This last week has marked two significant points in our little year of adventure. We have now crossed the half way point with our diploma! Time has done that characteristic thing of lulling you into a false sense of security by initially creeping by, each day full with new faces and facts but then speeding up into a crescendo, rushing along in a blur. This half way point has also marked the time when I feel that it is critical for me to start trying to make headway into consolidating, sorting and attempting to commit to memory all the overwhelming, colourful facts and pictures and stories we have been taught over the last 7 weeks. We have been told about an infinite number of worms by a sincere young Welsh scientist who frequently punctuated his lectures by doing impressions of tiny worms trying to survive in harsh grassland. His personification of the story of these creatures made me feel momentarily quite sorry for them, until we were shown videos by a lecturer who obviously felt gleeful in finding the most shocking youtube videos ever – of what appeared to be piles of spaghetti being pulled out of children’s tummies in operations and crawling out of eyes – when I returned to feeling nauseated.
We have also been told about sandflies, ticks, mites, lice and fleas. All of which carry a complicated life cycle, Latin names, transmit long and difficult to spell neglected and mysterious diseases in African, South American, Asian and Middle Eastern countries and apparently can be easily differentiated from each other. A fact which they further attempt to convince us of in our lab sessions where we wear our white coats and dutifully look at various examples of lice down microscopes, try to persuade ourselves we can see more hair or hard shells on different male and female examples of tiny creatures. It is fascinating and slightly overwhelming to be presented with a whole host of new diseases and symptoms and medications to try to learn. Little is known about some of these and the fact that they are found in far flung corners of the world means that the drive to investigate the diseases, develop treatments and try to prevent sickness and death is intermittent at best, if not completely absent. We learnt one disease, sleeping sickness, a disease named because infected patients sleep in the day and are awake at night, spread by the bite of a Tsetse fly and learn about doctors who have to face giving the only treatment for it, a medicine which one in ten times will kill their patient in front of them within hours but with an alternative of a fatality rate of almost 100% if left untreated.
Outside of the world of tropical medicine we are getting to know each other on the course more and more and I feel I am learning as much from some of the people on it as from the lecturers. Listening to everyone’s thoughts on medicine and on life, I feel like I am trying to squirrel up ideas and perspectives and enthusiasm from people and store them up for later. There is a huge variety in experiences, expertise and strengths. Like I. who continually questions the wider background and causes behind things by keeping the lecturers on their toes with perpetual questions about poverty, to those like H. who are applying to work with MSF and who clearly feel most at home giving immediate medical care for those who need it – in a forthright, kind and capable way, to another C. who is fearlessly and determinedly moving to South Africa with her husband and toddler to continue her dreams of working in a hospital there, to those who have years of experience in British hospitals which they share and are examples of what the best kind of medical care can look like, which we should be aspiring to give no matter what the context.
We are finding it hard to find time to study with all these fun and exuberant people. D. is part of a Wednesday night football group, one of the girls A. teaches us yoga on a Monday (although classically my slightly too long limbs get in the way of me becoming an expert at this). R. and I went to see The Suffragettes, and I spent a lot of the film thinking how much I liked the costumes which I don’t think sits well with the moral of the courageous story depicted in it. Last week we went to see Holst’s ‘The Planets’ played by The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. To the shame of Pa and years of classical music and ‘Friday night is music night’ on Classic FM I didn’t’ recognise that the first half was actually a completely different piece of classical music and all of us there kept turning confidently to each other and assuring each other that what we were listening to was obviously “Earth”. When we did actually get to the right part of the concert my favourite was Saturn – the bringer of old age.
The second milestone which I mentioned in the title was D and my one year wedding anniversary on the 11th of October. We spent a lovely weekend in the Peak District in a beautiful stone cottage decorated overwhelmingly perfectly for me in all dove grey paint, stone floors, whitewashed wooden floorboards, white towels, wool blankets and a wood burning stove. We also brought our guest book from the wedding which we looked at over wine given to us by lovely friends in Bath a year ago for this day and laughed a lot at people’s increasingly emotional messages as the evening went on – from H declaring that she now believed in love, to A assuring us that ‘we were the best people he had ever known’, to T (aged 12 at the time) wishing us a ‘wonderful life with your darling husband and your darling wife’. It was lovely to remember how happy and loved we felt on that day and all the effort put in to it by so many to make it what it was. We also were very excited to receive a video of our wedding day on our anniversary from the wonderful L, which we watched four times in quick succession. (And which you can see below.)
A lot has happened in this year for D and I moving from Scotland to our first attic home in Bristol, to Liverpool and through our first few years as doctors. I have learnt more about being kind to each other, noticed how much I love washing laundry –“I just can’t wait to get home to put on a blue wash”, learnt that just because someone doesn’t know all the names of wild flowers and likes things other than neutral colours they can still be your best friend. Pa reminded me on the phone whilst I walked in the cold on my way home through potholed streets of Kensington that the first year of marriage is apparently ‘the hardest of all’ so I feel relieved to get through it so unscathed!
Thank you for reading as always! I miss you all who are not in Liverpool hugely.
https://vimeo.com/142067296 – Video – David and Rachel – 11th October 2014