Monday, April 06, 2009

To Live Up to Oneself

"Treat a man as he is, he will remain so. Treat a man the way he can be and ought to be, and he will become as he can be and should be."

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

A paediatrician and a self-described grandmother of two came into my class today and gave a lecture on the ethical topic of patient-doctor confidentiality. I have heard little of said lecture because I was half on the floor wrestling with a laughing fit. She has an American accent and sounds exactly like Granny from the Looney Tunes cartoon and speaks to all of us as if we're all five year olds. She also has this hilarious habit of trailing off on irrelevant tangents in a classical doodering octogenarian fashion (like what she'd be doing later at 7:00 pm that evening) and frequently acted out entire hypothetical conversations solo. Most of the time, I was laughing alone because I couldn't stop imagining a knitting needles in her hands and Tweety on her shoulder.

"Now, my dear boys, I'm sure you can see why confidentiality is so... what is that smell? Oh pickles, my cookies are burning to crisps! Sylvester! Get me my mitt'ns!"

However, that's not what I meant to write about today. What I want to write about happened Friday, during a viva voce which in front of another lecturer, a professor - one with a faint British accent instead of an American one. He is what I would describe as a learned old world gentleman who wears intelligence on the sleeve of his shirt and speaks with reason in his voice. Every single lecturer I've met to date in my college are specialists, experts in their chosen field and little else. This man is a polymath, a well-rounded scholar who can recite entire medical manuals, give impromptu history lectures on pre-civil war America and quote Lewis Caroll in mid-conversation. He is a little more than teacher to me. He is a role model.

"Who is Socrates?" he asked on the very first day, in the clinics. Everyone in our little group reported that Socrates was a Greek and a philosopher, a factoid which impressed him little.

"Now, can anyone tell me what Socrates is famous for?" he asked, and was met with silence followed by a sussurus of bad answers. He grinned, having found the unsurprisingly shallow bottom of the well which is the general knowledge of Malaysian students.

"The Socratic Method?" I offered. I had a wee hunch that this was what he was looking for.

"Well, it's evident that any method attributed to man names Socrates would be called the Socratic Method," he chided, chuckling fruitfully. "But what does it mean?"

I said I wasn't sure but he would have none of it.

"You know what it is, boy! Try!"

"Well, the Socratic Method entails arguing by asking questions after questions..." I began and he interceded in beat.

"... after question after question until a person reaches the correct conclusion!"

He beamed at me at the end of his simplified explanation of the Method, or more accurately, the adaptation of the Method for teaching, which he practices. It must have been a rare thing for him to encounter a student born from the mold of our country's brain dead education system to be able to answer that. Now, I am not implying that I am smarter than everyone. If my examination results are any indication, I am at best a middling student in every basic discipline of medicine in the curriculum. I do, however, take pride in my vast mental store of trivia on any subject ranging from literature and classical history to pop culture and Norse mythology. My motto is; if it's pointless, I must learn it.

Now, you must excuse me for apparently running off course but that incident is, I affirm, thoroughly relevant. This was the reason why that he was disappointed in my performance in that oral examination I was telling you about earlier.

"Now, let me be honest with you," he said wearily. "From the start, I have this impression that you and that J girl are the smart ones in this particular clinical group. You are not doing as well as I expect you to."

"Well, appearances can be deceiving," I did not say.

And he was right to be disappointed in me. I was disappointed in myself too - in the way I should have been disappointed in myself all these years, but didn't. It was the way he said it which made it so hard and bitter a truth to swallow, a truth I have to swallow no matter how hard I try to avoid doing so. I should be better than this. I should be better than this.

I came out from the classroom where the interview was conducted and told a girl what the professor told me, and she said,

"Well, you do look smart," she said. "That was the impression I had when I first met you."

I have never once thought that my face would convey such misinformation to people looking at it. When I look in the mirror, all I ever see is a handsome face of chiselled marble perfection a perpetually bored expression barely hiding a sort of vague contempt and disapproval of the human race. Suddenly, there's this strange new pressure on me to live up to these nonsense signs of intelligence people claim to see in my eyes or in the whorls of my ears, or up my nostrils or whatever. I hate to have to try to perform up to other people's expectations.

Later that night, Shaki informed me that I have passed the viva voce despite not being able to answer a single question properly - or at least, I honestly felt that I did not. If I have to grade myself, I'd fail me like the vengeance of Zeus on a lightning rod. A pass was something I did not deserve at all. I'm afraid that the professor have given me a score, a minimum, which he expected me to attain but didn't.

Somehow, I will have to try to live up to it. This is bothering me more than I thought it could.

k0k s3n w4i


bevE said...

u hate living up to other ppl's expectations, and u're not really, not after self reflecting. u're living up to ur new expectations now

or maybe not

i dunno how psychiatrists can think they're one way is the right way when there are so many reasons for everything T^T

u sound so hoity toity -.-

good post though

i like "if it's pointless i must learn it"

Penelope Chin said...

Hey! It's been a while since we've not written to each other. Busy enough these days, I believe. How are you doing now? I'm well in Melbourne. Hope to catch up with you very soon. My the way, I'm actually studying about Socrates' ideas now for History of Ideas in college.

Regards =)


minwi said...

i know it prolly wasn't meant to be a funny post, but i laughed out loud several times. it was hilarious!! haha.

i'm afraid i've more or less dropped off the face of the earth. have become a NERD. it's so much fun.

k0k said...

bevE: I always sound hoity toity when i write without thinking. maybe in my own mind, i'm an arrogant elitist prude.

Penny: Haha, yes, it has been awhile. Catch up? As in you're coming back soon or something? I wish I have classes like yours - sounds like classes I might actually work hard for.

minwi: meh, I have always seen u as a nerd in my mind :P anyway, if I have written this post emo, it'll sound so pretentious. i hate reading emo posts.

fubi said...

u shld hv realized it bck in... 1st yr? T^T u CAN do better u noe :)

senorita.. said...

i've forgotten the joy of reading, so sorry to miss out on so many of ur posts. i'm feeling sorry for myself. hmmmmm, i want to meet u for real, but afraid of not having anything to say to each other, haha.

and phoebe, as always, is just so adorable. (yes, i spent time to make up for all the missed writings)

k0k s3n w4i said...

fubi: not at the expense of my life, I can't T^T

senorita: nah, you didn't really miss anything - it's only my life :P I'd like to meet you too. and I won't worry about the conversation if I'm you; I have a um, slight problem with verbosity (just ask myn wee). aren't you working in KL or something?

senorita.. said...

yes, working in KL, but i still go home u know... :P

hmmmm, say when is myn coming back again? mayb we can meet then? :)

minwi said...

whoa. senwai! you have a FAN!! senorita wants to meet you in person! careful, she might turn out yo be some insane stalker :P

i am a SPECIAL nerd, ok.

k0k s3n w4i said...

senorita: i dunno when myn wee comes back wor. i usually find out when she calls me to ask for books :P well, i'm always in malacca unless phoebs has a hol - then i'd be in KL

minwi: maybe i'm freak like that and like axe crazy stalkers xD so far, everyone i've met over the net was sane. how disappointing -.-
SPECIAL nerd? Is that in the same category as SPECIAL children?

Anonymous said...

u r one smart person to remember minor stuffs in anatomy last time.

"My motto is; if it's pointless, I must learn it."
funny, bt quitenormal in med school. we tend to give rarest of the rare conditions but forgot the commons...

k0k s3n w4i said...

Anonymous: i wasn't talking about medical knowledge. you have no idea how pointless most of the stuff I know are.

senorita.. said...

aduh........ myn,shhhhhhh... dun scare him. i dun 'usually' sleep with my axe. :P