A fiction

Since I was in my primary school, I’d loved writing short stories. I was nowhere as skilled and as competent as my elder sister in writing stories. But I did it anyway because I enjoyed it.

So today, I find myself wanting to do it again…to write a fiction, just to recapture again the innocence of my childhood pleasure in losing myself while composing something from inside my head, merely for the heck of it. The title of my short story is: Risiko.

Enjoy!

***

Risiko

Dr. Assad Fajaruddin memicit-micit kepalanya yang mula berdenyut sakit. Gagang telefon yang tadinya terlekap ditelinganya dijauhkan sedikit. Gema suara bingit Dr. Syed meleterinya mahu dikongsi bersama jururawat yang bersama-sama oncall dengannya pada hari itu.

Staff Nurse Fatin yang kecil molek itu tersenyum simpul, faham apa yang Dr. Assad rasakan di saat ini. Inilah habuannya apabila oncall dengan doktor pakar seperti Dr. Syed. Staff Nurse Fatin sudah lama menadah telinga mendengar doktor-doktor lain bercerita tentang Dr. Syed. Malah dia sendiri, pernah merasai kepahitannya. Tetapi  ah, sabar itukan separuh daripada iman. 

Assad menggigit bibir bawahnya menahan geram yang menggunung. Masih dia ingat kata-kata rakan baiknya sebentar tadi, Dr. Taufik. Taufik telah memberi amaran kepadanya tentang betapa ‘legend’nya Dr. Syed ini. Taufik sering berkongsi rasa tidak puas hatinya terhadap Dr. Syed kepada Assad sebelum ini. Assad layan dan dengar. Hari ini, dia pula yang kena.

“Good luck ya, oncall dengan Dr. Syed. Aku doa kau  tak ada kes dan aman tenteram oncall kau. Seksa weh… oncall dengan dia. Seriously macam siot gila!” Taufik berkata pagi tadi. 

Waktu tu, Assad hanya ketawa kecil.

Tapi kini, tiada humor di wajahnya. Hatinya hanya bergema dengan bisikan yang menyatakan bahawa kata-kata Taufik memang sangat tepat. Memang macam siot gila, getus hati Assad.

Assad cuba untuk mengawal intonasi suaranya yang dirasakan sudah mula mahu melonjak ke oktaf yang tertinggi. Dia cuba beristighfar…. tapi rasa marah itu membuak-buak.

Suara Dr. Syed tidak habis-habis meleterinya menerbitkan suatu rasa muak dan mual, hingga mahu muntah. Sungguh Assad menyampah! 

“Dr. Syed, pesakit ini agresif. Saya bukan saja-saja nak admit pesakit ni ke wad. Tapi memang ada risiko kalau tak admit. Skor BPRS dia sampai 18. Sampai sekarang pun, polis masih tak buka dia punya gari sebab dia agresif! Dia sangat paranoid pada ahli keluarganya. Mak ayah dah tua, tak boleh kawal pesakit di rumah. Kalau saya bagi dia balik, tak ada sorang pun  ahli keluarga yang berani jamin akan bawa dia follow up semula esok. Kita sendiri tak boleh buat home visit sebab esok adalah hujung minggu. Jumaat dan Sabtu…. dua hari itu…how are we going to continue our treatment of the patient dan support dia punya family dalam masa dua hari ni?” Assad menarik nafas laju dan panjang, setelah membalas leteran Dr. Syed dengan jawapan bertubi-tubi.

Staff Nurse Fatin terangguk-angguk di sisi, gaya memberi semangat untuk Assad meneruskan hujah bagi meyakinkan Dr. Syed untuk memasukkan pesakit ini ke wad psikiatri. 

Tapi Dr. Syed masih berdegil. “Assad, saya tau dia agresif. Tapi bukan semua patient agresif kita admit.”

Assad yang dah bengang mula mahu memotong. Dah lama dia berhujah dan mengulas tetapi Dr. Syed masih memberi jawapan yang sama. Dia sudah sakit hati dan bila-bila masa dia boleh meletup.

“Memang bukan semua patient agresif kita admit ke wad. Tapi ada yang kita admit juga kan… sebab ada risk of harming others! Kita masukkan pesakit yang ada risiko la, Dr. Syed. Macam selalu!” Assad ternaik juga suara akhirnya. Sudah lima belas minit dia bercakap dengan Dr. Syed. Kata putus masih belum dapat. Dia sudah penat.

Jam sudah menunjukkan pukul 12 tengah malam. Yang menambahkan lagi bebanan perasaannya, ada satu lagi kes yang belum dia lihat dan sudah pun dirujukkan kepadanya sebentar tadi oleh doktor kecemasan. Kes itu pastinya akan makan masa berjam-jam lamanya kerana itu juga adalah kes baru. 

Assad mendengar Dr. Syed mendengus di corong talian. “Dia dah tak sihat setahun, Assad. Selama ni boleh jer family dia kawal dia. Baru hari ni bawa datang ke kecemasan. Kenapa dah setahun sakit, baru hari ni tiba-tiba keluarga tak boleh manage pula?”

Assad menggenggam tangan, cuba menahan rasa geram yang makin mencengkam. Berapa kali aku nak ulang benda yang sama ni? Apakah Dr. Syed tak faham apa yang aku dah terang tadi? Iys, hampir kesemua pesakit psikiatri yang dibawa ke kecemasan selalunya tidak sihat memang dah lama. Paling tidak pun, tiga atau empat bulan dah tak sihat baru keluarga bawa ke kecemasan. Kalau ikut hujah Dr. Syed ni, tidak ada seorang pun yang layak masuk wad psikiatri selama ni. Baru hari tu saja, ada seorang pesakit yang dah lima tahun tidak sihat sebelum akhirnya dia di bawa ke kecemasan, tapi dia tetap dimasukkan ke wad kerana ada risiko!

Reasoning apa macam ni? Assad mula menggerutu dalam hati.

Yang menentukan samada pesakit dimasukkan ke wad atau tidak adalah betapa tingginya risiko untuk pesakit mencederakan diri sendiri atau orang lain. Bukannya berapa lama dia dah sakit sebelum datang ke kecemasan!  Kalau macam tu, tiada sorang pun pesakit  yang datang ke kecemasan yang layak masuk wad!

Kalau dah pakar, jangan bagi judgment dan reasoning yang lemah macam ni. Menjelekkan, tahu tak?! Assad sambung mengomel dalam hati. 

“Jadi, Dr. Syed tak nak admit lah ni?” Assad menekan.

Dr. Syed terdiam.

“Dr Syed?” Assad menekan lagi.

“Bukan tak mau admit. Tapi pesakit sebenarnya dah  tak sihat setahun dah kan. Kalau ikut pengalaman saya, tak perlu admit pun.” Suara Dr. Syed yang turut melonjak naik itu memanaskan lagi hati Assad ketika ini.

Mata Assad mula mencerlang. Tak habis-habis kau bagi kat aku reason generic yang sama. Aku bagi situasi yang context-specific. Kau bagi reasoning yang langsung tak tepat dan jitu dan mengabaikan konteks yang aku bagi. Assad geram.

Aku dah cakap yang dia agresif; yang dia paranoid; yang dia nak bunuh keluarga dia hinggakan pisau-pisau tajam semua disembunyikan oleh ahli keluarga; yang dia mengugut keluarganya; dan esok adalah weekend di mana kita tidak dapat melakukan lawatan ke rumah jika ahli keluarga tidak dapat membawa pesakit untuk pemeriksaan semula. Punya banyak reason aku bagi, kau asyik dok ulang ayat yang sama yang kononnya pesakit sudah lama tidak sihat.

Samada kau pekak atau kau langsung tak memahami perkataan! Bengang Assad berganda-ganda.

“Kalau Dr. Syed tak nak admit, tak apa. Tapi saya rasa ada risiko lah.” Assad tegas dengan penilaiannya. Dia takkan berganjak.

Dia mahu kata putus. Tak guna mendengar Dr. Syed berleter jika akhirnya kata putus masih tak dapat. Kalau kau tak nak admit, kau tak payah berletar panjang-panjang. Kau cakap jer tak nak admit; aku akan tulis yang kau tak bagi aku admit. Tapi aku takkan buat-buat, berpura-pura  seolah-olah aku puas hati dengan keputusan kau. Takkan! getus hati Assad.

Sekali lagi dia teringat kata-kata Taufik yang sering meluahkan perasaan kepadanya mengenai Dr. Syed. “Dr. Syed tu anxious. Dia tak berani nak buat keputusan. Berleter panjang-panjang sampai nak dekat setengah jam. Lepas tu tak ada kata putus. Haru betullah pakar macam ni!” Taufik menggerutu, geram.

Assad mengeluh, kesal. Taufik, kau dah bagi amaran kat aku. Sekarang baru aku rasa. Damn it!  Hatinya menyumpah sorang-sorang. Bila diingatkan semula, bukan setakat Taufik yang memberi amaran kepadanya tentang perangai ‘anxious-tiada-kata-putus-suka-tolak-kes’ Dr. Syed. Malah begitu ramai lagi. Tapi tidak pernah Assad kena handle situasi seteruk ini.

Kakak, ibu dan adik pesakit di hadapannya memandang wajah kelat Assad dan mendengar setiap butir kata-kata yang keluar dari celah bibir Assad. Walaupun mereka tidak dapat mendengar apa yang Dr. Syed cakap di talian, tetapi, mereka dapat meneka yang Assad sedang berperang dan berjuang untuk mereka. Assad malu kerana mereka mendengar dia sedang bertekak dengan bossnya.

“Macam ni lah, kalau you nak admit juga, you admitlah. Tapi kalau esok saya tengok dia okey jer, saya takkan sign borang 6. Sebab borang 6 tu untuk extend admission sampai sebulan. Kalau esok dia okey, saya takkan sign borang 6.”

Menyirap darah Assad.

Kau cabar aku… tak nak sign borang 6? Damn it!

Tidak pernah selama dia bekerja sebagai pegawai perubatan di jabatan ini dia mendengar seorang pakar yang setuju untuk admit pesakit ke wad, dan kemudian dengan ayat seterusnya menyatakan yang dia tidak akan sign borang 6.

Kalau kau tak yakin yang pesakit ini patut masuk ke wad, sampai kau nak buat statement berbaur ugutan tak nak sign borang 6, kau patut turun sekarang ke kecemasan, kau tengok sendiri pesakit ni! Bukannya buat keputusan bodoh seperti ‘allow admission, but I might not sign borang 6.’ Itu hanyalah sikap seorang pakar pengcecut  dan tak berani nak ‘commit to a decision’ tapi pada masa yang sama pemalas nak turun padang tengok sendiri keadaan pesakit. Hati Assad membara panas.

Kalau kau dah perangai macam ni, kau tak payah jadi pakar okey! Kau patut ambil tanggungjawab kau, commit to a decision and don’t blame others the next day! Sekali lagi jiwa Assad meronta-ronta mahu melepaskan apa yang dia rasa terus ke corong telefon, biar Dr. Syed tahu betapa marahnya dia sekarang ni.

“Okey. Kalau Dr. Syed tak mau sign borang 6 esok, tak payahlah Dr. Syed sign. Discharge lah dia,” Assad membalas cabaran Dr. Syed.

Dr. Syed terdiam sekejap kemudian menjawab. “Tak adalah… memanglah kalau kita admit patient, selalunya kita tunggu sampai weekdays juga lah nak discharge. Tak adalah kita discharge over the weekend.” 

Dah tu? Kalau kau dah tahu memang macam tu kita dok buat selama ni, kenapa kau nak bring up pasal borang 6? Saja nak bagi aku sakit hati? Hey, tak payah nak berleter lah pasal fungsi borang 6 tengah-tengah malam ni. Aku tau lah borang 6 tu untuk apa. Hiys!  Assad mencemuh lagi dan lagi.

“Jadi, kita admit ke tak ni?” Assad menekan. Dia tidak kira, Kalau Dr. Syed tak bagi dia masukkan pesakit ini ke wad, dia akan call boss besar sendiri.

Kau ingat aku macam Carla yang baru setahun jagung jadi MO sampai kau boleh berleter panjang-panjang dan aku akan dengar saja tanpa boleh berfikir dan buat judgment sendiri? Hey, kau silap orang, okey! Carla yang setahun jagung menjadi MO pun pandai menilai, mana pakar yang cekap, mana yang cemerkap!

“Ha, admit jerlah.” Dr. Syed akhirnya mengalah. Tetapi nada tidak puas hati Dr. Syed bagaikan api yang di simbah dengan petrol dalam hati Assad. 

Gagang telefon diletakkan. Sedikit kuat ia terhempas. 

Assad memandang staff nurse Fatin dengan mata dan wajah yang letih. Letih yang amat sangat!

“Benda boleh selesai consult lima minit… jadi 20 minit.” komen Staff Nurse Fatin.

Assad tersenyum sinis. “Hari tu, Carla kena setengah jam! Rania pula hari tu hampir 45 minit dengar bebelan jer… dah lah tu, tak ada kata putus pula lepas tu. Ni first time saya pula kena sedahsyat ni. Ni pun kira okey lah 20 minit jer! Dan akhirnya dapat juga admit. So, puas jugalah hati saya. Kalau sampai 20 minit consult and then tak dapat admit, saya pula yang mengamuk sampai Fatin kena cucuk Haloperidol kat saya pula nanti.” Assad berseloroh, cuba memujuk hati sendiri dengan berjenaka hambar. Staff Nurse Fatin hanya ketawa kecil. 

“Kalau tak dapat admit tadi, saya dah call ketua jabatan.” ujar Assad, kali ini lebih serius.

Staff Nurse Fatin menggeleng-gelengkan kepala dan kemudiannya menyelesaikan semua urusan surat-menyurat yang diperlukan untuk memasukkan pesakit ke wad psikiatri lelaki.

“Terima kasih, doktor Assad. Sebab masukkan adik saya ke wad.” Kakak pesakit bersungguh-sungguh berterima kasih. Assad dapat lihat sepasang mata wanita itu sedikit berkaca.

Assad menarik nafas, menahan rasa terharu.“Sama-sama.” Hilang penatnya hanya kerana ucapan terima kasih yang ikhlas daripada ahli keluarga pesakit yang begitu mengharap padanya.

Assad menyandarkan tubuhnya ke belakang kerusi, mahu membuang lelah atau melelapkan mata barang seminit dua. 

“Doktor, ada satu kes lagi ni. Tak boleh rehat lama-lama.” Staff Nurse Fatin mengingatkan.

Assad kembali menegakkan badannya dan mengangguk, tahu yang dia tidak boleh berehat lama, membiarkan satu lagi kes tergantung menunggu perhatiannya. Oncall masih perlu diteruskan walaupun jiwa dan emosinya masih terdera dengan kisah kes tadi. 

“Kali ni, saya akan buat keputusan sendiri. Dan takkan consult Dr. Syed lagi. Buang masa!” Assad mendengus. “Okey, panggil next patient masuk!”

***

Pada hari Ahad itu, Assad segera pergi ke wad psikiatri lelaki. Dia mahu melihat sendiri keadaan pesakit yang dia masukkan ke wad sewaktu dia oncall hari Khamis itu. Adakah sudah bertambah sihat atau masih agresif seperti hari tu?

“Dr. Assad…. you tau tak, patient yang you admit hari tu… dia mengamuk sampai pecah cardiac table semalam. Teruk sungguh” Carla bercerita.

Assad tersentak. Terangkat keningnya.

Dia tahu pesakit itu agresif dan patut masuk ke wad. Tetapi dia tidak fikir pesakit itu boleh sebegitu ganas sehingga ranap cardiac table wad psikiatri ini. Dalam hati, Assad memanjatkan rasa syukur kerana dia bertegas mahu pesakit dimasukkan ke wad walaupun terpaksa bertegang urat leher dengan boss sendiri.

This is why I become a doctor. For my patient. Not for my boss. Do what is right and you will be rewarded. If not here, then in the hereafter, insyaAllah.  Hati Assad berbisik.

Taufik yang berada di sebelah Assad memberikan ‘thumbs-up sign’ kepadanya. “Puas hati juga gaduh. Kau tahu kau betul. Dah clear tanda Allah bagi… untuk tolong kau justify kenapa kau admit pesakit ni. Pesakit lain yang senang admit pun tak adalah ganas macam ni. So, don’t worry. Obviously, Dr. Syed was wrong.” Taufik menepuk bahu Assad.

“Kalau nak ikutkan, buat apa aku nak penat-penat gaduh dengan orang atasan. Apa yang aku dapat? Buat apa nak susah-susah kalau bukan mengingatkan yang kerja ni amanah dan insyaAllah kita akan dapat balasan yang baik. Kalau hari tu weekdays, aku boleh justify lagi nak bagi pesakit balik rumah. At least, aku boleh back up dengan lawatan ke rumah pesakit esok hari. Tapi in this case, esok tu cuti….dua hari pula tu….dengan pesakit agresif macam tu…aku tak boleh nak justify diri aku kalau aku  tak fight untuk admit pesakit. Kalau jadi apa-apa, I can’t live with myself.”

Carla mengangguk.

Taufik pula menyampuk. “Memang tak logik la Dr. Syed ni. Judgment out! Punya banyak you bagi reason nak admit… dan reason you semua context-specific. Dia dok ulang reason yang umum yang sebenarnya bukan justifikasi yang cukup untuk tidak masukkan pesakit ke wad. Punya banyak pesakit yang kita admit selama ni yang datang ke kecemasan lepas dah lama sakit. In fact, hampir semua pesakit yang datang ke kecemasan dah berbulan-bulan dah sakit… adakah semuanya tak admit? Admit juga kan! Maksudnya admission bergantung kepada risiko harm to self and harm to others…tak ada kaitan kalau dia dah sakit setahun ke, sepuluh tahun ke…. be objective la…yang nak ulang ayat yang sama tak habis-habis tu, dah apahal??!”

“Aku rasa aku boleh tahan lagi kalau dia berleter jer. Aku just tak suka kena cabar. Kena ugut. Konon tak nak sign Borang 6. Tak pernah aku dengar pakar lain cakap benda macam tu. Aku tahu dia tak nak admit pesakit. Tetapi pada masa yang sama, sebab aku insist pesakit ada risk, dia tak berani juga nak discharge. So dia tak boleh nak buat decision. He was upset and he took it out on me. Kau ingat, aku ni baik sangat ke macam si Carla ni, nak tahan sabar bila kena treat macam tu?” Assad bercerita apa yang menyebabkan dia benar-benar nak naik hantu pada malam itu. Pantang Assad Fajaruddin diancam dan diugut! Pantang dia jadi pengecut! Lagi dicabar, lagi disambut. 

“Assad…. maksud nama kau kan singa! Memang takkanlah kau boleh sejinak Carla. Sabar itu jauh sekali.” Taufik menjuih bibir. Dia masih ingat lagi Assad memberitahu kepadanya bahawa namanya dipilih oleh bapanya. Assad Fajaruddin bermaksud ‘singa yang pertama atau the first lion, memandangkan Assad adalah anak sulung. 

“I bukan jinak laaa…. I kena buli laa…. sebab I baru. Tak berani lawan.” Carla memuncungkan mulutnya.

“Aku nak pi complain kat ketua jabatan. Dah setahun aku sabar. That was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. And I couldn’t take it anymore.”

“Apa yang ketua jabatan boleh buat, weh? Nothing. Boleh slow talk jer lah… kau rasa ada perubahan? Memang takkan punya!  Ada specialist Ortho kat hospital time aku buat houseman dulu, punya banyak orang complain pasal dia… masih lagi dia dok bermaharajalela. Specialist O&G kat hospital adik aku dulu pun sama! Bila orang complain kat facebook, kata tak guna saluran betul. Tapi sepanjang kita dok guna saluran betul ni, tak ada pula nampak perubahan pun! Ayat politik jer lebih! Saluran betul, konon! Kadang-kadang kena ada juga orang macam kau ni! Baru orang buka mata!”

“Tak apa… aku cuba pula saluran betul kali ni. Tak jalan juga… Aku akan burst out balik. Macam selalu. Hahha”

“Typical Assad. A leopard can never change its spots!” Taufik berseloroh. 

“Perhaps, I can hide my spots with cosmetics of some sort!” Assad membalas.

“And the cosmetics will come off the next time you are doused with a stream of provocation,” Carla membuat konklusi.

Terhambur ketawa mereka bertiga. 

Assad, Carla, dan Taufik berjalan bergandingan keluar daripada wad psikiatri lelaki dan menuju terus ke klinik.

Assad berfikir sendiri: Yesterday in history. Today is another day. And If I have to do it again, I would not change a thing! Not a word! Not even a single syllable!

-The End-

Disclaimer:

The story, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this creative writing are fictitious. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred.

Ultimately, my responsibility is for my patient!

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My facebook status today!

My life would have been a lot easier if I can be someone docile with no principles and no backbone to fight for what I believe as right.

Unfortunately, my father raised me to be outspoken and to fight when I believe I am right. (so my life is full of the drama of me being a rebellious anti-authority) I am taught to fight for the underdog and to crush the bullies in the society.  I am always going to be the one who cheers for the losing team against the favourite team. I am always going to be pro-housemen, in general. I like it when the underdogs win. I like it when the underdogs DARE to fight for the sake of truth and justice. Truth and justice are like my life’s theme, around which I build my personal saga on.

And 90% of the time, I always win whenever I fight for something. Another sunnahtullah that I believe in is that Allah will help you when your intention is sincere and you are doing it for the right cause!

I might be a rude, loudmouthed virago in the society. But when you are looking for a sidekick to fight with you for the sake of justice, I am the one you want by your side! I will get things done, insyaAllah. And I won’t stop until I get it! My patients are lucky if they get me as their doctor… I will fight for them if they are ever in a situation of injustice. I can face my superiors and debate with them until I get them to agree to give what my patients need. If my patients need something that my superiors won’t allow me to give, I will find another way to get it for them if I believe  they deserve it.

My job is my ibadah. And I take it seriously. I may not look deeply religious. I may not be able to quote Quranic verses out of thin air or effortlessly talk about hadeeth narration on top of my head. But I understand the core principles of my religion. And I stick to it. I can even be pretty rigid about it. Like an autistic kid who would throw massive tantrum at the  existence of the slightest deviation to his normal routine. When it comes to things involving my principles, I am very strict. Principles are not to be stuck with just when it is easy to do so. The purpose of having principles is to help and guide you make the right choice in the situation when it is so hard to choose. If you are going to balk and cower down at the slightest pressure by any authority, then what’s the use of having principles?

My job is my amanah. When I am oncall, my patients depend on me to argue their case on their behalves. If I think they need admission, I am willing to argue and fight until I get them admitted. If I think community treatment is the one that is best for them, I can spend one hour just cajoling and persuading the relatives to bring the patient home after acute treatment has been given. On the one hand, I will have to persuade my boss to allow me to admit my patients when I think they require admission. On the other, I will have to persuade the patient’s relatives to bring the patient home when I think the patient’s best treatment should be in the community. Ultimately, I do all that for patients. Not for myself.

My patient is my amanah. I don’t work for bosses! I don’t work for my hospital director. I don’t give a damn about KPI! I don’t give a damn about kissing my superiors’ ass. If they punish me in any way, shape or form (public reprimand, giving low marks for my annual appraisal etc etc), I STILL don’t care. I don’t need a high SKT marks for MRCPsych program. So, I don’t need to kowtow to anyone in the work place. And that’s my power. Because you can’t blackmail or threaten someone who don’t give a damn!

If I am nice to you or polite to you, I do that out of common courtesy and because I genuinely like and respect you. I have no ulterior motives to be nice to you, otherwise. Because I don’t need you that much to pretend differently. If you have pissed me off, I won’t even bother to hide my disdain. I am transparent, that way.

I have designed my life so precisely according to my cardinal trait and my central trait. I have also designed my life so precisely according to my most enduring overvalued idea. My overvalued idea is “Power tends to corrupt! And absolute power corrupts absolutely!” So my life is lived in such a way that I don’t have to need anyone for anything and I pray (so hard!) that I will never be forced to sacrifice my way of life as it is. This is liberation! I pray that no power can ever threaten to corrupt me.

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Another facebook status of mine!

I respect good reasoning! I respect excellent clinical judgment. I respect genuine intention of someone wanting the best for their patients regardless of what the KPI or the hospital policy says. I respect someone who can bravely do what is right even if tomorrow they will have to face the displeasure of someone above them, judging their clinical decision. Having a responsible, honourable boss like that will gain my utmost respect.

I abhor cowardice. I hate indecisiveness. I despise incompetence. And I don’t care what position you have in the society or in the government! If you are my superior and you are indecisive and unnecessarily anxious, I will find it VERY HARD to respect you. I may not go out of my way to challenge you for every single annoying thing that you do that affect me. But once you get in the way between me and my belief system (which include doing the right and honourable thing for my patients), I am going to fight you.

So, don’t get in my way! Because I am not moving! When it matters to me enough, I can be either an unstoppable force or an immovable object.

immovable object
Physics  101, anyone?

The best thing is: When you TRIED to get in my way, and then I fought you until I got what I wanted. And AT LAST, I was proven right for fighting for what I wanted.

That, dear readers, is the sweetest feeling in the world. Such a sweet, euphoric feeling! My own version of cocaine. Yup, to be proven right is my cocaine! (Hahha. I am so immature when it comes to wanting to be right and wanting to win)

Thank you, Allah! For always giving me the signs that it is worth it to fight for the right thing.

I leave you with a repeat of my facebook status with the extension of the comment section. Just a little private joke to those who know the story. 🙂

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For A Happy Life, Make Life Decisions Based On Your Cardinal Trait

I was asked for tips regarding how to pass MRCPsych Part A at one shot.

The truth is, I don’t really have any tips. I can only tell them what I did (mainly doing a lot of questions and covering 80% of Stahl’s Psychopharmacology). But how would I know whether any of the things I did were REALLY what made me pass? I have mentioned before that I passed by the mercy and grace of Allah. Even after the exam, I wasn’t able to tell for sure whether I was able to make it.

So my tips would really be worthless. Because some people didn’t do what I did, and they still passed. And some people did more than I did and they still did not pass. So, you can ask me and I will tell you what I did but don’t blame me if it doesn’t work. Hahah.

To me the most important thing is to KNOW YOURSELF. You have to know your weakness and your strength, your style of studying and revising, whether you can deal with last minutes cramming or you are the steady and constant type, whether you are good at memorizing without having to understand or whether you must understand before you can memorize, whether you can study in noise or whether you need peace and solitude, whether you can deal with distractions or whether you need to shut yourself off somewhere to focus.

Once you know all that, you can start planning to study in your own way and style. Never let anyone tell you or influence you to do what they think is best. No one KNOWS you better than you know yourself.

I know I don’t like distractions, even minor ones, when I am deeply enmeshed and engrossed in certain stuff. When I am focused in certain things, I can shut myself off in my house for days and weeks and not contact anyone and just do my thing. Any attempt to contact me would be rebuffed and rejected.

When I was preparing for my exam study, some specialists suggested to me that I shouldn’t have to sacrifice my annual leaves for study time. Instead, I should just come to work as usual  (punch in and punch out to record my attendance) and just be around the clinic without having to do any clinical work. They said that they would allow me the time to study in the clinic, but I must ‘be around the clinic’ instead of at home. Even if I am not doing any clinical work, I must be around, they said. 

I thought that was ridiculous of the admin, by the way! Why should I come at all if you don’t expect me to work? If you only want me to come to work to be around while I am studying, why can’t you allow me to study at home? How come other master students can take unrecorded leaves without having to be around at all? That’s just unfair to me and Dr. T! Until now, whenever I think about how many years I have covered for everyone’s unrecorded leaves… but when it comes to my turn, you guys create so many administrative issues to deny me the SAME privilege that others have enjoyed before me… when I think about that, I become angry all over again. Me and Dr. T got over our anger eventually but damn, it was hard! Hahha. I still feel angry on and off. Which goes to show that I don’t get over things involving fairness and justice easily. I will always remember stuff like that. I might not show my dissatisfaction anymore, but I will always remember it. That’s just how I am. 

I decided that, “Fine, I didn’t need the unrecorded leaves that you so begrudged!” I could use my annual leaves because I had so much of them (I don’t have children for which I have to use my annual leaves to care for them if they fall sick. I don’t even need my annual leaves for balik kampung because my kampung is right here in Alor Star and I can always  see my parents during the weekends. I have so much accumulated leaves from previous years  that I can afford to use up some of my annual leaves to study) Since they were going to create so many obstacles for me to have my study time, then I could afford to sacrifice my annual leaves. But I refused to do something as stupid as just coming to the clinic to punch in and punch out and being around without having to do any clinical work. What’s the point when I KNEW I could do better in my own domain. I study BETTER in the solitary of my own house. I might want to study until 3.00 a.m and not want to have to wake up early just to come to the clinic to punch in and ‘be around’. Or I might want to sleep early and wake up to study from 4.00 a.m non-stop until 9.00 a.m. I might want to wear comfortable clothes while I am studying and I can’t do that if I have to ‘be around’. When you asked me to ‘just be around in the clinic’, you took away MY FREEDOM to arrange my schedule any way I wished at the most critical moment when I needed it the most.

Because I knew myself and my need for peace and solitude, I told them that “I prefer to not be around even if I have to sacrifice my annual leaves for it.” I need my solitude. My time alone. My space. And I will do whatever I can to get it! If it means I have to use my annual leaves, well be it! But I will always remember that other master students did not HAVE to use their annual leaves and simply took unrecorded leaves without having to ‘be around’. No one made a fuss when THEY took unrecorded leaves.

You see, that’s my cardinal trait. I want justice to be upheld. Things must be fair and balanced. In books that I read, the theme of justice and fairness reigned supreme. Most books that I read involved a struggle for justice and a journey to find truth (Books like ‘To Kill A Mocking Bird’, ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’, ‘A Time To Kill’, ‘Twelve Years A Slave’, and many, many more. Especially books written by John Grisham which I devoured in my teenage years. Those books shaped my worldview and my principles in life.).

Another one of my cardinal trait is: being free. Freedom is important to me. I need it so much that I am willing to sacrifice anything I can afford to get it.

So whatever choice I make, at the forefront of my mind, I will always ask my self “Will I still retain my freedom if I make this choice? Should injustice happens to me, will I get the freedom to fight back without suffering unmanageable consequences?”

So some of you without any psychiatric background may still wonder what is this cardinal trait Afiza is talking about. Well here’s a little background story:  Gordon Allport was an American psychologist who was considered as one of the first founding figures of personality psychology. He was also one of the first modern trait theorist of personality. He looked at thousands of personality traits and then organized these traits into three hierarchies; Cardinal Traits, Central Traits and Secondary Traits.

trait-theory

Well… cardinal trait is this characteristic that you have that dominate and shape your behaviour and collectively known as your master control; your ruling passions. It tops the hierarchy of your traits.

Some people don’t have cardinal traits (only central traits and secondary traits) and therefore might find it difficult to understand those who do have them. But to those who have cardinal traits (and there are not few of us who do. I have known some.) they make all their life-altering decisions based on their cardinal traits.

Including me.

Some people with cardinal traits sometimes can make the mistake of choosing a certain life option that opposes their cardinal traits (because at first, they thought they could handle it) and they usually live to regret the decision they have made. It is not easy to constantly and consistently live in a manner opposing your cardinal trait. One day, something got to give.

So, if you have a cardinal trait, you should respect it. Otherwise, you shouldn’t have one (even though whether or not you have cardinal traits is beyond your control). Admittedly, it’s easier for those who don’t have cardinal traits because they won’t be bound by it. But for those of us who do, never make the mistake of tricking yourself into thinking you can be someone you are not.

I believe that we should not always remain the same and unchanged…. because we are not perfect. We should always improve ourselves… but only according to our own cardinal trait.

For example, I don’t want to remain as just an MO even though it is comfortable enough for me. I have to change! I know that. Remaining the same and stagnant does not do justice to what Allah have created you to potentially become. I should improve myself and study to become a specialist. I knew that. But now, I have two options to go about doing it: master program or MRCPsych program.

I knew from the very beginning that MRCPsych program was the one to choose because it celebrates my cardinal trait (even though at that time I did not have any idea about trait theories just yet. I just knew that master program will never be for me)

When people asked me why I didn’t choose to do master and had chosen MRCPsych program instead, I told them a lot of things such as:

1)It is internationally recognized. My undergrad medical degree from Newcastle University is internationally recognized and I want the same for my post-grad qualifications too. (Should I need to move elsewhere outside Malaysia, I would have more choices regarding where I can practice).

2)If I pass this exam, I know that I am at par with the World Standard. Not merely the local standard. (The local standard might also be at par with the World standard but getting the world to recognize that is another matter entirely).

3)I like the lack of hassles and the flexibility.

4)I don’t want to owe the government a large sum of money should I fail to complete the Master program.

I told them a lot of things regarding why I chose MRCPsych  but only one thing matters the most to me: MRCPsych appeals to my personality and my cardinal trait.

As I mentioned before, my first Cardinal Trait is justice. I want justice to be served and fairness to be upheld. Not just for myself but for everyone.

I have heard so many horror stories about the master program. Some of the situations were so ridiculously unfair that if I were put in that situation, I would have the tendency to answer back and argue with my superiors. And if they then make my life difficult due to my inability to suppress my dissatisfaction at them, I would have no choice but to bear with how they treat me for my, ehem, insubordination. Or maybe I will have to suppress my tendency to fight back (and thus I cannot celebrate my cardinal trait of fighting for justice and fairness). At the same time, I could not just quit because I would then be owing the government a lot of money. So, there goes my freedom too… another one of my cardinal trait that I have to suppress if I choose the master program.

So repeating the questions that I always ask whenever I have to make a decision (“Will I still retain my freedom if I make this choice? Should injustice happens to me, will I get the freedom to fight back without suffering unmanageable consequences?”), would a master program ever appeal to me?

Nope! Not in a million years!

Now, compare the situation when I am taking MRCPsych program. I don’t owe money to anyone. I use my own. There are no lecturers or supervisors to annoy me (until I have to do  attachments later on…. but by then, insya Allah, I would have passed the major exams already). Should I, for any reason, decided to quit, I can do so without suffering any unmanageable financial setbacks due to the owed debts.

Of course, I do have superiors in my own hospital that occasionally annoy me (like all superiors anywhere else do. Let’s just admit that all of us cannot be in the same page with all our superiors all the time. It’s the facts of a working life. Colleagues and superiors annoy one another. That’s just how it is). But most of the time, I know I can answer back. Even if they can make my life difficult (most of my specialists are generally nice. None of them are malignant. But I am speaking theoretically and hypothetically), I know I have the freedom to walk away anytime I like after giving them a piece of my mind. I can simply quit and work with my father. No one will have any absolute power over me… ONLY relative power because of their position as my superior. But at the end of the day, I can keep the image of me as a free human being, unafraid of anyone.

How can I do that if I take the master program? How can I retain the mental image of me as a free person, able to say what I want to say and do what I want to do without being afraid of anyone… how can I retain the ideal image of a free self… when fighting back would make my life miserable and at the same I can’t just walk away because I will then have to settle a huge debt to the government?

Our religion taught us to FEAR debt. Because debts can take away your freedom. Debts can force you to remain in an oppressive situation because you have NO OTHER CHOICE. (in other words, no freedom). Our religion doesn’t want us to be in debt because it curbs us from doing what we feel as right… because we are too afraid to speak up. And therefore we were taught to pray the doa that I always say at the end of my prayers; the doa that would help us avoid being in unmanageable debts:

اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنَ الْهَمِّ وَالْحَزَنِ وَأَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنَ الْعَجْزِ وَالْكَسَلِ وَأَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنَ الْبُخْلِ وَالْجُبْنِ وَأَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنَ غَلَبَةِ الدَّيْنِ وَقَهْرِ الرِّجَالِ

“O Allah I seek refuge in You from worry and grief, I seek refuge in You from hopelessness and laziness, I seek refuge in You from miserliness and cowardice and I seek refuge in You from overwhelming debt and from the force of men”.

I love this doa so much. One of my favourites of all time! Seeking refuge from hopelessness and laziness… that’s awesome! Hopelessness is one of the symptoms of depression and this doa reminds us to protect ourselves against it. I also love the part where you are seeking refuge from cowardice! One of the things I never want to be is a coward. And finally…. you are seeking refuge from ‘overwhelming debt and force of men.’ Have you ever wondered why overwhelming debt and force of men are being grouped together in this doa? Because they are related! Once you are in debts, you are weak enough to be forced upon! In the past, your inability to pay debts could turn you into a slave!

So this is why I am in love with the doa, which is included in one of the Al-Mathurat verses! This doa encompasses everything I want for myself! From the very moment I learned of this doa and its meaning when I was in medical school, I was struck by how much this doa suits me to perfection!

I work because I like working. I don’t want to have to work for money alone just for the sake of making ends meet and settling debts. That would be a miserable life. I want to work for myself to serve my society because that’s what a good Muslim does. Even if I am ever lucky enough to marry a rich king (haha, not that I believe I am at par with Neelofa who is now gossiped to be in a relationship with one of the royals out there), I will still want to work because being able to contribute to the society is our basic need. It fulfils our needs for esteem and self-actualization (Abraham Maslow theory of hierarchy of needs). It resolves our middle adulthood conflict of generativity vs stagnation (Erik Erikson Theory of Psychosocial Stages). It fulfils our need to create and nurture things that will outlast ourselves.  In fact, being able to function is one of the main criteria being evaluated in psychiatric assessment.

Productivity is what makes us a happy human being, folks.

Feeling useful is a need. Even if you are born rich or a princess, you will still need an outlet to be useful. So these rich people would then devote themselves to charity organizations or to become presidents of NGOs etc etc. When they accomplish something altruistically for the sake of the society, their reward is the inward joy that they feel in their ability to contribute for the betterment of humanity. That’s why… eventually, no matter how wealthy and privileged you are, a life of hedonism and enjoyment would not satisfy you anymore and you will want to find meaning to your life by being useful to the society. Everyone needs something to do! According to Joseph Addison, ‘something to do’  is one of the three grand essentials to happiness.

joseph-eddison

So, work for yourself! Love your work. If you can’t love your work, it might be because your work is oppressing some integral part of either your cardinal traits or your central traits. Try to find another job that is more in tune with your cardinal traits or central traits. But if you need your job and cannot afford to follow your natural inclination (and therefore you have to be practical rather than ideal), have some form of outlets in hobbies or favourite pastimes that would spice up your life.

I will NEVER choose to do anything that goes against my Cardinal Trait, if I can help it. Once you put yourself in a situation that is repugnant to your core principle, you might as well just be prepared to deal with discontent for as long as the situation persists.

So I leave you now with my happiness maxim: “For A Happy Life, Make Your Life Decisions Based On Your Cardinal Trait”

Trust me! I always stick to this maxim and the doa above! And Alhamdulillah, I am content all the time and happy most of the time.

harmony

Intense Alhamdulillah

We say Alhamdulillah so frequently in our daily life that sometimes we don’t even realize what we should really be feeling while we are saying the word. We eat, we burp and we say Alhamdulillah. We sneeze, we say Alhamdulillah. We say Alhamdulillah when people asked us how we are doing.

But are we really feeling grateful to Allah while we are saying it? Or has it become part of our reflex response to everything mundane that we do?

The utterance of Alhamdulillah from someone who has gone without food for the past few days is different from us whose previous meal was only a few hours ago. The feeling of gratitude is immense and overwhelming when Allah finally gives you THAT VERY THING that you want so wretchedly badly that your heart constantly prays for it and at the back of your mind, you are always thinking about finally having it.

And you know that no one can make it happen except The Glorious Almighty.

I have mentioned before that I believe in the sunnahtullah of berusaha. But I also know that there is fate and qada and qadar. I have always known that ‘berusaha’ only qualifies you to be in the race. But whether or not you will win is something that can only be determined by God. Ultimately, God grants you what you work for. You don’t even get to paradise by your own effort. You get to Paradise by the grace and mercy of Allah.

Our Prophet (PBUH) points out this truth as follows:

The Prophet (pbuh) said: “No one of you will enter Paradise by his deeds alone.” They asked, “Not even you, O Messenger of Allah?” He said, “Not even me, unless Allah covers me with His Grace and Mercy” (Bukhari, Riqaq, 18; Muslim, Munafiq, 71-73).

Our deeds and our worship would not even repay Allah for the gift of a pair of eyes, let alone for the usage of the rest of our senses and our many blessings in life.

Alhamdulillah, my dear readers. I passed my Part A MRCPsych exam.

Alhamdulillah. One step forward to becoming a specialist in the field that I love.

Alhamdulillah for this happiness.

And my Alhamdulillah this time feels way more overwhelming than what I feel after my usual meal. (Haha. Not that I think a meal is not just as important as passing an exam. I mean, if survival is the main aim, food is so much more important than whether or not we pass ANY exam, right?)

This particular Alhamdulillah is intense stuff. Serious stuff, folks! After more than 2 months of excruciating wait, FINALLY Allah allows me a beautiful rest. Alhamdulillah.

And this success feels even sweeter because my good friend and colleague, Dr. T, passed too. We were overjoyed when we found out that we passed from our friend, a Master student in UKM who had checked our results even earlier than us. At that time, Dr. T was busy oncall so she did not have the opportunity to check her result straightaway. As for myself, I was driving back to Alor Star, bringing my staff nurses and PPKs home from our fun kayak trip in Baling. Me and Dr. T knew the result would come out around 8.30 pm on the 17th of February (it is morning, UK time) but we just didn’t have the opportunity to get to it straightaway.

When our friend congratulated both of us (in our own Whatsapp Group created only for the three of us) I was afraid that she had somehow misled me. I needed to see it for myself. Haha. So, I told my staff that I needed more time with my phone even though all of them were already in the car and eager to resume our journey home after the short break in Gurun.

When I finally see it… MY NAME! on the list of those who have passed (or rather, my father’s name, since that is my surname, Haha) I wanted to jump with joy. So, unofficially, my staff nurses and my PPKs who were in the car with me were the first people in my department to know about my passing the exam (other than Dr. T and our  mutual good friend who had congratulated us). I told my staff nurses and my PPKs not to tell anyone in the department first, because I have very specific people I want to have the honour of being OFFICIALLY informed first.

Such as my family.

I whatsapp my parents straightaway because I couldn’t wait until I got home to do it properly. Haha.

And my siblings were like “Okay, esok Angah kena belanja makan!” Hahah. My younger sister, Alida, has been saying “Kak Ngah memang suka buat drama. Hari dia balik exam, muka monyok macam apa. Cakap konon susahlah. Exaggerate la tu. Sebenarnya dia saja kata susah, supaya kalau dia pass, dia boleh cakap kata dia terer.” I laughed out loud. (That’s NOT TRUE, guys! To me, it was the hardest exam of my life. Only about 50% of our candidates actually passed. Out of 661 candidates all over the world, only 346 passed Part A. I have told my siblings, if I pass, it must be because I was somehow triggered to choose the BEST answer. Because correct answers were in the options, but BEST answer is the one they want. It was confusing as hell!)

I had officially informed my dearest best friend too, Dr. F, who has just passed her Master exam Part 1 last December and we are planning to celebrate our mutual happiness once she is back from KL.

The next day (well, this morning), I sent a text to my ex-HOD, Dato’ R, to tell him that Dr. T and I have passed our Part A. I think he deserved to know first because he was the one who had granted us our one month unrecorded leave to allow us to focus on our exam. (I end up using my own annual leaves due to some really annoying administrative stuff. But his intention to grant us such generous unrecorded leaves was clear from the start and Dr. T and I really appreciate his gesture from the bottom of our hearts. In some centers, they won’t even let you get straight study time even if you are using your own annual leaves. So, I am very grateful to Dato’ R.)

And then,you, my dear readers! Officially, after my family, my best friend and my ex-HOD, you guys are the ones I officially inform regarding my beautiful blessing. My happiness is too big for me to hug it all to myself. I am JUST over the moon.

***

I am very blessed for having such a supportive people around me. My family is my pillar of strength. My parents never stop praying for me. They take academic performance seriously and they always push us to continue our studies. When I achieve anything, the first person I want to inform it to will always be my mother. Then, my father and the rest of my siblings.

They give me what I need to put in a good fight and a good effort. As much as I appreciate wishes of good luck and emotional support, I don’t really need it that much (especially the copy-pasted good luck spamming via Whatsapp that people tend to do these days). I mean, by fitrah, Allah gifted me with the ability to self-motivate. Alhamdulillah.

I appreciate practical assistance and practical help rather than just meaningless wishes of ‘good luck, Afiza. Mesti hang boleh buat.’ Hahah. I mean, that is of course very nice of them to say that. But at the end of the day, I can say that to myself too, right?

I appreciate practical assistance to help me with my effort. I don’t need you to teach me or to study with me or to supervise me. Because I can do that for myself. I can study myself and to be honest, I study best by myself. (I am not trying to sound arrogant here. I just know myself and my style of studying after years and years of non-stop exams. INTPs in general don’t want anything that curb their freedom to do what they think is best and supervision is one of the thing they don’t really like. They are more likely to disagree with their supervisors and would resent having to follow what their supervisors say. Hahha)

Give me the tool that I need, and I will appreciate you so much more than if you just give me words of encouragement. For example, my parents support my effort by sponsoring my flight ticket and my hotel room. Money is practical stuff. (Hahah! Take note that I pay my own exam fees. I could have paid my own ticket and my own hotel room, but my parents insisted to pay for my flight and my hotel. So what is a daughter to do but to accept? Haha)

Doa is also practical stuff. My mother especially never stops praying for me. It so happened that my parents’s annual umrah is always in November. My parents just got back from Makkah one week before I was due for my exam and they told me that they prayed the hardest for me. So when I was sitting for my exam, I was accompanied by a fresh doa out of Makkah!! I believe that doa is powerful stuff.

I appreciate past years papers or notes too. Those are really practical stuff I can actually make use of!

The reason I appreciate Dato R so much is because he too had given me the practical assistance that I really, really, really REALLY NEED to help me with my effort. In order to put up a good effort, I need TIME! Time and space to focus and do my thing! And he gave it to me. I don’t think I have ever properly thanked him for it. (Because even though I am a psychiatry MO, I am just not so good at expressing my own feelings, especially face-to-face. Tender feelings such as fondness and gratitude… I stumble whenever I want to say things like that. I am just VERY good at expressing disdain and contempt at those who annoy me. That’s a bad, bad trait, I know. I am nicer now, though. Ehem, I think.)

I am not saying that when you guys are wishing me good luck and all the best, I don’t appreciate it AT ALL. I do appreciate them, especially personal messages of good wishes that are not copy-pasted over and over again in the Whatsapp Group. Very nice of you to take the time to think of me and type up your personal wish properly to let me know that you want me to succeed. I am just saying that I appreciate practical assistance THE MOST. (because Alhamdulillah, I have enough motivation and encouragement for myself within my own self)

My friend told me that I am a hard-to-impress person. Mengayat, memujuk, memang tak jalan… habis air liur pun tak hairan! Hahah. It’s true. Because words will never be enough to impress me. I know very well how words can be said without meaning it. Maybe because I read and write so much (almost all my life, minus the first five years of my childhood when I was not yet able to read) that I have become an expert in how words can be manipulated, twisted, bent over, rhymed together, and punned… so that I can clinically and objectively appreciate your ability to use your words to be nice or romantic or diplomatic, but that will never be enough for me. Subjectively, intuitively…. I will never be won over by words ALONE.

I need pure, sincere intention as well. And that can only be determined by your actions. To me, Dato R has shown his INTENTIONAL support for me to succeed in my exam by his ACTION of allowing me a one-month leave to focus on my study, just like what he had given to all other master MOs in the past. He WANTED us to succeed. He had proven his intention by his action. (Even definisi iman adalah percaya dalam hati, ucap dengan kata-kata dan amalkan dengan perbuatan. Ucap saja tak cukup, kan? Aku pun boleh ucap apa saja!)

And I am so GLAD that me and Dr. T have been able to show him that we used that one-month time properly. That we did not abuse his trust. What he gave us, we were able to make use of. Alhamdulillah.

Alhamdulillah for everything!

My Mother’s Epiphany

My patient came to me recently, with a tinge of happiness in her voice, as she said, “I did as you said, doctor. I am finally free. I am so happy now.”

I swallowed. “What did you do?” I waited with bated breath. 

“I’ve left my husband. I gave him 3 years but he never changed. I am done with that useless man”

“Are you doing this for you? Are you doing this because this is really the right thing to do, FOR YOU? Or did you leave the man because you simply wanted to follow what I said when you asked me what I would do if I were you?”

“I have always known you were right. I just didn’t have the courage to do what I have to do. Your words gave me the right push to make that move.”

She is an educated lady of nearly 60 years of age and thus our whole conversation was in English. She is one of my favourite patients. 

I do have favourite patients, you know. I can’t help it. I treat all my patients the same – that is, I give them what they need. But with some patients,  consultations with them feel more stimulating than usual because they themselves are psychological minded and they ‘get’ what you are trying to say. These people usually have the capacity for self-reflection, self-examination, introspection and personal insight. When you ask them a question (which is meant to get them to think for the answers themselves, even though you already knew the answer) they give a delightfully honest answer that helps you to help them. I like these kind of patients.

This particular patient, let’s call her Mrs H, is a well-off lady. She has her own pension and has invested in a few lands as an asset. She has her own house in KL prior to coming to Alor Star. She plays the piano as a hobby, and she already has a grown-up son from her previous marriage. Unfortunately, when she first came to me in 2013, she had just recently remarried to a 70 year old Kedahan man, for whom she had left her KL hometown. She was stressed by that marriage. She felt cheated, used and taken advantage of by her new husband and his family. She was in the clinic crying her eyes out because she felt like she had made a huge mistake.

Even though at that time, I wanted to tell her that “yup, you probably did make a huge mistake” but I refrain myself (of course). You see, therapists in general TRY not to impose their own opinion on their patients. It is okay if you cannot help having judgmental thoughts, but you should not APPEAR to be judgmental. You MUST preserve the illusion that you are always on the side of the patient. The patient should always feel safe to confide in you about anything… and they would only feel that way if you give off the vibe of being understanding and non-judgmental. But human beings, as a species, are active thinking beings! Judgment and thinking are what make us so special. I would be LYING if I say I don’t judge what my patients do. Part of the evaluation process HAS to be judgmental. If you don’t judge, you can’t diagnose. If you can’t diagnose, you can’t treat.

If you go back to the psychoanalytic era when Freud and his followers reigned supreme… they could make snap judgment about others without any evidence whatsoever and they called it psychoanalysis. Hahha. Those were the DARK AGES of psychiatry, in my opinion.

So to be clear, I am a judging, thinking being. (Believe me, ALL OF US are. I am just more upfront and honest about it). But I just don’t have to tell my patients about what sort of judgment I come up with, that’s all. Instead, I store that judgment in my head and use it to treat the patient. I use my judgment to help them.

Some patients have zero insight about their marital problems.

“Saya tunggu dia nak berubah. Saya okay ja. At least, mak mertua saya baik. Suami saya pun kadang-kadang baik.”

“Apa contoh kebaikan yang puan dapat dengan dia? Tadi puan kata, dia tak cukup duit, kahwin sampai tiga. Siap perabih duit puan nak tanggung isteri ketiga.  Kereta dia pun puan bayar. Kalau puan rasa dia baik,  puan report kat saya benda-benda yang tak baik saja saya dengar selama ni. Apa kata puan habaq apa yang dia baik pula hari ni?” Nice, soft tone was used to mask the biting sarcasm. (So, dear readers, please reverse and read again my dialogue in a softer inquiring tone. Haha)

Some patients have good insight about their marital problems.

“Doktor, saya memang tak tahan dah dengan suami saya. Saya memang nak bercerai. Ni lawyer suruh mai psikiatri, sebagai bukti yang saya trauma dengan perangai suami saya. Senang ada surat doktor kalau pi mahkamah nanti. So saya mai lah.” This patient is direct, honest, and knows exactly what she wants. I like these sort of patients too. But…

“Baguslah puan dah ambil keputusan yang tegas dalam hal ni. Cuma saya tak bolehlah nak buat-buat puan ada kemurungan kalau puan tak murung.” I am also direct and honest. I like direct and honest patients because I reciprocate and mirror their own style, which is really my default style, anyway.

Some patients know what to do already, but they couldn’t commit to any action because they are afraid of the unknown.

“Saya tak mau orang mengata. Saya tak mau jadi janda kali kedua.”

Mrs. H belong in this category – fear of the unknown made her stay on until one day she couldn’t take it anymore. And neither could I.

So, it took her 4 years (2013-2016) to ask me “What would you do, if you were in my place?”

I was very upfront about it. “It is not my place to tell you what to do. After all, it is YOUR marriage and you are the one who have to live your life. Not me. But since you asked me about what I would do if I were you….well, I would leave him. But then, you have to understand that we make decisions based on specific context and our own natural inclination, and our own personality. My personality and my personal inclination is such that I can never love someone I cannot trust; and I can never trust someone I cannot respect; and I can never respect someone who cannot fulfil his responsibilities. I am very strict about these things. If I have a husband such as yours, I would have left him a long time ago. Of course, some women have such a huge capacity for love that she can continue to love just anyone regardless of whether or not she can trust and respect  that person… so if she’s okay with that, who am I to insist otherwise?” I paused, allowing her to digest what I really meant.  “At the end of the day, we live with the decisions we have made. I don’t mind to continue seeing you, because trust me, medication cannot cure you. Your husband is the perpetuating factor to your depression.”

She is an intelligent woman, dear readers. She knew that I also had had enough. She knew that my “some women have such a huge capacity for love” is an euphemism for “misplaced loyalty”.

I have mentioned before that it is not enough that we do what we like. We have to learn to like the right thing. For example, I have to learn to like literature. Haha. And I end up liking it.

Love and loyalty is also like that. Learn to love and be loyal to the right person. The person you can respect and trust.

So when one day she finally said, “I am finally free, doctor,” it truly made my day. It took her four years of suffering before she would commit to a decision. And that was only because she had asked me personally about what I would do, and I was impatient enough to actually give it to her. Who knows what would happen had she asked the question sooner.

Some psychiatrists would probably say that I am unduly influencing my patients.

Well, to be honest, we all influence patients in variable ways and extent.

I don’t like to stick to only one blanket way of dealing with patients. I would use different approaches for different kinds of patients.

As a doctor (and especially in psychiatry), we learn that there are a few models of doctor-patient interaction, namely:

The Paternalistic model: It is assumed that the doctor knows best and the patient is expected to follow the doctor’s decision. Usually this approach is desirable in emergency situations. However, this approach may result in clash of values.

The Informative model: The doctor is seen as a dispenser of information. The choice is left wholly up to the patient. May be useful in one-off consultations, but may not work well if strictly followed on long-term professional relationship.

The Interpretive Model: Here, the doctor will be treating the patient for a long time and might know his/her patient well and understand the circumstances of their micro- environment. Here, shared decision-making is established.

Deliberative Model: The doctor here may act as a friend or counselor to the patient, where information dispensing is coupled with advice on a course of action. This is commonly used to enable lifestyle modification and to address maladaptive coping.

Some doctors like to use only one approach regardless of what type of patients they are dealing with. Maybe they like that particular style and think it is the best interaction style with every patient. For example, some prefer the informative model because they think it is the most neutral and would suit most people. Maybe they don’t know the patient enough and therefore doesn’t want to feel responsible should something bad happens as a result of the patient following their advice.

I don’t know. To me, in each specific case, whatever model of doctor-patient interaction that we use, it actually reflects on our own conviction or our own insecurities about that particular case.

We learn from experience and we would know what approach to use for each of our own patient. Paternalistic style won’t work well with manic patients, for example. It would only make them more irritable towards you and you would then lose the patient.

I would use the informative model for someone who is educated, and like to make her own decision, especially if I don’t know this patient all that well (other than that she is educated and has good judgment skills). I would NEVER use this informative model for someone with low education level. I wouldn’t want to take a chance of her making the wrong choice as a result of her disadvantaged background. This model requires that the person on the receiving end can make sound judgment based on the information that doctors have given. This is not the case in patients with low education attainment.  

With Mrs. H, I have known her for 4 years. She is educated, and yes, I could stick with the informative model if I chose. But I know her case inside and out. I know her micro-environment. So, I think I am still within my professional boundaries if I use the Interpretive Model and Deliberative Model with her, especially when she had specifically asked me about what I would do if I were in her place. (To be honest, interpretive model is my preference, most of the time. Followed very closely by deliberative model. If I just want to be informative, I could just ask the patient to read a lot and google, right? Pfft. A doctor is more than that.)

She asked me a question. I gave her the answer.

Whether or not she would follow my advice, was totally out of my hands.

***

When I was in my early 20s, my mother imparted to me a piece of her wisdom when she said, “Older women and older men are not the same. Older men benefit more when they remarry after having lost their wives. But older women would lose a great deal if they remarry after having lost a husband. If anything happens to your father, I will never remarry.” She declared, confidently.

She came up with that epiphany after listening to the woes of her friend who was in the situation of suffering after remarrying at a very mature age of 50. It was not unlike the situation that Mrs. H herself was in when she remarried at the age of 60 in 2013.

At that time, I thought my mother was being loyal when she said she would never remarry. But actually, she was just being smart. She was right. There is very little benefit in remarrying when you are already old.

All the benefits are on the elderly man’s side – they get a free maid and a free nurse, all combined in one person. In fact, sometimes they even get a free financial provider if the women they marry are richer than them. 

Mrs H could have enjoyed her own money and her own freedom had she remained single at that age of 60. She has the company of her friends from surau and the care of her own son.  She could have been far more well off than she currently is if she did not remarry a man who was older than she was (and therefore, couldn’t even work or provide for her financially because he was too elderly). Had she remained single, she wouldn’t be expected to do any housework or housechores if she didn’t want to. She didn’t have to cook or clean or look after another person when she herself was at the age of 60. Her son wouldn’t come to resent her because she had to obey her new husband and hurt the feelings of her only son. She wouldn’t have to play the role of a breadwinner to an elderly husband when she herself was not that young.   

But…unfortunately… she had remarried.

Her pension, which should have been enough for herself, was no longer adequate. So she had to work, selling sandwiches, because her husband was no longer fit to work. Her husband’s children expected HER to care for THEIR father just because their father had married her.

This is the problem with our society!

The elderly man who had lost his wife wants to marry again. And their children also prefer their elderly father to marry again…so that they won’t have to be the ones who have to care for their own father and their father doesn’t have to live with them, disturbing the dynamic in their own household.

BUT, they don’t provide their father the money that is required for their father to be a husband again. So the new wife suffers! The household money would not be enough. In the case of Mrs H, the husband’s children often scolded her when she asked them for money. Such nerve! Such audacity!

Don’t get me wrong. I am not giving a blanket statement that elderly people shouldn’t get married. I am questioning the fact that some responsibilities might not be met with such marriage. (so, if you can fulfil your responsibilities, go ahead and marry even if you are already at 100 year old of age)

My own grandfather had remarried at the age of 72 to a 40 year old woman. That means, my  new step-grandmother is younger than my own father!  My grandfather remarried NOT because my father refused to care for him, but it was because my grandfather preferred to marry. I remembered feeling so perplexed that my grandfather at the age of 72 STILL wanted to marry another woman. It was all done within 6 months after my grandmother died. It just boggled my mind at that time. I didn’t say anything to my grandpa about what I felt. To be honest, I was really disappointed because I had expected that my grandfather would live with us.

I did NOT expect that he would remarry! My grandpa should have looked forward to playing with his great-grandchildren instead of playing house with another woman. I felt quite personal about the whole thing.(well, but to be fair, my sister was not yet pregnant at that time and there was no great grandchildren around to play with, yet.)

But since my grandfather just wanted to marry no matter what, my father had asked around for anyone who wanted to marry his 72 year old father. We NEVER thought it would ever come to anything. I mean, WHO would marry such an elderly man, right?  But miracles happened. Can you believe it?  A 40 year old woman agreed to the marriage. I was flummoxed by the development. My grandfather remarried when I came back from Australia at the end of my 2nd year in med school. (At least, he waited for me to come home before he tied the knot). I was by his side when he pronounced the akad. I had accepted (reluctantly) that it was his decision to marry and maintain his own household.

My father increased the monthly allowance that he gave to my grandfather so that my grandfather could provide for his wife. A small house was bought where they could live together, so that my grandfather didn’t have to pay the rent. My step-grandmother is a full time housewife and DOES NOT have to work to support my elderly grandfather. My parents were in charge of all my grandfather’s appointments with doctors and did not simply leave the care of my grandfather to his new wife.

Mrs. H was not as lucky as my step grandmother. Mrs. H was the financial provider, the carer and the maid, all in one. (It’s like being a mother to a big toddler, ain’t it?)And on top of that, her 20 year old son who is still a student resented her marriage and did not get along with her new husband. If I were the son, I would resent the whole situation too. Here’s an elderly man taking advantage of his mother! If his mother disobeyed this elderly man, the religious line “I am your husband. You must obey me,” would be flung around. Isn’t it ironic when a dayus husband insisted to be obeyed? It’s a trick designed to make the wife feels guilty, in order to deflect his own inadequacies. His mother was better off not marrying that man. When she married him, her life deteriorated right before her son’s eyes. It violates all sorts of social-exchange theory I have learned. In this marriage, the risk-benefits assessment skews in GREAT favour for the elderly man and a HUGE disadvantage for Mrs.H. 

I couldn’t bear it if I were the son. I would probably perform some serious rebellion and would say “You have to choose between your son or your husband.”. (Hahah. I am a dramatic diva like that.)

But here lies the problem. Talak is NOT in the woman’s hands.

That’s why when an elderly man remarries, his children don’t feel that they have lost their father as much. In fact, they would feel like they have gained a free carer for their father. A man holds all the executive decision making. So, his children won’t feel that they have lost their father so completely. If they want, they could influence their father to make any decision that would favour them against their step-mother and the father would say, “Okay, I have made my decision. My children were right. I am your husband, so you must follow me.”

But when an elderly woman remarries, the children would feel the lost acutely. Now THEIR MOTHER who they have known their whole lives is the new wife of a complete stranger. The happiness of their mother lies in the hand of someone they are not sure they can trust. And this stranger holds the power on their mother. Even if the children could influence their mother for a specific decision, what can the mother do if her new husband disagrees? Even if eventually their mother wants to be free from the marriage, talak was not even in her hands.

So a mother remarrying would be taken as a loss for her children, because like Mrs H, now her whole life and energy revolves around the new husband… as a breadwinner, a maid, a nurse! What’s left of herself for her children?

The bottom line is: The elderly man’s life becomes easy when he remarries. The elderly woman’s life becomes harder when she remarries.

And therefore my mother was right to decide never to remarry should anything happens to my father. (I wouldn’t allow it, anyway. I would be very forthright about it too.)

Of course, there is context to everything. Just like there is an exception to every rule. For example, the elderly woman could have married a richer guy, right? Haha. But then putting my self in the shoes of the richer  guy, I might as well marry a young woman instead of an elderly one (haha, just trying to think like a man). So MOST OF THE TIME, an elderly woman ends up with a poor elderly man whose children might or might not provide financial support for their father to enable him to provide for the new wife. 

So in general, my mother hit the nail on the head when she declared her epiphany.

Imagine if your elderly mother remarries? Can you bear the thought? I am not talking about young mothers, but elderly mothers! What benefit do they get from such marriage? Would you advise your elderly mother to remarry? Am I (and my mother and sisters) the only one who think like this, I wonder?

So that day, after Mrs. H finished telling me that she was now a free woman, and she was going back to KL, I smiled at her and said, “I wish you all the happiness in the world. Don’t hesitate to come back should you need anything else. If you need to talk to me about anything, just call the clinic. You know, I will always take a call from you.”

Since then, she had called me twice.

We kept in touch.

***

Disclaimer: Some details are hidden, altered or disguised to preserve Mrs. H’s privacy. But the gist of the case remains the same. This is not only the story of Mrs. H, but also the tales of many other women, even when they marry as a young woman. When they marry as an elderly woman, it gets even worse. Take care of your elderly mother. Never make her feel like she has to marry again for companionship. In most cases, it’s just not worth it.

Reading Is Life Long

I found out from RCPsych website that my exam result would come up in February. More than two months after the exam itself!

In my mind, I went “Another month of waiting and uncertainties?? I couldn’t bear it!”

We were speculating among ourselves: “Maybe most of the candidates had performed so badly that they need to review the questions again to decide which ones to include in the overall marking.”

This can be bad and can be good.

I am just not sure which one is which for me.

We had also gone to the website to analyze previous patterns of result pronouncement.

Guys, most of the time the result would come out only one month after the exam! So, this is a new pattern emerging all of a sudden!

I just don’t know what to think.

I was not kidding when I said the exam was tough. It was not false modesty on my part. If I pass, it would totally be by the grace of God. Most of the exam questions were HOT (higher order thinking). There was  not much of a straightforward question. It’s not a true and false…. which only requires you to KNOW rather than to apply.

Questions in MRCPsychs gave you situations and asked you to pick the BEST answer rather than the TRUE answer. Several of answer options could fit the situation just as well… and you really have to KNOW in order to apply your knowledge to choose which one is the BEST answer.

By the end of the exam, we were exhausted and depressed. Haha. One of my friends from SP did not finish answering six questions due to lack of time. I myself only finished answering all questions 5 minutes before the allocated time ended. I did not even have the time to check all my answers properly.

And now that the RCPsych examination board had moved the result date to another month, I am assailed by all kinds of apprehension.

Previously, I felt like I could use the waiting time to read a lot of fiction and literature, catching up on my readings. I told myself that it’s okay to be hedonistic for one month! But for two months?? My superego started prodding me to feel guilty! I couldn’t believe myself when at last I picked up my academic book after one month of complete fun reading.

My mother was astonished that I had bothered to study again. She knew me. I only study when the exam is near. (My parents used to badger us to study all the time when we were kids. But by the time we started studying away from home in residential schools, they pretty much thought that we were mature enough and left us to our own devices. I remembered thinking back then, “Yeah, freedom at last” hahha.)

“Baguslah kak ngah study.” She said one day, upon seeing me holding an academic book, while grappling with disbelief at my dramatic behaviour alteration. 

I cringed. “Lama sangat baca buku lagha. Takut otak angah berkarat,”

She laughed.

So nowadays when I am at home, I read on addiction since I am an Addiction MO. And in the clinic, I read a non-fiction book titled “Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry” by Jeffrey A Lieberman which was lent to me by my colleague. I am currently 3 chapters through the book. I must say, this book is quite good and doesn’t feel dry  even though it is a non-fiction.

So be proud of me, dear readers. I am diversifying into non-fiction too, these days! Hahah. I am proud of myself. 😉

You need to read a lot and diversify your reading in order to improve your knowledge and your writing. I believe that reading is the kindest thing you could do for your brain and your soul.

It’s like you are updating your brain software, you know.

My mom had once said to me, “Sampai ke tua ke angah nak baca buku cerita ni?” She had asked, half playfully and half incredulously.

“Ya lah, mak. Mestilah sampai tua. Takkan bila tua tiba-tiba nak berhenti baca buku pula?”

Really! Has anyone stopped feeding when they get old? Reading is like feeding to me. I cannot stop.

Some people are obsessed with gadget. They hold their smartphones all the time.

When I am alone at home, I hold books. So my friends already know not to whatsapp me if they want something urgent from me. Because I won’t notice the messages. If it’s urgent, just call. And I will pick it up, if I am in the mood.

If you are not a good reader yourself, you will never understand the difference between those who read and those who don’t read. I don’t connect with people who don’t read. I can do superficial conversation with them but I don’t feel  stimulated by their talk and their thoughts. I am bored to tears by ordinary small talk.

Stimulating and fascinating conversations can be found among readers… like Miss A, Miss L, Mr. D.

And great writing can only be produced by readers who read a range of books from trashy (picisan) to commercial fiction, to literature to non-fiction and finally academic books. If you don’t experience each category of reading, you yourself are not qualified to give a fair review of books. If you are an English teacher who don’t read a lot, you are going to be clueless on how to give marks to your students’ essays. You will set a low standard. And towards anyone who surpass your standard, you will have no idea how to deal with them.

A ‘picisan’ essay that is not glaringly obvious in grammatical error can obtain an A just like other better essays from other greater students. The marking criteria for English essay is so low that just anyone can get an A. (It’s like budak sekolah agama dapat A dalam karangan bahasa Arab. Entah-entah punya banyak orang yang lagi terer sastera Arab akan rasa karangan Bahasa Arab yang dapat A ni macam level sekolah rendah. Haha)

When I was in high school, me and my friends would read each others’s essay. I can tell, simply by reading their essays, what sort of books are their main staple.

I give you an example: Let’s say you are asked to write about your best friend.

Below are the examples of the many possible introductions to the essay. And I would tell you what I meant when I said I could tell what you read by how you write.

First Example:

I have a best friend named Ratna with whom I always hang out. I have known her since kindergarten and our friendship has remained strong through all these years.

(This is trashy/picisan, folks! While there is no grammatical error whatsoever, I would not give this essay an A. The sentences are simple rather than complex. There is no rhyme or rhythm; no variety in techniques. But at SPM level, this is already considered good enough and MOST English teachers would not mind giving this essay an A as long as there is no glaring grammatical errors. But in my opinion, this introduction is uninspiring, straightforward and nothing special. It is too clinical to be interesting. Sure, the language is effective enough to tell a story… but is it good? Heck, no! So, can you imagine my distress when I was in high school seeing other people had gotten the same A that I got? Look, I wasn’t great myself. Miss A was MUCH better than me. I bet, Miss A had also felt distressed that I got the same A for my essay as she did. Hers was literary, out of the league. Mine was inferior than hers. But what I am trying to say is, picisan kind of writing doesn’t deserve an A. But that’s the SPM level during my time). 

Second Example:

When I first met Ratna, I was struck by the elfin mischief in her eyes as she held my hand and whispered to me, “You and I are going to have the greatest adventure of our lives.”  Since that fateful first meeting, I was stuck with her through thick and thin and only now do I admit that there is no one better I would want to be stuck with.

(This is better! There is usage of complex sentences. The writer also employed the dialogue technique to create a variety. The usage of idiom “through thick and thin” would give the writer an extra mark. There is also an element of suspense when the writer wrote “You and I are going to have the greatest adventure of our lives”. The introduction is already gripping enough that you WANT to know what is going to happen next. You can picture Ratna as a mischievous, fun-loving girl who would bring some sparks into the life of the narrator! You cannot wait to read how the story of their friendship would unfold. I would say the language level of this writer is competent. I would say that the writer reads mostly commercial fiction. I wouldn’t mind giving an A to this writer if the rest of the story is as good as the introduction with no glaring grammatical error. This is good… but not great! I believe that when I was in high school, this is my level of competence. I tried to inject some element of suspense in my essay from the very beginning of my introduction and I use commercial fiction language to do it).

Third Example:

A friend is someone who knows the poetry of your heart and can recite the stanzas back to you when you have forgotten all the poignant words. Someone who can read the unspoken messages between your spoken lines. Someone with whom you can cast your silvery glance at her direction and she would smile meaningfully at you because she knew the hidden treasure of your mind at that moment in time. 

(See? Can you see the difference of the level of competence between all these examples! This one is literary! A lot of metaphorical words. There is some rhythm and rhyme to this whole paragraph. This is the level of Miss A when we were only just high school kids. Most adults and even most English teachers don’t get to this level of competence because they STOP reading… OR because they don’t read literature. This is only an introduction to the essay, not even the whole composition yet! But the beauty of the words struck you somewhere in your chest, and you just KNOW it is going to be a good story. You also just know that this writer is a better reader than you! And you will become slightly envious of her. Hahah)

So, this is why I read! Believe me, language becomes rusty if you don’t polish it up consistently. Ask your friends who attended Chinese School growing up. They forgot their Mandarin if they don’t practice enough after having graduated from school. Even my elder sister had said that her English has become rusty after she started working and having kids because she doesn’t have enough time for reading anymore. It is so sad when you don’t have time to read.

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***

I got along with my English teachers, most of the time. Out of all my English teachers I have had, I was in bad terms with three of them only. That’s not a lot, right? Hahha.

Mr. M was my English teacher when I was in standard 5 and standard 6. The reason we clashed was because I was always caught talking with my two friends at the back. We were not noisy or anything, but we might not be paying that much attention during his class. He called us ‘The Three Musketeers’, when he was in a good mood. But when he was in a bad mood, he would criticize my handwriting (okay, fair enough. I had the worst handwriting in the class. If I had known then that I was going to be a doctor, maybe I could tell Mr. M why my handwriting was actually prophetic in nature. Haha). But otherwise he was a great teacher. He gave something extra in his lessons that were not in the syllabus. He taught us idioms and where to place it in our essays. He explained why a particular sentence was grammatically wrong. Not many English teachers can properly explain grammar, trust me.

But I didn’t get along with my English teachers in MRSM Langkawi. When I was in Form 4, we were asked to form a group to come up with an essay. I attached myself to Miss A, of course. By that time, I already knew that Miss A would come up with better prose than I ever could. We also had another girl from KL whose command in English was great too. We were supposed to write an essay in two pieces of mahjong papers and read it out loud to the class. We had a great team and we wrote a great essay, in my opinion. Ours was the last group to present. But even before the presentation, some of my friends in other groups already commented on what a beautiful story our essay had been.

At the end of the presentation, we fully expected that the teacher would give us a good comment. It was so glaringly obvious that our essay was better than the rest. We had Miss A in our group. It’s a given! But the first comment from the teacher was, “Where did you get the idea for this essay from?”

We were so upset by her comment. It was as though she could not compute that we could come up with something like this on our own!

When I was in Form 5, again another English teacher had accused me of plagiarizing from a novel which she could not even name! How the hell was I supposed to plagiarize during an exam, I had no idea. How her brain could justify such a claim when there was no evidence whatsoever, I could not credit. (But I admit, that essay was controversial. She was a conservative. I was just being creative about a taboo subject. Haha. Like I said, my writings do get me in trouble at times). My mother came to my school to confront the teacher. For the first time, my mother had stood up for me against my teacher. Because my parents knew what I was capable of. They knew that this time their interference was justified.

I didn’t mind if my English teacher didn’t like the subject of my essay; I understood even then how conservative people could be. But she could just tell me why she disagreed with what I had written and why she found the subject distasteful. I could accept that (perhaps not gracefully, but at least I wouldn’t feel a sense of injustice had she simply said that she didn’t like the essay). But to accuse me of plagiarism, that’s a hit on my integrity and my pride and I would NEVER take such an accusation standing down. No way! No matter how controversial and distasteful the subject matter was, I came up with it myself during the exam and her accusation was unjust and unfounded.

She finally apologized… but I was still upset because I didn’t think she would have apologized if my mother hadn’t come to see her, bringing a whole lot of my previous essays and short stories as a proof of my creative acumen. (If it was my father who came, he would straight away see the principal. So, I was kind of grateful that it was my mother who came. I really didn’t want to make a big issue out of this. My father was far more intimidating and forceful than my mother. And as upset as I was, I really didn’t want that teacher to be in trouble. But at the same time, I had to stand up for my rights.)

What I have learned from this experience is that people can only judge you based on the level of their own capability. If they themselves have never been able to come up with something great, they would find it difficult to believe that other people could do something they never could.

Miss A has a far better command in English and writing than ANY English teacher I have ever had as a student. If Miss A were my English teacher, she would never think that her students could not come up with a good essay because she herself had been able to do it multiple times. To her, writing excellently is nothing extraordinary at all and thus she would not have any trouble believing that others could come up with the same quality just as well. She would have no reason to be suspicious of other people’s ability that she herself could display so effortlessly. (But Miss A is now a doctor in a Klinik Kesihatan. She is brilliant in BOTH arts and science). But these English teachers were not that good themselves, so they just found it unbelievable that their students could come up with something better than they could ever dream to come up with! So, the only explanation they could think of is “the student must have plagiarized this from somewhere. It’s just too good”.

I would respect a teacher, if the teacher has a skill worthy of my respect. I would even respect a teacher who may not be skilful in English, but has the mental capacity to recognize a good writing when she sees one. But I could NOT make myself respect someone like my English teacher in MRSM Langkawi.  If that means I ‘tak hormat cikgu’, well, be it!  Memang aku tak hormat pun!

Another lesson I have learned is teachers and authorities are not always right.

I believe that KPM has far better teachers than MRSM. MRSM was great because in the first place they have already chosen straight As students to begin with. My seniors won National Olympiad Competition (for physics, Math and Chemistry) beating TKC and other top schools because they could answer questions that were only appropriate for university level! In our school, it was not surprising to find students who could answer advanced physics and Add Math questions far better than the physics and Add Math teachers themselves. That’s how our school won the Olympiad… our seniors were geniuses whose understanding in those subjects had far surpassed what could be found in regular SPM textbooks and revision books.

Sometimes, we learned from each other far better than what our teachers could teach in the class room. During my time, MRSM teachers were much younger than KPM teachers, and they did not even have diploma of teaching. One of our Physics teacher has a degree in engineering rather than a degree in teaching physics. I also heard a rumour once that one of our biology teachers was supposed to be a doctor but ended up being a teacher in MRSM because she was not able to complete her training and thus she repaid her MARA loan by giving service to MRSM. (Again, she  didn’t have diploma in teaching) When I was in Form 5, our chemistry teacher had some health problems and rarely made it to class. We studied with each other using revision books and by doing a lot of questions.

In the first place, MRSM already have a highly motivated students who are also competitive with each other and would try to beat one another’s marks! Very little of our progress depended on the teachers alone.

So when my specialist Dr. S had sent her young daughter to MRSM Langkawi, I endorsed the school because of the learning environment prevalent in MRSM. But I told her “Tapi cikgu KPM lagi berpengalaman. Cikgu saya kat Asma lagi pandai mengajar. Cikgu kat MRSM pula, lepas diorang grad, sambil bekerja diorang akan buat teaching diploma walaupun diorang dah ada degree dalam bidang masing-masing. Sebab time degree dulu diorang tak diajar teknik mengajar because their degrees are not in teaching. They have degrees in biology, physics, chemistry… but not a degree in TEACHING biology/physics and chemistry. Some of them were supposed to be engineers, doctors or biotechnologist to begin with. Cikgu KPM pula waktu belajar kat uni dulu memang degree in teaching and they will be taught P&P techniques (teknik pengajaran dan pembelajaran). Diorang tak perlu ambil separate teaching diploma dah sewaktu bekerja.”

She shared the same view as I do that KPM teachers are better, because she said her own daughter had said the same thing. “Cikgu Sultanah Bahiyah lagi bagus daripada cikgu MRSM.” even though her daughter obtained four flat in MRSM Langkawi. That four flat was not a reflection of good teaching skills, but good competitive environment. All your friends are clever in MRSM and it is embarrassing when you get bad grades. And thus you tend to work harder and push yourself. So, don’t underestimate learning from peers and peer-driven excellence. Sometimes it might be the only thing that helps. 

***

If you are a science/Math teacher, your students can prove that they are better than you by producing OBJECTIVE answers to questions that you could not answer. (Ni dia, cikgu! Ini jalan kira dia. Ini formula yang kita kena pakai). The fact that you could not answer a question that your student could, is already an objective way of proving that the student is better than you. Math and Sciences are factual subjects. If you learn them, you will know them… and no one can dispute your answers!

But how would a student who is better than you in language or arts can prove to you that she is better than you? Arts and language are not factual subjects. There were times when I wished that I had had the heart to go to her and say, “Let’s compete! Choose one title for an essay. Let’s write the essay based on the title that YOU choose. Set a time limit. And let us write the essay within the given time. Then we can let other English teacher decides whose essay is better! Let’s see how good you are. Let’s see whether your grammar is flawless. Let’s see whether you can use complex syntax and metaphorical prose. Let’s see how well-read you are and whether or not you are qualified to judge my essay or Miss A’s essay. At the end of the day… let’s see whether we are the ones who can teach you how to teach English!” (But people would think I am rude if I ever say such a thing, right? Hahah. Tapi kalau kau tak cabar aku, aku pun takkan cakap macam tu! Aku tak pernah terfikir nak cakap macam tu pun to my other teachers in ASMA or KMB, for example.)

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Art is a talent. It is VERY LIKELY for you to be an art teacher and then find out that your students’ painting is much better than yours. A vocal teacher may not be a better singer than her own students. That’s why not all vocal teachers are also singers.

Language is partly talent and partly effort. Just because you are a language teacher teaching ‘high-school level’ language, doesn’t mean you are a talented essayist.

A teacher who doesn’t read well, would never be able to appreciate whose essay deserve what marks. That teacher may not even be able to appreciate whether the language used is trashy/commercial/literary if she herself is not good at language in the first place but just happens to choose TESL as her undergraduate subject. Even my own sister had admitted that her friends who were studying TESL with her were not very good in English and she could not compute why they wanted to be a TESL teacher in the first place. I was surprised that some of my friends whose command in English are far inferior than me ended up being an English teacher. They may be slightly better than the average Malaysian students (who don’t read much and prefer gadgets over books)  but if they ever come across an above average student who has been reading English all her life, would these teachers still feel they are better than the student? Would these teachers be better than my nephew Eshan and my niece Aayra when they grow up, for example? Maybe when Eshan and Aayra are still in primary school, these teachers might still have something they could teach the kids. But by the time Eshan and Aayra grow into their reading, get into secondary school and become friends with better readers than them, would these English teachers still be able to teach them much if they themselves have mediocre command in the language and just happened to choose TESL as an undergrad once upon a time? Or would they end up accusing their brilliant students of plagiarism just because their brains cannot come up with something good themselves?

So it is even MORE imperative for English teachers to get into the habit of reading continuously so that they can upgrade their language skills and would not embarrass themselves in front of students who are better than them. But how many Malaysian adults STILL read by the time they start working? Most of my friends don’t read anymore, citing petty reasons such as ‘Tak ada masa, anak kacau, banyak housechores’. Most of my doctor friends only read academic books when they are studying for their master, but how many of them read great works of literature? Not many of them do so.

‘Tak ada masa’ is simply an excuse, in my opinion. These people think that reading is a waste of time and something trivial and just a hobby for some people. They didn’t think of reading as a nourishment for God’s greatest gift to His greatest creation. The brain is God’s greatest gift to us, folks. Don’t neglect it.

So this is why I will always continue reading commercial fictions, literatures, as well as upmarket works. And I am now diversifying into non-fictions as well. You can never read enough. You can never improve your writing enough. Reading and writing are the exercise for your brain. It is one of the reasons I have a blog. I also have one specific folder in my computer for other essays/short stories that I write for fun, only to be read by myself and other close friends and family members.

And you cannot write well if you don’t read well. And this is the universal truth!

So I implore you to read continuously for the rest of your life. Reading has stopped becoming just a hobby for me. It has become my mental nourishment, my definition of having a quality of life. I am an advocate of reading because the joy of reading is too immense not to be shared with the rest of mankind. Try it and see for yourself how different your worldview will become the moment you realize how much reading has opened your mind.

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Being Yourself : What Do We Really Mean?

“Hey, since when have you been reading Orhan Pamuk?” he asked me when I was reading Orhan Pamuk’s A Strangeness In My Mind. He knew that I usually read mysteries and thrillers.

“I came across the book review of this book and it sounds good. Saw this book in Singapore. So, I just bought it. I force myself to read literature because my reading mates read literatures. I have to catch up. Haha” I said.

“Ala…be yourself. Just read what you enjoy. Tak payah nak ikut orang lain kata apa.”

I chuckled, outwardly.

But my mind was struck by the phrase of ‘be  yourself’. Because, ‘be yourself’ is something I had debated on and off with myself and I have come to the realization that the phrase ‘be yourself’ is so arbitrary and can be downright confusing and thus it needs further clarification, in my opinion.

***

My friends and colleagues are well-versed of my love for mysteries and thrillers and adventures. I love books that revolve around the theme of battling evil force. I adore the whole process of  solving problems in ingenious ways at the last critical moment when you think there is no hope left. And when suddenly the protagonist accomplishes the impossible, that is the euphoric part when a rush of dopamine is released in my brain and I get that high that all drug addicts yearn for! Adventurous fiction a’la Indiana Jones is my cocaine.

Skilful hero, bad villain, a beguiling mystery, an enormous problem to solve, effortful toiling… then AT LAST success comes in the form of the death of the villain when harmony and order and justice are restored. 

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This is why thrillers and adventures are addictive. I am part of the story that I read.

It’s very formulaic…but it works with me. Books like these taught me that unless it is a happy ending, it is not yet an ending. So in real life, when I come across something sad or something disappointing, I would remember that this is not the end. Something good for me is yet to come. Books like these help me define my notion of justice and why we must ensure that it prevails in the end. So this is how I justify my love of fiction. It is motivating!

Formulaic stuff like this is called commercial fiction! A happy ending is a must! When I read commercial fiction, this is what I want! Pure entertainment! And if it also happens to give me some new info or some interesting titbits that would then become part of my semantic memory, well, all the better. Because I can then pretend that I am reading it for the knowledge as well. Hahah (Think Da Vinci Code. It is formulaic and a commercial fiction. But this book incorporates a lot of facts about anagrams, fibonacci Sequence, history of Christianity, Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and The Lourve Museum. I honestly say I learned a lot when I read Da Vinci Code even though it is a commercial fiction.  It is full of facts, but at the same time it is fast-paced and full of exciting adventure). But no matter what facts they include into their plot, the main point of commercial fiction is entertainment, not knowledge or self-reflection! For Malay readers, think Ahadiat Akashah (as opposed to A. Samad Said).

Now literature (sastera) is different. The main point of literature is to educate and to criticize some element in the society that the author finds repugnant (kritik sosial). The author of literature hopes to trigger a paradigm change in the society. Happy ending is not guaranteed. In fact, sad ending is more effective! And most of the time, the ending is in the form of a cliffhanger and you get a feeling of things not being properly resolved. (And I feel unsatisfied! I hate that unresolved feelings. I rather have a sad ending than an unresolved ending. But maybe that’s the point! If most readers feel unsatisfied, then maybe we will get fired up, talk about it in forums, and at last campaign for a change in the society. So the author has reached his/her purpose: to make the readers feel so unsatisfied and so angry that they just have to talk about it in forums.)  Most literatures are really slow-paced. Where in commercial fiction the conflicts are usually external, the conflicts in literatures are internal. Where the character in commercial fiction is this perfectly handsome, intelligent and skilful hero, the character in literature will be flawed and the character will struggle internally to overcome his flaws. (Think Salina by A. Samad Said. Salina is the protagonist who is also a prostitute!!) So you see, some characters in literature are not always hero material. So it’s difficult for us as readers to admire and fall in love with this person. Unlike in commercial fiction, the protagonist here is not at all perfect; he is only human in this literature. And that’s just not good enough for us. (Well, at least AT FIRST, such protagonist won’t be good enough for us. But as you mature into your reading, you will grow to like this sort of protagonist. This protagonist is real and human, and perhaps as you grow older, you can relate to such a character. Protagonists in literatures are people like hawkers, farmers, taxi drivers…rather than CIA agents/ Secret Service Agents, SWAT agents/ successful CEOs etc etc. So really…they are NOT as exciting, but they are REAL every day people. As time goes by, you can possibly make yourself accept a hero that may not be so handsome, and not so successful, but just ordinary people struggling with life’s trials and tribulations. But remember, AT FIRST, it is so damn difficult to finish the book! But you just have to HANG IN THERE and finish it!)

So, reading literature is a struggle! You may not like the plot or the character because it is not entertaining enough and too real to be a source of fun escapism. (And most people read as a form of escapism. To relax from reality! And thus, literature feels torturous when compared to commercial fiction)

If you are a young reader and still struggling with reading literature, don’t worry! It’s normal. I STILL struggle. I have to MAKE myself read literature and Thank God I have this reading forum that would motivate me to do so. Like the character in a literature, I have a weakness too. I feel jealous of  anyone who seems to read better than I do (haha) and I want to compete against them. It’s really ridiculous of me…but heck, I have flaws!

So when I force myself to read literature, does it mean I am NOT being myself?
I don’t think so.

I AM being myself. Well, my competitive self, at least! 

If I had said “I love literature only… and commercial fictions are beneath my notice because they are so awfully trashy!”,… well, THEN I am lying and not being myself. But I did not say that. I fully acknowledge that literatures are hard to swallow and I have to force myself. So really, this IS myself. Haha.

But, this is the problem, you see! Is ‘being yourself’ means following your every inclination and not opposing your whims and desires at all…and not bothering to improve yourself at all and just remain the same… because you want to ‘be yourself’? Is that what we are supposed to do in life? Are we going to demand that people love us ‘just the way we are’ because we are just being ourselves?

I have problems with that concept. To quote Alanis Morisette, we will love you just the way you are if you are perfect. But no one is… so… well…the concept of ‘be yourself and never change’ becomes problematic in my analytical INTP mind.

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***

If I had come across the phrase ‘be yourself’ when I was a child, I might use it against my parents. But I don’t think it would be effective.

Nope!

“Kak Ngah, pi study”

“Studying is not myself. At the moment, myself wanna play. If I force myself to read academic books, then it means I am not being  true to myself. If you force me to study now, that means you are not accepting me for myself” Hahaha. 

I think if I ever said that, my father would quip  “Tak apa. You can be yourself. Cuma… ‘yourself’ nanti kena rotan jer lah. But yes, go ahead and be yourself. You have that option, of course,”

Haha.

You see? Maybe even my childhood self knew that the ‘be yourself’ rhetoric is too wishy-washy and arbitrary to be used in an argument (or else you bet I would have used it with my parents). Whatever valid argument out there for me not to study, I have used them. But I never used the ‘be myself’ angle with my parents. Because deep inside I knew, it was too stupid to say something like that (and I know how the argument will end up. Just like the above dialogue, that’s how! Haha)

The problem that I have with the ‘be yourself’ catchphrase is because it can be misapplied or taken advantage of, you see. A murderer and a thief would say “I am just being myself when I commit that crime.”

A cheater would tell his wife “When I fell in love with the other woman, I couldn’t help it. You might think I am cheating on you, but with myself, I am being true!”. Hahhaha.

What would the world turn into, then?

So you see, ‘be yourself’ catchphrase is very flawed at its core. It doesn’t stand detailed scrutiny. It is vague! It is fragile! And perhaps, should not be propagated!

We should not always be ourselves. Not in the way that they are promoting it.

We must first understand which part of ourselves are we talking about.

***

You see, according to Sigmund Freud, self/psyche can be divided into your id, your ego and your superego (tripartite).

Id: operates on instinct and pleasure principle. We want what we want and the reality be damn! This is me! What I want is unrealistic and selfish but I still want it.

(eg: I want to eat ice cream all the time. I don’t want to have to diet.)

Superego: this aspect of ourselves incorporates the values and moral of the society and is learned from our parents, our teachers or our religious upbringing.

(eg: I support the value of healthy diet because I am a doctor and I have learned it in med school that eating healthy is good for your health)

Ego: The job of the ego is to balance the demands of the id (our instinct to seek pleasure, to eat whatever we like) and the demands of the superego (our moral values and what we have learned.)

(eg: we then decide to eat regular meals rather than go on an extreme diet in order to satisfy our id’s need for good portion of food. To satisfy our superego, we reduce our ice cream intake to only once a week and exercise regularly. Id doesn’t get everything id wants. Superego also doesn’t get the ideal that superego wants. Instead, ego make them compromise and meet in the middle.)

Your superego and your Id will constantly influence your ego. Your ego will have to decide which way it should skew towards.

So, if ONE DAY, you decide to go on a diet, that is your superego winning against your id. Your superego is STILL yourself. So don’t go around thinking “Wow, I feel so fake and not myself when I am munching this carrot and celery. This is not right! I should be true to myself. I should just eat that double cheese burger because THAT IS MY REAL SELF!” 

Do you understand what I am trying to say?

Your id, your superego and your ego…they are ALL you and yourself. Just because you ignore your id and satisfy your superego, doesn’t mean you are not being yourself. In fact, ignoring your id makes you the better person.

The better self.

And the good news is your id can be trained to be more in tune with your superego. Initially all diets and exercise are hard to do (that is your id being in revolt and rebelling. Ignoring your id can cause tension and stress, initially). But after awhile, your id will follow through and eventually your id will easily accept the need for things to go the superego way most of the time.

On certain days, your id would win against your superego. You would eat a lot of ice cream and binge on junk food. When that happens, don’t go around saying “I am just being myself when I binge eat.” Instead tell yourself, that I am being the ‘id part’ of myself today. The superego part of myself lost today.

And that’s okay. Id must be allowed to win too, occasionally. It relaxes us. 

You can indulge your id occasionally, as long as you don’t do that by abusing the rights of others.

Below is another example of how id and superego influence your overall self:

Id: I am bored with my one wife. I want to have sex with more than one woman.

Superego: But Islam prohibits Zina.

Id: Well, I can have four wives,

Superego:  But as a husband, I must be responsible financially for all my four wives. I must be equal to all of them in terms of nafkah. I must lead them to the right path and be responsible for all their sins. 

Ego intervenes at this point: The reality is, I cannot afford four wives. But I might just be able to manage two wives in the fair and responsible manner that Islam stipulates. So I will have two wives, instead. (ego will try to satisfy both id and superego. But whether id or superego has the greater influence on your ego, that depends on many external factors and circumstances.)

In this example, if the id has a far more powerful influence than the superego, the man just might not bother to marry other women and simply hire prostitutes to satisfy his id. Lagi senang, kan?! If the superego (moral) is not well developed, the id wins easily and he can commit zina without feeling any guilt.  Is it then okay for him to simply say “I am just being myself?” 

Hell, no! You are just being the ‘id part’ of yourself!

Id is your nafs! So be careful when you say ‘be yourself’.The psychiatry MO in me might just ask “which part of yourself? You could have chosen your superego self to express, but you had chosen your id self to express instead. And then you go around using the convenient catchphrase of ‘being yourself’ as though that justifies everything.”

The phrase ‘be yourself’ is problematic because it doesn’t specify which part of yourself you should be! Your id…or your superego? And this arbitrary phrase can be misapplied by unprincipled crooks to justify whatever they do.

***

In my case…

My Id: I love entertaining books that are fast-paced, adventurous and fun. I feel relaxed. 

My Superego: But this sort of books that you like do not have much intellectual value, right? It is so ‘lagha’. God gives you brain NOT for you to waste it in fantasy adventure and la-la land. Your fiction doesn’t change the paradigm of the society. It’s fun, of course. But it’s empty calories. Why can’t you read something that feed your brain and nourish your soul? Read non-fiction, why don’t you? Those are factual and real!

My Ego: Okay, calm down, id and superego. Let’s compromise. Let’s read literature instead. It is still a fiction, but based on reality. It gives you something to think about without the boring academic feel to it. You don’t have to feel guilty about not feeding your brain properly if you read literature.

So, my point is: whether I am reading commercial fiction or literature or even academic books…all of them are MYSELF.

I indulge my id with commercial fiction. I satisfy my superego with literature and obligatory academic books (when the exam is near). Satisfying my superego improves my knowledge and my writing. Satisfying my id allows me to relax and recharge. 

So when I said I had to force myself to read literature, what I really meant to say was I had to force ‘my id self’ to read and enjoy literature. My superego didn’t need any forcing because that value is already within me. I just need my superego to be strong enough to wrestle the controlling rein from my id. And after awhile, when I do it often enough, my id would accept that literature is a superior reading material and we should read it more often. 

The take home message is: Your id can be TRAINED. Your id can be TAMED if you make it a practice to allow your superego to win most of the time. Eventually, it gets easier. It does.

***

So the next time I said I am being myself, I will say that phrase with the conscious awareness that the ‘self’ is FLUID and CHANGEABLE at any moment, depending on how good and pious I am feeling at that time and depending on which part of my self dominates my ego at that point in time.

And that’s normal! That’s human. 

So relax guys! Don’t feel fake and pretentious when we choose to rise above our natural (id) inclination. That’s what jihad is about; a struggle to force our id into submission.

May we all have the strength to be the better part of ourselves, most of the time (if not always). May Allah reduce the gap between our id and our superego so that doing good and being nice become easy. Amin.

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Hahaha! I love the quote above!

Until next time, folks!

Disclaimer: This is merely my amateurish take on pop psychology. Haha. I am not an expert or anything. But INTPs are annoyed by vague, wishy-washy stuff like ‘be yourself’ and we have the need to break it down and analyze it to death. No one else would bother to analyze this catchphrase beyond its superficial application. I mean, it is not worth the time to mull the matter over. It’s just an ordinary adage, after all. But this is how INTP use their brain. This is our eternal problem. Even as we are annoyed by vague, arbitrary, wishy-washy stuff like this, we are also fascinated by the thought of how we can attack and crucify the matter to smithereens. We are fascinated by contradictions, inconsistencies between theories and reality. Any type of dissonance holds our attention until we have thought the matter over and come to a decision. It is, alas, a never ending passion. So here you go. This is how INTPs spend their time thinking about abstract stuff that is not that important in real life. The only reason we STILL do it is because we enjoy it.