a young pakistani doctor blogs...
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
My Step 1 application will be fired off pretty soon. However I’ve got a big problem with my clinical rotations list which they require for the application. I don’t have the timetable of my 3rd and 4th year clinical rotations on me and I’m wondering how the hell to get them. There is this one friend on mine in Peshawar who can help because he’s a super geek who would most likely keep such records till he 56 years old and also because he was my batch fellow for those years and therefore had the same rotations schedule. I’m trying to get a hold of the guy.

Of course I can’t rely on the college administration to help me because they are a bunch of worthless good-for-nothings. I have to get this matter sorted out soon. It’s distracting me somewhat.
Monday, January 30, 2006
This is a great word. Wikipedia explains it as:

“Sangfroid is an English term borrowed from French; sang meaning "blood" and froid meaning "cold". Though the direct translation is "cold-blooded", sangfroid is not a synonym. While "cold-blooded" refers to ruthlessness and disregard for humanity or feeling, sangfroid merely describes an icy calm, a steadiness of nerves in the face of unsteadying conditions.”
  Romper Stomper
The stress of my step exam is taking its toll. I’ve been feeling very irritable these days. Things that otherwise wouldn’t have bothered me let loose a seething, smoldering volcano of a temper. I don’t think anyone in the house has noticed because I’m quite able to keep it under wraps. Of course it helps to have my own room where I am not disturbed, but still, I’ve had to work a lot harder to keep the lid down on my temper these last two days. When I went out for jog today, I pushed myself a little harder, trying to sweat out the anger, and it worked well for a few hours before my slow study pace got me worked up again.

There are no pithy words of wisdom to accompany this post. No profound insights into how human nature changes in the face of adversity. I just want to pound on a punching bag till I wear myself out, preferably with a colorful assortment of swearwords that I’d grunt out between clenched teeth with every punch to the bag.
Sunday, January 29, 2006
  Putt-putting along
Today I felt extremely irritable during the evening. It’s a good thing I have my own room, quite isolated from the rest of the house. Interaction with humans might have ended in unfortunate ways. The main reason behind my low-grade smoldering temper was my lack of speed in ploughing through the material. I’m having insomnia with the occasional bad dream and my mind hasn’t been getting it’s 8 hours of rest these last couple of days. Inevitably, my brain protested to this and went down into 1st gear and I found myself reading the same paragraphs four times before finally realizing I had already read it before and didn’t understand it then either. It was like driving uphill on CNG in a second-hand Suzuki.

I’m making it a point to eat an early light dinner, get into bed early, drink my milk and honey to bring on the sleep and try to try and relax and not get tense about things. When my brain is working, it works well so I hope with some proper rest, tomorrow I’ll be back on diesel.
Saturday, January 28, 2006
  Sleeping amidst the ruin
There was a news story in The News the other day about the capture of three murderers who had killed a surgeon back in November of last year. The surgeon had come from America after having worked there for 31 years and brought his expertise and experience back to his country to construct a state-of-the-art hospital in Peshawar. He was a very rich man and happened to befriend three thugs who eventually took advantage of his kind nature and killed him in his house after forcing him to write a whole bunch of blank cheques. What was disturbing was the murderer’s description of how they killed this fine man, who would have been an immense resource to his country had he lived longer. They were invited by the surgeon into his house (they had been friends with him for months), talked to him in his house for 2-3 hours before suddenly turning on him. They overpowered him, tied him up, gagged him and then discussed what to do next. One thing led to another and they forced him to sign blank cheques and then tried to strangle him. Despite their best efforts, he didn’t die of the strangulation, so they whipped a knife out and slaughtered him like a goat. What was disturbing in the interviews of the killers was how they described the doctor pleading for his life in the hours prior to his murder. He didn’t die quickly in an unexpected ambush. His fate hung in the balance for hours as the three men probably searched the house. He was tied up for about 7 hours before they finally killed him. What must he have been going through?

The good news is that the Islamabad police caught these guys after a lengthy, professional investigation. All three are in jail, and hopefully the police are periodically beating the shit out of them for what they did. They snuffed out a man who came back a successful surgeon to serve his own country. The doctor was a dollar millionaire who could have easily spent the rest of his life in ease and comfort in his retirement age, but chose instead to start off the arduous task of building a hospital in his hometown.

My father was so moved by this story (I hadn’t read it myself until my father gave me the paper) that he told me he couldn’t sleep that night. He said it just shows how base human beings can get and how no one can really be trusted unless they are known very well to you. He decried the tragedy of it all. To lose someone in such a tragic way, and a surgeon at that! My father got really emotional when he was talking about it.

I read the story in a far more composed manner. I pursed my lips and tut tutted as I read along. Ever since the Abu Ghuraib incident, I’ve developed a resistance to being shocked by these kinds of stories. Its not that I care less or anything. Its more that I keep telling myself that no one will ever escape justice. You may get away with harming your fellow man in this world, but there will be a Day of Judgment where God will preside over affairs and everyone will get what’s owed to them. This world is temporary and we’ll all destined to move on to another, eternal plane. I’m comforted by the thought that the life we ultimately live is infinite; that we never really die, but just move on to another plane, and that one Day, God will balance the scales. No matter how atrocious the crime, no matter how harrowing the details, it is but a blip in our existence, and even so there will still be a day God will set things right. That helps me sleep at night.
Friday, January 27, 2006
  Spiritual Conundrums
I often feel frustrated over the absence of ‘Islamic’ role models that I could look up to and seek guidance from. This world is confusing enough as it is without trying to formulate a working belief system that does not clash with the present day global mindset. We muslims have a long way to go before we can adapt entirely, as Muslims to the modern world. As it is now, a Muslim CEO of a Fortune 500 company (is there one, btw?) would run the company in a completely secular style without his Islamic beliefs entering any part of his daily working life. The company would be professionally run, because doing so otherwise would cost his job. He would have to be honest, because otherwise he might get thrown in jail for coporate fraud. It would donate to charitable causes, because of the tax benefits of doing so. There is no Islam to that. All these actions, while admirable are in place simply because of a well-evolved financial system, not because of any moral scruples on the part of the Muslim CEO. If that be the case, then its not surprising that the CEO would easily be able to detach himself from his Islam when making business decisions. His Islam would come into play in his 5 daily prayers, his personal charity, etc… etc… It would be a wholly  private thing. Is that the way it should be? I don’t know, I don’t really have anyone to look up to for guidance.

There was this one medicine professor in Peshawar that I befriended. He is retired and I visited him several times in his home. The first visit was business, I needed his help with something and someone referred me to him. Subsequent visits were mostly social visits where we discussed religion for hours. He’s quite a legend in Peshawar (as a doctor) and I found him to be an extraordinary man. A devoted, pious Muslim with a large library of Islamic books, but a very compassionate, openhearted man as well. These days, the piety of a Muslim seems to be considered directly proportional to his beard length, his ‘strictness’ as to his interpretation of Islam, and his hatred for the West. It also helps if he’s got a maulana prefixed to his name - that seems to add to his piety, apparently. There is no shortage of such ‘role-models’ but this ‘brand’ of Islam doesn’t resonate with me at all. This kind of Islam seems to be full of conflict, hardships and hating rather that about inner peace, reconciliation and dialogue. This brand of Islam seems to suffocate one into a rigid, immutable way of life. I’m not buying it. I can’t believe this is what Allah intended for us.

It’s difficult to live in this secular world without a role model to walk you through it teaching you how to incorporate Islamic values into a largely secular world. How do you go about being a good Muslim without seeming like an anachronistic outcast in today’s world? Those who blindly say ‘Islam is the answer’ paint a very complicated world in black and white. It’s not that easy, I’m afraid. The millions of Muslims out there who are loosing themselves to a ‘western’ way of life aren’t stubborn or stupid that they can’t see the ‘answer’ right in front of them, they are confused. Some can never reconcile their religion in the first place, seeing it as outmoded and backward in today’s world. Some try their best to adopt what is generally considered an Islamic way of life and feel they just can’t do it.

I don’t have any answers here. I’m just as confused as the next guy. It’s one thing to have clear concepts on what your religion is all about, and I believe I’d got that settled quite well. It’s another issue altogether trying to translate those ideas into practice. As any doctor will tell you, it’s one thing to study medicine from books and another thing to practice it proficiently. We’ve got residency training programs, professors, medical colleges and universities to help us with medicine, but where do we learn to practice Islam?
Thursday, January 26, 2006
  c'est la vie
Days are measured in terms of how many hours of studying I did. They are then classified as good days or bad days. My mood swings up or down with the hours. I feel like I’m riding an emotional roller coaster, to borrow a cliché. Life sucks right now. I’m not feeling too happy about things, but I still head my head above water and didn’t allow myself to get depressed.

But this morning’s events really got me down. My grandmother went into overt heart failure and my mother went over to Bannu be with her. Then my bhabi just cried in front of me when I went down to eat lunch just now. She was complaining that my mother treats her very badly. She looked very subdued and depressed. My bhabi never cried in front of me before. I didn’t know how to handle it, and just stood there like an idiot asking her to tell me what was wrong while she was shaking her head and fighting back the tears.

And I still have to study for another 6-7 hours.

What a life.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
  Intelligence test
I wasted more than an hour on this so I might as well brag about it here to have something to show for my lost time. I got 20 correct before I decided to stop wasting time and start studying.

And please, spare me your snide remarks about how inaccurate and biased intelligence tests are. Get 20 right yourself before coming here to lecture me.
Monday, January 23, 2006
  D's Dilemma VI
Something drastic needed to be done to save the situation. D’s father was not backing down. Now, in response to the phone call D’s father made to W, W’s father ordered her to drop the matter too. Both sets of parents were now pulling their children away from each other. Both sets of parents insisted on it and now, drastic measures needed to be taken.

D had another week left in Islamabad. He was on compassionate leave from work. His employers insisted that he go back home for as long as he wanted to, to attend to the fallout of the October 8th earthquake. He had already spent two weeks here before the repercussions of his father’s September phone call to D blew up in his face. W called D up and was frantic. Her father insisted on extracting a promise from her that she would drop this matter. He objected to D only on the grounds that his family was obviously never going to accept her, and seen in this light, he had a perfectly legitimate point. After all, he said, I didn’t raise you to give you away to a family that will make your life miserable the moment you enter it.

For next few days, as his flight drew nearer, D moped and wondered what to do. I was all out of ideas at this stage and did my best to comfort him and keep his mind off things. A few days before he was due to leave, W asked to meet him so they can discuss their future. D borrowed an apartment from a friend of his so he and W can have the discussion in private, without interruptions. It was still Ramadhan, and they agreed to meet after iftari. D told me about the meeting and I was eagerly awaiting his phone call at night.

D called me a few hours after iftari. It was late and he asked me to come over (to the apartment he had borrowed). I noticed his low-key tone and drove over there right away. W had gone and D was alone in the apartment.

W had called the meeting for one purpose only, and that was to say good-bye and to get closure. She told him that she could never go against his father’s wishes and that she had to submit to his demands that she drop this matter entirely and sincerely. She said tearfully that it didn’t seem that things would ever work out between them and that if D’s parents ever did come around (and that too seemed unlikely) it was improbable that her father would ever forgive the phone call D’s father made to her.

D listened to this in tearful silence. He agreed with her that at the moment, things didn’t seem like they would ever work out. However, he affirmed that he would never give up on her and he would continue to work on his parents. ‘Eventually,’ he said, ‘they have to give in, I’m not letting this go.’ D explained that he was going to emotionally blackmail them into accepting her. He wasn’t going to fight with them, but just let them know that he was completely miserable because of them. That should bring them around eventually. W countered this by telling him that as far as she was concerned, it was all over. She came here to say goodbye and not to plot strategies for the future. She told him not to give her false hope and that he should also start to accept the inevitable. D said that he wasn’t ready to give up hope, but that he understood her position and respected it.

W said goodbye and left.

I sat with D was he narrated what happened. He had been crying before he called me up and looked completely defeated. He looked tired and broken.

“What are you going to do now?” I asked.

“What I said. I’m going to go back to London, I’m not going to call my parents. I’m not going to do anything to assure them that I’m happy with the way things turned out. I’m not going to call them up and start acting normally as if everything is just fine when its not. It won’t be a pretense, man. I’m fucking upset. I can’t deal with this and also act happy at the same time, especially towards my parents who caused this mess in the first place. Let them do what they want to do with that. I’m going to be myself. They made my life miserable because of their stubbornness. I’m not going to hide that from them. Let them live with it, like I’m living with it. I hope they eventually come around when they see how miserable I am. If they don’t, then they don’t.”

I spent a few more hours with D, trying my best to cheer him up. I returned home pretty late and later that night he called me again and we talked some more. His parents did notice a change come over him. He wasn’t hostile or rude towards them, but his relationship with W was now ended, from  W herself no less. He was profoundly unhappy and his parents noticed. They didn’t say anything and a few days later he left for London.

It was D’s sister who eventually told D’s parents that W had broken off the matter once and for all, and that the two were no longer speaking to each other. D’s parents had finally gotten their own way. However, D was still holding out hope that his misery would somehow penetrate his parent’s prejudices and they would finally come around to see things his way. True to his word, he stopped calling home every week like he used to. The only information D’s parents had of him came from his sister who was working in Scotland and called D up regularly. D’s sister argued for him wholeheartedly, but eventually she tired of having regular fights with her parents over D’s fate. She got heartily sick of the entire fiasco herself and tried to avoid talking to her parents as much as possible because they would always bring the matter up whenever they talked.

D had given up trying to reason with his parents. He had written thousands of words in emails and spent endless hours on the phone patiently arguing his case. He finally just left the matter up to his parent’s sense of compassion. He was not actively doing anything further to change their minds, but he certainly wasn’t going to let them off the hook for what they had done. He was miserable and he wasn’t going to pretend otherwise. He was working 12-14 hours days at his job and was glad for the distraction.

His parents did not relent or show the slightest sign of softening on their position. His father would regularly write emails telling him that he was an unfaithful son and that he had very clearly been wrong about the whole W affair. D didn’t bother replying to these emails. He was bitter that even after it was all over and it was confirmed that W had broken things off, far from trying to reconcile matters between them and clear the air, his father was still trying to crush him into subservience. His father still wanted him to ask for forgiveness for all the wrong that D had committed.

D’s parents would call him on some minor pretext or the other every few weeks. The conversations would always be stilted and terse. No mention would ever be made about the real source of the problem and when the sterile banter was quickly exhausted, the phone call would end.

As the situation developed, a gradual change came over D’s attitude. He was no longer seeking to emotionally blackmail his parents with his misery. As the weeks rolled on without any sign of progress, and as the farewell meeting in the apartment receded further into the past, D began to lose all vestiges of hope. Even if his parent suddenly decided that they would accept W, it would never work now. Too much anger had gone into the process. The relationship between W and his parents would be poisoned and doomed to fail. There could be no way things would ever work out after all the hate and anger of the last seven months.

Today, on the 22nd of January, D called me up again and we talked for about an hour. I hadn’t talked to him for more than a month and I was hoping he would have some good news to report. He didn’t. He had given up totally. He had no hope left and wasn’t holding out any. He didn’t know how things with ever be the same with his parents now, but he was working 12-14 hours a day these days and that kept him from thinking too much about anything. He said all his friends from the Islamaabad clique in which he had first met W were gone. They left their jobs or finished their degrees. He was the only one there now.

“So how do you spend your time?” I asked him today.

“I don’t have much time to spend man,” he replied. “I wake up early, get to work by 9, come back at 6 or 7, clean up, iron my clothes for tomorrow, watch some TV then go to sleep to start all over again the next day. There’s nothing to look forward to.” He paused. “And I get really lonely.”
Sunday, January 22, 2006
  Aya's score!
Aya got her score back today. She scored an awesome 94. I’m really happy for her and feel boosted myself. It’s made my day.
Friday, January 20, 2006
  Movie, anyone?
Electricity was gone since morning. I didn’t get any work done since I’m so hooked on the lectures, which are on my PC. I can’t really read directly from the book anymore. Moron that I am, I need someone to explain it to me nicely. I wasted 3 hours of the morning, and soon I’ll be taking my mother to a cardiologist to get this blood pressure business of hers sorted out by a specialist once and for all.

I hope I get some good work done today. Yesterday was an okay day, even though I didn’t feel at all like studying, my stamina for sticking to the crappy books was probably increased because I saw a movie the night before (Batman Begins) and I really enjoyed it. Good movies make you forget your worries for a while and engulf you in another world. This can be quite refreshing if you’re sick and tired of your life at the time.

It’s a good pointer really: every few days, go watch a good movie and clear your head.

I’ll go get another movie in a few days.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
  All I have are dreams
I do not want to study. I have absolutely no desire to study. I have no enthusiasm left for these books. I want to run far away from here and go to a place where no one can find me. A place where they speak English so I’m not lost or hapless in this foreign place. Perhaps New Zealand, or Switzerland, or Scotland. Also, I’ve got to have a million bucks with me too, so I can spend my time leisurely. I’d go for long walks, read books, watch movies, sleep and not worry about anything.

But alas, I am destined to be impecunious in the foreseeable future, so I must stay where I am and face my battles.

Back to the books, whether I like it or not. A job that can’t be left undone.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Yesterday I just felt terrible. I was stuck in pharmacology in the mysterious world of eicosanoids and felt really bogged down. I was continually distracted by my Step 1 application problem until the very end when it became clear I wouldn’t have to go to Peshawar myself. It was just a really bad day. Study was poor, mood was poor, and everything sucked.

Khair, I decided to just let it be, have a good night’s sleep and not let it worry me. Its not the ability to study 8-10 hours a day in a short time span that will make a difference, it’s the ability to raise myself up from lows like these and not let them get to me.

I just wish I didn’t have anymore bad study days. I just afford them anymore.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Wow, it’s raining pretty heavily over here. The weather is great, Islamabad is getting a proper washing down.

Study is faltering a little I’m afraid. Yesterday wasn’t good at all, just a few hours of work, mostly because I was kick starting the ECFMG registration process for my Step 1 exam. It was quite distracting because I have determine whether or not I would need to go to Peshawar for this purpose. I’m still sorting a couple of things out. I hope I don’t have to go, I’ll waste at least 2 days there. Today is somewhat better. I didn’t sleep that much last night so I was feeling sleepy in the morning. I just had to sleep in the afternoon today and now I’m up again and feeling deliciously refreshed. I think I’ll get a lot of work done today Inshallah.

Nothing much to report. Just me being myself.  
Sunday, January 15, 2006
  In brief...
Studied a lot. Good day. Really tired. Will blog tomorrow.
  A great innings.
Studied for 9 hours today, so it was a great day. The morning started off slowly, with my brain in 1st gear, but as I persisted, it woke up in a couple of hours and my speed increased a lot. As I went on, the hours went by quite quickly and it didn’t seem like such a big deal as I reached the 9-hour mark. I guess I’m improving my stamina. I also started jogging today, so that’s more good news.

I did a lot of work today and I’m pleased with myself.

I’m dead tired though. Am going straight to bed. Let’s hope I clock in 10 hours tomorrow. I’ve learnt the hard way not to let myself get complacent after one good day of hard work. It’s not the one good day that matters, but having these good days persistently.
Saturday, January 14, 2006
  On the front foot.
A far better day today. I seemed to have overcome whatever it was that was bogging me down before. It wasn’t easy to clock in the hours at all, but I persisted and around the afternoon today, the inertia seemed to have lifted and my brain finally started cooperating without me needing to force it too hard to concentrate. I slept a full 8 hours the previous night and combining that with a light lunch allowed me to get through the afternoon without any afternoon drowsiness. I didn’t go jogging today, but definitely will go tomorrow.

Still, while it seems my graph is on the up, I have yet to hit a steady 10 hours a day run rate. I’ll have to hit a few boundaries tomorrow to get things moving. The number of overs left only decrease with each day and I’ve got to better my strike rate.

Here’s one series I can’t afford to lose.
Friday, January 13, 2006
Today totally sucked. It was a pretty bad day. Over the last two weeks, I’ve gradually been mounting pressure on myself to perform and for the most part I’ve been able to get the job done. At the end of the day I would move forward and did so without much trouble. Today however, I felt sleepy and tired all day. I was a little feverish and tachycardic. I’m not sure why that is, but it really drained me quick. I went to sleep in the afternoon and even had a ‘nightmare’ (I suppose I should call them ‘daymares’). I’ve been moody and my fiancé is pissed off at me as well.

Just one of those days when you feel you’re not up to it and you begin to wonder if you ever will be.

Aya suggested that I start jogging in the mornings. I really do need to exercise. I spend so much time in this chair of mine, I’m afraid I’ll develop DVT one of these days. I’ll try to take it up, cuz I’m totally out of shape!  

Let’s hope tomorrow is a better day.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
  feeling weakish
I don’t know why, but I’ve been feeling really weak since yesterday evening. I didn’t think much of it yesterday, and I thought I’d just sleep it off, but I’ve been feeling very tired this morning as well.

It might be due to all the meat I’ve been eating. Protein needs a lot of water to digest and I might have dehydrated myself. I’ve filled up a pitch of water now and will drink a lot of water hoping to flush the fatigue out of my body. I shouldn’t be feeling like this. It’s strange. Mebbe my body is fighting an infection and I’m feeling some subclinical symptoms. Some vitamins might help too.
  D's Dilemma V
D lost a lot of family in the 8th October earthquake. He lost 4 first cousins and about 30 second cousins, aunts and uncles. He flew in because he wanted to do what he could to help his family there. He didn’t lose anyone close to him, so he was quite calm and collected.

I met him the day he arrived. I went over to his house, glad to see him again, even if it was under such circumstances. He was going over to Muzafferabad the next day. His parents were making arrangements to take lots of food and blankets with them to take to their relatives. I didn’t seem much of him for a few days after that. He said they were probably going to bring back dozens of relatives who lost their homes back to Islamabad so they had a place to stay while they got over their shock. He had really sad stories to tell me – of mothers dying while running to protect their kids, or people being reported alive in a certain hospital only to be found dead underneath the rubble later on. The earthquake has been an enormous tragedy.

In spite of it all, when things settled down, he met up with W and they spent some time together, also happy to be with each other despite the circumstances. I broached the subject of W with D during one of our endless drives throughout Islamabad. He said that it was impossible to bring the topic up now. Not only did his dad just get operated on, but considering the recent earthquake and it’s fallout, it would be extremely insensitive and inappropriate to bring a topic like this up at the time. He was staying in Islamabad for about another two weeks, but he wasn’t going to bring the topic up. He would have to wait another month, at the very least.

So D and I would hang out. He would come to my house almost every day and we’d go out somewhere. Sometimes we’d pick W up as well and we’d all go out for a drive and a bite to eat.

About a week before he was due to leave, D called me up and told me he was coming over in 5 minutes. He picked me up and I immediately sensed something was wrong. He looked as if he had been crying. Not a good sign. He drove quickly to the markez nearby and got out of the car to get cigarettes. D had quit smoking about 10 times since he first got hooked. I kept pestering him to quit and he did, not because I told him to, but because W did. He’d quit and then start up again later, usually when something went wrong. He was not smoking when he came to Pakistan, so when he got out of the car to get cigarettes, I knew something was up. I got out of the car too and waited quietly for him to walk back with his cigarettes to tell me what had happened.

“It’s over man. This time it’s really over.” He said, unwrapping his cigarettes.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Her father found out about the phone call.”

“What phone call?”

“The one my Dad gave her. The one where he told her to forget all about me and that it wasn’t ever going to happen.”

“Shit!” I said simply. “How did he react? Who told him?”

“I think W’s mother told him about it. Anyway, he got really pissed off and wanted to know my dad’s number so he could call him up and give him a piece of his mind. He was really angry that someone called his daughter up and talked to her like that.”

He took another puff from his cigarette.

“So you think all that smoking is going to solve your problems?” I asked him sardonically. He laughed sheepishly despite himself, as he always did when I brought this topic up.

“Anyway, W’s mother managed to calm him down somewhat and he said that he would sleep on it. The next morning he sat downs with W and tells her to drop the whole thing. He ordered her to drop it, and he’s not the type who will tolerate his orders being disobeyed. He told her that the boy’s family will never accept you if they’re saying such things at this stage, and that he would never ever allow his daughter to enter a home where she might be miserable or treated like a reject.”

I took this in and was quiet for a moment.

“I can’t blame him,” I said at last.

“Yeah, neither can I.” He replied. “I’d do the same thing.”

“So what now?” I asked.

“I don’t know, man. I don’t know.”

More later.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
  Off with its head!
Great! Now we have a goat ourselves bleating its brains out. I don’t think I’ll be getting much sleep today - or the next 24 hours come to think of it!
  A doctor and writer
Didn’t study much today, just a few hours, because I had to take my mother to the hospital for a check up. That took a long time because we had to wait for the good doctor to show up. I knew it would waste most of the day, and was mentally prepared for it because I figured if I help my mother out, as I am supposed to, Allah would put barkat in my work tomorrow. My mother is extremely happy with the amount of fussing I do over her these days. The doctor told her I was doing an excellent job and that made her even happier (and proud).

The doctor was very pleased by my careful attention, and the report I had written for him summarizing all the lab results and my efforts over the last month. He told me to strike out the thiazide and add metoprolol. My mother will start the altered drug regimen tomorrow. I hope the blood pressure goes down to ideal levels. I’m looking for 120-130 systolic.

I was really really drowsy in the evening and was trying to work when I got an email from the editor of the publication I occasionally write in. Among other things, he wrote:

“I really enjoyed your "XXXX" piece - a candid and humorous account. I'd have been quite proud of it if I’d written it. We'd love to have more of your insights coming our way soon.”

Being one who is highly prone to manipulation through flattery, I decided work was going too slowly anyway so I’d complete an article I had on ice for the last 6 months. I had written about 600 words 6 months ago and didn’t know how to continue so I just kept it in limbo and forgot about it. I dug it out, got down to figuring out an ending, polished it off quite nicely and sent it. I’m pretty sure it will get accepted. The editor is a big fan of mine now!

A bad day for studies, but I feel good.  
Monday, January 09, 2006
  Just another day.
A good day today. I did a lot of work, but I could have done more. I clocked in 8 hours, and could have easily gone to 11 if I hadn’t taken so many breaks. The Kaplan videos and Goljan audio lectures make the material a lot more pliable and progress is correspondingly faster. I get a lot more work done in a shorter time because of these materials. I really need to up the hours to a regular 10 hours/day minimum.

I’ll be taking my mother to the hospital tomorrow for a consult with a cardiologist. I finally got her blood pressure down to a constant 155/70, from 180/70. It’s a significant decrease with a zero side effect profile for the drugs she’s using and ample room to increase the dosage and also add another one to get the blood pressure down even more. Tomorrow’s meeting with the cardiologist should help in figuring a plan of action from here onwards. I’ll write a report in the morning before we go to summarize all the lab tests we’ve done and the progress of the anti-hypertensives I’ve been giving her.

So study is going well. The 8 eight hours today came with little difficulty, but again, there is room to do more. I have less than 5 months to go for the Step 1, and I don’t want to have any regrets later on. The last two days before this one were not very good (why do you think I’ve been posting stories and other useless stuff?!). I only studied 3-4 hours because I got fed up of the books. To remedy things, I went and got a movie (Gothika) to get out of the whole USMLE frame of mind. I don’t watch TV or read books, and even my ‘breaks’ consist of roaming USMLE forums, so I felt a movie would do me good. Sure enough, last night I watched the movie and today felt refreshed enough to get back to some kind of form. A bit of distraction can go a long way.

The afternoon naps and the 5-6 hour of nocturnal sleep is doing wonders for my concentration. I’m really glad I stumbled across this sleep cycle. My internal clock is so fine tuned now that I wake up myself these days just a few minutes before eight, just before the alarm wakes me up. The afternoon sleepiness comes with almost clinical precision at exactly 3pm and I quickly get to sleep. When I wake up after the afternoon nap, it’s like starting the day all over again. I think the milk and honey I have before I go to sleep at night makes a difference too. I put in a lot of honey, and I’m sure I’m feeling some of its beneficial effects. In any case, the value of a regimented discipline routine for studies is very obvious to me now. Good thing I figured it out this soon.

Not the most exciting of matters to be blogging about, but that’s about as exciting as it gets around here these days. At least I gave you a story with acid attacks, sex and suicides? That should make up for it somewhat.
Sunday, January 08, 2006
I hope I can get some sleep (afternoon kip). There’s a bunch of goats bleating their heads off outside. Well, a few days later, their heads will literally be off, so things will quiet down. I’m like my afternoon nap a lot now. Can’t imagine how I survived before without. The only problem is the noise. Not just goats, but other sounds of the outside world filter in with astonishing fidelity through the windows of my room.

Just dropping a line. Study going well, alhumdulillah.
Saturday, January 07, 2006
Here’s a short story I wrote about a year ago.

Lubna hid the black jar in her purse as she entered the apartment complex. She stared down in front of her as she strode silently towards flat 3C. This last month had been the worst one of her life. She was torn inside and the endless crying brought her no comfort. Her broken heart finally closed up again, hardened with hate, fury and a bitter love. She came today to get revenge. She didn’t care about the consequences of what she was going to do. She might be killed for doing this, but death ceased to scare her. It might even be welcomed.

She reached block C, the third of 5 buildings in the complex of flats. He lived in the 3rd apartment, on the second floor. She knew he would be in at this time. She knew all about his habits. She once thought she knew everything there was to know about him. That all changed a month ago when the troubled relationship was ended with a phone call.

‘Look,’ he said, after some hot words were exchanged, ‘I can’t believe you ever thought I was going to marry you. Go look at yourself in the mirror. You’re a dog. I was just fooling around. I might have said some mushy stuff now and then, but we were just playing around. Don’t deny it, you knew that too. Don’t pretend this was about anything other than sex.’

You’re a dog. She could never get the words out of her head.  

He was the first man she ever met that told her she was beautiful. She wouldn’t believe him at first, thinking it was only the love talking. But he said it so much, in time she came to believe it. She began to look at herself in the mirror, and the nose suddenly didn’t seem too large or that crooked. The lips didn’t seem too thin. And her hair was nice too, if she brushed it just right.

He was a hafiz-e-quran, and he was a doctor. That was proof enough that he was noble, and although the relationship became overtly physical, she was married to him in her heart and she didn’t believe she was doing anything wrong. Sure her parents might have killed her if they ever found out, but she surrendered herself totally to her love. There could be no one else. No one could make her feel beautiful or special. They would get married when he finished his house job and started his specialization. He promised over and over again.

She knocked on the door. She knew he’d be asleep. He always slept in the afternoon. He unzipped the purse and took the black jar out. It contained about half a liter of liquid inside. She gingerly undid the lid, and held the jar ready. She heard him shuffling inside to answer the door.

The problems started when she started pressuring him for a formal proposal from his parents. It had to be formalized, she explained. Her mother kept bringing her marriage up, and soon something had to be done about it.

His mood would change drastically whenever she brought the matter up. He would suddenly become silent and sullen and complain that she was putting too much pressure on him, an unemployed doctor, just starting his professional career.

In the beginning, she felt ashamed of herself for making him angry. He obviously loved her a lot. Why should she make life harder for him? She stopped insisting after the first few times, but when a strong rishta came to her home, and her parents fought with her for rejecting it, the matter became urgent.

He started becoming distant; calling her less, and ending phone conversations quickly with some excuse or another. The situation at home became tense, and she found it hard to sleep well at night. She became irritable and more insistent that he formalize the relationship soon. They started having fights for the first time.

You’re a dog, he had finally said.

She heard the dead bolt of the door being unlocked from the inside, took the lid off the jar, and cocked her arm.

He opened the door and looked at her sleepily. He had barely registered her when she thrust the jar at him, unloading its contents full onto his face.

Some of the liquid splashed onto the wooden door, hitting it with a hiss and producing a thin white fume of smoke.

He screamed as the concentrated acid ate his face. It was the primal shriek of a wounded beast. He staggered back and hit the floor, scratching at his face as blood poured out only to be darkened and congealed by the acid boring in from the outside.

The shrieks stunned the neighbors into immobility. It took a few seconds for the nearest one to regain his presence of mind and run outside to see what happened. He was an army officer who had seen his share of injuries, but what he saw writhing on the floor of his neighbor’s apartment made his blood run cold. His training kicked in, and he immediately recognized what the source of the injury was. He dragged his neighbor, whose screams were interrupted by gurgled strangling sounds as he tried to draw breath to the bathroom where he turned the shower on and forced his agonized neighbor under it.

The army officer’s wife had come out in time to see her husband drag a body into the bathroom. She looked at the woman standing outside the door. She had fallen to her knees and stared numbly inside the apartment. Her pain was gone – replaced by a cold horror at what she had done.

Dr. Afzal Latif’s face was permanently scarred by 3rd degree burns. He was left blind in one eye. His lips, left cheek and part of his tongue were pierced by the acid. When his family found out about his attack, they immediately rushed to the hospital and stood by his side as he lay unconscious, drugged by strong painkillers. They lodged an FIR against a one Lubna Sadiq, a girl they had never heard of before.

Lubna Sadiq was finally traced about a week later by the police. Her body had partially decomposed and the smell alerted her neighbors who broke into her apartment and shrieked in horror at the figure that hung suspended from the ceiling fan. No suicide note was found, and the police could not establish a reason for her acid attack. They suspected an affair gone wrong but Afzal’s family members, and more importantly, his roommate, strongly denied any affair. The police were puzzled. Afzal’s reputation was impeccable. Family, close friends, fellow doctors and even patients in the ward who had known him only for a few days all had nothing but praise for him. He was a decent, competent, respectable human being.

His roommate was beside himself with grief. He had been Afzal’s classfellow and room mate for six years. He was on duty at the time of the attack. They had grown together and were inseparable. Afzal’s parents were touched by the amount of attention he was giving to their son. He was always there in the hospital room, red-eyed and exhausted. He would get the medicine and administer them. He did everything he could to keep Afzal comfortable and was prone to fits of uncontrollable sobbing many times a day. Afzal had always been there for him. Afzal was the one who took care of him when he had meningitis. He was the one who helped him through studies and exams. They were going to specialize together. They might start their own clinic one day. Their families would be like one family.

He looked down at his friend’s face and the unbearable sadness welled up in his heart again. Afzal was drugged and unconscious. There was no one else in the room.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured. “I should have listened to you. I should have told her I had a roommate.”
What? You expect me to post everyday?
Friday, January 06, 2006
  Stupid Nothings
A promising day that ended on a sour note. I clocked in 6 hours of work well before evening and these days, since I’m awake till 2am, I thought I would move on to get a lot more work done. The wind came out of my sails soon afterwards though, and rather than building on the progress I had already made, I couldn’t study anymore and spent the rest of the night moping. Good thing most people in the house were asleep or on another floor. I was feeling grouchy.

These days I have a nice little fantasy that I use to help me go to sleep. I often have to divert my mind towards something other than the day that just passed in order to stop my racing mind and slow it down to a stop. I fantasize having written a book that earned me Big Bucks and then using that to go live for a year or so in a hotel like Marriott or something, where I’d have them wait on me hand and foot. I’d spend the whole day watching DVDs of good movies and TV shows (ER, Road to Avonlea, Welcome Back Kotter, and many others), exercising, sleeping, reading and perhaps writing if the mood struck me. I’d be divorced from any responsibilities. No exams to study for. No future to worry about. Just devoting my attentions to trying to kill my brain cells through lack of activity. I haven’t had a vacation in years. I don’t know when I’ll ever get to have one.

My sleep habits are working out just fine. Six hours at night. No breakfast in the morning. One hour in the afternoon, right after lunch. It comes around to only seven hours - so I managed to steal an hour from nowhere, although I didn’t plan it that way.

I’m just going to brush off today’s bad ending to an otherwise good day. I can’t let myself get down over stupid nothings. I need to stay positive or I’ll never get anything done. I’ve just got to chip away at this monster of an exam on day at a time. I’m a little worried about not meeting my targets, but I figured that I’m building momentum and pretty soon I’ll start clocking in a regular 10 hours. I hope I manage to do that tomorrow. Tomorrow’s another day.
Thursday, January 05, 2006
  I have SUCH an exciting life!
Today was an okay day. I actually managed to go through quite a bit of material, (although I fell short of my daily target) without really stressing myself out. I had to take tons of mini-breaks today and ended up clocking just about seven and a half hours of study. Not really impressive.

However today was eventual in that I accidentally stumbled across a new sleep system that works for me. I couldn’t sleep until 2 am last night, but still woke up at my usual 8am. I had only 6 hours of sleep and while that seemed toxically low to me, I got up anyway and started my day. I didn’t have much appetite so I forsaked breakfast and got straight to work. Soon I realized that the empty stomach and shorter sleep actually made me more alert. I didn’t feel sleepy the whole morning and concentrated quite well on the material. I went to sleep at 3pm, a time I always knew my circadian rhythm kicked in with very heavy drowsiness. I snoozed for about an hour and a half and woke up feeling very refreshed and alert. I only had 2 and a half cups of coffee today, down from my usual 4. I didn’t reach my full potential of studying not because I felt sleepy but because I’m a lazy good-for-nothing bastard, but that’s a different story. I think this new sleep system will work well for me; I’m trying it again tomorrow.

BTW, how come nobody commented on my 419eaters post? Didn’t y’all think it was hilarious? Or is it just me… do I need to get a life or what?
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
  I recommend 419 dot com
I laughed till I had tears in my eyes and my tummy ached. I haven’t laughed so hard in months.

I was referred to http://www.419eater.com by a friend. It’s a site that features a large community who take time out to lead the kind of scammers I mentioned in the last couple of posts into wild goose chases. They convince the scammer that they are genuinely interested in going through the ‘business deal’ and then string them out over weeks, making them jump through hoops until they finally reveal to the scammers that they were being fooled. They often convince the spammers to photograph themselves holding up ridiculous signs to ‘prove’ their authenticity. In their latest series of ‘stings’ the 419eaters had their scammers dress up in Santa Suits and hold up signs. This guy here is a prime example of how some moronic scammer thought he was being really clever.

Here is an audio clip of a phone conversation between a 419eater and a scammer who called him. The 419er pretends to be standing outside the Western Union office, about to deliver the cash when he gets hit by a car. The 419eater is actually at his home, and just adding in horrific sound effects of cars crashing, sirens, police radios, and even throws in an agonizing yell of “I don’t want to die!” The bemused scammer just plaintively repeats ‘Hello?’, not knowing what to make of the situation. LOLZZZ

They also have scammers call in and leave passwords to prove their ‘authenticity’. Thus they have these guys calling in and saying “I WANT AMANDA HUGGINKISS” or reciting Lord Vader's Haiku Poem, or singing Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean. The 419eaters also give themselves ridiculous names. My personal favorite is “Dr Hulk Hogan,” although ‘Hugh G’erection is a close second. They’ve got a ‘trophy room’ where they put up all the pictures of the scammers they’ve managed to get holding signs like ‘I recommend 419 eaters dot com’, ‘My peeweeizsad’, and ‘Father Meballz Ritchy’.

Extremely funny site.
Monday, January 02, 2006
  Engineer Kerebua Responds!
I got the following response in about 1 hour of sending my reply to the spam.

Dear Pir Ghulam Shabbir Khan Chaudry,
I am very pleased to receive your mail and the content has been
noted. I will discuse with my mother on your request for a higher percentage and immediately we come to an agreement,I will come back to you with further details on the way forward. But mean while, I would really want to be sure that you are the person my mother contacted because people of these days usually extract mails that is sent to others and the only way you will prove this to me is by forwarding
me the letter you received from my mother, your direct telephone and
fax numbers.

Please understand that you should keep this transaction confidential
and that I need a sincere and honest person in this transaction.
Finally, call me on XXXXXXXXXXXXXX immediately you receive this

Yours faithfully,


This guy has upped the stakes! He actually gave me his phone number. Anyone want to call this guy and see who picks up? Being the penniless guy I am, I can’t afford an international phone call. I’ll give the number to whoever’s interested.
  Spamming Spammers
About twice a week, for a long time now, I’ve been getting spam emails from African widows who are fleeing dictators in their own country and wish to escape with the millions of dollars they took with them from a bank in some African country with my cooperation for a certain percentage of the money. They require my bank account information so they can send all these millions to me. I’m supposed to keep it for them, until they escape the dictator’s secret police and escape to neighboring African country. Thereafter I would be expected to return their percentage to a bank that they specify. These poor widows always claim that they know they can trust me. How they have come to know about my kind and trustworthy nature, I’m not sure.

In any case, I got a very similar letter today which was a little smarter than the others I’ve been receiving. For one thing, the English was a little better. There were fewer mistakes. Secondly, and this was new to me, was the inclusion in the email of another email address that I was supposed to send the information to. That’s smart because even if I report this email as spam, the email address I’m supposed to write to can’t ever be reported as such since I never received anything from it.

Here was the email I received today. I changed the name they address me as, because the bastard spammers actually got my name right:


Dearest XXXXXX,

I am not surprise on the fear/confusion this letter might cause you
coming from a widow that you do not know or have never met before but I
decided to send you this letter irrespective of the above facts because I am desperately in need of your help.

As you might be aware of the recent problem in our country (Zimbabwe)
regarding the ill treatment and silent killings of the white and
black farmers who are against the farm invasion by President Robert
Mugabe(a dictator, a killer and the worst ever ruling president alive in Africa), It happened that my husband was among the latest victims of silent killings by the war veterans armed by President Robert Mugabe which happened on the 9th February 2005.

You can catch more news on the following websites


But before this incident, my late husband brought to my attention the
sum of US$7.8 million which he successfully took to the Republic of South Africa for safe-keeping. As if he knew that his final days was approaching, he asked my only son to move over to South Africa to secure the beneficiary ownership of the said fund which he kept in one of the biggest private security company there.

The main reason why I am contacting you through this medium is for
you to contact my son Engr. XXXXXXXX on his email address as
XXXXXXXXXXXXXX@hotmail.com immediately in other to assist him in moving
this fund abroad as our continuing stay in Africa might cost our life. The exact thing that you will be required to do according to my knowledge would be to provide him with your account details, your direct telephone/fax numbers and travel to meet him in South Africa for aiding him in opening an account where the funds will be deposited before its transfer as he is not allowed to operate any form of bank account or even do any investment because he is a refugee.

There is no risk involved in assisting us as all necessary legal
documents that will be required by South African government for transfer of huge amounts will be available but you will have to ensure that you will keep this confidential as our life and security depends on this fund.

Should you be willing to assist us in this endeavor, 20% of the total sum will be for you, 5% will be mapped out to cover all expenses while 75% will be for us.

Please feel free contact my son immediately and should you not be
interested, please inform us as well so that we can scout for some
one else.

Yours faithfully,


Note how she refers me to CNN and the Guardian. Reference to two genuine news sources might make me think she’s on the level.

I started wondering who might these people think they’re kidding. Does anyone actually fall for this stuff? I mean do such stupid people really exist in today’s world? Who are they? I’d love to met them and ask how they made any money. I’m a doctor, and I’m penniless! This line of thinking extended itself in my head and pretty soon I found myself writing to poor Mrs. Valerie Mbemga son at the specified email address:

I have reciewed request for money transfer cooperation from yours mother. I am sorrowful for your troubles. Please accpet my sorries. I think Mugabi is bastard!

Well, your mom has gave me this email to be contacting you with details for the money transferation.

Well, I am a landowner in Pakistan and will be willing to indulge in the cooperation with you to help you with your trobules. Yours mother had writed that you will be giving me 25 PERCENT of the sum total of the fund. I am finding this sum to be lowful. I am thinking that 30 PERCENT is fare. If you is willing to high the percet than even I am also willing for cooperation. Otherwise, sorry no.

I can fly in plane to South Africa to help you if there is agreement in these circumstances. I am waiting, ready.

Really, mugabi is bastard! I am with you brother!

Pir Muhammad Ghulam Shabbir Khan Chaudry.

Let’s see how these guys respond.
Sunday, January 01, 2006
  Honey chile
I’ve done more work today that I have ever done since this whole USMLE business started. It wasn’t an astonishing number of hours, just eight, but my mind was quite focused and my speed was good. I have a countdown timer that I put up on my desktop that keeps track of exactly how much work I’m doing. Whenever I take a break, no matter how small, I pause the time and unpause it only when I return to the book - so those eight hours are hardcore eight hours of study.

I think I’m finally building good momentum in my work that I can build up on. I’m sticking rigidly to my time table and I’m sure a week or so more of this discipline will correct my sleeping habits and allow my brain to recharge fully when its time to go to sleep. I drink a glass of hot milk with honey before going to bed. It helps to bring on sleep and honey is supposed to be great stuff in itself. There’s no shortage of honey in the household because my father got 50 kilos of the purest stuff when he came across a honey farmer in his village. He bought the 50 kilos for 10,000 rupees, which is very cheap when you work it out per gram. Only me and him in the house eat/drink the stuff so I think it should last a really long time.

Nothing else to report except I missed my fiancé a lot and she missed me.
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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