Sunday, January 06, 2008

Humanity in Writing

"Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good."

Samuel Johnson, LL.D MA


With a stiff cup of piping java in one hand and a fistful of reluctance in the other, I peered cautiously into Seminar Room number 4; the place where I was suppose to spend two full hours unwillingly writing a full-length essay using my hand on a topic I don't give two flying fannies about. One of the contestants was already there - last year's First Second Runner Up. Her promptitude and the business posture she adopted in her seat spoke rather assertively of her determination to stamp my ass out this year. Me, with my just-got-out-of-the-bed-which-I-was-in-since-last-Tuesday hair, caffeine tremors in my fingers and buzz tics in my cheeks, was heckuva lot less formidable sight to look at.

I popped right in the back and wordlessly studied the participants that came in after - all of them looked a lot more better for wear than I was ("a wreck" describes me best). I was a bit surprised that lingghezhi, Stephanie and that smart specky bloke from Batch 19 were some of the people who I would have to contend with this year, since all they had to fight for the glory of their class last year was a Malay girl who wrote for 30 minutes, and then left for the Maghrib solat. What a disgraceful time slot to hold the competition! Racism, that's what it is!

That Malay girl didn't join this year though - she probably figured that half an hour is one-and-a-half hour short of sufficient time to write a masterpiece. lingghezhi looked to be a real tough nut to crunch. Considering my beaten up shape of mind, a chimp at a typewriter would probably cream me too.

Then in a replay of last year's amateur writers' smite-down Dr. Surekha Bhat sauntered into the room and everyone hushed up like in anticipation of certain, terrible doom.

"Humanity in Medicine" she wrote on the chalkboard, and remarked crisply that we have two hours. Then she left. I think everyone was a bit stunned for like 5 seconds after.

Shit. I'm not very good at medicine, to be honest (watch out, future patients of mine!) and I've never been particularly humane either. "This is a damn stupid topic" I said aloud but no one took notice of that because they all have already started planning out their essays. I craned my neck and took a gander at Miss First Second Runner Up's manuscript, and found that she already had this octopussy mind-map thing drawn out.

Fifteen minutes into the competition, I was still wrestling with my blank manuscript and my brain - which strangely, for reasons unknown, kept replaying scenes from previous episodes of House over and over again. That's when that biggish Seychellois girl I mentioned in my previous post walked into the room as cool as a penguin in a freezer, glanced at the topic on the board and remarked, "I can be creative with that!" Way to go. Psyche me down more, wontcha. And before she settled into her seat, she asked one of the other participants to lend her a pen. Oh Em Gee. How much more nonchalant and confident can one get? I actually felt my butt deflate and me sinking into my chair.

By the time I wrote my first word, most contestants have already filled up half a page. I think I'm pretty screwed this year. Oh well - no use crying over a flat butt. Here's my piece. I think I deserve "A+" for effort. It's hard to write when you keep thinking that the paper in front of you looks remarkably similar to a white, fluffy pillow,

2nd of January, 2008

Dear Diary,

My name is Julie and I’m 12 years old this year. I’d ask you to introduce yourself but you can’t talk back very well, can you? You’re just paper stuck together between two covers – but I guess you would have to do. Dr. Colbert gave you to me yesterday because I told him I was lonely and that I kept wishing that I have somebody (or something!) to listen to my thoughts. I have so many, many things in my head and if I don’t let them out somehow, I think I might just explode. Dr. Colbert comes by every morning for a few minutes to keep me company but he’s a terribly busy man. Mommy visits every evening, right after she gets off work at the canning plant but I find it so hard to talk to her. All she does is hold my hands and cry every time she looks at my face.

I have no Daddy.

I wish Dr. Colbert is my Daddy because he’s such a clever man. And nice. And he always brings me Terry’s books for me to read. Terry is his son. He’s about my age.

I remember meeting Dr. Colbert for the first time when I had to come live here at St. Marcy’s General. He told me I was ill and needed "chemotherapy". He taught me how to spell that – he knows so many big words. That’s why I said he’s frightfully smart.

I’m glad he gave me you.

***
29th of February, 2008

Dear Diary,

Today is my birthday. Mommy brought brought me my favourite cake; Strawberry Chiffon from Constance’s Confectionery! I asked her if I can have a kitten for to play with here in my room but she said she couldn’t afford it - what with all the bills she's paying to make me better. She promised that she’ll get one for me next year though.

Albert, the boy in the bed next to me, said that Mommy was lying. He said I am going to die here.

I don’t believe him, of course. He’s just jealous that his mother doesn’t visit him as often as mine. Besides, I remember asking Dr. Colbert if I am going to die, and he smiled at me saying 'Not if I can help it, Julie'. I know that he will fix me. He’s a very clever man – didn’t I already tell you that before?

I want to celebrate my birthday in the park next year – under the sun and blue sky and cool, green grass between my toes. I have enough of hospital rooms to last me for this life and the next. And the one after that too.

I shall call my kitten, Colbie. I think it’s a nice name.

***

21st of March, 2008

Dear Diary,

I think it’s unfair. It’s unfair that I can’t go outside and play, or do anything at all. It’s unfair that God gave me two legs, and then take away my strength to use them. It’s unfair that I have to stay in this smelly room. It smells of disinfectant and sick people. I used the think that it was bad enough that I’m always weaker and smaller then the other girls in school, that I’m never as pretty as they are - but now it’s just so much worse.

I yelled at Dr. Colbert this morning. He’s the reason I can’t go home. All he wants to do is keep me here and give me horrid "chemotherapy". And now "radiotherapy" too. I thought all these therapy things are suppose to make me better – Dr. Colbert said they would. But HE LIED! All they ever do is make me throw up. I’m feeling so much sicker than even before I came here. Mommy won’t take me away either. She just keep telling me 'Soon, baby'.

I cried last night. I cried because my hair won't stop falling out. I know I'm not beautiful, but I have always thought that my hair is the prettiest part of me. Now that's going to be taken away too.

Why is God killing me? Why does he heap all these misery on me?

I hate him. I hate him I hate him I HATE HIM!

***

29th of March, 2008

Dearest Diary,

It has been nearly three months since I came to St. Marcy’s. I really, really miss home. Do you think God is keeping me here because I said nasty things about Him before? I’m sorry I did that now. I promise that I’ll never EVER do such a thing again. I promise I’ll always pray and be a good girl from now on. I’ll promise anything – anything at all. Just let me be well again, please.

I finally said sorry to Dr. Colbert for throwing a tantrum and yelling at him last week but he told me not to worry about it. He said he was not angry at me in the least bit. He told me he understands just how difficult everything is for me and that I am a very brave little girl.

I’m feeling terrible pain these days and I can barely even hold this pencil steady now. The medicine Dr. Colbert gave me to keep the pain down doesn’t seem to work so well anymore. I asked him to give me more but he said that my body can’t take so much of it. God, it hurt SO BAD!

Yesterday, Dr. Colbert and his friend, Dr. Thomas was talking softly between themselves beside my bed while reviewing my charts. They didn’t know this, but I wasn’t really asleep. I think they were arguing about something or other.

Dr. Colbert said a lot of things but I only caught one word because the pain medicine made me drowsy. I remember it because it sounded weird and I’ve never heard it before. It sounded like "Youtha-naysia".

I asked him what that word meant today and he was a little taken back at that. He asked me where I heard that word from and I lied to him. I said that Nurse Grace said it while talking to Nurse Eva. I didn’t want him to know that I’ve been eavesdropping on their conversation.

He wouldn’t tell me what it means though.

***

4th of April, 2008

Dear Diary,

Albert died this morning and they covered him completely with a blanket, and then took him away. To be honest, I never really like him. He’s always so morbid and he kept saying horrid things. But I’m going to miss him anyway. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because he understands that unhappiness I experience with my sickness – because he has the same illness too. Now, there’s just me in this room. I never realised that it’d be so quiet without Albert’s breathing sound coming from the bed beside mine.

I talk a lot less to Dr. Colbert and Mommy these days. I’m just so distracted by the pain. It’s in me all the time, never letting me rest. Sometimes, I wonder if it would be better for me to just die. Do people still feel pain after they are dead?

I asked Dr. Colbert if there’s anything he can give me to make it all stop – to put me into a sleep I’ll never wake up from.

He said yes. I think he must have really felt sorry for me at that moment because his eyes watered a little behind his glasses. I must have looked really pathetic then – with my few single strands of hair left on my bare scalp and my small, broken body. And my crying because of the terrible, terrible, terrible pain – and for it stop.

I asked him if he would give it to me but Dr. Colbert said it isn’t "ethical" to do that.

Is it "ethical" to let me suffer this way?

***

6th of April, 2008

My Dear Best Friend and Diary,

I can’t write a lot because I can barely move my hand. The pain. But it’s going to stop. Tonight. Dr. Colbert whispered to me that he will make it go away but I must not tell anybody.

I said 'Thank you, Daddy'. I don’t know why I said that but it just came out of my mouth. Dr. Colbert burst into tears and hugged me close to him. It feels so good to have a Daddy – even for a minute. Daddy’s going to make the pain stop tonight.

Tell Mommy that I’m sorry for making her cry everyday. Tell her I said goodbye, and that she won’t have to cry anymore after I’m gone.

Bye bye, Dear Diary.


For the more perceptive of the lot of you, you might have noticed that I have loosely structured the essay after the K├╝bler-Ross model - more commonly known as the "Five Stages of Grief". I picked that up from the first episode of season 2 of House, "Acceptance" (House called it the "Five Stages of Dying"). They are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.

I had problem deciding initially which perspective I wanted to tell the story from - the doctor, the mother or the dying girl herself - but I finally picked Julie. Had I chosen Dr. Colbert's PoV, I would have to spend a lot of time struggling to decide what sort of cancer the little girl would have, describe the accurate clinical course of said cancer and maunder on the tedious technicalities of treatment regiments just to make sure my essay is convincing enough for the judges, who would most definitely be part of the faculty (doctors, the lot of 'em) - time I don't have because I already took half an hour to do a big fat load of nothing.

Also, the Mom's side of the story didn't seem to interest me the least bit.

Writing from a 13 years old girl's perspective allowed me to hand-wave all the medical bits aside. Plus, I would be required to dumb down my choice of words as well - something I don't really need to work at considering my desperate need for relief from my prolonged sentence of forced consciousness (that's a whole mouthful of bull saying "lack of sleep"). Besides, her limited vocabulary allowed me to insert that minor plot wink about mercy killing.

I have a terrible sensation that I was not sticking close enough to the topic while I was writing. My interpretation of the title was much more subtler than my entry last year - and I think, a lot less clever too. But then again, if you're broadminded enough, what I wrote is precisely that too; the humanity in medicine. I took the most serious theme in the line of health care - Death - strip it of its IV lines, life support and expensive scanning machines, and gave my take on what's beneath it all.

How come I got this feeling that someone else wrote about the same thing? And yeah, I know my essay sucked pig.



All hail King of Crapland,
k0k s3n w4i

11 comments:

bevE said...

mee moo

it was ok. by ur standards, prolly not. so i agree, last line, last sentence.

michelleg said...

it was good. and i remembered clearly that episode of House. haha.. =)

k0k s3n w4i said...

@beve
I already know that. Stop rubbing it in T_T
I tot you've fled this blog for good

@michelleg
Good? You're waaay too kind. When we did the pharmacokinetics of alcohol and methanol poisoning, I kept thinknig of that episode too.

Zzzyun said...

well i still think it's good.

it's kinda a crunch in the chest the way u wrote abt the girl is suffering.. very real indeed.

sigh..doctors and suffering always come hand in hand don't they?

k0k s3n w4i said...

@zzzyun
It helps if we're insensitive bastards :p
Of if we're radiologists or anestheticists... that'd work too :)

shelbybaby said...

"Shit. I'm not very good at medicine, to be honest (watch out, future patients of mine!) and I've never been particularly humane either."
Ah how familiar. We must be brothers from different mothers!

nissy said...

good one!
the final part was the best...it's very touching~

My Dear Best Friend and Diary,

I can’t write a lot because I can barely move my hand. The pain. But it’s going to stop. Tonight. Dr. Colbert whispered to me that he will make it go away but I must not tell anybody.

I said 'Thank you, Daddy'. I don’t know why I said that but it just came out of my mouth. Dr. Colbert burst into tears and hugged me close to him. It feels so good to have a Daddy – even for a minute. Daddy’s going to make the pain stop tonight.

Tell Mommy that I’m sorry for making her cry everyday. Tell her I said goodbye, and that she won’t have to cry anymore after I’m gone.

Bye bye, Dear Diary.


Congrats on winning the competition ..again. You deserve it.

ms. second runner-up said...

that 'somebody' who wrote the same thing was me but i took the doctor's point of view.=)
hmm.. well, guess we're really too lazy to submit a factual report on the 'humanity in medicine',if there ever was such a thing.
yours was much better though. so congratz!

p/s: i was more determined to get it done A.S.A.P and head home that day, than to 'beat ur ass out'. :D

sXydeViL said...

first thing i wanna ask: how da heck can u reproduce wat u wrote in dat 2 HOURS????

secondly, i still like it though its simple aka NON bombastic words used.

congrats anywayz. why else do they call it creative writting. it must be ur style, the content is not that important.

keep it up! ^^

k0k s3n w4i said...

shelbybaby: there's a distinct possibility :). You're a medico too?

nissy: I kind of agree with the comments I get off record, off this blog about it. I think my essay was hell dull :p. I can't find much redeeming quality at all. It sounded hollow when I reread it.

ms. second runner-up: Ahaha! We of (somewhat) great minds, bears thoughts alike. Lingghezhi did do a factual write-up. His link in inside this post. You can go check it out if you like :)

sxydevil: I took a picture of it, and type it out when I got home. Elementary, dear Su Lin. I COULDN'T use the big words. Was really too sleepy to think of them. SAying I no content la har?

sXydeViL said...

whoa....

i'm juz offering dis poor (not so poor now that hes stuck with phoeb)
some comfort k.

u juz love telling urself n everyone else dat ur work isnt good euff, huh? i think it is la.

oh yea (slap forehead),how can i be so dumb to forget that ur camera is like ur footwear. essential whenever u step outta the house. =P