When all is told


Bustling fairies draw dots tonight

Once at seventeen I fell in love,
Winds in summer and winter’s rays, a
Surprise! Two warm woollen gloves,
Stacks of scarves in patterned arrays;
Quietly charming, quaint were you,
Faded green and yellow carts go
Clickety-clack down tracks into
Drizzling streets with candles aglow.

You, my dearest, enticed me to
Bricks, raw red, bulbs bare, to share
Flavours full and milk-swirled brews,
Homely nooks by wooden doors.
Sea and sunset, their whistling sand,
Palaces tall boast pillars of old,
Scrapers soar in populous lands, still
You were dearest, when all is told.

Faces come and go in sight, your
Bustling fairies draw dots tonight.
Stories dim, now sleepy eyes follow
Faces flow; they come to go.


The people in hospitals

Colourful sunset near the hospital

View of a colourful sunset from the hospital

I had about half a year away from clinical work. This was the longest time away from hospitals since I started clinical school. In some ways, nothing much has changed – the paperwork, the unpredictability in workload, the conflicts. Yet, time away was not time wasted. I felt refreshed and more interested in the people around me, and their stories.

Doctors of all kinds

Several university classmates and co-interns from my old hospital. A registrar who quit surgical training after contracting a serious infection from a patient. A mini-property tycoon (buying a property a year since internship) making negotiations for his seventh investment purchase during our lunch breaks. Many studying and working including the ophthalmology registrar with a PhD who’s about to start another Master’s. The advanced trainee who had a baby and put her training on hold. Watching her doodle on the mindfulness colouring books in the most serene manner, you would never guess that she used to be an angry medical registrar. A few figuring out their paths or ones with several careers already – including an ICU / ED dual trainee who was a previous head of department in nuclear medicine. He also happens to run a free general practice clinic overseas several months of the year.

I hadn’t found many kindred spirits during these hospital years. A nice and unexpected aspect of locuming is discovering the range of characters in medicine, some with similar outlooks on life and medicine.

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” – from Anne of Green Gables

Patients of all kinds

People have interesting lives outside of their patient role. A patient in ICU said he was overseas often, working as a magician. In jest I asked whether he could do a trick and he said he was too sick. Days later he pulled out a deck of cards (and was out of ICU). He asked me to think a card, any card. Without me physically picking out a card from his hand, he “guessed” the card of the number and suit I was thinking of. He showed me the card which even had my initials at the corner. I’m sure he didn’t have time to scribble on it with a marker whilst I was watching him!

“Tell me, how did you do it?” And as expected, the answer was…

“It’s magic!”

Another time I saw a mysterious, black leather-bound notebook on a patient’s the bedside table. It belonged to the patient’s wife. She was an artist and it was her daily sketch diary – what lovely ink and watercolour sketches to brighten the most mundane day at the hospital!

Long love stories

Patients, especially the elderly, are surprisingly open with their life stories. A man in his eighties started talking about how much he was in love with his wife. He pulled out two photos of her from his wallet – one recent and one from her twenties.

“Isn’t she beautiful?” he said, admiring the photos once more. Holding back tears he said, “I miss her so much. She died last year and I’m so lonely. When you’re a young fella you can walk into a pub and make friends but it’s different now. Some women are interested in me but I don’t think I’ll get married again. We were one for over sixty years!”

“Do you think it’s worth getting married if you have to separate in the end?”

“Yes, yes I would marry her again. The love and companionship you give each other… and I was so in love with her!” He went on to tell the story of how they met in the military, how she dropped hints but he didn’t pick them up because as a new recruit he thought he didn’t have a chance.

He paused, then lowered his voice. “Mind you, we had our rough patches too. Once she caught me doing the wrong thing, you know. She called and said, ‘you come back to me right now because you’re my husband and we promised to be one. I forgive you.'”

What about the rain?

I live in a lovely, bright and sunny (albeit unimaginative and ugly) neighbourhood. Uncharacteristic of this place, there was a time earlier on in the year when it rained heavily every day. The sidewalks and bins were littered with broken umbrellas that did not survive the strong winds – from flimsy black ones, to sturdy umbrellas with impressive wooden handles. One fine day getting ready for work, I looked outside at the grey clouds and puddles and was instantly annoyed. Annoyed that I was going to be late because I had to change to a more waterproof coat, change my outfit so I can wear boots instead of normal shoes, then dig out my umbrella from somewhere in the bottom of a cardboard box…

But why did I feel so inconvenienced with a normal variations in the weather?!

Often the mishaps or conflicts in hospitals are as much an individual issue as it is a sign of bigger, systemic problems. What was the system problem here? When I was part of the uni fellowship, one of the most common prayer points was “time management”, which usually referred to day-to-day discipline to firstly study and not waste time, and secondly to make time for God. But what about rest and margins? Do we consider this in our plans for the month, the semester, the year?

I used to do quite well in this area when I worked full-time in the hospital. Hospital life was exhausting and I knew to be physically, emotionally and spiritually well, I needed time and space to sort out my life. I was careful in my commitments. Ironically, part-time and locum work opened up a world of things to be busy with, career and non-career related. Sometimes when I timetable to squeeze the last drop out of every hour, I need to remind myself to leave some gaps.

What about the relationship with God, the deeper connections with people that only happen when you give yourself sufficient time and space to nurture them? What about the evenings where you just can’t concentrate on anything, the days recovering from a long drive, the weeks when you’re sick and everything seems to take so much effort? What about the housemate who wants to talk when you’re in the middle of something, the friend who has a crisis, the family who calls when you’re just about to go to sleep? What about leaving enough gaps to be okay with the rain and appreciate the unexpected?


Road not taken – part one


Sometimes I ride the “school bus”. Like all forms of public transport, one perk is overhearing conversations. Another is discovering poems. One week, the student sitting next to me had the front page of an assignment on her lap:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

The first stanza was tantalising, so I read on…

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

– The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost (1916)

Prior to this, I had only come across the last two lines in internet memes or “inspirational quotes”. Which I don’t like much. It’s fine to “make your own way” but I think the pursuit of being unique demonstrates just as much self doubt as fear of deviating from the crowd. I’m delighted to find that the poem itself isn’t so clear about that being the take-home message after all. How is one road truly so unique if the second stanza has just described it as almost the same – only possibly more in want for wear, but not really! The story behind the poem is intriguing. Apparently Frost wrote it for Thomas as a gentle mockery of his friend’s indecisiveness when it came to which road to take on their many shared “walk and talks” in the woods.

Actually, I’m no fan of abstract or esoteric poems. Unfortunately these are the only kind I sometimes read, out of curiosity, because the journal I work for includes one or two with each issue. With few exceptions, these are hugely unpopular amongst the staff (perhaps we’re under-qualified to make sense of them without an arts degree). If they were assessed as regular manuscripts, they would neither meet the criteria of being Australian, nor that of appealing to a general medical readership.

But I do love poems like this which are so eloquent in their written expression. I wish I had more patience to read poetry and learn from these writers. Not dissimilar to how I wish I had more patience to learn classical piano pieces. Popularised quotes, like pop music, are definitely more accessible and time-friendly. But both feel almost crude and lack some of the richness of their classic counterparts. Maybe something to look into in the distant future when I retire, ha!

Are poems actually unexciting
Sentences with spaces dis-
Persed in awkward spots, and
Too Much Capitalisation?

Does age make you wiser? – part two

Side note: as much as I like pure writing I’m trying to incorporate some pictures into my posts because I get it that images are accessible to more people, and in general readers these days have limited attention spans. Having said that, this is a long post (like 8 times the word limit of a Twitter post!) and no pictures, haha. Sorry!

When it comes to age not necessarily making people wiser, there are some shocking examples in 2 Chronicles.

King Solomon

Now, most of us are familiar with the story of King Solomon, who asked for and was granted wisdom from God. His unparalleled wisdom was renowned in Israel and beyond, and authorship for the Bible’s “books of wisdom” are attributed to him. However, he accumulated hundreds of wives and concubines and “when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods” (1 Kings 11:4). Despite being both the political and spiritual leader of God’s nation for forty years, later in his life he indulged his wives in their idolatry. He set up places of worship for various foreign gods. Surely Solomon in all his wisdom knew that serving other gods and setting up idols is breaking the first of the ten commandments (Exodus 20:3-6).

But this was not a one-off incident. Throughout 2 Chronicles, there were many more less known kings who started well but did not grow wiser as they grew older.

King Asa

By his time Israel and Judah had split into two separate nations. King Asa was serious about removing idolatry from Judah. He even burnt the image of his mother’s foreign god and removed her from her position as queen mother because of her idolatry. He led the people to renew their promise to serve God with all their hearts and souls.

Earlier on in his reign when a huge army from Ethiopia attacked him, King Asa prayed and relied on God to defeat the enemies. In the last few years of his reign Asa was threatened by the king of Israel. This time, he sought an alliance from Syria, taking “silver and gold from the treasures of the house of the Lord” as a tribute to the king of Syria. When rebuked for trusting in other kings instead of God, Asa was angry with the prophet and “put him in the stocks in prison”. Not only that, when he subsequently became severely inflicted with some sort of disease of his foot, he was unrepentant and refused to seek God. What a contrast from his early life! All this unfortunate deviation from godly wisdom came after the 36th (out of 41) year of his reign.

King Joash

King Joash lived in tumultuous times. His father died during his infancy and after this, his grandmother seized the throne. She ordered all members of the royal family to be killed. Joash alone was rescued and raised in secret in the house of God by his paternal aunt and her husband Jehoiada, who was a priest. When the boy was seven, Jehoiada spoke to the leaders and Levites and together, they reinstated him as the rightful king.

Evidently, Jehoiada led young Joash to follow God and later supported him in undertaking repair of the temple that had been neglected and been damaged by his grandmother who despised God. Joash did “what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest”. More than a godly mentor, his uncle seemed to have also been a father-figure and even found wives for him. When his uncle died, Joash would have been at least 30 (in the 23rd year of the king’s reign, Jehoiada was still alive – 2 King 12:6). But for the last decade or so of his life, similar to what king Asa had done, Joash was influenced to worship idols and took from the temple of God to appease other nations.

Here’s the shocking part. God sent prophets but king Joash would not listen. Even when Jehoiada’s own son (who was also a priest) came to rebuke Joash for his disobedience, the king ordered him to be stoned and so “they stoned him with stones in the court of the house of the Lord“. The house of the Lord, in which he was raised! And this is despite everything Jehoiada’s family had done for him, from the personal risk they took in rescuing him from death, to protecting and nurturing him throughout his life. This happened in the last year or so of his life.

Of course it’s not that people are more disobedient in their last days, but rather, Asa and Joash’s disobedience at least partially contributed to their shortened lifespans. Nevertheless, they are just several examples of the many kings who were radical about serving God, then became older (perhaps more powerful too) and went to do their own thing in disobedience.

Lazy runners

In talking about how marathon runners try to run the second half of the race faster than the first, Francis Chan says:

In America, the norm is to do the opposite: do radical things for Christ when you are 18-25, then slow down once you are married. When you have children, your service to Jesus slows to a crawl – you have your family to think about. Then it’s only a matter of time before you forget you are even in a race. Instead, you focus on building a home and settling down. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can run faster as the race goes on. In our final years, we can sprint, knowing that we can collapse into His arms.You and Me Forever

I don’t know if what he’s saying about real life marathon is true. But I have reflected on how after we have been Christians for awhile, are comfortably familiar with the Bible, go to church regularly, and avoid doing anything that we consider to be major sins, we are content to be stagnant in a way that we would not be happy with, if it we were to apply the same attitude to other areas of our lives.Which serious runner doesn’t try to run faster? Which gamer doesn’t try to level up? Which musician doesn’t try to expand their repertoire? Which artist doesn’t try to master or expand their technique? Which doctor stops at the level of knowledge or skills they had as an intern? If God is really important to me, why am I not pursuing growth in my knowledge of him, and in living in a way that’s fruitful in his eyes (Colossians 1:10) more and more?

I think for us, and for these kings, it’s not that we set out to be enemies of God. But if it’s not God we run after, we will run after something (like money and work from part one, but it could be anything), get distracted and despise God by our actions, even if we don’t blatantly say it with our words. In our old age, if we live that long, may God give us the perseverance to be able to honestly say, and sing:

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. – 2 Timothy 4:6-7

And on that day when my strength is failing,
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending,
Ten thousand years and then forever more10,000 Reasons