50-day writing challenge

It has been 2 years since I last updated my “L’s profile” page and I think it is time to do it, especially when my group of friends copied and pasted this whole list of questions to be shared around.

I guess life is a never-ending cycle of learning and reflection! Looking back at my “30-day writing challenge”, my old Twitter account, the ugly Facebook statuses I wrote I hope nobody would dig up and my old reflection post made me realized how much I have grown, and how imbecile and an irritating brat I was previously. I was shocked by how much I have changed, and maybe started judging my younger self. Nonetheless, it is always good to reflect and the best indicator? Definitely through these thought-provoking questions!

You guys can try them out since the questions are all list here. I highly recommend you to try it because it is worth it. Someday, you might stumble back at this post and reread what you’ve written for the past few months, or even years, and you’ll be surprised by how much change (positively or negatively) you underwent.

Maybe even serve as a reminder to pull you out from the depths of a horror abyss you accidentally fell into.

Without further ado, let us start!

1. What’s one thing that’s happened to you that has made you a stronger person?

2. What’s one thing that’s happened to you in your life that made you feel weak?

3. Where is one place you feel most like yourself?

4. Where is your favorite place to escape to?

5. Who do you think has had the largest influence on the person you are today?

6. If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?

7. If you had one day left to live, what would you do first?

8. What decade do you feel you most belong in?

9. Who are you closest to in your family? Why?

10. Who is the one person in this world that knows you best?

11. What is your favorite quality about your best friend?

12. When you were younger what did you think you were going to be when you grew up?

13. If you could identify with one fictional character (from a book, show, or movie) who would it be?

14. Do you easily accept compliments? Or do you hate compliments?

15. Is your favorite attribute about yourself physical or non-physical?

16. What is your favorite physical attribute about yourself?

17. What is your favorite non-physical attribute about yourself?

18. Do you believe in love at first sight?

19. Do you believe in soul mates?

20. How seriously do you take horoscopes?

21. Have you ever been in love? How many times?

22. What makes you fall in love with someone?

23. What does vulnerability mean to you? What has the ability to make you vulnerable?

24. What’s one thing you’re scared to ask a man, but really want to?

25. If you were a man for a day, what would be the first thing you do?

26. What do you find most attractive about each sex?

27. What’s one thing you’d love to learn more about?

28. What is something you’ve never done that you’ve always wanted to do?

29. Why haven’t you done it yet?

30. If money didn’t matter, what would your dream job be?

31. If you had off from work today, what would you do?

32. What was the last thing that made you cry?

33. What was the last thing that made you laugh?

34. What is your favorite memory?

35. What’s the last thing that REALLY embarrassed you?

36. What is your biggest fear?

37. Do you have any regrets? What’s your biggest one?

38. Have you ever broken a law? If you haven’t what is one law you’d love to break?

39. What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

40. Would you have a conversation with a stranger?

41. Would you tell a stranger they have toilet paper hanging from their shoe? Or their dress tucked into their underwear? (Or anything else that is embarrassing to be seen in public)?

42. What’s your favorite joke?

43. Are you a dog person or a cat person?

44. If you could be any animal, what animal would you be?

45. What’s one show, movie, or book, you’re embarrassed to admit you enjoy?

46. How do you think your parents would describe you as a child?

47. If you could go back to any age or time of your life, what age or time would it be?

48. What’s something you believe in that not everyone else does?

49. What’s one thing you would say that makes you unique from other people?

50. What is one thing you feel your life is missing?

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DukeNUS Open House

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Hey everybody!

I think my inspiration for writing is back! Today I will be sharing more about Duke-NUS, Singapore’s only postgraduate medical school, based on what I have learned from today’s open house.

Prior that, Justin came to fetch me from home and we had Collin’s for lunch. Subsequently, after a short catch up, we headed over to Duke-NUS. Duke-NUS is located within SGH itself, at Blk 2. I am not too sure about directions in apart from the road we drove into. Carpark H is the nearest carpark and the school is about 3 minutes walk away. If you are familiar with the area, and you are driving your way into Duke-NUS, I suggest you turn in along Outram Road (the split point before another road that has the sign “SGH this direction”). This small road, about 100 meters or so away from the old Zhangde Primary School, leads straight into the vast carpark H.

Since we were there early, and that was part of the plan, Justin and I got the chance to try out the laparoscopic trainer, which essentially is a simulation that allowed us to perform a simple task using tools, much like what a surgeon using a key-hole method would do. At first, I tried to pick up the sugar cubes using the gripping forceps on my right hand. Then, I noticed that the forceps was in an awkward position (so much for being a left hander) and decided to use the scissors for picking up the sugar cubes instead.

The scissors worked well, but I was not utilizing the correct tools properly.

Justin, on the other hand, managed to stack the 8 sugar cubes on top of one another without dropping them. Not bad!

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The laparoscopic trainer ft. Justin’s stable hands.

Thankfully, we were given another opportunity to try this trainer out after the talks by the Professors from both the MD and the PhD track. That was the time when I had enough time to play with this interesting toy! To be honest, practice makes perfect and I can never agree more that hands-on skills require consistent practice. Otherwise, you may lose the muscle tone and memory which tags along the acquisition of the skill.

One limitation I noticed was that the whole field of vision is very two dimensional. Meaning to say, depth perception was affected and honestly, I have quite a bit of trouble stacking the cubes because of poor depth judgment. Reflecting back on it now, I realized I could have readjusted the camera to provide another view of the “operating site” I was on and improve my odds of stacking the sugar cubes up.

Moving on.

Instead of covering everything that could possibly be found on Duke-NUS’s website, I decided to summarize these information and also cover aspects which are not found on the website. However, do take this information with a pinch of salt and confirm with the school’s admissions team for more information.

Dual tracks

The school offers both MD (Doctor of Medicine) and PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) as well as a 7-year MD-PhD program for students.

Essentially, the MD track is a 4-year degree course which allows students to gain skills and knowledge needed to be future doctors.

Here are some things you need to know before applying to the MD course:

  • You will need a bachelor
  • You can be from any faculty (e.g. finance, arts, law)
  • Age is not a deciding factor as to who gets to be selected
  • MCAT score is needed for applying to Duke-NUS, who’s application period opens in June the preceding year.
  • MCAT scores are valid up to 4 years (check the school’s website!)
  • The earlier you apply, the higher your chances. Offers will be given out to students who have submitted their application first and the first batch of early birds application closes in September.
  • GAMSAT is now accepted as of November 2016
  • GAMSAT results are valid for 1-2 years (check the school’s website!)
  • Fees are fixed for the following 4 years
  • Finance should not be an issue, the school will never deny anyone from pursuing their passion in Medicine simply because of the lack of finance (which is good news for poorer students like me!)
  • 3 recommendation letters are required
  • According to the Panel session with the students, MD candidates have to go through a total of 2 interviews (one medical segment, and the other about research).
  • Also, there are a total of 4 essays that needs to be written for submission (i.e. Personal statement, Ethics, Teamwork, etc… Topics might vary from year to year)
  • The school is looking for candidates who are passionate and have the mental fortitude to last the entire course. Medicine is not just the 4 years of studies, but more than just that.
  • Do note that in YLLSoM and LKCSoM in both NUS and NTU teaches normal body functions and pathology over the span of two years. In Duke-NUS, those are condensed into less than a year.
  • Years 2 and 4 are mainly clinical rotations.
  • Year 3 is dedicated fully for a research program.

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This is one of the slides the Professor used while telling us what type of candidates they are looking out for.

Also, be warned that Specialty training requires 5-8 years of studies, exclusive of 2-year fellowship before you can be a consultant! Do factor aging into your equation if you have yet to!

For the 4-year PhD program:

  • There are 5 different areas of interest you can apply into for the Integrated Biology and Medicine (IBM) track.
  • There is a new Bioinformatics & Biostatistics track students can apply to.
  • School fees are paid fully by the school, however, you need to publish at least one paper by the end of your school years.
  • If you are choosing the IBM track, you can try 3 different areas of interest (out of 5) during your first year before you start preparing for your thesis.
  • There will be modules you will need to take as well.

I need to apologize for the sparsity of information provided for the PhD program since my interest was not as developed as I have for the MD track. Kind of switched off a bit here and there during the talk.

For the MD-PhD track:

  • You will need to go through 4-5 interviews, and you will need to meet the criteria for both MD (2 interviews) and PhD (2-3 interviews).
  • MD fees for 1st 2 years need to be paid by yourself before they are refunded at a later stage.
  • You will be studying MD for 2 years, before you break into 4 years of PhD program.
  • You will conclude your studies in the 7th year with a final year MD rotation to prepare you for actual practice.

According to the students, and the tour…

Age is not an issue. There are people going as young as 20, 21, and those as old as 35, 37. What is important is that the passion and motivation are there.

Duke-NUS runs on a house system (they call it college instead of house) where juniors will be grouped into different colleges with seniors. This system serves to build a strong support system among the juniors and the seniors and help make life easier.

Work-life balance depends from individual to individual. Some are able to cope well, others may not. What is more important is that students help each another.

Learning session includes 3-4 tests each week, sometimes with teamLEAD exercises. This is one of the core areas in which Duke-NUS encourages learning. Lectures will be pre-recorded and students will have to view them before school. Following which, they will go to school and sit for a test.

Once the time is up, the will convene as a group to discuss the answers to those questions they have attempted, debating on the best answer to the questions posed.

Sometimes, they will have clinical case studies or applications questions where students get to debate on the particular approaches and defend them against the other groups!

TeamLEAD sessions are held in this semicircular classroom where all students would be able to participate actively in its discussion!

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I have taken a snap on how magnificent this place looks!

Overall,

I think Duke-NUS is a good medical school in Singapore and really helps students who are really passionate about Medicine.

Should I fail to secure any slots into undergraduate medicine, I would definitely apply into Duke-NUS MD track! But first, I need to wait for news from the three other UK schools, the application period for NUS transfer, as well as the shortlisting date for Southampton Medicine.

Hopefully I do not need to wait 4 more years before I can get into Medicine school :|!

Clinical Attachment – Community Hospital

I dreaded this 2 week period of attachment in the community hospital – as a nurse. Being a nurse was not part of my detailed plan of becoming a physician in the future. That was why I hated wearing the neatly pressed white uniform and walk around the hospital, sending a subconscious message that I was a nurse.

I do not despise the role of nurses, but I can never see myself being one for the long run. However, my perception of nursing changed quite a fair bit throughout my 2 weeks posting. Yes, I understand nursing more now, and I admire all those who decided to join this field, but I grew more determined to be part of the medical team of doctors. As much as doctors should be respected, I think nurses deserves more recognition and respect, especially after going through what nurses have been though.

My first day in attachment was more of orientation and briefings rather than the actual posting. Thinking back now, made me realized how quickly time flies.

My first shift started out in the afternoon and ends at night. During those times, I was quite scared and timid. For someone who gets thrown into a completely new environment, such feelings are inevitable. I was not as proactive as I am when comfort kicks in, so tension definitely arises and I am less participative of the happenings. My first shift was basically trying to understand what was basically going around and learn the basic skills. As we have certain objectives to achieve, my buddy and I had to plan out which skills we need to satisfy before we break off for the first week.

On the first day, I did not do much except getting to know my patients.

One of the first patients I met was an elderly man who had dementia. He was not agnostic or had aphasia and had a good command of English. Despite his poorer hearing abilities, he was able to communicate well. I really liked him a lot because of his cheerfulness and his smile is really contagious.

The second patient I met was one that had glioblastoma (a type of brain tumor) as well as an intracranial hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain) due to a fall. He was not responsive and always seems to be very tired. Occasionally, he would talk about things people don’t understand. However, when I was caring for him, I noticed that he had this habit of inserting his fingers up his rectum, pulling stools out.

After cleaning the mess and him up, we applied mittens on his hand to prevent that from happening again. Then again, he would try all means to untie the mittens and insert his hands to pull out the stools.

Initially, I do not understand why he was doing that, and that putting mittens on him was not solving the issue. However, a few days of observation and analysis, he had compacted stools that gave him a lot of discomforts which he cannot verbalize. Only after given laxatives to help soften his stool and increase motility did he stop pulling out stools from his rectum.

This incident became another reason why I wanted to do medicine. This patient taught me how things always happen for a reason. Even though we encountered a bizarre behavior, we did not provide interventions to help solve his root problem. What we did was to prevent the patient from self-intervening. Also, as nurses, providing non-pharmacological comfort and care is what we can do to relieve symptoms. However, symptom-relieving is not sufficient. This is why I wanted to be a doctor. To be a doctor so that I would be able to collect pieces of information and putting them together like a jigsaw puzzle to identify root problems and tackle them instead of relieving symptoms which play absolutely no change to removing the malady.

Another patient I met had a 4 piece transverse intertrochanteric fracture of the femur due to age-associated osteoporosis. He is a very nice guy and shares a lot of information about his life with me. Sometimes, when he is bored, I would entertain him and learn a bit more about his history. Sadly, I was working on the PM shift when he was discharged so I could not get to say my final goodbye.

One more patient who had impacted me a lot was this uncle with COPD. He was on oxygen therapy and he is a very mischievous patient. As much as he tries to ”disturb” us for fun and laughter, he would always teach us a thing or two and constantly engage us.

In fact, the final two patients mentioned above have this trait which I do hope to see in many of my patients to come – they look after the safety of other patients as well. For those patients on high fall risk, they will notify us that these group of patients are going to the toilet and made sure we supervise them. This is the kind of kinship that you don’t really see elsewhere.

These patients have been wonderful to me and they provided a lot of learning experiences. From the execution of skills to perfecting the art of communication. I will never forget how they allowed us to perform certain procedures because we needed to practice them. I would really miss them a lot and do hope that they recover, while I fight my battle into medicine.

Besides the patients, the nurses in the ward have been super accommodating and nice (Except for one or two who were extremely rude [I understand they are busy, but isn’t there a nicer way to inform us rather than to brush us of like that]). They gave us plenty of opportunities to try out skills we have not performed before to clear objectives stipulated by the school.

Also, without my awesome classmates that are in this together with me, I am sure my experience here would not be as fantastic as it would be now.

Besides the people around me, I have learned a lot about myself (and also thanks to the thoughtCatalog article and an Instagram post by one of my friends).

It all started out with me doing a procedure and then having comments being thrown at me for questioning my techniques. Instead of going together with the flow, I protected myself and justify my actions. This incident happened a few times and I did not give much thought about it until I was scrolling through Instagram one day and saw this.

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I used to be an extremely agreeable person, probably a deeper level of me wanted acceptance by going with the flow. I knew I had this problem of not being opinionated enough and I wanted to do something about it. I tried, I failed and never give up. I am still facing the same problem, but I think I am trying my best to over this shortcoming. Improvements definitely can be seen, but more still needs to be done. Nonetheless, I am sharing this to you readers to convey the deeper message behind this paragraph of epiphany.

Essentially, everybody is different and we have characteristics that others do not like. And that is okay. You do not need to shape the way you behave, talk, and interact, to fit into the society to gain acceptance. Gaining acceptance is not important, and ironically, it is a hindrance to the development of your character, the development of the authentic you.

When you go with the flow too much, you tend to lose a sense of self and eventually, your identity would be lost.

This really made me ponder over a lot of things about how I should be more confident of my own personality and embrace my own flaws. Nobody is perfect and that is what make us unique. No point trying to make others happy if happiness does not start from you.

However, I came across this article on thoughtCatalog:

10 Things You Don’t Realize People Are Doing Because They’re Ridiculously Insecure

I guess I still have certain aspects of insecurity being displayed by how I justify my actions, which I really need to work on. This is a really interesting article (and a short one) that I recommend you to read.

Despite having a short 2 weeks attachment, I really enjoyed myself a lot over here. I do hope that this experience will help me with my future experiences as a doctor, and as a person.

I shall conclude here with photos of us on the last day!

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Before we left, one of them suggested to make a Christmas tree out of Kisses chocolate! And this is the end product!

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A selfie with the same shift of friends who we grew closer to each day!

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Here’s a sneak preview of a photo I will be uploading to Instagram! Look at how cute the snowmen are!

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And lastly, here’s to the best group!

Chapter 3 – The message

Read part I here, and part II here.

“I am seriously not kidding!” the anger reverberated from my vocal cords and struck around the walls of the room, multiplying the deep sense unjust from being condemned by my friends’ disbelief.

“You have this odd sense of humor and you do have to admit, for someone who is an absolute fan of horror, this could be another elaborate fabrication of yours to embed us scary thoughts with long refractory periods into our horror-intolerable minds.” Lucas sighed, his brows still frowned together, bridging the gap between his eyebrows, transforming it into a long thick streak of hairline.

“Look,” my eyes were dead serious, staring straight into the pupils of Lucas and Daphne.

“I know I have been instilling snippets of scary tales into your mind, but what happened yesterday night caught me totally off guard and I was so afraid of sleeping.”

Lucas and Daphne gave each other a quizzical look, then retreated into acceptance. Their eyes softened and Daphne placed her hands on my shoulder. Lucas let out a sigh.

“We believe you, and I’m sorry about the doubts we had against your words.” Daphne then turned to look at Lucas, whose facial expression relaxes as though he succumbed to harsh reality that I was facing.

“So, what do we do now?” Lucas finally spoke after the long pause.

I shook my shoulders, giving him a puzzled expression. “All I want now is to get some sleep, maybe it would be better.”

Lucas and Daphne walked me home from school, which came as a surprise given that I do not allow people to walk me home usually. However, this time, I needed my friends to give me the support I need to overcome this fear, this incident that I cannot seem to erase my mind from.

Once I settled down at home, I opened up my Gray’s anatomy thirteenth edition textbook and tried to study the regional anatomy of the abdominopelvic region. None of the information seemed to be diffusing into my already low information brain, so I closed the textbook and decided to cook myself a nice dinner before heading to bed.

Dinner was terrible, I tried to whip out a nice delicious meal of roasted chicken topped with sour cream and cheddar cheese shavings, with creamy mushroom pasta and a cup of hot Earl Grey tea. However, my mood was fumbled. Each time I tried to focus on steaming the sides of the chicken to crisp, it ended up scorched. Disappointed at both my poor focus and wastage of food, I discarded my failed attempt and boiled water. I guess in this situation, the best thing to do to relief my mind off the insane incident was to cook instant noodles.

As I sat down on my tall turquoise stool with my chin resting on the dorsum of my palm, memories of yesterday’s event flooded back into my mind.

When the door swung opened, I was thrown into the darkness. I could feel tendrils. Tens or hundreds of them wrapping around my body, pulling me towards the eternal darkness, towards the mouth of the creature. Honestly, if it was not for the fear of dying, I would have been in a state of delirium, thinking that I am part of the digested food moving along the microvilli of the intestines. I tried kicking and pushing past these tendrils, but those grips on me were strong. I resisted their movement and crawled my way out. Nothing worked. Slowly, cold slithering tendrils wrapped themselves around my body, up towards my neck. I knew the tendrils will make their way into my mouth, drowning me into the sea of gooey dark tendrils, dying for the silliest reasons at the hospital because I was curious. I forcefully shut my mouth as tightly as my muscles could contract. However, the tendrils seemed to have this shapeshifting ability where they were able to squeeze through the tiny slits of my mouth, growing in size, increasing the pressure between my lips. I could feel the increasing urge to open my mouth, but I knew that would cost my entire life. Suddenly, another group of tendrils snaked their way up from the back of my head and down towards my eyes. I could feel the tendrils entering into my orbital cavity where my eyes were firmly held in place by my rectus and oblique muscles. I never thought my eyes would be gouged out until I felt this sharp pain compressing against the back of my eye. Suddenly, my field of vision rotated as though the tendrils were twisting the muscles and nerves of my eyes. The sharp pain radiating from my eyes grew from a scale of 3 to 99 within seconds and I completely lost the will to keep my mouth shut. I let go of a horrific scream and it was all drained and muffled by the thick icy tendrils accelerating into my throat. The air flow into my lungs totally stopped, and I tried to grasp for air as hard as I could, but there is this huge resistive force that prevents me from taking in more breaths. I started to hyperventilate and my breathing quickly became shallow and rapid. Just when I thought I was about to die from the coldness and the estrangement, away from any more torture, a strange unknown force was pulling my body apart.

“Peeeeeeeeeeeeep,” my kettle screamed in its high pitched tone as hot gushes of air came spouting out from its sprout, speaking my chains of thought. After switching off the stove, I lift the heavy silverware of a kettle and emptied almost a cup full, where the curly blonde plastic coated flour sits. I then set the timer on my phone to 10 minutes and stared hard onto the noodles.

I never knew how it felt like to be in one of those rooms where there is completely zero stimuli that you believe to shrink into the tiny blob of your body, or your soul, as what some claimed it to be. Those are sensory deprivation room, where people lie in a pool of water adjusted to their body temperature, in complete darkness and absolute silence. I guess being in a state of extreme anaphylactic shock with tendrils tearing me from inwards does send me into that state. Nonetheless, with the extra tugging from my upper limbs, I felt thousands of tiny hands slowly retreating. The pain receded and I thought I was entering into the spiritual world, away from the physical pain my body had suffered. As the lights grew brighter and brighter, I saw this tanned looking shadow facing down towards me, casting a block against the strongly illuminated background. My vision was still trying to adjust, but I had trouble gaining my acuity back. Minutes after my body was free from all sorts of pressure and forces, the image around me began to sharpen. Standing right in front of me, was a bespectacled man in his early forties, with expression of a happiness despite his heavily sweated face.

“Beep beep beep…” my timer rang furiously. I stopped the annoying timer, poured the packet of umami tasting MSG, and mixed the noodles around. I decided to put whatever thought I had before aside, opening the YouTube application on my iPhone 6, contemplating between TedEd talks and CrashCourse videos.

After chasing a few sessions of videos from both of my favorite channels, I glanced at my clock and discovered that 3 hours had elapsed – it was an hour before midnight. I hurriedly threw the plastic container which previously housed my MSG-soaked noodles, and washed the burnt wok and utensils from my disaster.

Once all the chores were done, I switched on the air conditioner and tucked myself into my comfortable blanket. Enjoying the warmth the blanket provided me in the artificially cooled environment, it definitely reminds me of the times where I had to hug a radiator to sleep during Christmas last year in the U.K.

“Bzz…” My phone vibrated violently in between my pillow and my bed.

Unknown number:

“Did that person just sent me a blank text message?” I questioned as I typed my reply.

Dan: Sorry, is this a wrong message?

Awhile later, my phone vibrated and the conversation between the unknown number and I continued…

Unknown number:

Dan: Hey, it would be great if you can tell me what you are typing.

Unknown number:

Dan: One more time and I will block your number, so it is up to you to start typing and stop wasting each other’s time.

5 minutes past, there was not a single reply.

Part of my pre-bedtime routine is to scroll through the stories of my Facebook friends to learn of new stories and trends that are sending the world crazy. In between my stories and shared news, an interesting article caught my attention – “CLICK HERE TO SEE HOW TO PRANK YOUR FRIENDS WITH BLANK MESSAGES.”

In that 2 paged article, the author introduced how he found the method of sending messages to the other party that only can be viewed in special light conditions and then went on babbling about how we could do it. In his final 2 paragraphs, he revealed how we can unveil and read the messages sent using this unscrupulous method.

I pressed the home button and fast as I could, enter the “Settings” on my iPhone and keyed in “Invert colors” in my search bar. As soon as the option appeared, I opened the tab and inverted the display colors of my phone. With an intense excitement bubbling up within my chest and a huge wave of conceit building up inside me, I double tapped the home button and switched to my message application.

Can you imagine how much enthusiasm I have boiling within me knowing that I will be cracking one of the most hidden messages I have ever received? That explicit feeling of pride and narcissism definitely made me feel proud of myself of something I will be doing, and something which I will boast to Lucas and Daphne about.

Unknown number: TURN

Dan: Sorry, is this a wrong message?

Unknown number: BEHIND

Dan: Hey, it would be great if you can tell me what you are typing.

Unknown number: NOW

Dan: One more time and I will block your number, so it is up to you to start typing and stop wasting each other’s time.

I swore that message crept the fuck out of me. Those three words totally crushed all the egocentric and egotistical emotions that permeate me completely seconds ago.

Just then, I received another text message from the unknown number.

It was a photo of me, with a fucking shocked expression on my face reading something off my phone.

Chapter 2: The mortuary

Read part one here.

The mortuary is 15 minutes away from the coffee shop where Lucas, Daphne and I were catching up on our daily lives. After indulging myself in my favorite Western meal of a grilled dory fish and some seasonal salad, I excused myself from the duo and headed back to the neurology department to retrieve my notes and my white coat before I brisked happily to the mortuary.

“Still not knocked off yet?” I asked Staff Nurse Lina when as I entered the wards.

“Night shift today. What about you? It is almost 9 in the night and I still see you here.” Staff Nurse Lina replied, raising an eyebrow.

“I am on a secret mission with Dr. Sims to unravel the causes behind the sorority death of a patient they just sent into the mortuary.” I explained to Lina as I could hardly control my enthusiasm.

“Well, you better hurry along! If you need to, you can exit the neurology department from the fireman’s exit B, move along the long corridor and you will see a metal door at the other end. Key in 2351 into the keypad and the doors will welcome you into another long corridor. Once you walked past the blue doors, turn to your right and that is the back door of the mortuary. It would only take you 10 minutes to get there from here!”

“Thank you so much Staff Nurse Lina, I appreciate it!”

With that, I hopped my way to the fireman’s exit.

After pushing the heavy rose red fireman’s exit’s door wide opened, I saw a long aisle leading into the depths of an unknown hospital cavern. Due to the inadequate lighting, I only could see the blurry edges of the corridor leading into darkness. Brushing past that eerie feeling of being alone in a dark pathway, I marched my way in.

I have never seen any walkways longer than what my emmetropic eye could discern, much less being alone in this blanket of shadow. The silence was pretty deafening, except the periodical echo radiating from the ground whenever my foot made a connection with the ground. Walls on both sides had surprisingly disturbing writings which I hoped Staff Nurse Lina would have warned me about.

On the left wall, random numbers were scribbled all over. Some were discernibly phone numbers of people, while those paragraphs with “0”s and “1”s resembled computer language, a language my Wernicke’s area has absolutely no talent in. On the other wall, I see writings. Many writings were left behind, either from the patients in the hospital who somehow managed to discover this secluded area and leave their thoughts behind, or numbers for sexual services. (I mean, how would people even get to know about this? Unless I am entering into some condemned society of the hospital which I should never discover. Knowing this information subjects me to great danger. I do hope I am not mistaken for being part of the clan desiring those services). This is why I believed when people say ignorance is a bliss.

Heart rate 120, respiratory rate, 25. I think my blood pressure is slowly raising to stage I hypertension with my O2 sat dropping to dangerously low levels. I measured my vitals to establish the basis and fear continued crawling all over me. I really need to stop overthinking about the kind of trouble I might face while walking this surprisingly long walkway.

How long was I here for?

Glancing at my watch, I noticed that not much time passed. It has only been an interminably long 2 minutes and all my vitals are increasing thanks to the overthinking that triggered large doses of cortisol and norepinephrine into my blood.

Screw that, I thought to myself. I just have to open the door at the other end of this corridor, finish up my journey with another corridor, but keep a look out for a blue door and turn right. Once I hit that path, I am safe from all these malicious thoughts.

As much as my fears were trying to be anesthetized by my positive thoughts, my eyes were heavily glued to the walls. My curiosity on the messages kept my eyes peeled to them.

356 1603 124890

Marilyn, oh Marilyn.
Why can’t you see,
The love to my baby Lyn
Is deeper than the deep blue sea

0000100000010111010101010011000101

Those noises are back, and they’re here. I need help. Why can’t the doctors here do their jobs to save me? Help me.

These are sneak previews of messages that I see, illuminated by the faint light of the bulb hanging down the ceiling. Some of these make sense, others don’t.

Just then, I stood rooted in my tracks.

Towards my lateral vision of my right eye, I spotted two huge fonts, painted in red with drips of paint hanging downwards, like those you’ll see in a horror movie poster.

Turn behind

If I saw these two words in the day with a clearer mind free from norepinephrine and cortisol, I would give no second thoughts on turning back and kick whoever that is behind me as a form of reward – a reward for trying to scare the living daylights out of me.

However, those two words starring right into my lateral field were freshly painted. I could still see the excess red ink dripping down, racing against another droplet to see who would reach the bottom pit first. In spite of the poor lighting of the pathway, the two words were still obviously wet, glistening under the paucity of light rays bouncing off them.

But what stopped me dead on tracks was not the two words.

I heard something.

This soft scuttling sound moving posteriorly from my right to my left. I heard it, and I am sure of it.

I noticed that scuttling sound for a while and had not paid enough attention to it, thinking it was some rats until the two words proved me wrong.

Somebody was here, and somebody is looking at me.

I shut my eyes, took a few deep breaths until I felt the dizziness. I must be in a state of alkalosis, I thought to myself and opened my eyes. There, in the midst of the shrilling silence, I heard it.

This time, it sounded like the sizzling emitting out from short circuited wires that are ready to blow out anytime soon.

BAAMMM…

I jumped and tucked myself to the left wall, freezing and not moving a single muscle. The lights went off. I was extremely thankful to the eternal darkness for once, my predator would not be able to spot me while my eyes are rapidly producing Rhodopsin to help me adjust to the absence of light.

Silence ensued.

I could hear my own breathing sounds in such silence and the loud thumping of my heart working hard to send enough blood to my legs.

Slowly and steadily, I had my back against the wall and began moving towards the end of the corridor, heart still beating as fast, and more beads of sweat starting to precipitate on my forehead.

Suddenly, the lights switched on.

Sitting in the alley of darkness behind me, was a silhouette of a creature no larger than the size of a Golden Retriever. With the limited light beams shining onto the strange shadow, I could hardly make out its details.

When I blinked my eyes again, the figure disappeared.

I took in a huge sigh of relief and refocused to the front.

Standing right between the door and me, was this heinous cloud of darkness.

The silhouette I saw was now no more than 10 feet away from me, and despite its proximity, my eyes can never make out what I am staring at. However, the outline of the creature was more defined. It was not a dog, or rather, this creature was not in its normal anatomical position, but distorted. At the back of my mind, I knew this is of a human origin, but my agnosia was dominating.

The lights flickered again and the figure dissipated in front of my eyes.

With my heart rate rapidly on the rise, I decided to close my eyes, take in a deep breath of fresh oxygen and mentally go through all possible scenarios in my head should all my leg muscles decided to act. With that, I gasped for a large volume of air and started dashing.

The constant sizzling of the wired electronics and the blinking of lights played no role in calming me down, removing any of those fears that my limbic system is trying to barricade. In the midst of the internal chaos and cacophony inside my head, I continued running until I saw my first door.

My fingers flew into action and punched the numbers 2351 into the keypad.

Turn around.

I swore to god this was the worst day of my life and I would be surprised if the creature behind me does not torment me. I mean, what is that creature going to do? Eat me? Kill me? What happens if it decides to possess me and wreck the life I have built so tirelessly, with blood, sweat, and tears?

That thought definitely gave my legs the extra boost to sprint into the depths of the 2nd corridor. Just when I was about to run, I stopped, rooted to the ground.

“This can’t be happening.”

BAAAMMM…

The metal doors slammed shut, and I jumped. Snapping me wide awake from the shocking discovery I made. Regardless, I turned back and tried to forcefully open the doors, yet my efforts were futile. The metal doors were secured tightly into place by electromagnetic forces that would only open with the correct combination of numbers from the other side. Equipped with that knowledge at hand, I lead out an exasperated sigh and made

Equipped with that knowledge at hand, I lead out an exasperated sigh and made an 180-degree turn, facing one of my biggest fears. Structurally and visually similar to the first corridor, the second alley has multiple doors opening into the seemingly monstrous labyrinth, daring any trespasser to enter its opening and kill them slowly through its complicated weave of mazes and traps.

KNOCK KNOCK

The metal door knocked behind me and I jumped.

“Turn behind”

And I sprinted, ignoring my fears that something would jump out at me from these ominous openings.

While running, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulders that sent a chill down my spine, activating all the erector pili muscles in my body, giving me the goosebumps. Still, I fought against that fear and sprinted. Approximately 10 meters away, was a blue door opening into safety. Instead of letting that huge wave of relief inundate me, my senses sharpened and continued towards the glimpse of hope.

Before I knew it, I saw the back door of the mortuary. I grabbed the cold metal knob and wrung it outwards. The door was locked. The sound of the creature gaining velocity towards my direction was ascending and backtracking my way to where I started was not the best solution.

I banged and knocked the door as loudly as I could.

Suddenly, the fast paced running came to a decrescendo and to an eventual halt. The silence began to multiply, filling the entire chamber with its annihilating presence. The only form of luminescence was built in a circumference 2 meters away from me, the rest of the silence was matched in pitch black darkness.

I stared into the darkness for as long as my eyes could, thinking that some magic beams of light would emit out from the cornea of my eyes and shoot straight into whatever that was chasing me. I knew those were words of an imaginative origin. It will not work. But, that was where hopes were.

Those hopes were still dashed eventually.

For some odd reason, I could see a tendril entering into the field of light. A tendril. What living creature walking on the surface of the Earth has a tendril? The first tendril slithered towards me, resembling a miniature black hole that sucks in all light. Just then, a second tendril followed its path. Then a third. I twisted my white coat and started flicking outwards to the first tendril that got dangerously close to me. Other than leaving a black blot of ink that spreads like Rorschach’s inkblot, there were no visible signs of impeding the advance of the tendrils.

Maybe I should be more focused on the larger picture instead of the tendrils.

When my gaze followed upwards, I saw two glowing irises in the darkness, filled with menace and anger. I screamed as loudly as I could, piercing the silence that had accompanied the threatening presence, as the iris inches closer.

With my back leaning against the door of the mortuary, I threw my white coat into the darkness, trying to encapsulate its undefined shape with my coat, temporarily blocking its vision from those two balls of redness and death.

Out of nowhere, a large force swung the door open, pushing me towards the darkness where the sinister monster resides…

Read part III here.

What does it mean to be you?

What does it mean to be you?

It all started out as a game where everybody in the group calls out a number and based on the question that is tagged to the number, we have to answer it truthfully.

“What is your 5 biggest fear?” C asked.

“The first is not to be able to achieve what I set out to achieve. The second is losing my identity.” I replied her while making eye contact with the rest of my friends.

C questioned, “What do you mean by identity? What does it mean to be you?”

That question shocked the living daylights out of me. I have not thought about that ever since I was born into this world of diversity.

“Give me a minute,” I replied, “Let me go to the washroom first and I’ll get back to your question.”

As I was in the bathroom, I silently thought to myself. What does it mean to be me? What qualities do I associated with myself, who do I want to be that makes me shiver in fear should I lose these qualities?

Then, I had my answer.

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How do you define identity? If you go together with the definition of wikipedia, identity in psychology represents your beliefs, personality and qualities that makes you, you.

Or if you prefer definitions from an actual dictionary, an identity is the condition of being oneself or itself. This is lifted off from Dictionary.com.

If I were to define identity, I would list out qualities I see myself having.

But, why is it so important for us to know who we are?

In this world where diversity is rampant and that the wide array of variations in our genetic codes plays a role in making us a unique individual, it is of importance to make your own identity. Your person identity is what makes you stands out from the crowd, the endless ocean of people.

I am sure you would not want to end up like a robot, indifferent from the majority and has nothing special that makes your existence questionable.

You may not have found or discovered yourself yet. That should not trigger any huge amounts of distress. People spent their entire lives trying to build themselves, to figure out who they are. And when they do, they become successful. Not just financially successful, but in life as general.

The progress of developing your own identity has to start from your own innate desire.

Life is such an irony. People gave up on their own identities and try to fit in. Learning sociology will provide a great understanding to human behavioral patterns in a social setting and why people always want to be validated and accepted by others. This phenonium is known as social conditioning, where we act in certain ways to get approval from others.

The bespectacled kid you always called nerd? What about the girl that was acting weirdly at the bus stop you saw just now? Or how this guy was constantly getting into trouble? Simple. They display attitudes and actions which the society condemns, which the society is not opened to these concepts.

Sometimes, fitting in comes at a price – higher stress levels, feelings of worthlessness, tiredness.

Do you feel tired trying to fit into your group of friends who are always criticizing others? What about feeling guilty after you tripped the older elderly because your group of friends despises him?

If you feel constrained, or against what you are, listen. Listen to what your mind and heart are telling you. Follow your inner-self and master those good qualities that represent you – for you are one special person. You have traits, you have a combination that does not exist anywhere on this Earth.

You are unique.

Embrace yourself for who you are, and you will be able to grow and develop into the person you would like to be, and into a person that would serve the world a greater good.

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For me, I am someone who is knowledgeable, competent in everything I do, and someone whom people can trust their work and lives to (especially in the healthcare field).

This is how I define myself.

And I hope you will be able to do that too.

Chapter 1: First posting

Disclaimer: All chapters to this story is purely fictitious. Any resemblance to actual person or event is purely coincidence.

“Posteriorly to the stomach, lies the pancreas which plays an important role in both endocrine and digestive functions.” Dr. Manson went rattling on about the various cells in the pancreas that has an endocrinological role in the body.

I was about to doze off when Lucas nudged me by the shoulder, “Hey Dan, looks like you will be Dr. Manson’s next target.” Irritated by Lucas’s voice, I pushed him away and leaned my head against Daphne’s shoulder, who was sitting on the other side.

“Dan, would you like to educate the class on how does the inactive form of insulin secreted by the beta cells gets activated?” Dr. Manson raised his eyebrows, hands crossed together, clearly not amazed that one of his top students was sleeping.

“Yes, Dr. Manson, it would be my honor.”

“Let us hear from you then, Dan.”

“Pro-insulin secreted by the beta cells will be cleaved by the proteases to remove 4 amino acids, producing an active form of insulin in its C-peptide structure.”

“Very well Dan, I’m impressed that your brain is still constantly on the run despite your circadian rhythm overlapping into my class time.”

Embarrassed by Dr. Manson’s indirect fume of fire, I quickly took a seat and look at Lucas. “See, I told you to stay awake. But, what does Dr. Manson last statement meant?”

“Oh, he is just surprised that my sleep-wake cycle has taken such a toll that I have transmogrified into an owl.” I quipped.

“Stop kidding around” and he slapped my back.

Before I go on telling you a story that changed my life, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Dan and I am a first-year medical student at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Previously, I was from Nanyang Polytechnic and graduated as one of the top students in my cohort.

Like most Singaporean sons, we have to serve the mandatory 2 years’ worth of military service and I must admit, military service for me was fun! Bearing the rank of a Lieutenant in the military intelligence section for my Battalion, I was constantly involved in planning missions and experiencing the planning first hand! One of the funniest experience (or rather, shocking) took place during one of our exercises, where we were hiking through the forest shrouded in darkness that was apparently a pretty steep hill. Moving along the slopes with a heavy field pack on my shoulders, I was amazed by the number of people who collapsed as I was making my way towards the objective. Every five meters or so, I would see a soldier lying flat on the floor, with a medic infusing I.V. fluids into their basilic veins. Usually, I would have issues spotting casualties for most of our missions, and this was the first.

Besides my pretty fruitful experience in the army, I am the adventurous guy who likes to explore various places and try out something fun. Also, being an avid fan of writing, I have dedicated time to invest into a blog where I share plenty of experiences.

On top of that, who does not like cheese and desserts?!

I am certainly a huge fan of that which I can promote myself to become an air conditioner (pun intended). Can you imagine the stringiness of the cheese when you pull a slice of pizza from its main body? What about the sweetness of the chocolate lava cake that your metal spoon cuts into and the thick heavenly scented chocolate just oozes out from its chocolatey core? I have never understood why people dislike chocolates though sweet treats are an anathema to Daphne.

Back to the main story, the reason for my sleep deprivation was not due to overnight cramping of medical information from my textbooks. Rather, it was one of the encounters the night before at the National University Hospital (NUH) during my internship that was incorporated into our medical syllabus that crept the living daylights out of me.

As part of early patient exposure initiative by the medical school, we were attached to various hospitals to understand the basic workings of the healthcare sector in Singapore. Fortunately for me, I was given my first choice of hospital when they released our schedules. A 10-minute bus ride away from home, NUH was one of the closest hospitals from my domicile and they have an emergency department which I was very fascinated by.

On our first day in the hospital, I met Lucas and Daphne, at the Kent ridge monorail station (MRT) before we set off to look for our clinical supervisor. Our supervisor, Dr. Amy Lee, is the head of Cardiology department for NUH, with at least 30 years of experience in the field of hearts. Of course, with all those educational certifications ranging from “M.B.B.S to FRCP to FESC to FSCAI”, I am certain that I would be able to pick up more applicable clinical information from her. Sometimes, I wondered if she could resolve my heart aches with medication or complex surgery. Surely, I would not want to die from Broken Heart Syndrome ever since I was rejected by my eye candy. Maybe Citalopram or Wellbutrin can comfort my depression from that heartache a little.

When we first stepped into the office, we were greeted by a relatively large room with whitewashed walls circumferencing the huge dark mustard brown table located centrally of the room. Surrounding the table, were 4 soft maroon office chairs parked neatly into the crevices of the table. The first wall that was towards my left had many accolades and awards hang up. “National Healthcare Excellence Award 2014”, “International recognized cardiologist award”, just to name a few, were beautifully hung up, in a chronological order starting from the top left corner of the achievement board. What surprised me was the tidiness of the awards floating up in mid-air, grabbing on to a small iron pin of hope for their dear life. As far as my obsessive compulsive disordered eyes could discern, all of the awards were extremely straight. I meant, like 90 degrees straight, not a degree tilted to either side. Also, the spacing between each medal, each paper, each plate, resembled the 5-centimeter gap between the forceps I used during dissection.

Opposite the wall of recognition, were anatomical charts we have seen in our anatomy lab sessions and photos of the interior aspects of the human heart which we had observe in the cadavers. Aside from the standardized anatomical aspects of a functioning heart, there were multiple photos which displayed certain pathologies of the heart which Dr. Amy saw during her 30 years in the cardiology field.

Before I can cascade a conversation about an aortic aneurysm I saw in an echogram framed up nicely on the wall, I heard footsteps from behind and spun around.

Standing in front of us, was Dr. Amy. She had thick lustrous black hair that bounced whenever she walked, like how most models in shampoo advertisements would have looked. Despite her slightly old age, she had the features of a 20-year-old lady! In her dark royal blue hospital scrubs and a bright baby pink stethoscope hanging from her neck, she ambled towards a chair and gestured for us to have a seat.

After the 30 minutes of opening by Dr. Amy, she allocated us to our individual wards and assigned us to a senior medical officer who we will be shadowing for the next month. Despite having requested to be posted to the Accident and Emergency (A&E) department, I was placed in the neurological department. Imagine all that disappointment that course through my blood when I discovered quickly that Dr. Yap, my attending physician, is a specialized neurosurgeon. As much as I love medicine and contained insane volumes of passion for the medical field, neurology is my least favorite of my subjects as neurology is more of an ambiguous uncharted field, unlike the other fields that have foundations solidified. That is my own view about neurology which I have told my friends about. Most of them would disagree with me, and I have not seen any with similar mindset. Regardless, I was hoping to be able to make the best out of the whole session here in the neurological department. Honestly, I am kind of jealous of both Lucas and Daphne since they were posted to their first preference – cardiology – unlike me, who have to be attached to a field which I showed the least interest in.

I remembered the first few days, I followed Dr. Yap along for his rounds, examining the patients and see how they progress through the different stages of neurological impairment. Due to patient confidentiality, all names have been changed and any details that might potentially reveal my patient’s identity has been adjusted as well. Besides seeing Mr. Yip who had suffered an ischemic stroke that left him in a state of hemiplegia on the rounds every morning, Mdm. Tan was one of those patients who was suffering from a strange neurological phenomenon which, the residents and Dr. Yap are trying to investigate. The majority of the patients here suffer from functional disability due to stroke or a non-apoptotic tumor that presses on the cerebrum, but we have a few special cases like Mdm. Tan.

About 2 weeks or so into my attachment, a patient was brought into the hospital with complaints of a drastic personality change and appeared to be in delirium. Usually, these are the people diagnosed with a psychotic disorder and would end up in the psychiatric wards. However, the psychiatrist believed the problem to stem from a neurological basis of the brain and decided to ward him here. He’s name is Julius. He is one of the youngest patients I have seen throughout my time here and at the age of 24, where most of us still struggle with coming terms to our own identity and future, he was tangled up in a mess of unexplained psychosis and hallucinations.

There was something strangely familiar about him when I first set my eyes on. But in the large ocean of medical information swimming around the neurons of my brain, searching for that piece of information associated with Julius was akin to looking for a needle in a haystack – impossible.

Julius seemed pretty normal when I first saw him. Sometimes he would greet all the doctors and nurses he sees whenever they waddled past his room. On the other times, he would act up all insane, tossing whatever his hands could reach towards our team of nurses and doctors and caused chaos the more experienced staffs have never seen. Whenever he gets into fits, the other nurses and doctors would hold him down and I would administer 1mg of Midazolam intravenously and wait for a minute or two for the drug to kick in. If we are unlucky, higher doses of Midazolam will be administered. Occasionally, when things do not work out, Dr. Yap would come into the scene with a larger dose of Midazolam or other benzodiazepines.

Fast forward to my last day of attachment in the neurological wards, I must admit, the neurological department has its fair share of unique cases I never thought I would have seen before. In addition, the team has built a strong sense of camaraderie which helps interns like us to fit in easier and learn more information. The morning of my last day was pretty hectic with a sudden influx of patients who needed to have their conditions reviewed before we could discharge them. Afternoon was slightly better and my colleagues managed to pull out a farewell celebration for me. Before I left the hospital to meet up with Lucas and Daphne for dinner at the nearby coffee shop, news about a coroner dropping by the mortuary struck my ears.

Having been fascinated by the workings of the human body and taking every opportunity I have to explore the innards, I was hoping to have a chance to see how an autopsy is being conducted. Determined, I rushed into Dr. Yap’s office and pulled a 15-minute long presentation on why I should be granted this opportunity to be exposed to another side of medicine. After pulling strings and a few phone calls to the various department, Dr. Yap said yes!

Imagine all the excitement that came buzzing around my body! This was going to be the best time of my life! Just when I was about to leave Dr. Yap’s office, he said: “Dr. Sims will only be here at 9 p.m. at the mortuary and he sure sounds excited to have students!”

I winked at Dr. Yap and flashed him the biggest smile and a thumbs up and hurried my way to Lucas and Daphne.

“You guys can never believe what just happened!” I shouted in excitement, which attracted several stares from the patients strolling by the aisle of the hospital.

“I will be joining Dr. Sims, the coroner tonight in his death adventure!”

Lucas and Daphne grasped.

“What I meant to say was, I have been granted permission to watch and learn from Dr. Sims how an autopsy would be done and we need to get going for dinner before I end up late for this mind blowing session!”

“Wow, you are so lucky Dan! Don’t forget to teach us a tip or two tomorrow when classes resume!” Lucas smirked.

Read part two here.

Read part three here.