Law, medicine, and dentistry — these were the careers that I was constantly exposed to at home. With my father as a practicing lawyer for over 25 years, two of my siblings already qualified as doctors, and the third on course to completing his medical journey, most of my relatives and friends thought medicine or law would be my choice naturally.
Yes, carefully deciding on and pursuing one’s own profession (which would hopefully turn into one’s passion) seems like a common chapter in every adult’s life. It is uncommon, however, and frankly worrying, for an adult to experience this chapter as soon as he has entered university – in his freshman year.
During the spring quarter of my freshman year (at the University of Washington), I intended to apply for bioengineering. It was set in my mind. I wanted to pursue something different from my father and siblings, something unique. If everything went according to plan, I would graduate with a bioengineering degree.
Or so I thought.
A few weeks before my summer break, I had received news that my father suffered from stage-five kidney failure and needed to undergo a kidney transplant. Unfortunately, that meant finding a donor as well. Seeing how my father needed this operation, my mother volunteered to be the donor. It was a selfless and loving gesture, no doubt, but no child would ever want both of his or her parents to go under the operating table at the same time.
To face even greater uncertainties, the operation was held in Singapore. Finding affordable accommodation on AirB&B, securing transportation to and from the hospital, and ensuring we were all ready for the operation seemed too much to bear.
My mind was spinning with questions. How had I been I unaware of my father’s condition? Would we be financially stable after this operation? Should I remain in UW? I stopped – and realized the important thing was to complete my freshman year, and immediately return home.
As soon as I reached home, I was shocked to see the man greeting me at the door. My father — a man whom I have always considered to be strong and healthy — had lost a great deal of weight, had a slight puffiness in both eyes and looked pale. We left for Singapore, a few days later, hoping all of that would change.
Two days before the surgery, as I was keeping my father company in the hospital room, my father asked me about the bioengineering program in UW. I froze. Had I actually applied for it? Surely I did, just so that I would have something to fall back on. I was kicking myself. What do I say? Was I so determined to complete my freshman year and immediately come home, that I actually missed the bioengineering application deadline? ‘Fortunately’, my family members and the doctor walked in before I could even respond.
My heart sank. There was nothing I could do. I did not have the luxury of waiting till junior year to declare a major. The exchange rate between the Malaysian Ringgit and the American Dollar made tuition extremely expensive, and just the idea of resuming school seemed financially unfair for my parents. Hence, without a major, I decided to leave UW. It was time to think of an alternative.
Yet, I could not think of one, especially when the day of the operation arrived. Needless to say, we were all nervous. We were hopeful, though, for a positive outcome. Fortunately, the operation was a success. My parents, tired from the anesthesia, showed much improvement. Things were slowly getting better. As I was walking down the hall, passing by my parents’ room, I caught a glimpse of what seemed to be a note on the chart of the doctor in charge of my parent’s operation. It read in bold letters:
“Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always ~ Hippocrates”
Ignatious and Pala Pereira- kidney transplant- Success! ☺
Post-transplant treatment important! Care for them.
Those three short sentences surprised me. Whether that quote represented the department’s motto or if it is a personal quote by which my parent’s doctor lives, it clearly showed that the caring never ends.
I did not understand why I dismissed medicine before. Maybe I could give it another chance? Medicine involves genuine empathy and attention for the sick, from their diagnosis up to their post-treatment care — something uncommon in law (and most professions for that matter). These traits were clearly shown by the doctors to my parents and family members in this trying time. Admittedly, I could not decide and jump on medicine right away. I had to be sure of it.
I discussed this doubt with my siblings. They stressed how important it is to pursue medicine willingly and wholeheartedly. There are many medical students and doctors in Malaysia who choose this path due to influence from their parents (some of whom happen to be doctors themselves, hoping to maintain a “family legacy”). Others just have the belief that medicine is a profitable profession that gains the most admiration from those around them. I refused to be one of those people.
While it is important to have all the qualities to be a good doctor — empathy, compassion, tenacity and diligence, I knew I needed a “moment of connection.” My siblings explained that this is a moment when you (patient or not) have a relationship with your doctor and you start to see the impact he or she has in your life. For my oldest sister (a dentist), this moment was when an orthodontist had the ability to fix people’s teeth and had given them the confidence to smile. For my older sister (a doctor), it was a cardiologist who had helped our grandfather survive three heart attacks, who explained knowledgeably to her the condition of his heart with a simple drawing. Finally, for my brother, who fractured his arm from a nasty fall at the age of 10, it was an orthopedic surgeon who did a brilliant job. In the past, however, for me, going to clinics for common colds were not exactly “epiphanies” or life-changing moments.
It was then I realized that this whole experience, my parent’s operation in Singapore, has certainly changed my life. I knew that this was my “moment of connection.”
Once I returned to Malaysia, I had enrolled in the Cambridge General Certificate of Education Advanced Level (GCE A Level) Examinations program in a local college. Fortunately, I had obtained straight A’s and was accepted into the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) medical school. No doubt I am nervous with this new chapter in my life, and I do miss UW (i.e. life in America) from time to time. However, I believe deep down I made the right choice. I believe that the moments of joy and struggle that lie ahead in NUIG for the next five years would mold me into the doctor I have always wanted to be.
I hope to be that source of support and comfort to my future patients and to their family members — maybe even to a young man who, even as he tries to put on a brave face, is still afraid for his parents undergoing surgery. Either way, the caring never ends.
To each and every student contemplating on pursuing medicine, ask yourself if you have ever had a moment of connection. One cannot be a good doctor without first having that personal experience because, at the end of the day, those moments act as constant reminders of why you wanted to be a doctor in the first place.