chai and random snacks, and conversations that would include and involve everything from small talk to politics to medical science, and the like. She knows that she means the world to me - and now I can let you all know that as well. :)

The next group of people, I met through the University of Calgary International Student Centre (ISC). Vivian, Trinda, Ced and Brenda. Vivian, Trinda, Brenda and I used to all be volunteers and/or student staff together. It was great to be involved with an organisation that really did promote internationalisation of one's university education. Ced has come over from France and is a very good friend of Trinda's. Oddly enough, I dated Ced's cousin when she came to Calgary from France to do a semester abroad. Even though they are all at different places in their lives, they know what it feels like when your experiences are incongruent to others. They understand that the people that you care about will have lives that will progress at different rates. Vivian did an exchange to Ireland, and then a work term in France; Trinda taught English in France, and Brenda (who is of Gautemalan decent) works with Shell Oil, with most of her clients being from America.

Here is Anita. Anita and I got to know each other from the University of Calgary Amnesty International Association. We were co-executive directors at one point. She is Fijian of Indian ancestry. Unlike the many other Indian-esque people that I know, she is not doing business, engineering, law or medicine. No, she doesn't own a 7-11 or other convenient store, nor does she work at a liquor/Indian spice/Indian clothing and jewellery store. She is a graduate student in political science and will, hopefully, be going into a doctoral programme in political science as well. She is extremely cultured, can carry on a great conversation (in all the different fields...but you get her started on human rights and security're done!), and is a great soundboard for ideas and thoughts that you might be having. This photo was taken a few days before I left Calgary at a place called Cafe Mediterranean. It's one of the few places in Calgary that you can smoke a sheesha (no, that has nothing to do with marijuana or opium or anything other narcotic). She is thinking of coming down to Australia to visit Ruth and myself; so much fun is to be had!

Christine and Steve...what to say about these two? Well, I met Steve on this trip back to Calgary, as Christine and Steve started dating when I was in Australia. Christine and I met in 1999 as we were both going on exchange. She went to Mexico and I went to Malta. Upon our return, we both volunteered for the ISC. In fact, I had a little crush on Christine at that time. I told her about it and she turned me down as she already had a boyfriend. Even though she went on to complete a degree in international relations (and subsequently a Master's degree in global development in Latin America from University Collge of London in the UK), we are still able to about development, politics, health, economics and also the more small talk stuff of fashion, travel (which is very important to us both) and those sort of things. Even though she is working in Calgary in the area of international education at one of the polytechnic institutions, she desires go beyond her box and do something that she is passionate about, which is development. She's definitely a keeper!

Bijal - someone that I have known for many years but in a variety of ways. Bijal and I are members of the Gujarati community in Calgary. Our parents having set roots in Calgary and made family friends amongst those that shared the Gujarati culture, language and values. In the beginning, we knew each other as "so and so child". Then as we grew older we were involved in dances and saw each other at jamvanus (the Gujarati word for dinners), cultural and religious events. And for those people that know me, I've not been a mainstream member of the Gujarati community in Calgary because I never felt as if I belonged to the social/age group that I was supposedly a part of. The other kids that were in it had a very different idea of what was fun and cool. Also, I despise to the two-faced nature of many of them. Bijal is one of the few that isn't like that. What you see is what you get. Like Anita, she too is not doing medicine, engineering, business nor does she own the aforementioned service stores. She is doing a degree in French, with a minor in English. CRAZY! I love it! She does want to go on and complete a law degree. Unlike most people that I know within the community, Bijal is extremely well-spoken and can carry out a conversation on any topic. She is very rational (which I've realised that many people aren't) and when she speaks of an idea or thought process, it is clear and extremely articulate. At the same time, she can be ridiculously silly (but in a good way) and has an endearing childlike quality about her when it comes to having a good time. She is the real deal. As with the others, she too sees relationships as being dynamic and fluid.

Now, there are a number of people that I didn't take photos with but there are a couple that I need to mention. One is my dear friend Monica. Monica and I met in an organic chemistry lab (what's with me and meeting friends in a laboratory). She was doing the science then medicine route. However, after some soul searching, she finished up with a joint degree in economics and English. We had a couple economics classes together. She was in Fiji and New Zealand working for Commonwealth Learning, which provides internships to youth. These internships are partnered with the Canadian International Development Agency, Foreign Affairs Canada, and International Trade Canada. She is now at Queen's University in Canada doing a Master's in Public Administration and a law degree. Her and I met for coffee at what is probably the best cafe I've been to in Calgary. It's called Cafe Beano - for those of you in Calgary that are reading this. It's off of 17th Ave on the left hand side before getting to the lights at Mount Royal Village.
We talked about the issues that we both face when coming back home and how we don't really know where we are going to end up after we finish our respective degrees. Issues such as the transient status of relationships, the concept and ideals of home and what we can and cannot tolerate from our families. Like myself, she too will be heading back to Calgary every Christmas, so it will be nice to see someone, so to speak, that is cut from the same fabric.

And then there is Tim. A friend of mine from university - we took a course of infectious disease together. He works at a hospital in Calgary as an orderly and is hoping to get into the fast-track post-graduate nursing programme at the University of Calgary. There aren't many people that I would call "safe" and "solid". Tim is the epitome of how safe and solid a friend can be. He too has a horrible travel bug and his experiences in Africa (he travelled to Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and Malawi) only fuelled his desires to see and do more than what is offered at home. Even though he has bought himself a condo in the city, it doesn't stop him from dreaming about what lies ahead.

All in all, being in touch with people that have shared common experiences and have common future visions of where they see themselves in all spheres of their lives is a very reaffirming feeling to have. And even though I've only been living in Australia for one year and have become close friends with some absolutely amazing people...I only hope that I can only manage my spheres a bit better.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Hello from Hong Kong!

I'm in Hong Kong International Airport waiting to board on my flight to Brisbane (which is in an hour). I must say that flying over the Pacific Ocean sucks as! The flying time from Vancouver to Hong Kong was 14h45mins. There were several screaming rats...I mean...children. However, there was one baby sitting in front of me that was quiet the entire time, near the end of the flight I helped the parents play with their son as they were getting very tired (I know, I like to help wherever I can).

And for future references, Cathay Pacific is a so-so airline. As far as the Asian airlines are considered, nothing tops Singapore Airlines. Nothing.

Okay, in the 5 minutes that I've been on this thing, a massive queue has developed. 10 more hours and I'll be in Brisbane!

Until then, keep fit and have fun!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Happy New Year's!


It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve last written. I do warn you that this is a long post, complete with photos.

Alright, so many people want me to post more about my experiences in India – that’s fair, as I don’t want to disappoint some of my readers. So here goes.

After leaving Delhi, I realised that I left a bit of my heart there. It was a place that nurtured the human spirit from within; it was a place that enabled me to see horrible things become beautiful and beautiful things becoming ugly; it made me realised that I do not only want to become a doctor, but to become a ‘healer’ in every sense of the word. It was a place that I know that I will go back to time and time again both in the physical and spiritual sense. I know that I am soliloquising about all the good things, but there were moments of sheer frustration and random chaos that gave Delhi its indelible charm.

I went to my cousin’s wedding and my dad’s cousin wedding (in the case that some of you are confused, these were two completely separate weddings) in Porbandar, Gujarat.

This is a photo of Kirti Mandir, which is a place of honour in Porbandar, as it is where Mahatma Gandhi was born.

This is the fruit and vegetable market near my family's home. I would go and buy the vegetables needs for that day's meals. They would always give you free coriander, chilli and bay leaves. (Only if they could do that at the markets in Brisbane).

And if all else fails with medical school (which is highly unlikely), I can always fall back on becoming a rickshawala! Driving a rickshaw is absolutely fantastic! It's an experience that I think most people should try at least once in their life.

Okay, back to it...I met up with mum and my Ashakaki (kaki = aunt [your dad’s brother’s wife, that word is different to the word used to call your mum’s brother’s wife]) in the plane in Mumbai heading to Porbandar. Porbandar is a coastal city that starts to reek of dried fish in the late afternoon, while the city experiences its daily siesta. It’s a place of very fond memories with family. The celebrations around the two weddings were absolutely fantastic! I met up with my friend Rakhee (she is originally from Calgary but had been teaching English in Japan for the past year, and is now somewhere in London, UK at the moment) who was undertaking English tuitions every afternoon for boys and girls. At the sanji (in Gujarati, means ‘evening’), we got dressed up in our finery and danced the night away! Many people came up to both of us and asked whether we were professional dancers hired by the family. HAHAHAHA. Rakhee and I couldn’t stop blushing and laughing. We thought that it would be prudent to start such a company where we can rent out people to dance at functions like this. The name of such company would be “Garba GoGo Dancers”. There was a sanji also for the other wedding and, once again, we got the same compliments and people asked the same questions. Also, some people were asking about whether Rakhee and I are getting married or thinking of getting married. Hmmm…I guess when you have reached mid-20s anything, one’s family start to get a bit agitated that they are not yet married. Unfortunately, I was sick of the day of the weddings (they were both held on the same day), I was unable to get out of bed and had quite a high fever. Fortunately that only lasted a day.

After the wedding celebrations were over, I was able to relax with my mum and members of her family. We all went out to Majivana (my mum’s grandfather’s village) for the day and we did some pujas and had lunch out there. It’s always nice to see whether your family can trace its roots to. Also, it is refreshing to know that in some cultures that these sorts of activities are highly valued.

I left Porbandar and headed up to Gujarat’s main city (not the capital, but it really is in every sense of the word), Ahmedabad. I have cousins that live there and I always like going there as it is usually very different from the lifestyle in Porbandar. It is more cosmopolitan, there are many more things to do and the hustle & bustle of the city just energises you. Even though my time here was limited, I was able to spend time with my two nieces and nephew.

As for the remainder of my elective at St Stephen’s hospital, I became more and more attached to the Community Outreach Centre. I did take a few days off to experience the General Surgery department, which was absolutely wicked! I didn’t think that I would like surgery but I did. I was able to watch a lobectomy, a couple of laparoscopic cholecystectomy and removal of benign lumps from breast tissue. I was able to also see a woman, who had a full mastectomy, with necrotising tissue and a deep hole in her chest cavity, a young girl whose face was burnt off with acid, several abscesses and cysts to last me quite some time and an inguinal hernia repair. The remainder of the time at Community, as in my previous post, was incredible. I made friends in a place where people don’t necessarily trust those that come and go; I made connections with children that were more cynical than people I know (ahem…you know who you are!) I was able to move about more in the community and be welcomed into the homes of people that frequented the clinics and utilised the services that the community centre provided them with. I was given a glimpse of hope in the midst of utter destitution and poverty. That sliver of hope was more powerful than anything that I could feel…I still get chills down my spine thinking of about it.
The little girl in the pink jumper is Anjali. She is the one that called me 'papa' after I knew her for one week. I still won't forget how every time I would come into the children's area, she would stop whatever she was doing, run to me with her arms outstretched and a huge smile on her face. I only wished that there was more that I could do for her.

Okay, to pick up from the last post, which was written on the last night I was in Brisbane. The flight home was uneventful but long as! I’ve realised that the cheapest flight to and fro Australia is not necessarily the best one. My flight went from Brisbane to Singapore, 4 hours in Singapore, Singapore to Tokyo (correction: I wrote Taipei in that post and it should have been Tokyo), 2 hours in Tokyo, Tokyo to Los Angeles, 6 hours in LA (my best friend Christine picked me up from the airport and we went to walk around UCLA campus, ate at some great eateries in Westwood and then we went to Santa Monica beach for a quick walk), LA to Calgary. Fortunately, my trip back to Brisbane is via Hong Kong (which is shorter and I don’t have to travel through America). (insert photo of Christine and I at Santa Monica)

Coming home has been great! Seeing family and good friends at this time of year always rekindles the soul and makes the spirit grow stronger. It seems that everyone has changed, which is a great thing. I reckon that it is indicative of the fact that people I know have been working towards their own goals and desires. The really odd thing about being in Calgary at the moment is that the weather is fantastic (for those of you in warmer climates, you will definitely disagree with this), hovering around 10 degrees Centigrade and no snow has fallen in Calgary for weeks! It was a very brown and dry Christmas.

I’ve been able to spend time with some really solid friends. As much as I love my close friends in Brisbane, some of whom are like family, it’s reaffirming to know that you can jump back into a friendship of 4, 5, 6 and 10 years without having a glitch in it. The development of history within a friendship can be quite painstakingly difficult. I’ve been quite blessed with the friends that I have, such that developing such history has been an enjoyable journey.

My family doesn't celebrate Christmas. However, we celebrate the fact that we are together as a family and can look back at the year, along with eating some great food and enjoying great laughs. For the past few Christmases (except for the time that I was living in Kenya), I have have celebrated Christmas with the Richmonds. It's always a riot! We all wear the paper hats that come out of the crackers; every year, I have to make little rips in mine because it can't fit on my head. (Oh, those are my new glasses that I bought from Delhi). Christine and I normally ending up drinking a bit too much wine and have great conversations. This year was special because it will most likley be the last one that we will be spending together for quite some time. Also, her parents are becoming snowbirds and moving down to Mexico and her sister is moving to Vancouver to fulfill her goals of fashion desing (she is fantastic!).

Every year for New Year’s, my friends and I are always trying to think of what we can do. This year, however, Vijaykaka (kaka = dad’s brother, and this word is different from sister’s brother) bought me a ticket to “BollyVegas” and pitched the idea to me as an multicultural extravaganza. He also said that I could bring a friend. So, this year I celebrated the New Year’s with my parents, Bhavisha, Vinay, Vijaykaka, Ashakaki, and one of my best friends, Christine. Christine (who bought a dress especially for that night, not because she was prepared but because all she bought to Calgary were casual clothes) and I (glad that I left a suit in Calgary) got dressed up and before heading over my uncle’s house for a little pre-party party gathering, our mothers took photos at Christine’s house. It almost felt like Grade 12 graduation or something! Upon arrival at Vijaykaka’s house, we took back some rum-orange juice before making our way to the venue, which was a new hotel/casino that opened up in the South-East of Calgary. The food sucked at this place. No, sorry, the best dish at the place was the salad. A night of drinking vodka, rum and champagne made me and Christine quite happy (the double vodka and orange juice and taking back two glasses of champagne really put us into the ‘happy’ zone). I know that some of you might think that I have some guts to drink in front of my parents. I would rather them know than doing it behind their back. My cousin Vinay kept asking me as the night progressed, “Veevekbhai (bhai = brother), are you smashed yet?” This was the first time that my cousins have seen me drink more than one drink and I was quite composed, as opposed to falling all over myself at the first med keg (good God!). Christine, Bhavisha, Vinay and I ripped up the dance floor and it was great to create such a positive energy field amongst us, which carried us into the new year.

New Year's Resolutions (the major ones)

1. Learn to take time for myself
2. Become more active in the 'community' in Brisbane (community meaning the medical, university and Gujarati community)
3. Get back into the gym (so far so good!)
4. Tell those around me that are important how important they really are.