“We’re Just Ordinary People”
“I want to be an author. Like J.K. Rowling.”
It was a confident statement. By an eight year old whose literary masterpiece at the time was a five page flipbook about how much she enjoyed going to the library to borrow books. It really seemed as if that was her destiny. Violin practice was always interrupted because she couldn’t focus without reading the next chapter. Three hundred page novels was literal child’s play. And it was not uncommon to find her by torchlight, peering down her glasses, unable to prise herself away from the story that held her so enraptured.
Her mother smiled at her. It was good, to see her child find enjoyment in such an intellectual activity. But writing, in a Chinese mother’s eyes, was not going to set her daughter up for a life of wealth and prosperity. “But don’t you want to be a doctor?” she asked. “They make a lot of money. You can always write when you have spare time.”
“No,” the headstrong child said. “I’m going to write a book, and that will make a lot of money. Just like Harry Potter.”
And she believed just that, spending many years after her declaration hoping for that spark, a source of inspiration to produce a story so compelling it would be foolish for a publisher to not consider it for print.
It never came.
Perhaps she realised she did not possess the talent. Or the drive she once had, dissipated. Or a certain reality had crept up on her as the years passed, while she shuttled back and forth from school to home, to tutoring and violin lessons, completing book after book of practice questions her father had found at bookstores in order to sit for and receive a coveted scholarship from a private school.
Her idealism had been somewhat replaced by realism, and it was this realism that told her that she had to seek another career path.
And so the words her mother had said to her all those years ago would continue to echo through her mind, a steady reminder of what was expected from her. There was a sort of glory, she knew, from medicine. There was status in the title ‘Doctor’, prestige in the income that it came with. But she could not, at the age of 17, say definitively it was what she desired in her heart. Medicine was not only about the prefix, or the six digit sum sitting in her bank account. Did she truly love the sciences behind medicine? She did like biology and chemistry. Was it enough? Was this what she truly wanted or would she be doing what she thought her parents would want?
Unable to decide, she found a happy medium. She had no interest in any field other than science, and so she chose a biomedicine degree, believing that somewhere along the way, she would discover something that would tell her where she was meant be.
Fortunately something did. There was no lightbulb moment, no sudden flash of eureka. Like stubborn vines creeping up the walls of an ancient house (though perhaps with slightly more tempo), the idea of medicine grew on her. She could not say what, and she could not say when, and she could not say how, but there came a day when she woke up and she knew. And so she sat the entrance exam, applied and placed her preferences for her ideal universities. And she waited.
Perhaps it is time now, to step back from this narrative. The little girl, who became a medical school hopeful, had neither a tragic, nor an especially privileged life. She was in all respects, quite ordinary. Then why, one might ask, would her story be a subject for publication?
Aside from this being my introduction as a guest contributor, I do have a point to my tale. Ordinary stories about ordinary people are oftentimes considered uninteresting. However, common things as doctors are wont to say, are common. Ordinary is every day. And most importantly, a person’s story is their story. As budding doctors, we are told to listen, to understand, and to use what we have learnt about our patient for better management. Patients will not always be regaling tales about their days adventuring in Madagascar. However, they will tell you they spend every Saturday morning cheering for their son’s football team, or every Tuesday and Thursday morning dropping their daughter off at day-care before visiting their father at his nursing home. These may seem like inconsequential details, but from dirt can gold be gleaned. Your hypothetical patient is family orientated, very busy, and always on the go. What can you offer that will suit your patient’s lifestyle?
As Paul Kelly once said: “from little things, big things grow”.
Never underestimate the ordinary.