The Art Of Socializing

“You Have To Do What You Have To Do.”

That is my maxim in life. Regardless of your feelings, if something must be done, then it must be done.

I am a problem solver. I don’t allow problems to continue wreaking havoc in my life.

I might not like certain things, but if there is no getting around the problems/issues, then I will make myself deal with it.

I used to dread socializing. I couldn’t make myself do it as a child. I always pestered my mom “Mak, bila nak balik rumah kita ni?” whenever we were out socializing at other people’s houses. My mom had to excuse herself early than she intended to because it would not take long for me to start causing tantrum. 

I didn’t think I had any social anxiety or social phobia. I just felt awkward having to pretend that I was interested in other people when I actually didn’t. I felt awkward having to suffer the painful silence as the conversation dried up with no one having anything to say.

I was just bored. And could not make myself put the effort. 

But I recognized that I had to overcome my inability to make small talk. I have to do what I have to do, I told myself. I couldn’t hide away in my room every time guests came to our house. My mother would  have my head! “Tetamu mai kita kenalah keluar, Kak Ngah. Semua tanya kak ngah dok buat apa sampai tak keluar bilik. Very rude lah.”

I always had some excuses. Tidur. Baca Buku. Tak perasan orang mai. 

I am not shy. I never was shy. I am just an introvert. But when it comes to things I am really interested in, I can be chatty enough and sometimes downright vocal. I am a vocal introvert. If a topic interests me, you will have a hard time shutting me up. But if a topic does not interest me (let’s just admit that small talks are crazy boring and we just do it socially in order to be polite) or I am meeting someone for the first time, I would be very reserved and awkward and therefore I would try my best to avoid having to deal with such a situation.  

But I knew I could not get away with excuses for long.

So, I solved my problems when I was in my early 20s. I observed how people make small talk, I analyzed how they carried themselves during social events and then I imitated accordingly. And now, I am quite good at faking my comfort at making small talk (while deep inside, I cannot wait to get back into my private sanctum sanctorum; the innermost of my private world where stories are enthralling and mysteries are beguiling)

So when one day my patient came to me and told me that she was a very shy person (but her shyness is not yet a disorder of any kind) and she didn’t like that shyness (she is a shy extrovert. Yes, there exists a shy extrovert; just like there exists a bold introvert) I was very sympathetic with her plight. She reminded me of my younger self. Like me, she has problems coming up with something to say to keep the conversation rolling and ends up not saying anything and then the whole awkward silence embarrasses her. 

This inspired me to write about tips on how to make a small talk for this post. I would share with you what I do to make small talk appear effortless. (I am not always spot on and successful in how I do it. But at least, I no longer feel agonized when I have to do it) Hope it helps everyone out there who has the same problem as me and this patient of mine. All these tips are the result of my reading, my observation of other people’s conversation and from my own extended practice at small talk. I am very proud of these tips because I think it’s been working great for me. Maybe you can practice them when you are attending the many open houses throughout this month of Syawal. 

So, here they are:

1)Be approachable. Just smile.

-Ok, my sisters would laugh their heads off at this. Because I am actually not approachable at all. My colleagues and my own close friends had told me of their first impression of me so many times in the past for me not to have a good insight of my unapproachability. They said it was my bitchy-resting-face that scares people from trying to approach me. But that is because I was not trying to be approachable at that time. I was not making any effort to seem approachable because the situation didn’t require me to do so.

-But what if you are attending a social function or you yourself is the host for a kenduri or a family event? You have NO CHOICE but to mix and mingle. In THAT situation, I MAKE myself approachable. The simplest thing to do is smile! And talk about food. And keep asking them to “tambahlah lagi,” or “makanlah lagi”. You know, things like that! Over and over again. So bosan, but you get the idea. 

-Or if you are the guests (instead of the host), you can comment on the deliciousness of the food. Or exchange recipes on how to make some of the delicacies (even though you KNOW you are not going to cook any of it. But just show that you are interested in all the ingredients and how to prepare them. The point of the whole thing is just to keep the conversation rolling. Yes… we have to suffer the boredom! But you have to do what you have to do.). 

-The point is just to keep it superficial and light. 

-Avoid talks of politics/race/religion. Again, keep it light and superficial. (unless you are lucky enough to find that rare deep thinkers among the guests with whom you can talk about any controversial topic that strikes your fancy. In that case, go ahead and show your true nerdy, geeky colours. Hahhah). 

 

2)Go to an event with a friend(s) who is more outgoing and extrovert than you. 

– This is my favourite trick! And it works every single time! 

-This friend can do all the approaching and all the talking with the host and you simply comment and interject every now and then. Whatever it is your outgoing friend said, you simply confirm it and elaborate on it. That way, you don’t need to rack your brain trying to come up with things to say because your bubbly friend will do it for you. 

-I see how great this works every day between my mother and my father. My mother do all the talking/ ice-breaking and my father do all the nodding and brief elaboration. It’s like watching a beautiful dance. But you must see my father when he is talking politics/business… THEN, he can really talk! Hahah. 

 

3)People like to talk about themselves. So, ask them questions about themselves. And elaborate and respond accordingly based on their answers.

Ask them about their children. People love talking about their children (something free, single people like me might not be able to relate yet). This is something I notice in almost everyone. 

I memorized the names of my neighbours’ children. Whenever I bump into my neighbour, I would ask her about her children and she lights up when she talks about them. When I was a teenager, I would not bother asking these type of questions because I was not interested to know, anyway. But the main point of socializing is not for extracting information that you want to know. That is not the point. The point of socializing is just to be nice and to establish a connection and not looking awkward doing it… I think. (Actually, I don’t know what is the point of socializing. Hahha.) 

And please, appear interested with their answers. When they give their answers, you follow it up with further questions. 

When I was a teenager, my conversation was very short and awkward. Because I didn’t yet bother to learn to solve my ‘small-talk problem’ at that time. So my conversation always turned out like this:

My neighbour: “Anak Kak N yang bongsu tu dekat UITM la ni. Dia dok buat engineering.”

Me: Oh. Hmm…Okey. 

(Hahhaha. Yes, pathetic gila! Because, I was just not interested to know. So I would just say “oh, ok.”)

But now I have improved. *proud silly grin*

Me: Oh, buat engineering. Dah tahun berapa dah (really, I don’t care tahun berapa. But as I mentioned before, socializing is not about getting any information that you really want to know. It is just about appearing interested even if you actually aren’t)

Kak N: Dah tahun tiga dah. 

Me: Oh, tak sampai setahun lagi dah nak grad la. (yup…. saying the obvious is part of the socializing game. Hahha. When I was a teenager, I would not bother saying something like this. I mean, if her son is already in 3rd year, OBVIOUSLY there would only be one year left until graduation, right? So, why bother saying something like this, I thought. But now, I know the reason we bother to say things like this… it is to fill up our quota of the conversation. Seriously! That is the whole purpose of saying the obvious, and now that you know, just do it even when you think it doesn’t make sense!)

Kak N: Tu lah… lega lah. Tinggal dia sorang ja tak habis belajar lagi. Lepas ni Kak N tak gaduh pikiaq dah. 

Me :(Because I didn’t know how to respond to that, so I then introduced another related topic… which was, her OTHER children, of course).  Fatin pula dok buat apa la ni? (of course, it requires you remembering the name of the other children. LOL)

Hahha. Yes, I have sooo mastered the art of making small talk! Now, I can do it almost automatically! It was painful at first. But I did it! 

So the tips is simple: Keep the conversation rolling by asking questions about themselves because people love talking about themselves and follow up on their answers with appropriate comments (even when you have to say the obvious, and feeling stupid for saying such an obvious thing). And when you have nothing else to say on one topic, introduce another related topic with another question. Do NOT abruptly introduce on an unrelated topic because that would’t look or sound smooth. ‘Related-ness’ and ‘smooth transition’ of one topic after another, after another and after another…. that is the trick!

 

4) Don’t Avoid Social Situation. Practice until it becomes part of your skill. (this is easier said than done, I know! Our first instinct is to avoid and run but we have to resist the urge to run if we are serious about improving our socializing skill)

We can all learn a lesson from this dialogue between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice (this reminds me why i love reading literature. It makes you pause and think):

Mr. Darcy: I do not have the talent of conversing easily with people I have never met before.

Elizabeth Bennet: Perhaps you should take your aunt’s advice and practice?

Elizabeth Bennet was being sarcastic but quite accurate! 

Back in form 4, I hated Add Maths… but I wanted to get straight As, and therefore Add Maths must be mastered by me no matter what. So I practiced Add Maths in every spare moment I had leading to SPM and I made it happen, thank God!

Socializing is just like Add Maths! If socializing was made an exam subject, I bet I would bother to master it ever since I was a child. But unfortunately, it was not an exam subject. I didn’t feel the importance or the need to master it the way I had to master Add Maths. I thought that socializing involved a lot of discomfort and play-pretend and I would not stoop to that level, I felt. I should be myself, I thought.

But I had my paradigm shift, thanks to Elizabeth Bennet! Haha. She made me realize that socializing is a skill… some are natural at it and some require practice with it. Just like Add Maths! It is not about not being yourself and being pretentious…. you practice it because it is a life skill! If you can practice Add Maths, why can’t you practice socializing? Right? 

I didn’t go around saying “Practicing Add Maths is like being fake and pretending to like Add Maths.” No! I STILL don’t like Add Maths. But I had to do what I had to do, remember?

Just like we shouldn’t think “practicing to socialize means we are pretending to like socializing and not being ourselves”

 This is not a question of ‘liking’ or ‘being ourselves’. It is the question of having the skill so that you can do it in a situation when it is not avoidable. Because we are problem solvers! We just have to do what we have to do! Being good at socializing, is unfortunately, a coming-of-age skill. Part and parcel of becoming an adult (because you can no longer depend on your parents to do it for you.)

 

5) Try to be as genuine as possible even though  socialising  requires some amount of ‘faking an interest’. 

Just because socialising does require an amount of faking your interest (by asking questions you don’t really actually want to know), it doesn’t mean you cannot be genuinely yourself. What do I mean by this?

Well…

For example, when people ask you questions, you can answer those questions honestly. They might ask you back the questions you have asked to them. 

For example:

You: Anak hang Aidan buat apa sekarang?

Acquaintance: Dia buat engineering la ni. Alhamdulillah, results  okay. Pointer four flat baru-baru ni.  Alan pula buat apa la ni?

You: Dia major sains politik. Minor in literature. Dia memang minat social sciences. (this is an honest answer, right? Don’t say your son is doing medicine and also has a four flat pointer if it is not true! I mean, there must be limits to bragging too!)

Socializing is not something we introverts are naturally good at… so it does require an effort to fake an interest and to ‘seem’ like we are enjoying ourselves. Our general demeanour might be jovial, but inwardly we might be longing to get home and get started on our reading. We have no choice but to fake this general happy demeanour in order to maintain politeness. (it would be rude to have people think we feel bored by their conversation, right?)  But that is where the faking stops…. the actual content of the conversation must be real and true. 

 

6) There are online social skills guide

Yup! There are a lot of articles and books written on how to socialize. I have read them myself (in the course of trying to solve my problem with small talk)

But I don’t suggest you to buy any books for it. Internet articles will do. 

Because like Add Maths, you cannot just read on it! Practice is key! 

But reading on the theories would come in handy too…. so just read off the internet on that subject. And then go out to practice. Practice, practice, practice. 

***

I have mentioned before that the ‘self’ is fluid and changeable. That is why I always say ‘we do what we have to do’ regardless of our discomfort or real feelings about it. If that is our responsibility and it is expected of us, then we have to learn to adapt.

Instead of having a ‘fixed mindset’, we must have a ‘growth mindset’.

What do I mean by that?

The concept is a bit like “nature vs nurture”:

When you have a fixed mindset, you believe that you either are or aren’t good at something, based on your inherent nature, because it’s just who you are.

Whereas people who have a growth mindset believe anyone can be good at anything because your abilities are due  to your actions.

And personally, I think having a fixed mindset is harmful and one of the perpetuating factor to depression and anxiety. If you believe that you cannot change even when what you are doing is not working in your favour, then what else is there to do but to give up?

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This is what I always tell my patients. To have a growth mindset!

Remember Elizabeth Bennet? She told Mr. Darcy to practice! Practicing is something that those who have a growth mindset will do.

So, all the best to all aspiring socialites out there! We can do this! 

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****

Last but definitely not least, Selamat Hari Raya from the Azmee family and Maaf Zahir Batin. Taqabballahu Minna Wa Minkum.

Below are some of the pictures that we took on the first few days of Eid (some of the pictures do not contain my Kak Long as she didn’t make it back until on the 3rd day of Raya). There are a lot more pictures in Facebook and Instagram but I decide to only post a few here. I think my blog deserves a bit of colourful spicing up in this blessed month of Syawal.

 

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Our formal Raya picture. Look at my father… so serious! Hahah.
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Our silly free-style picture
More silly free-style pictures without our father because he is not into taking pictures/selfies like all his vain narcissistic daughters. Haha
And even more silly pictures…
Just the girls and the mom…😍😍😘

 

Sisters Bonding Time was on the 2nd and 3rd day of Raya. Tak sah raya kalau tak ambil gambar kat halaman rumah dengan baju raya. LOL. We missed my youngest sister because she was not around at that time. And my eldest sister was also not here because she was stuck in traffic jam on  the way to balik kampung here. So just me, Izati and the heavily pregnant Alida.

 

 

On the 3rd day of Raya, we went for our usual sisters-coffee-time at Starbucks. They left their husbands at home, because, of course! Who would want  husbands to tag along when the sisters are gossiping? Right? They would only feel excluded by our loud voices speaking on top of each other as we tend to do every single time.  Haha.

We missed Alida here because she was very, very pregnant and didn’t feel like going out and we missed my youngest sister Wani as she had gone back to the uni to start preparing for her final exam in dentistry. Their absence was deeply felt but it didn’t prevent us from having a great time. (LOL, sorry Wani and Alida.)

And on the 4th day of Raya (my last day of cuti raya, sobs sobs), I brought Kak Long to Gunung Keriang for hiking because she said she wanted to give it a try. I was happy to do it because I had started feeling guilty about all the calories I had consumed in the past few days. At the end of the hiking trip, my Kak Long learned to respect the level of my fitness to be doing this activity so very frequently. Hahha. She learned that she needed to increase her fitness level ASAP. “Tunggu aku balik next time… I will be fitter,” She said.

I laughed at the hilarity!

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Healthy life-style.. KONONnya!

 

Until next time, my dear readers. 🙂

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The People Not Worth Mentioning

#RamadhanReflection

Whenever Ramadhan arrives, my heart deeply misses my Muslim sisters in Newcastle. They made me realize something I would always be grateful to them for.

They made me realize that all the Israiliyat stories I had questioned in the past….well, I was right in questioning them. They opened my eyes – widely! – that religion IS logical.They made me realize that religious people are not weakly passive, terribly soft-spoken or yawningly dull. Because THEY were not dull and  yet they were one of the most religious people I have ever met.

They made me realize, that in matters of religion, there are rooms for people like me…. the ruthlessly logical and aggressively out-spoken people like me are also acceptable in Islam. That I was not un-Islamic when I questioned things I really didn’t understand. In fact, they were delighted by my questions and when they in turn answered my questions, I was delighted by their answers! Because now, it makes sense! Finally!!

They made me understand that my concept of religious people as people who “asyik cakap lemah-lembut, pakai baju besar dan tudung labuh, pijak semut tak mati… tapi asyik suka bagi orang rasa bersalah bila kita tanya balik kat depa benda yang kita rasa langsung tak logik!” was so wrong! I was wrong to stereotype ‘religious people’ and I was delighted about being wrong, at that time! I knew then, that there did exist outwardly religious people who were also inwardly Islamic in their principles and worldviews. 

I was intrigued by the sisters when I went to Melbourne for the Summer in my first year of med school (initially just to have a fun holiday for a month) and the Melbourne sisters then took me and my friends under their wings and taught me to understand my religion beyond its mere rituals. Because of them (supplemented by YOU TUBE videos of Nouman Ali Khan, Yusha Evans and Dr. MAZA) I understood the core principles of my religion and I stick to it as much as I can.

Some of them were one of the most energetic people I have ever met. And all these while I thought “Orang agama ni mesti jenis jalan menunduk all the time.” Well, not them!

Listen to this clip by Dr. Maza about how ‘kewarakan’ and ‘kesolehan’ has nothing to do with you “jalan lembik-lembik menunduk, konon soleh”. (Gosh! I get really irritated by pretentious people like that. *rolled eyes*)

Let me recap on the main point of the video. Sahabat-sahabat menyatakan “Sesungguhnya kami telah melihat Umar Ibn Al Khattab. Bila beliau berjalan, dia cepat. Beliau bercakap, ianya jelas. Bila beliau pukul, sakit. Tetapi beliaulah yang paling warak dikalangan kami.”

So this is to me, an image of a Muslim I could relate to! Cergas! Cerdas! Kuat! Tegas!

Our religion celebrates differences in personalities and habits as long as they are not against the syariat.

In fact, they told me “Saidina Umar Al-Khattab was very outspoken. When others made the hijrah in secret, he had boldly said, “Whoever wants his mother to mourn him, his children to become orphans and his wife to become a widow should meet me behind this valley to try and stop my Hijrah.” And no one dared follow him out. He had such spunk!”

Since then Saidina Umar is my favourite figure in religion, after Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Not because I think Saidina Abu Bakar and the rest of the companions are not as great. No! But I can RELATE with Umar. Saidina Abu Bakar might have diplomacy and patience…. but I am weak in those aspects and I couldn’t relate to him the way I could relate with Saidina Umar. How am I supposed to be patient when something really unjust is happening right before my eyes? I couldn’t relate why I could not simply call it out and tell them frankly to their face that what they are doing is wrong, regardless of who they are in the society! While I admire Saidina Abu Bakar just as much, it is with Saidina Umar r.a that I can relate the most.

Saidina Abu Bakar made the hijrah in secret together with the prophet, being so patient in facing the adversities and the terror of being chased by the enemies of Islam. Whereas Saidina Umar R.A had boldly challenged anyone to try to stop him from making the hijrah. And BOTH of them made it to Madinah at last. Even though one had patiently travelled in secret, while the other had boldly travelled in the open, BOTH of them reached their destination and their goals. So, BOTH are equally admirable… but I am more likely to do what Saidina Umar did, because I can relate to that. In my mind, I would be so angry that the people of Makkah was trying to stop my basic human rights to move wherever I wanted. That kind of nonsense would spark my temper and I would go, “Apsal pula kau nak halang-halang  aku ni? Kau siapa? Apa hak kau nak halang aku? You are not making any sense. Nak halang juga, cubalah kalau berani! Jangan cabar aku, okey!” 

Thats’ my fi’il… my tabiat…don’t force me, don’t cross my principles, don’t violate my boundaries. Because I will fight when it matters enough! You don’t get to me by force. You get to me with kindness and patient reasoning. The way the Newcastle and Melbourne sisters did. 

They taught me something I have always known: Sabar itu bukannya merelakan diri kena tindas kemudian menyatakan “yang aku ni sabar.” Sabar itu adalah menentang semua kezaliman yang ada kemudian bersabar dengan akibat yang kita terima disebabkan kita berani menentang kezaliman itu. They confirmed my belief that sabar in Islam is not something passive the way the Malays were doing it when they were being a coward!… but Sabar is an ALIVE, ACTIVE struggle. Saidina  Abu Bakar made the journey to Madinah with patience too…. and then He succesfully arrived in Madinah. His patience, just like Saidina Umar’s boldness, yielded the SAME result. He arrived with Rasulullah in tow! That kind of Sabar is productive! The concept of patience in Islam is NOT “biarlah kita bersabar kena tindas di Mekah.” (This concept of Sabar is always being adopted wrongly by Muslim Malays. When they used the word Sabar, what they usually really mean is ‘jadi penakut. Jangan cakap apa’.Haha)

I was so impressed by the things I was taught in Melbourne that summer. This!! THIS is the version of Islam that was never taught to me in Malaysia. This version of Islam taught us how to live and live well! And live honourably! And live courageously! 

They also instilled in me the concept of speaking up against injustice. Speak up… not because you think you can change anything by speaking up. But speak up because it is THE TRUTH and on the judgment day you can AT LEAST say to Your Lord “Ya Rabb, I spoke against that injustice when it happened!”

They told me to learn and internalize the lesson from the Quranic verse surah Al-A’raf 7: 163 -165

Dan tanyakanlah kepada Bani Israil tentang negeri yang terletak di dekat laut ketika mereka melanggar aturan pada hari Sabtu, di waktu datang kepada mereka ikan-ikan (yang berada di sekitar) mereka terapung-apung di permukaan air, dan di hari-hari yang bukan Sabtu, ikan-ikan itu tidak datang kepada mereka. Demikianlah Kami mencoba mereka disebabkan mereka berlaku fasik. (7: 163)

Dan (ingatlah) ketika suatu umat di antara mereka berkata: “Mengapa kamu menasehati kaum yang Allah akan membinasakan mereka atau mengazab mereka dengan azab yang amat keras?” Mereka menjawab: “Agar kami mempunyai alasan (pelepas tanggung jawab) kepada Tuhanmu, dan supaya mereka bertakwa.” (7: 164)

Maka tatkala mereka melupakan apa yang diperingatkan kepada mereka, Kami selamatkan orang-orang yang melarang dari perbuatan jahat dan Kami timpakan kepada orang-orang yang zalim siksaan yang keras, disebabkan mereka selalu berbuat fasik. (7: 165)

“Cuba tengok, Afiza. Dalam ayat-ayat ni. Ada tiga golongan di sini. Golongan pertama, yang melakukan kejahatan. Golongan kedua, yang menghalang kejahatan. Golongan ketiga, yang berkecuali … malah golongan ketiga ni siap bertanya kepada golongan kedua, kenapa nak sibuk-sibuk bagi nasihat? Kemudian dalam ayat 7:165 Allah memberitahu akan nasib golongan pertama yang melakukan kejahatan itu….. yang mereka ditimpakan azab. Nasib golongan kedua yang menasihati dan menghalang kejahatan, mereka ini diselamatkan. Tapi apa jadi dengan golongan ketiga ini… golongan yang berkecuali tadi? Apa nasib mereka?”

Hmm… I had no idea. The Quran didn’t mention what happened to them. I shrugged my shoulder at the naqibah and shook my head. 

“Bila Allah tidak sebut nasib golongan ketiga ini… maksudnya mereka adalah golongan yang tidak layak disebut.”

I was stunned.

“Jadi, ketika kita nampak kezaliman berlaku, jadilah orang yang berani menegur “Ini Zalim!”. Janganlah jadi orang yang berdiam diri, yang berkecuali, yang akhirnya nasibnya jadi tidak pasti. Neither here nor there. Not worth mentioning!”

Desmond Tutu was really wise and quite Islamic (whether he realized it or not), when he said “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

***

Believe me, there are times when I really miss how I was when I was in Australia. I think my behaviour was at its best when I was there because the environment there made it easy for me to be nice. I was not exposed to much injustice that would disturb my psyche at that time. I surrounded myself with nice, and intellectual people who could satisfy my thirst for knowledge and could sooth my insistence for things to be fair and logic.

Then I returned to Malaysia as a houseman. I was shocked.

“Hang pun tau, aku dah inform MO yang patient tu punya Blood Pressure low and Pulse Rate tachycardic. Dia kata suruh observe dulu. Run fluid fast apa semua. Sekarang patient ni bleeding teruk… tiba-tiba dia kata aku tak inform. Padahal dia yang tak attend.” said one of my fellow HOs to me when I was in my first posting. I told her to report the matter to the specialist. That I would accompany her to do it! She didn’t want to. Since this incident involved her, I couldn’t do anything much if she herself didn’t want to fight for herself. Takkan aku pula nak lebih-lebih involved?

But what I did was, I told as many HOs as possible about what had really happened. So that among HOs, we knew she wasn’t guilty. But I was ashamed of myself because I didn’t do what I was supposed to do… to internalize the Al-A’raf concept and speak up LOUD that the MO was the culprit! I didn’t do the most I could have done. Instead, I gave myself petty excuses by saying “I am just a HO… what can I do? Sekurang-kurangnya aku benci benda ni dalam hati… tu dah kira selemah-lemah iman. Yang paling aku mampu buat setakat ini adalah benci dalam hati.”

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But my weakness haunted me for the rest of my first posting because I felt that I had fallen short of my own standard that I had nurtured for 5 years in Australia. I could not get over my boiling anger at the injustice and at myself… so that when I finished my posting, I wrote about things that had happened in the department that disturbed my sense of justice! I needed to let that out and purge it out of my system. Sue me if what I said was wrong! (I didn’t intend for it to become viral. But it became viral when I was already in my 3rd posting… by that time I have done all the major posting including surgical and medical… I was already a senior. They couldn’t do anything to me. I was ready to face anyone, anyway. My father said, “Don’t worrry. Jadi apa-apa, kita ada lawyer.” But Alhamdulillah, nothing actually did happen. I wasn’t even called to explain myself even though I was ready for it.)

In Malaysia, people don’t reward being nice. Instead, being nice gets you bullied. Bullying is something I have never experienced until I became a houseman… even then, I didn’t tolerate it for long! By the time my blog became viral, no MOs dared to bully me anyway. “Takut masuk blog.” they joked to me about it. (Hahha) Most of them were simply curious about me and I ended up becoming friends with most of them. Instead of being targeted and my life being made difficult (the way other HOs had predicted), my life became even more smooth after my blog became viralled. I thought that… maybe, hopefully… it was Allah’s reward for me because I wrote the truth. Maybe HE rewarded me because I finally returned to the principle of justice I had lovingly nurtured when I was a medical student in Australia. I was a coward just like any other housemen when I was in my first posting. Allah taught me to never again be like that! To maintain my outlook in life and let Allah handle the rest.

In Malaysia, you can request for one tiny reasonable thing in the most gentle tone you can muster, but it would get rejected as long as they think they can get away with it. By the time you raise your voice and threaten to take some action, only then you get what you want. So, the Malaysian culture rewards me when I am being my loud, rude self. The culture doesn’t reward me by complying to my reasonable request when I am being nice.

So I then learn that if I want what I want, I will have to be tough and fight with my bare hands until I get it because with you guys, diplomacy doesn’t work!  Even my younger sister had experienced the same thing once she started working. By the time she threatened legal action against the PPD in Sarawak for withholding her husband’s BKLP (Bayaran Khas Lokasi Pedalaman) allowance, only then they decided to comply to her demand. And so she won! PPD gave her husband back his rightful BKLP money.

Screenshot 2017-06-16 13.53.27

My father looked at me and Alida, and he said “Alida dah mewarisi perangai Kak Ngah.” (In my family, I was called Kak Ngah Singa. Singa jadian…that is me. Hahaha.)

Then we looked at our father who was also just like us and said “Di mana tumpahnya kuah kalau tak ke nasi?” 

(I asked Alida to do a personality test once. Turned out that Alida is also an INTP. Go figure! I too, always tested as an INTP and sometimes INTJ.)

Some people said “Alida, buat apa hang pi cari  lawyer tu… lagi mahal kau kena bayar lawyer daripada duit yang kau akan dapat balik. Buat rugi jer.”

These people… they don’t get it!. Their priorities are not the same as us, the INTPs/INTJs. Our priorities are truths, justice and principle. Money comes second. Preserving harmonious relationship comes second (sometimes last!) It is okay if you have different priorities than me…. BUT!, don’t push your misguided notion on me! As long as we can afford our principles, we will go all out for it, khalas! If you are the sort of person who don’t have principles, you would not understand.

Initially, Alida wanted her money because it was rightfully hers! She requested for it reasonably. But when people were being unjust, difficult and refused to do the right thing, suddenly her priorities changed. Suddenly, this was NO LONGER about the money! She didn’t want it anymore! Now this was about justice! And she was willing to spend money to win against the PPD because they were being unjust! Let Alida be the lesson the PPD would never forget! And I supported her all the way by encouraging her to play their unjust game to the end by hitting below the belt and threaten them with not just legal action but ‘viral action’ too. My father supported her by offering to pay for the lawyer. And viola, suddenly it was so easy for the PPD to give her back the money that was rightfully hers.

See? See how they reward our frank, hard ways instead of our initial reasonably nice, soft ways? *shakes head*

When Alida got her money, only then the parasites who had told her “Hang pi lah fight. Tapi, aku rasa tak dapat punya” came to her, seeking her guidance. They asked her for a copy of what she wrote to the PPD so that they too could claim their money by using her letter as an example to write their own. Sheeshhh..

What sort of respect do we feel for these kind of people…. who didn’t want to do the dirty work of fighting in  the first place… but when winning is finally assured, only then they came running, asking for how to get it done! When Alida had first asked them to fight together with her, they didn’t want to move their lazy bums to do it and in fact, had discouraged her from fighting! But afterwards, their behaviour went exactly the opposite!  Isn’t their behaviour the perfect epitome of shameful cowardice? 

***

Dear adik-adik (medical students, HOs, junior MOs)

Allow me to impart you an advice I always believe in. Giving this advice is part of my civic duty and social responsibility as a senior MO (now that I am already in my second year of UD48 Hahaha. Senior la kan?). When you see injustice happens, call out on it.

Because Al-A’raf!

Because that is  the most Islamic thing you can do!

Because that is ACTIVE Sabar!

And don’t give yourself excuses that ‘at least, aku benci benda ni dalam hati.’ (I tried that excuse when I was a HO; it didn’t sit really well with me and I could not respect myself).

If you were a HO, maybe you can be forgiven to still be in the ‘selemah-lemah iman.’ To just ‘benci dalam hati’.

But if you are already an MO, or one day a specialist, a Jusa, a Dato, a Tan Sri, a Pengarah here and there…. there will always be someone higher than you who would tell you to do something your conscience says is wrong! Even when you become a DG, you still have someone else higher than you who would dictate to you things that are so unfair and so wrong that your blood boils because of it! Jadi, takkan sampai ke sudah hanya nak benci dalam hati dan berpuas hati dengan hanya memiliki ‘selemah-lemah iman’? Hanya kerana ia adalah arahan orang atasan?

Come on, por favor!

By the level of MOship, you should set standard for yourself… that I will speak up. As an MO, dah sah dalam jawatan, takkan masih selemah-lemah iman? Speak up! By the time you are a specialist, the standard should be “I will  speak up AND take action in the best way my position allows me to when I see injustice happens.”

For example you can say, “I refuse to allow my staff to oncall if you don’t want to pay their mileage claims. It wouldn’t be fair for them. The MOs can oncall by themselves if my staff cannot claim their mileage.” 

Or say, “Apa kata kita potong pengarah dan penolong-penolong pengarah punya elaun, potong orang-orang management punya elaun… korban sorang sikit bagi pada staff yang nak claim! Gaji staff lagi kecik daripada gaji korang kan! Gaji diorang lagi kecik daripada gaji orang management yang asyik nak potong claims orang padahal orang management tidur sedap kat rumah. This is not fair to my staff! How can you justify doing this to staffs whose salary are much less than you… but when there is financial constraint, it was THEIR claims you decided to cut first. Ini zalim!”

Say, “Everyone is innocent until proven guilty… so how can you devalue him by putting him in a department where he cannot utilize his excellent skill? Why not put him in Ortho/districts/Klinik Kesihatan where his skills can be put to its optimal use?Inilah ketidakadilan…. tidak meletakkan sesuatu kepada tempatnya. Tidak meletakkan staff yang kemahiran post-basicnya patut boleh diletakkan ditempat yang lebih memerlukan skill tersebut. But instead, you put him in my department? How could you do this to him… devalue him like  this… when you said he is innocent? And how could you do this to my department… to only place someone with a tainted reputation into our department time and time again! How could you devalue our department by always sending us staff of questionable calibre? In this case, you had created a lose-lose situation for him and for us! Your management is zalim! And I am calling you out on it!”

***

One of my friends told me, “Kalau kita speak up pun, kena ikut arahan juga. Orang management memang macam tu! Buat penat argue ja.”

I frowned. In my head, I reflected, “I know… I know that most of the time, kita speak up pun takkan dapat apa-apa. Buat kita rasa frust saja. Sebab at last, mungkin kena ikut arahan juga. Tapi can you imagine kalau yang speak up to ramai dan bukan seorang? (Like Alida’s case. She spoke up alone, she won! But how easier it would have been if ALL OF THEM had spoken up together in the first place) Tapi katakanlah dah ramai-ramai speak up pun, masih kena ikut arahan yang zalim, so what? The reason we SHOULD speak up is… because Al-A’raf. Remember? We speak up so that  we can say…. for the record, I oppose your injustice. For the record, I have made absolutely clear what I think of you when you made that decision. So that I can stand before God, and say ‘I have spoken, Ya Rabb.’ Because for the record, I can say that YOU KNEW you were wrong… I have made it so clear to you… now, the guilt is on you! It’s on you! I speak up because I am NOT content to always be in selemah-lemah iman like you.”

Because Al-Araf 7:164. 

Because I don’t want to be among people who are not worth mentioning.

O Companion Most High

O Companion Most High

O Companion Most High,
As his head rested on his wife's thigh,
As his face perspired his exhaustion,
He softly whispered "With The Highest Companion"
And thus he left the world in grieving,
Void of his presence we've been missing.

O Companion Most High,
Your beloved once recited a narration,
"No prophet dies till he is shown,
His place in heaven with an option,
whether to live or to die"
So as he rested on his wife's thigh,
And as he chose "O Allah, The Highest Companion"
He made the world all over grieve,
Void of his presence we sorely miss.

O Companion Most High,
As Your beloved's precious final breath
Rise to heaven, mixed in the air,
He left us forever with The Greatest Miracle,
Messages of beauty without rival,
Of true words and faithful revelation,
To tide us over till the day of judgement,
When we too shall meet The Highest Companion.

O Companion Most High,
In my dream on the mighty throne You reside,
The mercy of Your love rise high,
The sword of Your justice drawing nigh,
I feel scared but I remember what You said,
I'd read it many times and it made me cry,
"O serene soul,
Return to Your Lord, well-pleased and pleasing,
And enter among my servants,
And enter My paradise," 
And in that dream, those words were uttered,
In my general direction as I entered,
Into the light of Your Grace and Mercy
Of untold happiness, zero misery, 
For the rest of my life, for eternity.

-Afiza Azmee-
 02/06/17

***

Okay, I haven’t written poetry for a longgg time. And that is because I also have not read poetry for a longggg time too. There is a connection between what I read and what I write. One inspires the other in a complicated two-way  direction I have always found very amusing.

So my effort above is a bit rusty. But you’ve got to push yourself and start somewhere, right? I can feel my literary skill becoming as dull as the rear of a knife. LOL. So I need to sharpen it because I was told that ‘belakang parang jika diasah lagikan tajam’ and so on and so forth. Haha.

But these days, I have been inspired to write poetry again. A few things happened to me these past few weeks that made me feel like I have to pause, take a breather and just read and write. These things that happened are listed as below:

1) I found Miss A again

I finally found and connected with Miss A again on facebook. Two weeks ago I found her. After all these years!! She was my good friend and my roommate in MRSM Langkawi. When I befriended her, she upgraded my reading from childish ‘picisan’ Sweet Valley/R.L Stine/Christopher Pike books to great classic literatures that improved my language very significantly. I owed her a lot! She was the reason I started writing poetry as a 16 year old. To be honest, I have always been more at ease with essays or short stories or novels than poetries. (You have to be patient in reading poetries because the meanings to the words are not immediately apparent upon reading. And to ACTUALLY compose them… that is a saga of headaches in itself and a practice of dealing with frustration.)  But because I wanted to compete with Miss A (haha! Silly teenager me!) so I took up poetry… and ah… I was never that good at it. Of course, she is better than me! Her literary prowess is as sharp as a point of a sword. Effortless she made it looked to me, who was completely clueless about poetry-writing at that time! Fortunately, she was pretty encouraging of my pitiful effort to compete with her.

So, meeting her again on facebook kind of inspired me to do this again! Miss A is currently in her first year of Master of Surgery. Miss A had found me first and she was the one who added me on Facebook. Needless to say, I was exhilarated when I saw her profile. She is married to a Turkish man (and that is why I haven’t been able to find her all  these years! She has been using her husband’s surname on facebook!) and her son is so cute and adorable! Miss A is one of those people who are good in BOTH the sciences and the arts. She will be a great competent surgeon with a soul of a poet, I believe.  She kind of reminds me of my elder sister; a statistician with a mathematical brain but a soul of a novelist. Maybe that’s why we clicked almost immediately.

You know, I have come to actually know that there might be some transcendent, metaphysical reason why some people are drawn to each other and click almost immediately even though initially, they don’t know each other all that much. I have experienced it only VERY FEW times… but I cannot deny the phenomena. Below is an authentic hadeeth that might explain the phenomena. But bear in mind, that there are many possible interpretive explanation to this hadeeth. Go and search them yourself. It is fun to learn things like this once in a while.

The Prophet (pbuh) said: “The souls are (like) an army joined (in the world of spirits) whichever souls knew each other (in that world) are attracted towards each other (in this world) and whichever remained distant and indifferent (there) are disinterested to each other (in this world)” (Saheeh al-Bukhaari, Kitaab Ahaadeeth al-Anbiyaa’, Baab al-Arwaah junood mujannadah).

See? I think that hadeeth really explains some of the immediate connections that we occasionally have with certain people. And that hadeeth is AUTHENTIC, you know!

I usually don’t click with people immediately. I took a lot of time to warm up to people. But once I do, it is usually genuine (unless for the sake of politeness, I am somehow expected to fake it, but that is another story. haha) But Miss A was one of the few who I hit it off immediately…perhaps because we started our initial acquaintance talking about books. But then, I have also met people who talked to me about books but I still couldn’t connect with. (So, I think just talking about books with me doesn’t ensure immediate connection. Maybe something in our souls knew each other previously… just like what the hadeeth said. Similar souls recognize each other in this world and all that. I find this concept very interesting.) 

2) I feel burn out (for the second time in my life after housemanship)

I need to write again to recharge. We have lack of MOs in our department these days. So unfortunately, our annual leaves were temporarily frozen. And whenever I actually do have some free time, I have to study. So I stopped reading fictions as much as I used to. I used to read fiction everyday, you know. Continuously even! If people have chain-smoking habit, I have chain-reading habit. Hahah. I finished one book, after another, after another and another! Now, that habit has stopped. It was forcefully stopped too. So, you see, I don’t get as much inspiration to write when I don’t read. And that is to me, like experiencing anhedonia. Writer’s block is just not fun! So, even though today is Friday and it is weekend and I am supposed to study, I decided to take a breather, and take the  time to read something else no matter how guilty I feel about not studying.

3) Inspiring Seerah In The Month of Ramadan

Because this is the month of Ramadan, I have been reading and listening to seerah (because seerah are historical stories. And I love stories, you guys know that). I read again the story of my favourite superhero, Umar Al-Khattab R.A. And I read again about the many victorious wars that our Muslim forefathers had won in the month of Ramadan, making Ramadan literally the month of victory for us. And I also came across the story of the the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) last moment in this world.

Screenshot 2017-06-02 10.45.08

And in my poetry, I coupled that story with one of my favourite verses from the Quran, surah Al-Fajr verses 27-30.  Personally, I find the Malay translation of this verse more beautiful than the English ones, but BOTH cannot beat the rhyme and rhythm in the original Arabic language. It came out so beautifully when you recited them in Arabic. The words in Arabic, because of their rhymes and rhythm, are therapeutic, I feel.

Try reciting them yourself. It gives you immediate optimism.

al-fajr-89-27-30-jiwa2-tenang

So I leave you guys with that real motivation booster.

And have a blessed Ramadhan, dear readers. I feel more recharged now just by channeling my creativity into composing the above poetry.

Until next time, insya Allah.

Inspired!

Assalamualaikum to all my blog readers.

I hope it is not too late for me to wish all of you, my dear readers, Ramadan Mubarak and happy fasting.

May Allah grant us our best Ramadan yet. Amin. 

I have been so busy that I haven’t had the time to write these days. I think I am about to burn out. But never fear; if I am still reading (even when I am not writing), then my burn out is not so serious. 

And at the moment I am reading a book written by one of the most inspiring person I have ever had the fortune to know. Dr. Azlan Kamalludin is an emergency physician who I first met as a houseman in the emergency department of HSB. During my first few months of being a houseman in the ED, I had no idea who Dr. Azlan was because at that time, he was in Makkah being part of the medical team for Malaysian pilgrims. But a lot of senior housemen told me that Dr. Azlan was very good and very efficient and I was told that he was so inspiring to listen to when he taught housemen and MOs during morning rounds. 

And days before Dr. Azlan returned from Makkah, HOs/MOs were already talking about how much they missed Dr. Azlan’s teachings. So, of course, I became even more intrigued to know who was this Dr. Azlan. On the day he finally returned from Makkah, I found out that what they said about Dr. Azlan was not an exaggeration. Not at all. 

Me and a few of my friends had our end-of-posting assessment with him. In that short session, he shared his experience as an MO fighting for his patient’s rights. I have always been inspired by that.  

The day when I had my end-of-posting assessment with Dr. Azlan was the last day of my housemanship. I went to psychiatry after that. (But I added him on Facebook. Haha.)

Dr. Azlan had talked about wanting to write a book a few years ago and through Facebook he asked my opinion about what to write. Him, his wife and I met at Coffee Bean a few weeks before he got posted in Langkawi 2 years ago and we talked about his wife’s cancer being in remission and about things in general. I told him that ED HSB has suffered a great loss by him going to Langkawi. (But then, Langkawi ED is very lucky to get him.) 

On Monday last week, it was a very pleasant surprise for me when he and his wife came to the Methadone clinic to see me and present the book that he had been writing since working as an ED specialist in Langkawi. The title of the book is ‘Three Cancers in Ten Months: When Doctor Becomes Caregiver.”

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He had autographed the book with a personal message for me on the first page. It was such a great honour to be receiving such a gift from him. A book given for free, and delivered into my hands by the great author himself! I was very humbled by all his effort. ( Furthermore, I have always loved having books that are personally autographed by my favourite authors.)

Screenshot 2017-05-30 20.21.54
My facebook status on the day I received this gift of a book. 

As my readers probably know, there are not many specialists (or anyone in the position of authority) that I actually find inspiring. I respect any specialist who is nice… but not everyone who is nice is also inspiring. He is one of the few that I actually do find inspiring. In general, I am impressed by anyone (regardless of their position in the society) who can speak up their minds and say what they mean and mean what they say. No deceitful diplomatic crap is ever going to impress me. I like people who have strength of conviction and will do what is right no matter how hard they have to fight. No matter WHO they have to face! These people will always earn my lasting admiration. 

I am now half way through his book, and so far, it is such an inspiring read. It is highly recommended.

Below, is my Amazon review of his book.

Screenshot 2017-05-30 20.26.26

I have mentioned before that after housemanship, I was placed in ENT. But I have zero interest in ENT. My interest has always been in psychiatry. I fought so hard to get into the field of my interest. I went to see the Hospital Deputy Clinical Director, initially. Then, I went to see the Hospital Director herself! I wrote an appeal letter…. then, I wrote another! Deep inside, I know no other department will do for me other than psychiatry. After not getting into law school (because my scholarship was for medicine), Psychiatry was my SECOND CHANCE to do what I actually love! I was not going to give it up! Not that easily. 

But even so… I had written in my appeal letter that “If you can’t give me psychiatry, place me in Emergency rather than ENT!” Because in the emergency department, working with outstanding specialist like Dr. Azlan will inspire you to be better too. To fight for your patients to be admitted when all specialties reject your referrals! To be outspoken and bold “fine, I will call your specialist myself!”. To NOT BE AFRAID to fight for your rights and for your patients. 

I can do that! I can do it! Arguing and debating… well, that’s my second nature. I love psychiatry, but I wouldn’t mind being placed in ED even though the department is busier than ENT. ED would be my second best choice after PSY. Because I can sense that Dr. Azlan has the same kind of work ethics I have always respected in anyone. Because other than real interest in the field you choose to practice, working environment matters too. And if Dr. Azlan is in the ED, then the working environment should be fine, I thought. More than fine, in fact. 

I am thankful that I became a psychiatry MO. The environment in my department is quite good. Everyone is so nice. But being too nice sometimes makes for a perfect condition to be bullied by others! 

And my one absolute abhorrence is being bullied by unjust authority in the position of power. They hide their real agenda behind various circulars and ‘surat arahan’. And we have no choice but to do what they ask. 

I hate that! It violates my belief system! Because deep inside, I believe we always have the choice of fighting. The only problem is, are we willing to do it?

 I don’t like being bullied! 

So in this month of Ramadan, I declare, that I will NEVER be too nice! I will always ONLY be just ‘nice enough’… but no further. If you push my bullsh*t button, you will witness my massive retaliation. 

It just makes me SO BLOODY FURIOUS when I see injustice happens. 

Or maybe most people just have a passive personality. Maybe the world cannot accommodate too many people who are aggressive and abrasive… because then there would be wars happening every few minutes. Hahah. 

And now… even though it is Ramadhan and I am supposed  to have nice, benevolent, charitable feelings…but I cannot deny the truth. My feelings at the moment is far from nice….

In fact…

#AkuBengang!

But then, it IS Ramadhan.

So, I took a deep breath in and let it go. For now.

“Positive vibes, please come to me stat!” I craved silently.

But then I remembered that I still haven’t finished Dr. Azlan’s book. That’s the positive vibes, right there, waiting for you! 

So I smile and continue my reading.

And the world is right again. For now.

Book Review: Go Set A Watchman

I know. I know.

It has been more than a month since I last posted in this dearest blog of mine. (hang on while I sweep the dust and cobwebs away  for you, LOL).

I feel the pain, trust me. One of the goals I set for myself is to write at least weekly because I personally think of writing as my brain exercise. The way I make hiking my favourite weekly physical exercise, I have made writing my weekly brain stimulation. When I don’t write, at the risk of sounding like I am having a nihilistic delusion, I can feel my brain shrinking. *drama queen sangat*

The only reason for my tardiness (because I do have one) is profound exhaustion due to my hectic schedule these days and because I have set other priorities to come first before blogging. I was swamped, to be honest. Inundated by work, housechores, studies and my stubborn determination to finish two literatures at the same time within the time period I have pre-determined for myself. (Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee and Langit Petang by A. Samad Said. Of course when I said literatures, I didn’t mean the scientific journal kind. Hahah. I mean, the novel, fiction kind, of course!).

Usually, when I don’t blog weekly as I am apt to do, it must be because I am busy reading; either reading my academic books (my exam is in October, peeps) or reading my fiction/literature. On top of everything else, I was just recovering from URTI  and a severe allergic reaction that made my lips look like I had a botox injection gone wrong! (Oh, the horror of it all!) If anything is guaranteed to spoil your mood to write, it is general ill health.

So, today I am back to write a book review on Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee. (I am so sorry. I know some of my readers are med students and some are fellow doctors who prefer that I write about medical life most of the time. But oh Gosh, my first and foremost passion will always be reading. Been doing it all my life. Addicted to it like one can be addicted to heroine. Hopelessly, helplessly powerless against the lure and magic of reading a good story. So occcasionally, that’s what I will write about. Please feel free to skip reading this post, adik-adik. You don’t have to read this really long book review.)

A Background Story of Go Set A Watchman

To those who don’t know Harper Lee, she was the famous, acclaimed writer and a Pulitzer Prize winner of my all-time favourite novel To Kill A Mocking Bird.  (Ring a bell, yet?)

Harper Lee
Harper Lee

To Kill A Mocking Bird has been made a compulsory text in many English classes all over the world (but not in Malaysia, alas). When I first read the book in my teenage years, I had fallen head over heels in love with Atticus Finch, the lawyer who had defended the black man who was wrongly accused of raping a white woman. Atticus Finch was an upstanding, noble-hearted man who had defended, to the best of his ability, a wrongly accused black man and standing up against the racist society of Maycomb, Alabama, with the support of his family, consisting of his tomboyish daughter (6 year old Scout), charming son (9 year old Jem),  younger brother (a doctor), and his black maid (named Calpurnia). Atticus Finch was labeled as a nigger-lover (a derogatory term) by his neighbours, and was called as a traitor to the White people just because he wanted to ensure a fair trial for a black man. Throughout the court trial, Scout was bullied at school and was unfairly punished when she fought with other kids to defend his father’s good name. Atticus Finch was depicted as a wise, loving and patient father to his kids as he tried to shield his kids from the repercussions of his work as a defender of a black  person, but at the same time he educated his kids about what justice, fairness and kindness were all about. Atticus Finch taught his kids about courage and compassion. He told them that  courage is “when you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what”.

Atticus Finch
Atticus Finch (the film version) defending Tom Robinson (the black man)

In short, Atticus Finch is the moral center of the novel. The superego in To Kill A Mocking Bird…. that is Atticus Finch.

And if you belong to any book forum discussing To Kill A Mocking Bird, you will find many women readers all over the world had placed Atticus Finch as their benchmark of what a good man should aspire to be.

Sometimes, I even speculated that the reason Harper Lee never married was because in real life, she couldn’t find someone like Atticus Finch, the hero that she had created so many decades ago.

Harper Lee was said to be the ‘Jane Austen of Alabama’  and Jane Austen also never married. In fact, many great novelists I know didn’t get married. Harper Lee, Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Emma and all her other great works and I have read them all), Anne Bronte (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall), Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights), Emily Dickinson, Louisa May Alcot (Little Women)…. they never married.

Charlotte Bronte (author of Jane, Eyre, The Professor and Villete) finally got married at the age of 37, but she died only one year into her marriage. Only one year, folks! Makes one thinks that marriage is simply not compatible to the nature of a writer, huh? When they got married, they died SOON after. LOL.          

Another way to look at it is, what if being single gave some famous writers the freedom they needed to go on a writing binge without having to think of someone else? Maybe not having to face marital issues, make these women the great writers that they were. Maybe the solitude and peace that they got from spinsterhood inspired stories that are evergreen and stand the test of time?

“So, you are saying that the reason you are still unmarried is because you are like Jane Austen… like Anne Bronte?” my sister rolled her eyes.

“Pandai pun. You got the point.” I laughed.

“Perasan!” Hahhaha. Me and my sisters do goof around about writing a lot! Sometimes we do a lot of basket lifting (Read:angkat bakul, haha) about our writing abilities. Of course, I am NOWHERE in the league of Jane Austen. NEVER! But it doesn’t hurt to dream, right? *goofy grin*

But jokes aside, I believe that most writers are very idealistic. And the real world cannot meet that idealism. And they’d much rather enjoy their peace and solitude than being shackled and trapped with anything less than their ideals.

And in the minds of many readers, Atticus Finch is the ideal!

Harper Lee had published To Kill A Mocking Bird in 1960. Then, she didn’t publish any other novel for a very long time (almost for the rest of her life) until she FINALLY came up with Go Set A Watchman in 2015. She then died on the 19th of February 2016 at the age of 89, only one year after the publication of her second novel. So, for most of her life, she was an author of only ONE novel… but what an awesome novel it was! And only one year before her death did Go Set A Watchman get published, which was considered as a sequel to To Kill A Mocking Bird.

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According to an article that I read, Go Set A Watchman was actually her first novel; her first draft which she sent in the 1960s. It was rejected by the editor. Instead, the editor had suggested that Harper Lee revise the plot to focus more on the childhood experience of Scout and Jem while Atticus Finch was handling the controversial trial… and so Harper Lee then followed the editors’ advice, and the rest is history; To Kill A Mocking Bird was born!

So, I advise that readers should read To Kill A Mocking Bird first. Otherwise, you might not enjoy Go Set A Watchman as much. You wouldn’t be able  to understand what makes Go Set A Watchman is as good as To Kill A Mocking Bird if you don’t get the context of how great Atticus Finch was in the first novel.

Because in Go Set A Watchman, Atticus Finch was no longer as idealistic as he used to be. One might even say that Atticus Finch had become a racists in Go Set A Watchman, albeit, with his own reason for being one. I felt like I was reading about a different Atticus Finch, at first. But at the end of the novel, I understood why Atticus Finch did what he did and said what he said.

When you read To Kill A Mocking Bird, you love Atticus Finch in the way a child loves her parent. An immature child has the purest of love towards her parent; ‘my father is so great, he can do no wrong in any situation’ kind of pure, undivided love.  But when the child grows up, goes on in life to see the world, she will start noticing that her parent is not as flawless as she once believed when she was just a kid, and so the now grown-up child has to readjust.

To me, Go Set A Watchman is THAT readjustment. Scout was readjusting her opinion of Atticus Finch and found that she could not agree with her father this time, that her father was not as perfect as per her childhood memory, but after much argumentation, screaming and tearing-up, she still loved him anyway. 

In my opinion, To Kill A Mocking Bird is Atticus story (even if it was told from the perspective of a 6 years old Scout), and Go Set A Watchman is Scout’s Story!

And I love them both!

A summary of the novel (copied from Goodreads):

Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch (“Scout”) returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in a painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past–a journey that can be guided only by one’s conscience. Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor and effortless precision–a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context and new meaning to an American classic.

My literary analysis of this novel:

The setting of the novel is around the time when the blacks were fighting for non-segregation between whites and blacks in America. In this novel, the court had just ruled that in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, it was unconstitutional to establish separate public schools for black and white students. In conjunction with this court decision, black students  now deserved to go to the same public schools as white students. This court decision together with the tension caused by the activities of NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) had raised racial discord and controversies among the races in Maycomb Alabama.

By principle, Jean Louise Finch (nicknamed Scout) supported for non-segregation and equal rights between the races. When she returned home for a holiday in Maycomb, she was surprised when she learned that her neighbours and the Maycomb community did not share her sentiment. But she was even more devastated when she found out that even her own beloved father Atticus Finch and her own sweetheart, Henry, were against non-segregation. She felt betrayed when Atticus, who had taught her about justice in her childhood, had now turned out to be a ‘secretive racist’. She broke up with Henry because she found out that Henry did not have the same worldview as she does and that she “could never live with hypocrites”. Scout believed that the two men in her life did not possess the same integrity as she did in this issue and it hurt her tremendously.

Later, we found out that Atticus was not against non-segregation per se. He just thought that the Black was not ready for it. Examples of the blacks’ non-readiness to get equal rights were being placed casually throughout the book. There was one occasion narrated in the book when Henry mentioned that “the black people in the county now have money for cars but neglect to get licenses and insurance“.

In other words, the black people in the America AT THAT TIME, was not ready for the responsibility of a full citizenship. Atticus believed that citizenship should be earned. That if we allowed the backward blacks an equal vote, then they would run the country to the ground because they would not know how to manage the country. (and in that time setting, blacks were quite backward secondary to their segregation and lack of education; even Scout could not deny it when Atticus pushed the point).

The conversation between Scout and Atticus Finch below would make it clear that Atticus was no racist; he was just not as idealistic as Scout; more practical and more realistic,

Scout said, “….I heard a slogan and it stuck in my head. I heard “equal rights for all; special privileges for none”. And to me it didn’t mean anything but what it said….”

“Let’s look at it this way,” said her father. “You realize that our Negro population is backward, don’t you? You will concede that? You realize the full implications of the word ‘backward’, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir”

“You realize that the vast majority of them here in the South are unable to share fully in the responsibilities of citizenship, and why?”

“Yes, sir”

“But you want them to have all its privileges?”

I think the round above belongs to Atticus. Atticus drove his point here admirably well. Atticus was able to demonstrate that the blacks were unable and not ready to share the full responsibilities of citizenship, so was it then fair that they should have all the privileges that should come with responsibilities that they were not ready for? Here, Scout had stumbled and lost, I feel. 

If you read many book reviews and discussions in book forums, many people were frustrated that Atticus was made as a racist in this book. They lamented ‘where is the great Atticus that we so loved?’. But if I were to write an analysis of Atticus’ characteristics, the conversation above would be the evidence I would use to say that Atticus was not a racist. After all, he had defended a black man in a court trial in his younger days, remember?!

Atticus said that he just always thought like Thomas Jefferson (The Founding Father of America and its third President) and he elucidated his point by saying “Jefferson believed that full citizenship was a privilege to be earned by each man, that it was not something given lightly or to be taken lightly. A man couldn’t vote simply because he was a man, in Jefferson’s eyes. He had to be a responsible man. A vote was, to Jefferson, a precious privilege a man attained for himself in a live-and-let-live economy”.

So you see, things are not as black-and-white anymore. Atticus no longer seemed as racist as he appeared, at first. And Scout was made to look too idealistic, and less practical. And that’s what made this novel Go Set A Watchman so good! You are torn between supporting your ideals absolutely or planting your feet firmly in your flawed reality.

Another scene I love best is the scene between Scout and her ‘almost fiance’ named Henry (who she later broke up with). Scout had said that she was disappointed that Henry (who was also a lawyer working with Atticus) had not shared her worldview about equal rights and non-segregation.

Henry tried to justify his position by telling her that, sometimes there is a need to go with the flow, be like the rest, in order to best serve the community. (Scout thought that Henry was a coward when he said that).

Henry said “How can I be of any use to a town if it’s against me?….. Now, shall I throw all that (my education, reputation) down the drain…. when I could be helping them with what legal talent that I have? Which is worth more?”

This was the moment when Scout broke up with Henry. And personally,  I think she did the right thing. Henry had lost her respect from that moment forward and marriage will spell disaster for them both if they continued with the plan.

But I kind of understand why Henry said what he said to Scout.  Henry had come from ‘white thrash’; he began as a nobody (until Atticus took him under his wing) and he always had to be careful with what he said or what he did in the community. Whereas Scout had the reputation of a Finch surname that made the community viewed her with more indulgence. Henry told her that “There are some things that I can’t do that you can (because you are a Finch)”.

In a way, Scout was more privileged because she belonged to a reputable family in Maycomb. She could say any outrageous thing she wanted and she could deviate from the societal norms (within reasons) and the members of the community would simply chuckle and say “That’s just same old Scout,”

But if it was Henry saying or doing exactly as Scout said or did, the community would harshly say “That’s the thrash in him.” They would not view what he said or did in the same indulgent way as they did with Scout.

And this is something that Scout had taken for granted. She had her freedom simply because her life circumstances were much more privileged than the rest. So she sat on a high pedestal and could judge Henry as a coward. But what if Scout was also born as a ‘white thrash’? Would she have the means to be as outspoken and as courageous as she did? Maybe not. And that was what Henry was trying to point out to Scout.

Again, this is what I mean when I said there are so many nuances to Go Set A Watchman. More grey; not much black-and-white.

(When I read this part of the scene, it reminded me that this sort of double-standard occurred everywhere. Kalau specialist yang rude dan kurang ajar, they would say “Ala, that surgeon/specialist memang macam tu. Kitalah yang kena adapt”. But if it was a houseman who retaliate and being frank (not even rude, just frank), the houseman will be labeled ‘tak padan dengan houseman, dah kurang ajar, berani nak cakap banyak/tulis macam-macam.’ Hahha. And like Scout, I would not be able to respect Henry. I also would think that Henry was a coward. Hang takut apa orang nak cakap apa pun? Because if you keep on doing what you think is right, one day people will also finally said “ala, dia memang macam tu. Kitalah kena adapt.” Sementara kita nak dapat reputasi tu, memang tadah telingalah kena kutuk. But once you get to a certain level and you always have the reputation of doing what you feel is right, people will finally give you the same acknowledgement…“dia memang macam tu. kita yang kena adapt dengan dia.” But then, maybe I am more privileged and I didn’t realize it? This scene really made me think! It made me think a lot about my expectations of others around me. Maybe it is just not realistic for me to expect that people should be frank and forthright against any unjust authority that they don’t like. Maybe I should not base my respect and trust on whether or not someone is courageous enough to speak their minds. Well…. this scene certainly made me pause and think.)

Now, we come to another good scene that I absolutely adore. This is the scene between Scout and her Uncle Jack who was a retired doctor. This Uncle Jack sounded like a psychiatrist when he told Scout that the reason Scout was so angry at his father was because all these while, Scout had merged her personal conscience with that of Atticus. But now, over this black segregation issue, finally Scout had become her own person and able to separate her own conscience from her father’s conscience. (This scene sort of reminded me of Margaret Mahler’s Separation Individuation Theory, except that the theory was supposed to apply to an infant. Not to a 26 year old lady.)

Below are the quotes from Uncle Jack that I absolutely love because I think Harper Lee might have studied some psychiatry or dabbled in some psychology when she wrote this scene.

Uncle Jack said to Scout “…now you, Miss, born with your own conscience, somewhere along the line fastened it like a barnacle onto your father’s. As you grew up, when you were grown, totally unknown to yourself, you confused your father with God. You never saw him as a man with a man’s heart, and a man’s failings – I’ll grant you it may have been hard to see, he makes so few mistakes, but he makes them like all of us. You were an emotional cripple, leaning on him, getting the answers from him, assuming that your answers will always be his answer. When you happened along and saw him doing something that seemed to you to be the very antithesis of his conscience – your conscience – you literally could not stand it. It made you physically ill. Life became hell on earth for you. You had to kill yourself, or he had to kill you to get you functioning as a separate entity,”

Powerful, isn’t it? I love it!

There are many more psychiatry-esque quotes like the above towards the end of the novel and I drank them all like a desert traveler with an unquenchable thirst. I can see now why Harper Lee won the Pulitzer Prize. She was amazing!

I read To Kill A Mocking Bird when I was a teenager, with a teenager’s understanding and a teenager’s limitation. Even then, I had loved it. Loved Atticus. Loved Scout. Or maybe… love (as in, present tense).

I read Go Set A Watchman as a fullly grown adult, and I love Atticus and Scout even more. The only difference is that, my love for them are more realistic now.

I have mentioned before that the reason why I choose to specialise in psychiatry is because I love reading. Characters and characterization in novels that I read all my life give me the interest I have in psychiatry. Without a doubt, deep, meaningful novel like this is responsible for my career choice. My love of literature and my passion for beautiful words are the beacon that bids me to psychiatry. And I have been  following that beacon ever since.

So, now, whenever I am reading a novel, I will pretend that it is part of my psychiatry academic revision. After all, how else am I supposed to keep the beacon burning bright, if I stop reading, right?

Ku-Shan’s (mis)Adventure!

Is this how parents all over the world feel?

Do they often feel angry at their children but at the same time feel like laughing hysterically for the naughty things that their children do?

Do they worry about their children all the time but at the same time want their children to experience moments of freedom as much as possible?

Do they often feel embarrassed when their children cause a lot of trouble  to someone else, then feel guilty about having to punish their children for it?

*sigh*

I really don’t envy the work that is required to be a good parent. I couldn’t even handle it with my own cats!

***

I was worried sick when I lost one of my cats (I have three) named Ku-Shan, since Friday last week. Ku-Shan is the active, naughty, beautiful daughter of Ku-Ja (a Persian orange she-cat) and Putih (a mixed Siamese-Persian tom cat). I went frantic searching for Ku-Shan all over the place since she went missing on Friday. Before this, she always returned home just in time for her meals. She loved wandering all over the neighbourhood but she never went missing for more than 24 hours. Together with her parents, she would wait for me to come home every day to prepare her meals (a mixture of Fancy Feast wet food and Whiskas kibbles).

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Ku-Shan, daughter of Putih and Ku-Ja. Mixed 3/4 Persian and 1/4 Siamese
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Ku-Ja is a loving mother who likes licking and grooming Ku-shan

But on Saturday, more than 24 hours later from the time that she went missing, she still had not returned. I was oncall and there was nothing much I could do about it. I was worried about her at the back of my mind but I had to focus on my oncall anyway. That suppressed my worry a bit. I had a busy oncall, anyway, and I told myself that Ku-Shan would return soon. But, when I had some spare time in between my casualty cases, I looked for her again in the afternoon but to my grave disappointment, she was nowhere to be found.

On Sunday, she still had not returned. I was post-call, with bad sore throat that felt like it was on fire and a hoarseness of voice that made me sound like a transvestite deprived of his oestrogen… but I STILL sought for her around the house, calling out her name multiple times with my terrible voice. She was not around. (So this is how it feels when your heart is broken, now I know)

In my mind, I just KNEW that someone must have taken my beautiful Ku-shan for him/herself. My Ku-Shan is a beautiful cat of mixed breeding (3/4 Persian and 1/4 Siamese) with glorious, sexy big fluffy tail and healthy shiny grey coat that has brown highlights in strategic places.

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And she has such a great personality (I am biased, I know. But she is not a passive, placid, lazy Persian like her chubby mom… because she has that cheeky Siamese gene in her. See? She inherits beauty from her mother, but personality from her father. I love that cat!)  Anyone would want her and I have always been quite paranoid about people stealing her from me! I used to keep all my cats caged and only let them out occasionally. I was afraid that they would be stolen. But I knew it is not natural for cats to lead that kind of passive life.

When my mother had to do her cataract operation and I went to stay at my parents’s house to help with her recovery, I had no choice but to give my cats some freedom to roam freely in the neighbourhood. I stayed at my parents’ for 3 months (one and a half month of recovery period for each eye… thus, 3 months altogether) and I could not possibly justify leaving them in their cages for the whole of that three months. That would be the animal equivalent of emotional abuse, right?

For the whole of that three months, I only went to my own house once a day to give my cats their wet food. I also left 2 bowls full of kibbles to tide them over until I could come again the next day to feed them. And each day, they never failed to wait upon me at my porch even though I didn’t cage them and allow them their complete freedom for that three months. 

But that Friday… only Ku-Ja and Putih waited for me…but no Ku-Shan! It was so ironic because that Friday I was coming back to stay at my own house after 3 months of staying at my parents’ house! And I was looking forward to greet all three of my cats to tell them that I would finally be around now. Instead, I was greeted by a wave of worries that my Ku-Shan was missing and was probably lost to me forever and ever.

I prepared myself mentally to accept that I may never get her back. Friday, Saturday, Sunday…. no sign of her. I mean, I am a pretty optimistic person, but even I knew when to lose hope. I just hoped that she might be stolen into a better household than mine, with a good owner that would love her.

Then…I woke up on Monday… checking my phone as usual, and I was rendered shock by what I saw on my Whatsapp.

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I was stunned. I couldn’t decide whether to feel relieved that my Ku-Shan has been stuck inside of my neighbour’s house all these while… or horrified for the damage she had done to my neighbour’s house. I ended up falling back into bed and rolled myself all over my bed in mortified agony, trying to contain the embarrassment I felt towards my neighbour for the sort of trouble Ku-Shan had caused. We are talking THREE freaking whole days of Ku-Shan being stuck inside the house… who knows what sort of crazy shit (literally!) she has done to the house.

I took a deep breath before I made myself reply to my neighbour’s message.

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I called my parents to let them know what Ku-Shan has done. My mother called Kak Ain to apologize to her and to offer a cleaning service by our Indonesian domestic help. My father personally called Kak Ain’s husband who is a dato’ (Kak Ain is the second wife) to apologize to him as my father knew him personally.

Dato and Kak Ain were very nice about it. They declined the offer for a cleaning service and said that they have cleaned the house last night (when I was deep in sleep while post-call and having a fever).

But wait! Later,  I found out more about what Ku-Shan had done and it was even worse than what I could have ever imagined!

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When I read that part of the whatsapp message, I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. I ended up doing neither. Instead I sat down on my bed, thinking about the amount of money I have in my bank account! How the heck am I supposed to pay for the handbag and the backpack?

Oh God! Ku-Shan…. why do you have to pee on a handbag of the daughter of the house? Okay, I know it is not reasonable to expect Kushan not to pee or excrete her waste for three days… I mean, we cannot expect any animal to defeat their biological urges. But why couldn’t she just pee on the floor? Why did she have to purposefully do the worst thing that ever could be done on an expensive handbag? Typical women are crazy about their handbags! (unlike me, I spend my money on experiences, travel and books. But most women I know spend really good money on handbags and shoes. An anak dato’s handbag may cost me my whole monthly salary or even more!)

Of course, I offered to pay! But mentally, I was calculating how much money I have put aside for my exam and how much I can spare to pay for the damage done by my satanic cat! Ugh!

In my head, I dreaded having to borrow my parents’ money for this! I have NEVER asked my parents for money ever since I went to Australia for my medical studies. I always told my younger sisters about how Kak Long and myself are the most independent among us siblings. (I was afraid my younger sisters would make fun of me about this for the rest of my life, as a payback for always lecturing them in the past. Hahha. I will never again be holier-than-thou when I talk to my siblings about money management next time) All these while, whatever my parents gave me, was freely offered. It’s been more than a decade since I needed their money for anything. (Like when they offered to pay for my exam but I said no. They then insisted to pay for my flight ticket and my hotel in Singapore, so I accepted their offer. But I could have paid for those things myself.) The bottom line is, I have been surviving on my own money ever since I was 20 years old. And now, because of what Ku-Shan did, I will have to break my clean track record and my principle on this!

Breaking my principle would be so painful! It would be like tearing my heart apart! (Yeah, I can be melodramatic when I am in the mood. Hahah)

Kak Ain, being so nice and neighbourly, of course had said that there was no need for me to pay for the handbag and the backpack. I admit, I was relieved when she said that. But I felt so terribly guilty. I went to work on Monday with a terrible sore throat, a hoarseness of my voice and a heaviness in my chest. That heaviness is, of course, the weight of my guilt.

I decided to punish all my cats! All of them are grounded! I am going to put them in their respective cage for one week! Maybe more!

But when I heard them meowing non-stop, wanting to be let out of the cage and taste again the freedom they have been used to for  the past 3 months, my heart softened a little.

But still…. I don’t know how to strike a balance between giving them their freedom to roam freely but at the same time making sure  things like this won’t happen again.

I am the sort of person who is once bitten, a thousand times shy. I learned so well from mistakes so that I would never feel the same pain again. That is just the sort of person I am. What had happened is horrifying and I was only lucky that my neighbour was so nice about it. The next neighbour may not be as patient! So, I MUST not take any chances. The next time I let them out of the cage, it would only be inside my own own house! 

But how about their freedom? Is it fair to them? Is it morally required for us to think about what animals might feel? Are animals entitled to their freedom?  I really don’t know. I can’t decide.

This is not totally Ku-Shan’s fault. Even as I was telling Kak Ain ” Sorry sangat. Ku Shan ni jahat sungguh. Nanti saya kurung dia!”… in my heart, I knew she is not a bad cat! I only said that to Kak Ain to convey my remorse and my regret on Ku-Shan’s behalf.

In actuality, Ku-Shan is very disciplined, but also an active and curious cat who likes to run around and unfortunately, her curiosity often gets her in trouble. She is fully toilet-trained! She pees and excretes her poo only in a proper litter box. I don’t use regular sands for her litter, instead I bought the premium crystal litter for all of my cats. None of them would pee or excrete their poo anywhere in the neighbourhood even when they were allowed to roam freely in the past 3 months. They don’t just pee/excrete in any sands or any grounds. They are used to the crystal litter that I’ve trained them with. Below are the pictures of the usual brand of crystal litter that I usually used for my cats. The texture of this litter is very unique and my cats were specifically trained to do their business only in this sort of litter… so  that they won’t dirty my neighbours’ house and grounds when I set them free. My cats are very disciplined!

What was Ku-Shan supposed to do when she was stuck and unable to get out? I mean, she must be suffering in the three days when she had nothing to eat and drink! She must be feeling really scared too for that three days! Poor Ku-Shan. But at the same time, poor Kak Ain and her family! When Ku-Shan finally returned home, after hugging her to my chest, and feeding her an enormous amount of food, I straightaway caged her and not pay any attention to her howling and meowing of wanting to be let out of the cage. But deep inside, I felt so terrible about it.

I felt like a mother who wanted to scold their kids for bad things that have happened but at the same time didn’t know how the kids could have done any better in that situation!

I really don’t know what to do. Can I afford to let them out again? My instinct said I can. But my fear of things going awry makes me hesitate.

I leave you, my dear readers, with my facebook status regarding what had happened. A lot of my friends and even my own mother (Yes, my mother has a facebook account! haha) commented on my status. Their comments were so amusing! Apparently, many of them have had experiences of their cats being naughty towards their neighbours. Some of them even said that their cats have ‘menjatuhkan maruah keluarga’ hahah (probably by impregnating other female cats in the neighbourhood). At least, I was smiling while reading their comments, even though my heart was in agony for leaving my cats caged. *sigh*

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Medblogsphere And Confidentiality

The truth is there is an epidemic explosion of doctors who blog, showing to the public that physicians are not robotic and cold. That their heart beat just as passionately as the rest of humanity. That the logistics of their work is not just about doing the best for their patients (unfortunately), but they also must deal with excruciating paperwork, sound or unsound hospital policy, budget cuts, (nice or annoying) superior’s instructions despite what they think is best for their patients, and the list goes on.

I am not at the stage where I have to worry about making hospital or departmental policies, but when the policies are made, they do affect the quality of my work. (what investigations I can order for case work up, whether I can admit my patients into the ward or not, what meds I can prescribe)

What you said you wanted to do when you said you wanted to become a doctor (to help people, to make a difference, to save lives), you said all that without reading all the fine prints that came with the contract of being a doctor. Life is not so flowery when you cast away your rose-tinted glasses, alas.

If you are a frequent blog reader and are familiar with blogger doctors all over the world, you will notice that there are SO MANY doctors who blog but at the same time there are just not enough ethical guidelines regarding what you can write and cannot write in your blog. This is still a grey area that must be carefully manoeuvred… but nothing an experienced blogger can’t handle.

I began this blog when I was a medical student in 2009. So many years ago! Even then, I had already researched about what I could write, what I shouldn’t write at all and how to manoeuvre and manipulate the matter so that even if I write something that is borderline forbidden, I can still get away with it. I might get in some trouble, but nothing anyone can really pin down to make a case. I know my way around med blogging. So whenever people express concern about doctors writing about their cases in the blog, I just take note of their concerns but still continue to do my thing. Because I know my way around medblogsphere. I would never do something risky without a potential exit plan. (but I humbly admit that sometimes exit plan can have loopholes… but nothing that a good lawyer cannot rectify).

I know how to write about cases so that no one can identify my patient, not even my own colleagues. And not even the patient will know it.

I have written about Mrs. H once. But her name doesn’t start with H.

I said that Mrs. H went to KL after her divorce. But that wasn’t where she went. 

I said she had a son with a previous marriage. But how many previous marriages did she have? Or she might actually have a daughter.  Or she might actually have more than one children. See?

I said that Mrs. H has to sell sandwiches to support herself. But in reality, she might have never sold a single sandwich in her whole life, but perhaps she sold something else…. or even had another job altogether, say, a cleaner. 

If the Mrs. H (whose name doesn’t start with H) were to read my post, she wouldn’t even be able to recognize herself. Because as a doctor, I am only concerned about the main lesson/point in her life story that I can share with my readers. But in other aspects of her story,  I am like a writer who is given free reign to manipulate all her personal information, from how she looks (whether she is beautiful, whether she wears a hijab or not, whether she has any scars or personal defects) and her personal information (her age, her race, her job, her other illnesses, who her husband is, how many children she has) and her general characterization.

It’s like writing a short story or even a novel.

A good writer KNOWS that plots do not vary much. You read a few variations of each genre once, then you have read them all. (that’s why we have genres. Boy meets girl and falls in love – that is romance. The plots won’t vary that much. Good guy defeating the crazy villain – that is mystery/thriller. A vampire collaborating with a demon to create a high-tech powerful device to conquer the world- that is paranormal sci-fi.  Most plots, depending on their genres, are always the same. Over and over again. Any reader KNOWS that).

So a good writer knows that a good book MUST have great characterizations to counter the overly-used plots, so that the readers would love the characters themselves, even though the plot is same old, same old. A good writer would invest a lot of time to create a good characterization if he/she is smart.

So let’s go back to Mrs. H.

Mrs. H, if she ever comes across my blog, would NEVER be able to say in absolute certainty that “That’s me! That’s me the doctor had written about!”. 

But she might recognize the main plot of her story “a woman who was tricked into marrying an elderly man whose family wanted a free maid and financial provider for their aging father”. But how many people in this world have been in the same ‘story’ as she? Legions! She would most likely end up saying, “Wow, looks like I am not the only one in this world who suffers through the same thing. There are other patients like me.”

In the VERY unlikely event that she were to sue me, she would end up paying my legal fees when I win the case!

This is just an example of what I meant by knowing your way around medblogsphere. You have to manipulate the characterization of your case. We are only interested in the main lesson and take home messages from a certain case. Readers don’t care about the details of the patient’s character. So, use that to your advantage. Purposefully disguise your character without compromising the actual point/lessons of the case. Then, you should be reasonably safe.

Another important aspect of knowing your way around medblogsphere is to know how to use disclaimers! This is so important! Once you put a disclaimer, you are also reasonably safe. I have an existing general disclaimer for the whole blog from the day I started working in MOH (you can scroll  down and find the disclaimer at the bottom of your right hand side) and also for each specific post that I think requires an additional disclaimer.

Below is an example of my own disclaimer which has been standing for the past seven years.

“Afiza Azmee is an individual, and My Life Poetries That May Not Rhyme is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here are the author’s product of her thinking process. And they do not represent the thoughts or opinions of anyone related to the author and especially NOT the author’s employers (the ministry of health).

The information in this blog is provided ‘as is’ with no warranties and confers no rights. Please use your discretion before taking any decisions based on the information in this blog. Author will not compensate you in any way whatsoever if you ever happen to suffer a loss/ inconvenience/ damage because of/while making use of information in this blog.

Author reserves her rights to a change of opinion in the future. She is, after all, an open-minded person.

All images in this blog, unless stated otherwise, are courtesy of Google Images. Thank you, Google.

Author welcomes your comments, your disagreements, your views about any of her posts in this blog. But she reserves her rights to delete those that contained profanities, vulgarities, unrelated topics, and annoying anonymity.”

I subscribed to Psychiatric Times which is a very reputable online magazine for psychiatrists in the US. The doctors there write about their cases all the time. One example is given in this link below. The title of the post is ‘A coin flip’. To read the case, you can click H.E.R.E  

http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/residents-corner/coin-flip

The famous Kevin M.D blog also writes about cases frequently. The blog has even more tips about how to write on clinical cases, which PROVES that writing about your case is not absolutely forbidden. You just must know how to do it right. If you want to read the tips, you may click the link H.E.R.E

http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2011/09/doctors-write-clinical-cases-online.html

When I was a HO, I had written about one particular case, disguising the character and the patient as I have always done since I was in medical school. A doctor wrote in the comment section that “I shouldn’t be writing about cases. Not even for educational purposes due to confidentiality issues.” I knew she was an MO in the same hospital as I and at that time my blog was viralled because of something I had written against a particular department in my hospital when I was a HO. She meant to reprimand me in her comment but I knew what I was doing. Like I said, I learned ethics thoroughly. I may not always be professional in what I said, wrote or did as an MO, but there is ALWAYS poetic justice behind every action I took. Someone must have crossed my boundaries and my principles, causing me to snap and when that happened, I wouldn’t answer about what I am capable of doing. So I replied by saying “Based on what I have written in this post, why don’t you track her down, find out who she is and locate her, and then get her to sue me for breaking confidentiality. I’ll wait.”

She never replied to that comment. Perhaps, because she never bothered to track the patient. Or perhaps because even if she wanted to track the patient, the patient would be untraceable.

We CAN write about cases. If cases can’t be discussed even for educational purposes, how would lecturers teach medical students? 

Sometimes a patient talks to you specifically about her situation, without knowing that you will be discussing the case with your specialists or even with your other colleagues later in the day… is that okay?

For example, most of us have not told our patients, “Kes awak nanti, kami akan discuss dalam meeting pagi-pagi. Dalam meeting tu ada student nurses, student MAs, student doctors etc etc.”

Remember, these students are not even our own staff… they are students who do not actually see the cases themselves but come to know about all those cases when they are discussed in meetings/audits/mortality reviews.

So, ARE cases allowed to be discussed for educational purposes? Yes! And also… No! Depending on the situation and how the case was discussed or written.

So the MO who had written the comment of how ‘cases are not allowed to be discussed even for educational purposes’, was just plain wrong.

You cannot give such a blanket statement over this matter. This issue is rich in nuances and must be treated and analyzed in a case-by-case basis. Otherwise, we will be contradicting our principles with our own actions when such a blanket statement is given.

Regarding cases discussed in blogs, there was never a clear black-and-white guidelines about it other than making sure that identifying information are not included and discriminating information are edited! That is the only important rule! The rest are carefully manoeuvred, again, on a case-by-case basis. For example, if the case is high profiled and well-known, just changing the identifying details may not even be enough… so, you must improvise even more.

Again, I suggest to read Kevin M.D blog post from the link I provided above, regarding how to go about editing identifying information.

***

I have heard of stories of how some master students who suffer from depression were so betrayed by their supervisors when their conditions were revealed to other lecturers and then their whole batch found out about it! And things like these happened in the academic setting of our own medical university!

Confidentiality ke laut!

How about housemen? When I was a HO, I found out from another HO that there was this particular HO who was under psychiatric follow up! Apparently, somehow, words got around. But how?

Maybe confidentiality is only preserved for hotshot specialists or only applies for HODs or ‘orang ternama and berpangkat’. But, perhaps not for the HOs? Once a HO (or a university trainee) is diagnosed of some mental disorder, somehow it is okay if their cases are discussed around?

If you are in Australia, the trainee could sue her supervisor! But in Malaysia, you don’t do that unless you want to fail your master program. Hahha.

For aspiring medbloggers out there, don’t worry if you want to start a blog to record the journey of your career as a doctor or simply to vent about your daily grievances in general. This has been going on for years in the West and Malaysians are catching up so admirably in this aspect of medical culture. Internet and social media are such an integral part of our everyday lives and it does not show any signs of fading. Older generations who are not internet-savvy have either retired or retiring. In fact, even older physicians who were not born as Gen-Ys (non-millennials older doctors) do have a blog. By the time internet-savvy doctor-bloggers become specialists and HODs, blogging doctors would be mushrooming all over the place.

This phenomenon cannot be stopped. It can only be regulated.

You just have to know the ropes and the absolute do’s and dont’s. The rest are in the realm of the grey areas. Just employ your creativity to disguise the details of your cases and make sure your disclaimer is well-written.

Good luck!