a young pakistani doctor blogs...
Monday, June 27, 2005
  My own island

Six days have passed. And what has this almost-one-week brought with it? A great deal of enviable studying? A total cure of all my ills? The birth of a new me? None of those things. A vacation, lots of soul-searching, confusion, and a wee bit o’ hope.

After that first day I spontaneously decided to take off, I followed it up by 5 more ‘spontaneous’ days off where I forbid myself from fretting over studies. I told myself sternly to try to relax. “Deep-bone relaxation” I called it.

It worked. While I’m not falling over myself to whip open a book and start studying with the fervor of the newly converted, at least I don’t get nauseous at the thought it. After six days, where I never even tried to work, and never worried myself over work, I feel somewhat refreshed. It’s not the Second Coming to be sure, but its as near as I’ll get to it. Today, the thought even crossed my mind that I would enjoy studying from now on. I don’t expect that sentiment to last more than five minute after opening the books again, but the notion that there is still a little chirpy, endearingly naïve side of me is comforting. My soul has not been completely crushed in the epic battle with med school. A vestige of the childish enthusiasm still lives. Atrophic and brutally battered to be sure, but still alive.

But while I’m feeling a little perky now, the last 6 days have not all been so centered. I’ve had a whole lot of inner struggle going on, as opposing convictions battle each other for dominance of my mind.

You see, I’m a medical student, and if all goes well, in the near future I’ll be a doctor. But the road to financial independence is about 3 years away. I’m 25. That means I’ll be dependant on my parents for sustenance till the ripe old age of 28. Only then will I be able to leave the mother nest and live life on my own terms. Life under my parent’s terms – not so great. I’m fiercely independent-minded and my restlessness will be difficult to chain down for another three years. Specially since my parents still treat me like I’m a kid (don’t you hate it when they do that?).

Enter a fantasy I’ve harbored for the last 3 years. Writing.

I like to write. I’ve written and been published (short stories and articles). I think I’m good. I want to be able to escape all my current woes by writing my way out of my ‘troubles’. I really really feel I can be a great writer. I have a lot of contribute as a writer. I can chronicle a piece of the world most people have never read about before. How many Pakistani English writer’s have connected with world-wide English readers? Err…Zero. Lots of Indians, but zero Pakistanis. There is a gap to be filled, a chronicler from my world. I could do it.

In my fantasy, I sit down sometime after my final year exam, write frantically to get some 30,000 words down, send it over to “someone in publishing” in the UK and get an sufficiently large enough advance for me to take the calculated risk of taking a year off to finish the book. Hopefully that book will sell well enough for me to contemplate a career in writing. In the following 2-3 years I write a couple of more books, which also do well, cementing my financial security.

*Cough* Yeah, I know, It’s far fetched. Incredible even. But I’ve read up on young writers to whom such a thing has happened. I know, I know…it’s very rare.

So is it just a pipe dream? Am I living with my heads in the clouds? Fool’s paradise?

Well….who’s to say? No one can really. Maybe I’ll be a great literary sensation. Maybe my book will disappear in a month’s time to the endless abyss where forgotton books are cruelly discarded, along with the dreams of their authors.

There is something in me that tells me over and over, with conviction that I have the talent. I’ve read mainstream writers, and many times, when reading the book I realize I’m much better than this. ‘This guy here, he’s published a book, it’s here in my hands, he’s making money off his writing. And I can do better than this!’ I’ve written before and been published, and my work has been really appreciated. Sought after even.

I know if I get into medicine any further, I’ll abandon the entire writing idea. This is not a theory but a fact. I will not write. Why would I? I’ll be a hot shot doctor. When I’m in my residency, I’ll be too busy to write, and when I’m further up the ladder, I’ll be making too much money to want to make the effort.

This time. This is the time. I may give it a try, and even if its not a huge success, just a small one - I’ll be encouraged to keep trying. As long as I can keep myself afloat and not wallow in poverty, I’ll be content with my returns. If I don’t try now, I’ll probably never be motivated to do it again. Wouldn’t that be tragic if there really is something great in me that’s just waiting to be tapped into and expressed? How many great English writers have come out of my country? Zero. How many doctors? One, follows by a whole bunch of zeros. If I’m a successful writer, I’ll be unique; able to give something few others can. If I’m a doctor, I’ll just be successful.

I’ve been back and forth, believe me. And its agonizing. For one thing, I’ve got a major exam starting in 59 days. Is all this musing just an escapist mechanism? Am I just so sick of studies I’m creating an ‘out’? Am I just giving myself something to latch my self-respect on to? Do I feel a sense of being overwhelmed by this exam and am creating a way to conquer the feeling? Maybe, maybe. It’s very possible. Keeping that realization in mind, I made a pact with myself.

Under no circumstances can I allow myself to do badly in this exam. I can’t let dreams of an unproven future allow my on-the-ground future to be jeopardized. If I make it as a writer, that’s great. If I don’t, I need to have something to fall back on. So medicine is my cop out (not writing). I’ll work hard for the next 3 months to pass these exams with good grades, but I’ll utilize every break I getting b/w studies to read a good book (reading is like prepping up for writing. You can’t write w/o reading). I’ll work 2 hours at a stretch, then take a 30 minute break by dipping into a novel. The novel will keep my soul alive and hopeful. It’ll remind me that I have a dream beyond my dry medical books. It’ll help me return to those medical books with a bit of enthusiasm and hope. Those books won’t be the end of my life. Knowing that there is something else for me will remove the life-or-death grip of fear these exams have for me. I’ll pass these exams, then I’ll settle down to write for 3 months. Then we’ll see what happens. I feel more eager to study now that I’ve got a relief.

Remember the movie Collateral? When Jamie Fox is explaining his ‘escape’ to Jada Smith about his ‘escape’? He said when he got too stressed, all he’d do is escape to his island. Then he pulled the sun-guard down and pointed to the picture of his island. He said he’d just block the world out, and go to his island. It helped him to de-stress. It helped him to keep on going.

I guess I’ve found my own island.

since your fiance already has to wait 3 years for you i suggest stickin with the md for now and writing when you're a doc :)
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Recent med school graduate from Peshawar, Pakistan. Started blogging when in throes of final year exams. Currently studying for USMLE Step 1. Aiming for the 2008 Match. I blog about my studies, my worries, and my thoughts on life. I live in Islamabad.

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