Work 2018.1 – part one

End of 2018.1

It’s been awhile since my last “end of term” reflections and I’m running out of titles for them.

The other day I saw the gardener from that last post for the first time this year. He was standing back to look at and snap photos of his handiwork – after transforming a section of the dusty makeshift carpark in the front of the hospital into a small vibrant garden.

Work arrangements

I’ve had this enviable registrar lifestyle with part-time clinical and non-clinical work. Regular hours, no weekends, lunches where it’s possible to go to the bank if needed, and fairly easy negotiations for (unpaid) leave. I’m realising a few things:

  1. Many arrangements are possible in medicine, although not all are financially advantageous.
  2. A couple of part-time or casual appointments can add up to more than 1.0FTE – obvious I know, but it’s easy to think a few hours doesn’t count for anything. Managing several remote desktops, inboxes and HR systems also takes time.


I hate it when I procrastinate but I also hate this tendency to be busy. Although less frowned upon, an excessively full calendar is as much of my failure in scheduling as lazing about and getting nothing done.

Both reflect an inability to maintain focus and discipline in life.


Speaking of focus, some of my favourite exercise metaphors (there are many) come to mind during BodyBalance classes:

  1. Staying still doesn’t look as difficult as doing weights, but requires concentration and a different kind of strength.
  2. When staying still in a difficult balance position, I have to fix my eyes on an unmoving spot. Not the instructor or person in front of me because they wobble and then I fall over too.

The second one I initially discovered from a patient rather than the gym instructor. I was removing a foreign body in clinic and despite trying to stay still, this patient’s eyes would flicker away as the needle approached each time. When he later focussed on a spot in the room the stillness was so remarkable that I thought I should try it myself.



Opposites – part two

In my writing

“Each time I look at it it’s a reminder that you never write to me. And that makes me feel sad.”

That was in 2009. We were apart for a year and shared a blog to keep in touch, until you forgot to write after the first month or so. Outside of textbooks and current affairs, reading didn’t interest you much. Back then I was upset and said you didn’t care about my thoughts and feelings. Your reply was, don’t you just tell me everything anyway? Even up to now, you only visit my blog every couple of years.

So initially in anger and later by habit, you’ve become strangely separate from, and omitted from, almost everything I write. In more recent years I laugh when I think of that argument because it so clearly exemplifies how different we were and still are.


When we met, you thought I was impressed with the number of push ups and pull ups you could do. But that was a big misunderstanding – I had no interest in muscles or such things and must have been watching out of sheer curiosity that someone could have fun working up a sweat. Back then you had just completed a 42km race after army, whereas I was out of breath running less than 1km around the park. I liked creative pursuits like art and music, and you were this odd Asian who couldn’t play a single instrument.

I wanted to have really loooong deep and meaningful talks and you would quickly lose concentration, or doze off altogether. Vet and medicine weren’t worlds apart as far as content goes, yet we were barely in the same space. Where I would share about some troubling aspect of hospital life or human suffering, you would respond by asking questions about some nerdy clinical detail or informing me of the pathophysiology of what was going on.

Needless to say it was endlessly frustrating and we fought all the time. I’d say we’re opposites and couldn’t work out and you’d say that opposites are complimentary. In the years to come we would become more similar as we cottoned onto each other’s interests and ways, but would both come to the conclusion that neither personality differences nor similarities are inherently advantageous in a relationship.


Over these years, I’ve also grown to appreciate our differences. I appreciate how you’re exuberant and excitable about life, whereas I’m often troubled and tired, pondering on the meaning of our existence. Where I could be more correct in almost every argument, you would almost always be kinder with your words. Where I might hold a long grudge, you have the gift of forgiving and forgetting. Where I am cautious to be emotionally invested, you’re somehow able to be single-minded and unreserved in declaring your love. Where I want to run away from something difficult, like marriage or children, you would say you like a challenge.

You’re like sunny Sydney and I’m like moody Melbourne. And you would say that the world needs a bit of each.

As far as humans go, you are the most constant person in my life and I often forget how much strength that gives me in my family life, ministry, work, friendships and all the areas people perceive me to be strong, capable and independent in. Thanks for walking with me and choosing to keep walking with me.

Thanksgiving and lepers – part two

For part two, in response to the prosperity message, I had in mind to highlight some instances in the Bible where things didn’t end well. But I didn’t end up writing much on that and wrote instead about feeling leprous on mother’s day.

Didn’t end well?

  • John the Baptist – he lived in Jesus’ time and was his relative. Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead. But John’s head was brought out on a platter, to a girl and her vengeful mother.
  • Stephen – in Acts lots of miraculous deliverances happen for Paul. He walked out of prison, was saved through shipwreck, and wasn’t affected by the bite of a poisonous snake. But what about Stephen who was stoned in the middle of his sharing?
  • Jesus – the Jews did not think the anointed one could die on the cross. Islam also does not see it fitting for God’s prophet to die on the cross, with the Quran saying it merely looked like Jesus died on the cross. But Christians say Jesus, being God, died on the cross.

Of course the difference with the third example is that Jesus’ story did not end with death on the cross. I guess the same could be argued for John, or Stephen, or all of us.

“So we are rebuked by Qohelet [the preacher, in Ecclesiastes] for our tendency to take wisdom’s remarkable sense of universal order and to turn it into a world-view which lacks depth, and which has no answer, other than condemnation, for the person whose experience contradicts it. From the New Testament perspective it is true to say that we can know with certainty that confusion and futility are banished by Christ. But until he comes again and all things are renewed, faith in the grace of God must sustain us through many incomprehensible tensions in our experience.” – Gospel & Wisdom, Graeme Goldsworthy

Still feeling leprous

I’m not sure if it’s because our expectations for Christians are different, but we often feel most “leprous” at church.

Last week my sister was singing “I love my mummy” with the other Sunday school children in front of the congregation. They had been practicing for a month or so. Each child was given a little card to take to their mums or another mum in the congregation. C ended up giving it to the first person in the front, who is a family friend with a daughter studying interstate. She remarked with a little laugh, as if surprised, that C was looking around a bit and wasn’t sure who to give it to. I wish she gave C a hug instead.

The godmother of two toddlers, whose mother died in surgery last year, did give us a hug though. And the new pastor’s wife came up to say she’d like to have us over for a meal some time.

My sister is a happy chirpy girl and a little oblivious to all this, but I feel so sad for her that most grown ups at church can’t stop to acknowledge or ask about her feelings. Sad, maybe angry, for myself too. With my own peers I’ll put it down to not having reached a stage in life to understand these things. But these are mum’s many friends who were close to her for years and years. We see them every week but it feels that the relational ties ended at her funeral. Or they feel too awkward to speak to us.

I’m sure there’s plenty of people feeling a loss on these type of occasions. When I made that remark at work my colleague helpfully pointed out that other people do have tragedies, but your grief is always the heaviest (because it’s the one you carry).

Before my closing eyes

Abide With Me
Abide with me, fast falls the eventide
The darkness deepens Lord, with me abide
When other helpers fail and comforts flee
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away
Change and decay in all around I see
O Thou who changest not, abide with me
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee
In life, in death, o Lord, abide with me
Abide with me, abide with me

It’s been awhile since I connected with the lyrics of any song, secular or otherwise. I somewhat boycotted music after mum died. No songs whilst doing housework or driving. No singing outside of church services.

Maybe it’s because I remember buying her a portable speaker for Christmas, or playing her favourite playlist of Chinese hymns through those last hours. I don’t know how much awareness she had of her surroundings or whether she found it soothing at all.

“I feel her loss more keenly now… I have asked myself why this is the case; after all, shouldn’t our grieving over the loss of a loved one fade as time passes? Yes it should–and in some ways it has for me. But in other ways it hasn’t, nor do I expect it to. One reason, I think, is because my strongest memory at the time of her death was of her last days–her weakness, her pain, her yearning for Heaven. Much as I longed for her stay with us, I also knew that for her, death would be a welcome release from the burdens of this life. But with the passing of time, memories of the happiness we shared over more than sixty-three years of marriage come to mind… and with those memories has come a deeper sense of loss.” – Nearing Home, Billy Graham

Urban sketching #1



The unfortunate thing about making friends at cancer support groups is that you’re more likely to “lose” those people than friends made elsewhere.

So said our art teacher, who has taken time off from doing classes since Christmas. She is stable on treatment but has had advanced breast cancer with brain metastases. Her little girl is five years old. Perhaps seeing us makes her sad too.

So we’ve been sketching, mainly by ourselves but once with the local urban sketchers group. The more detailed, better shaded, neater of the pairs are my sister’s.

“Wow, if only your maths book is as neat as your drawings!”
“Hey, that’s mean!”

She thinks that I’m obsessive compulsive to suggest that maybe she can… write within the grid of the maths book so that she doesn’t multiply the wrong columns, make headings to track the question she’s up to, leave appropriate spacing, draw lines and margins with a ruler etc.

We haven’t figured out what to buy and how to work with watercolour “on the go” yet. I’ve watched YouTube videos but figuring this out is harder than my day job.