Day after day

“Back at my surgery I contrived to be cheerful and encouraging until the last patient went through the door. Writing reports, answering letters and even driving home was drudgery. Day after day it went on. My clinical work was up to ordinary standard but concentration was bitterly hard. It was so difficult to give to others the support I lacked myself.” 

– Paul White, Alias Jungle Doctor

The perils of studying

Coming from a culture (and field of work) where successes in academics is highly valued, it’s good to reflect on the perils of pursuing knowledge.

Says who?

God made Solomon very wise. His understanding couldn’t even be measured. It was like the sand on the seashore. People can’t measure that either… He spoke 3,000 proverbs. He wrote 1,005 songs. He explained all about plants. He knew everything about them, from the cedar trees in Lebanon to the hyssop plants that grow out of walls. He taught about animals and birds. He also taught about reptiles and fish. – 1 Kings 4:30, 32-33

Solomon had incomparable wisdom and understanding. All the kings in those days sent people to listen to him. He was like the ultimate writer, philosopher, botanist, zoologist and more. These are the thoughts he had on knowledge and wisdom in the book of Ecclesiastes.

What knowledge can’t do

People can’t straighten things that are twisted. They can’t count things that don’t even exist… A lot of human wisdom leads to a lot of sorrow. More knowledge only brings more sadness. – Ecclesiastes 1:15, 18

Being with my grandma in hospital for the past few weeks has reminded me again of the truth in this. Medical knowledge itself is accompanied by plenty of things to be sad or worried about. There’s a limit to what humans can fix.

You can study too much

Books will never stop being written. Too much studying makes people tired. – Ecclesiastes 12:12

Earlier on he talks about the value of words of wisdom and proverbs given by the one Shepherd. Here, he warns against paying attention to anything in addition to these. I guess books always being written applies to both theology and philosophy, and any other field of study. I like studying so it’s helpful to remember that too much studying (and consequently being tired physically and spiritually) isn’t a good thing.

A bit satisfying

I took delight in everything I did. And that was what I got for all of my work. But then I looked over everything my hands had done. I saw what I had worked so hard to get. And nothing had any meaning. Nothing was gained on this earth. – Ecclesiastes 2:10-11

Solomon is talking about his building and landscaping projects, as well as his pursuit of pleasure. There’s delight in applying yourself to some projects, academic or otherwise, but this in itself doesn’t give lasting satisfaction. What does, then?

How to be unhappy

I also saw that man works hard and accomplishes a lot. But he does it only because he wants what his neighbour has. That doesn’t have any meaning either. It’s like chasing the wind.

A foolish person folds his hands and doesn’t work. And that destroys him.

One handful with peace and quiet is better than two handfuls with hard work. Working too hard is like chasing the wind.

– Ecclesiastes‬ ‭4:4-6‬

What good is it

In all my years at university, I sort of frowned upon people who pushed God aside, or had him on hold, until they finished their assessments. For people professing to be Christians, to be worshipping a great God, I thought the priorities should be obvious. Oh well, it’s clearer (and easy to judge) when it’s someone else’s struggles.

In how I approach work and stress now, age hasn’t made me wiser. In fact, I feel that at times the answers to these simple questions has become even more blurry – how can I set aside time for God when I’m busy? Can I come back to this later? Is it what God has given or is it what I’ve made with my own hands? What do I desire and why? What is my purpose and what are my priorities?

And here I ask again:

What good is it if I complete all this (and perhaps even do it well) but “forgot” to walk with God, and know him in the process?

“What good is it if someone gains the whole world but loses his soul?”

All I Once Held Dear (Knowing You)

All I once held dear, built my life upon
All this world reveres, and wars to own
All I once thought gain I have counted loss
Spent and worthless now, compared to this…

Road not taken – part two

So I finally finished the post I started to write months ago!

If it was up to me I would stand and peer for as long as I could. Be a resident for a few more years, try a few more rotations before making up my mind. I agonise over every decision and this is no exception. In a way choosing a career is one of the big life decisions we make. It touches every aspect of life for the coming decades (provided we live that long) – from the obvious to the not so obvious.

The kind of medical career we have determines how much we earn, the hours we work, our status within and outside the medical profession, the types of patients we see (if any!), the subset of skills we become good at… and the knowledge we allow to fade. It determines the cities and towns where we can and can’t train in, and the degree of freedom we have to move around after we finish training. Whether and when we can have families or children. The type of friends we keep and socialise with.

Yet in another sense, this is not as big of a decision as we sometimes make it to be. In Christ, whatever road we take will lead us home to the same eternal destination.

For every specialty you choose, there are some typical questions you would need to get used to answering. GPs will need to think of an appropriate answer to “so, when are you going to specialise?” Plastic surgeons will need to correct the misconception that their work is all about botox and facelifts. Radiologists and pathologists will need to explain why they don’t like to see people. Medical editors – “what’s that, so you’re a journalist?”

I’ve often compared our paths to that of a cell. In preclinicals I thought, ah, how wonderful it would be to have plenty more of these pluripotent stem cells that have the potential to be anything! Only later did I realise that the cells had to differentiate into something to be at all useful. Same goes for us in our careers, for our lives. Although I think, there will always be a sigh from time to time, for the “road not taken“.