Day Three (or really, day two), + Book Review: Ender’s Game – The Graphic Novel

Reading: Before Watchmen – Nite Owl/Dr Manhattan
Listening: CMA – Caught In Our Thoughts
Watching: BBC’s Wonders of the Universe; waiting for the other half to have free time so we can catch up on Korra and Elementary
Playing: Nothing over the past few days

Day Three of my six month journey of writing! Or technically, day two…because yesterday I had a job interview and didn’t achieve much in between that and physiotherapy and outdoor soccer training. So yesterday will be one of my “weekend” days and I’ll work a full day on Saturday or Sunday to make up for it.

What difficulties have I encountered so far?

1. Waking up

I always have difficulty with this. Especially in winter. I suspect my body is somewhat related to a polar bear, because I tend to adopt hibernation behaviours in cold weather. I’m pretty sure, if you left me to it, I could sleep three-quarters of the day away. Unfortunately I’m not one of those lucky people who are able to thrive on a few hours of sleep (and now it seems there’s a genetic association for it!) though I really wish I was. Imagine the productivity! In fact, my utter inability to function without adequate sleep has definitely been a factor, amongst other things, in pushing me away from specialties such as Emergency Medicine and surgery.

Despite my love of the bed, I am actually a morning person and achieve the most before 12 noon. So, the alarm has been going off at 7.30am.

2. The Melbourne cold

I haven’t yet got so sick of my house that I have had to relocate to a cafe or library. But the downside is that my house is freezing. My weapons of defense? Fluffy pink socks and a trusty beanie.

IMG_20140806_115729 IMG_20140806_115646

3. The afternoon slump

Hits around 2pm. I yawn and can think of nothing but a pillow against my cheek. My techniques for handling the slump so far have included switching activities—for example, switch from story-outlining to blogging; doing 10 push-ups (the most I can achieve); going for a short walk.

4. Facebook

Hasn’t been as much of a problem yet as I’d feared. Will update if this changes.

On to the book review!

ender's game

Yesterday I finished the graphic novel adaptation of Ender’s Game, scripted by Christopher Yost and artwork by Pasqual Ferry. It’s a collection of Ender’s Game: Battle School #1-5 and Command School #1-5, which basically covers the events of the original novel by Orson Scott Card: An impending second war looms between humans and their enemies, the bug-like alien Formics. To prepare for this, the army is seeking the most gifted child to mould into a deadly commander. Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is taken to Battle School in the hope that he can become this commander.

The graphic novel is a reasonably faithful adaptation of the book, covering all the main events in a condensed way. It’s a great introduction to the story if you’re new to Ender’s Game, and also an enjoyable alternative medium if you’re already a fan. There isn’t anything new or surprising.

The art style is clean and futuristic. Ferry’s linework conveys movement fluidly. The colours are sombre and evocative of the gloomy interiors of the spaceships. The Battle Room scenes are well illustrated and fun to flick through.

Overall, the graphic novel conveys the main emotions of the book fairly well, though the resolution seemed rushed and only offered a superficial skimming-over of Ender’s reaction to the final battle. I also feel as though they left out a major part of the ending.

A quick and easy graphic novel read that can be a great introduction to a controversial science fiction classic.

Happy hump day, everyone!


Upon what base I place my identity…


Reading: A Chinese Life – Li Kunwu
Listening: Daft Punk – Face to Face (Uppermost Remix)
Watching: Korra Season 3

Playing: To The Moon

After a series of happy days, I had a glum day. I had a glum day for a number of reasons, but the main trigger for my evening funk was probably the discovery that I did not win a writing competition.

I’ve not entered many writing competitions in my life. In fact, this was the only competition I’ve entered this year, and it was only after a friend suggested it to me. But for some reason I had a strange sense of exhilaration about the piece I submitted. I knew it was probably a false hope, but I felt magical and optimistic about my chances nevertheless. I submitted my story to a national medical journal, and expected to hear a good result.

I was surprised by how much it affected me to open that email and read: “…unfortunately, your story was not chosen by our judges as a winner…however, we do want to thank you for sharing your ideas with us and wish you better luck next year…”

I went home and tried to figure out why I was so upset. It wasn’t too hard to figure out. Obviously, I ground a significant part of my identity in the belief that I can write. It’s a lifelong passion of mine, and something that I nurture and keep very close to my heart. I spend time and effort on writing (more so in the past than lately…). And I think of myself as someone who writes. Without writing, a large portion of my self-identity vanishes.

But I realised then that perhaps I shouldn’t be doing this. Yes, writing is an activity that is uniquely personal. It’s one where you rely on your gut and your heart. But need to separate my skill as a writer—and other people’s judgement of that skill—from my sense of self-worth.

That got me musing about what else I derive identity from—and what I should be deriving it from. Most of the things we build ourselves on are impermanent, or unstable. Many of us base our identities on looks, sporting prowess, approval from others/social skills, intellect, or qualifications. Many of us base our identities on a relationship. Some of us base our identities on personal qualities–maybe we see ourselves as charitable, or kind, or assertive, or empathetic.

Almost everything in this world is unpredictable and not entirely under our control. Maybe I just need to be more aware of that, and of the things that I am dependent upon. Because in order to have a fulfilling life, I will need to trust my own skills and trust the relationships I have with other people. I just need to make sure I choose the right things, and the right people, to place my trust in :)


I woke up today pretty much feeling fine about not winning the competition, so maybe rejection isn’t so bad after all, heh. I’m not going to win any competitions if I don’t start entering dozens upon dozens of them.

Speaking of writing competitions, I only have one week left of work before I embark on my six months of unemployment and relative poverty!!! It’s come upon me so quickly in the midst of applications and interviews that I’m starting to mildly freak out. People are giving me surprised looks when I tell them I will be essentially unemployed, and generally ask, “But won’t you be bored?!”

Will I? I don’t think I’ll be. When do I get bored? I get bored during reality TV shows; when radio hosts run competitions to win small sums of money; when the conversation is all about work; when I’m waiting in traffic/at the bank/at the doctor’s. But I don’t think I’m someone who gets bored easily. There’s just so much to do, to read, to see, to watch, to eat, to learn!

So tonight I’m drawing up a battle plan for the next few months. So I don’t slip up or procrastinate. This is a once in a lifetime chance, to try out being a full-time writer for six months. Here’s hoping it goes well.


Differential Diagnosis: A Meaningful Life?


What does it mean to live a meaningful life, I muse as I sit at my desk on a sullen Tuesday evening, listening to Seven Lions and shovelling lemon slice into my mouth. It’s a question that has popped into my head from time to time over the years, until I get distracted by more pertinent issues such as licking the icing off my fingers and checking Facebook.

It’s a question that has done a little more popping than usual in recent months, maybe because of the nature of my work. I see a lot of people who feel their lives are meaningless; or, sometimes, we look at them and judge them to have meaningless lives.

I see a lot of people who don’t leave the house. People who find it a challenge and a personal success to go out for a fifteen-minute walk, who struggle to get dressed and take a shower and do their chores. I see others who have no motivation or desire to do anything. They wallow, unwashed, largely unseen by the rest of society, in their bedrooms, playing video games (X-Boxes are particularly popular). They survive on unemployment benefits.

They are not productive members of society. We treat them and we try to improve their “social functioning”, try to improve their connectedness and train them in “job skills” and get them involved with “activities”. We try to gift them with “meaning”.

Is productivity, then, a measure of a meaningful life? If you contribute to society in some way. If you give back to your community, if you make money and pay taxes and fuel the economy, if you have big projects and do things that change the world. Is the cardiothoracic surgeon, then, or the human rights ambassador, living a more meaningful life than the stay-at-home parent or the post-man? What sort of contribution to society should we aspire to?

When I went to church, this was a huge question. What is the meaning of being alive? As teenagers, we talked about it with each other all the time, shiny-eyed and eager to discover our callings and our place in the big wide world. We decided that a meaningful life was simply one where you did what God had called you for. I have no doubt that many people still follow this path today and derive a lot of fulfilment from it.

What about creativity? Creating something, whether it be a work of art, a piece of writing, a design, a recipe, a precedent, a building or road, and leaving it in the world to be a legacy after you are gone. Is that meaningful?

Still others talk about finding meaning in pursuing your own goals and seeking your own happiness. After all, you only get one life, and your life is entirely your own, and no one else’s. Why not seek to put yourself first?

And still others talk about finding meaning in touching other people’s lives. A life cannot be meaningless if you have done something to better another person’s experience, if you have left your fingerprint in someone else’s book. That, they say, is how you will know you have lived a good one.

I’ve run out of lemon slice. Time to get another piece and check Facebook.

My Guest Post on Dr M’s Notes: Empathy for the mad man

Originally posted on May 14, 2014 at Dr M’s Notes (


It’s easy to dismiss the patient with mental health issues.

When they pop up in our Emergency Departments, on our wards or in our clinics, there’s a common urge to handball responsibility to another party. They’re not my problem. They’re already sick. What help can I be to them, anyway?

The very practice of psychiatry is full of labels and names. Schizophrenia. Manic depression. Borderline. Dependent. Schizotypal. Involuntary. When one of these terms pops up on the admission notes, it’s easy to let the person fade behind the jargon. Especially when we’ve got fifteen other patients to look after; patients who are more relatable, more help-able.

Since February of this year I’ve been working in a community psychiatry clinic. It’s an experience I’m thoroughly enjoying. The diversity of patients constantly astounds me. There are people from families like mine, and families completely removed from anything I know. There are people from rural Victoria. There are middle-aged women living alone in boarding houses, young men on the streets, older men in their family homes. There are refugees from Vietnam, Somalia, India, Cambodia. I’ve used interpreters for many different languages.

Sometimes, when you meet a person who is suffering from a mental illness, you look into their eyes and you’re not sure if you’re reaching anything there. Sometimes they feel as vacant as an abandoned house. You wonder, how did they ever get to this stage? What happened to them to bring them to this point?

Over time I’ve seen some patients improve and others deteriorate. But what I’ve noticed this job growing in me is an ability to empathise with people from various walks of life. And I’m delighted that I’m becoming more genuine, rather than more jaded.

I’m learning to pause, to really listen. I’m trying not to simply search for the answers I’m expecting, but to absorb the sense of who a person was before they became unwell. And some of the best moments with my patients are when they crack a joke—usually a wry, half-true joke, but a joke nonetheless—and they look over at me to see if we’re on the same page. And for a split second, the interview transforms, and we’re just two people sharing a laugh.

It’s funny how simple and effective a joke can be. It’s prompted me to realise that we’re all made from the same dust. We’re not really different from the people we treat, at all, and we shouldn’t go down the path of thinking we are. If not for a different set of life circumstances—a different set of genes, a different childhood—you or I could so easily be the one with the label.

via Empathy for the mad man | Dr M’s notes.

The Humble Life


My parents have never been to Europe. They’ve never backpacked around South East Asia, or toured down the Nile, or seen the white thumbprint of Mount Fuji on the horizon. They’ve never set foot in the United States, even though they have siblings there. My parents grew up in a world where travel was a luxury, and luxuries were not a habit.

They bear only good cheer, well wishes and excitement for my globetrotting adventures, though I imagine if I were in their shoes, I would judge my travels to be excessive and gluttonous. I blow a grand or two on plane tickets, and then spend several weeks dashing madly from city to city, attempting to absorb culture. I come back with a pile of dirty clothes and badly shot photos. It’s just so easy to travel nowadays. And not only that–it’s the done thing.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the phenomenon. Holidays between semesters and annual leave from work beget the inevitable wide-eyed question: “Where are you going?”

And if you answer, “Nowhere, I’m just staying at home,” you trigger the cry of, “What? Why? You should go somewhere!”

You should go somewhere. It’s a bit of a mantra for us Gen-Yers. While our parents idealised owning a home and having a cushy job, we crave experience and adventure and all those other wild things that we imagine equate to really being alive. We see other countries as wildernesses to be explored. We find lists of places you MUST visit and foods you MUST try. You just must, must, must, before you die, otherwise you haven’t really lived.

My Facebook news feed has become a dizzying display of exotic locales. It seems half my friends are climbing mountains and the other half are skiing down them. I’m not saying that I am blameless, either. I started travelling in university. At first, the summer holidays meant giant group road trips. We rented a big house down in Lorne. The next year, we flew up to Queensland. Then I ventured overseas–an overambitious, five-week romp through Europe. The following year, Malaysia/Hong Kong and then Samoa. Then Japan and New Zealand. Then China. Soon it became almost expected that a break from study or work meant leaving the country. I haven’t spent Christmas in Melbourne for years.

The adventures we embark on are indeed amazing, and many friends have had much more amazing adventures than I have. But I suppose this essay is a little reminder to myself to remain grateful. It is a privilege–no, even a miracle–that we can buy airplane tickets at the click of a button, step onto a flight, and, a few hours later, disembark into a whole different country, on the other side of the bloody world. Is that not mind-blowing? It is a privilege that I have been born into a family, a society, and an education that has allowed me to afford such luxuries.

My mum’s idea of happiness is coffee, a good book and a bed. She hardly ever spends any money on herself. She buys dresses for fancy dinners from the Salvation Army and makes them look stunning. She saves plastic bags, rubber bands, tofu food containers and scraps of paper so that we can reuse them. She has mentioned, on and off, for years, that she’d like to go to America someday, to visit her sister, or maybe Scotland, to see the castles.

My dad’s idea of happiness is a safe and secure home, eating together with the family, and a beanbag in front of the television. He drives more than an hour each way, in heavy traffic, to work. I can’t recall a single time he’s taken a sick day. He wore the same hat for years and years, until I bought him a new one. He is delighted by a bargain.

I can’t help but feel there is something valuable and precious in the humble life. It shines in its simplicity. Keeping an orderly home, looking after your family, finding peace in being alone or being quiet or being still…perhaps these things aren’t as breathtaking as sky-diving, but neither do they mean that you haven’t lived life to the fullest.

The End of an Era


Today I officially finished my internship.

In Australia, after you finish a medical degree, you have to work for a year in a public hospital under probational registration before you are granted full registration as a doctor. I spent my internship year at Monash Health, which I truly enjoyed, and completed five x 10-week rotations: Inpatient Psychiatry (Youth and Young Adult), Acute Assessment Unit, General Medicine, Upper Gastro-Intestinal Surgery (Hepatobiliary) and Emergency Medicine.

I won’t deny that it has been a tough year. At times, the days have dragged. At other times I marvel at how quickly the time seems to be flying by. You enter a new department, lost and clueless, trying to learn all the nurses’ names, keep track of room numbers and figure out where the damn radiology request forms are kept. Just when you settle in, you’re shuttled off to your next rotation. There will be moments when you are bombarded with so many jobs that you just want to hurl you pager onto the ground and bawl. Disasters will happen in bunches: one afternoon, a patient began to die of bowel obstruction while another, simultaneously, had a heart attack.

The wonderful thing about internship is that you work, and you earn money, and you don’t often have to work too much more than what you’ve been rostered for. And outside of work, you have a freedom that is different from being a student. I played soccer, ate out, bummed around with friends, watched movies, read books and travelled without worrying about having to go home and hit the books. It was great, and I treasured it, because I know it’s a rare period in life to have so few obligations.

My first year of working life has also taught me that I am not invincible. I do not have endless reserves of energy, and my health may not be perfect if I do not put some small daily effort into looking after my basic needs. In fact, I am definitely someone who needs more than an average amount of sleep. During my general medical rotation, when I got 6-7 hours of sleep per night on weeknights, I struggled to make it to the end of the shift each day. Running around doing jobs kept me awake, but any time I sat down to do paperwork, I’d be yawning my head off. During my surgical rotation, where the roster was more irregular, a 5:30am wake-up would completely knock me out for the next few days. And when I went into my last rotation, Emergency, where I was swinging back and forth between morning shifts, evening shifts and overnight shifts…my body clock pretty much started waving a white flag. I got headachey, exhausted, and had abdominal pain and pretty horrible IBS.

It probably didn’t help that during this year I really wanted to keep up my social obligations. I played in up to three futsal games per week, went to dinners and parties, and even dabbled in Dungeons and Dragons for a good few months ;P (Yes, that counts as a social obligation…) I suppose this year has taught me the challenges of establishing a work-life balance. Everyone talks about it, and it always seemed so straightforward–just make sure you do heaps of fun stuff outside of work, no? But it’s a little bit more complex than that. You will have to make small sacrifices on both sides to get the balance right. Sometimes you will choose to uphold commitments and you will be very tired. Other times you will have to learn to say no, and put your own welfare first.

So I now have three weeks of leave (YAY, YAY, YAY!) and on February 3rd I’ll start work as a resident in psychiatry. Last week I did feel a little scared. I had a moment of profound realisation: I may never look after a patient ‘medically,’ ever again, if I keep going down this road. I may never put in another IV drip, or ponder the cause of a patient’s low blood pressure, or perform basic life support. My general medical knowledge will dwindle and fade, despite my best efforts not to forget. And I will become a pseudo-doctor, a part of the system that the other doctors don’t really regard as real doctors. Will I love it or hate it? I don’t know.

From My Notebook: November, 2012 – Stragglers

Empty wheelchair on cliff edge, desert

In the course of my medical studies, I met, very briefly, a man who was really a woman. He had been raised as a man, and had a man’s name. I later learnt that he had been born with ambiguous genitalia, and they–whoever they were, his doctors or his parents–had decided to bring him up as a boy. Somewhere along the way they had discovered that, genetically, he was female.

He was a very obese man, with the soft rotund face of an older woman. Between his bloated cheeks, sparse hair sprinkled his upper lip. He was poorly groomed and shoddily dressed, and walked with a stick. He was about forty years old.

I knew at once he was miserable. Every sentence that came out of his mouth was a spiteful, humourless joke that left his face and his shoulders sagging, slack, towards the ground. I wondered if he would ever fall in love or be loved. I wondered on how many days he felt that life was worth living. Could he count those days on one hand? An unpleasant feeling knotted my chest. Our world is brutal, and cares not for stragglers.