A few years ago I was in Bangkok and it was pissing it down with rain. I was taking shelter under the corrugated metal roof of a bar. I had a flight the next morning at 6am.
‘If it carries on like this, I’m going to have to get a glass of wine.’ I mumbled to myself.
As the rain thundered on the road became a river (complete with people passing on boats) and the cockroaches started to jump into my sandals for shelter. I heard a light Irish voice from the table next to me say,
‘I think you’re going to have to get that glass of wine..’
Whilst the cats and dogs fell from the heavens, this young woman and I chatted on through the evening and into the night, discussing everything from the darkest moments of our lives to our twisted dreams for the future and how and when we most recently shat ourselves.
In that moment, we were best friends.
One evening of friendship with a human I would most likely never see again, neither of us had anything to gain from talking to each other.
I realise now how rare it is for an adult to suddenly make a friend for no reason. Remember, when you were a kid, you’d randomly make best friends with another kid in Tesco or wherever, only to never even know their name? Where has all the spontaneous, joyous, easy friendship gone?
Is adult communication becoming a bit sad? Do we live in a world where we have to know somebody forever, add them on Facebook and keep monthly correspondence in order for our relationships to be of worth?
Communication in all its glory and awkwardness is a constant source of both joy and exhaustion in medicine, but before I started my studying I confess I wasn’t interested in one-on-one interactions. Where’s the grandeur in politely explaining to somebody why their diabetes has returned, why they’ve got spotty elbows or why you’ve unfortunately got to insert a finger up their bottom?
Before coming here I dreamed of being a scientist alongside being a science communicator; I loved standing on stage and making people laugh, or seeing a room of eyes light up when you told them a fun fact. Carrying the energy of the room made me tingle with excitement. But in medicine there’s none of that, your communication with people is in quiet privacy (supposedly), and you are the means of delivering understanding. It’s not about me, it’s about them. I am just the messenger.
My sister is a neonatal nurse. Some of the moments she shares with the smallest, youngest most vulnerable little lives as they pass on will only ever exist in her memory now. She is the only living witness to their last moments. Does this make her interaction with them any less worthy?
I’ve come to realise now just how precious small moments are with people, including both those you love dearly and those you might only know for a few moments.
All the small moments we’ve had with people, they still exist forever in time. If you could build a time machine and go back to them, they’d still be there. It comforts me know that the people I’ve lost or people I know I’ll never see again are still chatting away to me back in 1997. And these fleeting interactions aren’t trivial, they stay with you for a long time, perhaps for the rest of your life, and can fundamentally change not only your path but who you are as a person.
I’m inspired by how much humans can gain from one another even in a short space of time in small ways, and it’s glorious being able to see this in medicine*. As I move forward, I’m trying to shed my coat of ignorance, arrogance and narcissism, and focus on the person in front of me with an open mind.
*you can also really fuck things up in medicine by communicating badly, which unfortunately I’ve also seen quite a bit of. I’ll try not to do that.