Birth

I wrote this at the end of my locum a year ago in December 2019. The last time I worked as a real doctor. I get a lot of surprised or disapproving looks when I answer – no, I don’t miss clinical work (yet).

I did a few short locums as a hospital resident this year. It’s a good break from my non clinical work. Nice to work somewhere anonymous, blending in with second or third year residents, and learning new things. “New” only because I wasn’t particularly engaged with my clinical placements or the idea of becoming a doctor during the medical student years. Remediation. Having said that, by now I’ve met plenty of RMOs who have other medical lives. My pathologist friend who finished 7+ years of specialty training works both as a consultant pathologist and a ward RMO throughout the week. She’s hugely talkative and misses patients.

On the first week of O&G I was figuring out the shorthands and what was considered a normal birth. Like, is 20 hours of labour normal or long? Is 4L of post-partum blood loss an issue? On the second week a few of the co-residents were away and there were lots of mums and babies waiting to be discharged each day. Third week there wasn’t much in the way of daytime vaginal deliveries, though by then I did attend a few Caesarian sections. Made the mistake of wearing non waterproof shoes to theatre – the blood stains are still there after many washes.

After hassling the registrars for a few days, there was finally an opportune time to visit the birth suite on my last day.

“Um, it’s my last day and I have mostly worked as a resident on the postnatal ward…” A lot of my cohort didn’t have great experiences with trying to sign off births as medical students. Hissss, you’d expect to hear, from the midwives and the midwifery students. “You’re desperate to see a birth?” said the team lead, before I finished asking. She was sympathetic. She had worked years in remote and understood why I wouldn’t want to see my first birth (in recent years) working in a remote clinic, where help was hours away. “Tell the midwife and he will ask the patient for you”. He? The young large bloke wasn’t what I pictured but hey, male midwives exist and he was easy going.

The woman in labour happened to be one I had seen in antenatal clinic one or two weeks prior. She was a multiparous woman and had been induced overnight. Things were progressing rapidly. She was talking a bit to start with but the contractions got more frequent and there was a lot of moaning and vocalising in between her desperately sucking on the gas. Her husband sat nearby but didn’t appear too startled – it was their fifth baby after all?

Lots of CTG and vaginal exams. It’s incredible how the perineum changes as the head moves down and out. But baby couldn’t quite get out by himself. The registrar came in to assist with the vacuum suction. The baby was stunned as he came into the world but cried soon after. Placenta delivered and a few sutures for the small perineal tear. Fortunately she delivered pretty much as I finished that shift. I thought I would have had to stay back and camp there for at least a few hours more.

Neonates are monstrous, ugly things. Doing a lot of baby checks, I was thinking how they have some general commonalities to each other, and to us adults. They like to be fed and cuddled (so do I). They like being covered with some sort of swaddle (I like a snug blanket too). They like sleeping in the dark (in the room we renovated, which we never ended up moving into, we installed a second layer of curtains on top of the blinds due to my crazy sensitivity to light). So basically, babies are small humans and that’s beautiful. Beautiful for their families that is!

Connecting with church history – part two

Continuation of part one and mainly about Church History in Plain Language, by Bruce Shelley.

Early creeds

We don’t usually recite the creeds in our current church’s order of service – but many churches that I’ve been to over the years have. Reading about the history of the creeds helps me to gain a better appreciation for what they are about. The statements of faith seem to have arisen from a combination of pressures from false gospels, the will of Roman emperors (eg. Constantine I in calling the council of Nicaea), and the work of church leaders.

In the early Apostle’s Creed –

“God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…” countered the false gnostic idea of God as purely spiritual, unrelated to the material world which is evil.

“Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary…” countered the ideas that decoupled the spiritual work of Jesus from historical physical events of his birth, crucification and resurrection from the dead. This is consistent with the 1 John, which strongly refutes the idea that Jesus was not truly human. The later Nicene Creed, from the council of bishops in 325AD, expands on the divine nature of Jesus, being of the “same essence as the Father”.

“I believe in… the holy catholic Church” – this is often a point of confusion if Protestant churches don’t explain its meaning to the congregation. Catholic as in one body of the church, as opposed to the specific local church. What we think of as Roman Catholicism today did not exist as a distinct branch back then.

Religion, politics, and power

With the Romans, there was this ever-present interplay between religious and political power, which is somewhat unsettling. Shelley in his book describes how on the one hand, emperors often controlled which bishops or schools of thoughts were in favour – and on the other hand, how bishops had the power to even threaten ex-communication to emperors.

On the same UK trip we visited Scottish museums and were surprised at the amount of church history mentioned alongside the political history of the British royals. Again, there was this coupling of religious and political power when it came to the Reformation in the 16th century. Did the kings and queens pick Catholicism or Protestantism primarily for theological or political purposes? How close should the state and the church be?

Some denominations – Anglican and Lutheran for example – favoured close ties with the ruling state. Other movements sought separation of state and religion.

Denominations

Which leads to the point of denominations. In a country like Australia, we know churches as Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, independent and so on. When visiting cathedrals and church buildings in the UK, we were confused what denomination was the Church of England (Anglican), or the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian).

Shelley writes that “separation does not of itself constitute schism” and makes an interesting contrast between denominations and sects. Denominations recognise our inability to see truth fully, and acknowledges different expressions of faith – as long as fundamentals of the Christians are not compromised. Sects claim truth for itself.

Political systems

Early this year someone at Bible study was asking whether Rehoboam (king of Judah, son of Solomon) did not turn out to be a good king because kingship was given by succession. As in – was the system of succession to the king’s son the problem? Would God directly appointing and anointing a king guarantee that they would be a good king?

If we look back a little, Saul and David were specifically anointed to be king. One followed God with his heart and one did not. If direct appointment by God via his prophet can have different outcomes depending on the heart of the elected king, it’s hard to imagine how any system (eg. monarchy, democracy, communism) can guarantee a good leader.

At the height of the Hong Kong democracy protests, there was some tension within our local Christian community between mainland China migrants and the pro-democracy young people from Hong Kong. Last year, there was a lot of prayer for unity within the church in UK – with strong convictions from Christians on both sides of the Brexit debate. Whenever it comes to election time, say with the recent US election, there is often a side that claims to represent the voice of all Christians.

It’s enlightening to see what we face is not new. There was a time where a united Roman empire was seen to be a united church. In more modern history, some Christian movements identify closely with socialism. But our primary identity and salvation is not in these systems. Not to say that Christians should not have political views. Often, some governments, some political or legal systems, are better for an era. But even as we advocate for change, we should acknowledge the limitations of these human leaders and institutions.

“Time has a way of sifting and testing human achievements. Men design their social and political systems, and for centuries people regard their own order as the best that can be imagined. They go to war to defend it because they believe deeply that if that particular organization of the world collapsed there would be nothing left to make life worth living in their own time or in the future. Yet the river of time is littered with the ruins of social and political – city-states, empires, dictatorships, monarchies – and we wonder why those who lived under them should ever have defended them or valued them so highly.”Church History in Plain Language

Connecting with church history – part one

Connecting with the Romans

Old buildings are hard to come by in Australia or Singapore. Old buildings and museums in China are plentiful, but often have scant information in English. The last family trip to Europe with my parents several years back was a whirlwind tour – a country a day. Just enough time to hop off the bus, snap a few photos, before heading to the next destination.

Last year we were at Vindolanda, half way through our journey along Hadrian’s Wall. This was a Roman fort village until the 4th century. Perhaps the slower (walking) pace and being in the middle of nowhere helped us to soak in the history. Apart from the buildings there were also well put together exhibits local artefacts. From Roman coins, to saddles and spurs, letters and birthday invitations, ceramic bowls imported from Europe, intact leather shoes, and more.

Connecting with church history

In this and other places along the wall, there was also this curious phenomenon where the Roman empire turned from polytheism – the empire’s very tolerant and “modern” approach where locals were free to worship their own gods as long as they were loyal to the emperor – to Christianity as the state’s official religion. I also had this realisation that the Roman way of life at Vindolanda – centurions, praetoriums, denarii, the tension between local people and the centralised Roman rulers, are close to (albeit a few hundred years separate from) what is described in the gospels, in Jesus’ time when Rome ruled Judea.

A few years back I read some illustrated books about the lands where Jesus and apostle Paul lived and travelled to. But church history, beyond the period outlined in the Bible, never really caught my attention until I got interested in the Romans. Perhaps I found it hard to see Christianity and development of the church as being linked to times, places, and and people. Anyway, a few months back I was lent a book about church history and it prompted some further thoughts, which I will elaborate further in part two.

Can’t they take care of themselves? – part two

Continuation of part one.

Throughout the year and especially leading up to these school holidays, I’ve had some frustrating conversations at work. Somewhere between the age of twelve and fourteen, the conversation shifts. By fifteen it’s like, well, why do you need to be there at all.

“Shouldn’t she be old enough to take care of herself?”

Mainstream Western thinking is almost implying that we are hindering her independence by not leaving her to her own devices.

Sure she can feed herself, but what about finding a balance of rest and meaningful activities in the holidays? Working through friendship problems at school – friends who are excessively needy or suicidal? Having someone to talk about their mixed feelings when a boy likes them for the first time? Organising calendars and routines? Negotiating rosters at the casual job. Time away from iPad and what’s difficult about face to face conversations. Starting to care for others, like our single-mum friend and her baby. Purpose, meaning, money, achievements. Deaths, ageing parents, regrets. Responding to people who are curious about your faith. Reflecting on why the monster and gore art is so attractive.

Every family situation is different. But if we have the ability to be present, why are we outsourcing these conversations to health professionals? Or letting social media have the final word? Or relying on courses to teach young people basic life skills?

It’s also lovely just to have fun together and be sisters. If I said I was taking a few days off to spend time with my husband no one will question his ability to care for himself. So – no, relationships can’t take care of themselves.

Can’t they take care of themselves? – part one

I don’t have a natural affinity for children or teens. Some teens have a perpetually cold and standoffish look. They know what’s important in life (what’s trending) and you don’t.

It’s school holidays and I took these two out. Usually you can barely get a “hello” response. But when you ask enough questions to find something that makes them tick, they can chattering away with great enthusiasm. The girls were pleasantly engaged in the youth art exhibit. Then practically squealed with concealed delight when discovering the new Lego place. Who would have thought our brief stop there would end up in being more than 2 hours of Lego play?

At the end of the outing I was reminded that even prickly-porcupine teens can be warm and loveable. More importantly, even porcupines are children who want to be heard and loved. And we have so little patience for that in our busy big lives, or their busy little lives.