So finally, when dusk fades into darkness, I sit down at my computer to type my first BMJ blog entry. I’m sitting at the warmly-lit dinner table in my second floor apartment on South Clerk Street in Edinburgh, looking over the quiet darkened streets mapping this auspicious city. The calm contrasts with the haste of the day. Busy people, heavy traffic. Tourists glancing at watches in every direction. With what feels like a tawny, chestnut aftertaste, it is a clear Sunday night at the tail end of a busy weekend.
I have been travelling all weekend. And it felt like a blur – I tried my best to capture what I could with the pocket-sized camera that has served me with precision so far. Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling, bar-crawling and rock-climbing. A mosaic of different people – new people.
You can get used to having things going on around you most of the time. And you have time. That’s the beauty of an elective – consultants turn a blind eye, and condone the excitement that accompanies students when they travel half the world to be here. And when the weekend comes around, I wouldn’t be found carrying a pager. I’m free to explore as I wish.
And Edinburgh is an exciting place. I am forever drawn back to the first impression it made on me. The last week of August, with the afternoon sun cast upon the Royal Mile, the city smelled of summer and festivity. Romance was in the air. The Fringe festival, Free Fringe at the Espionage just off the High Street, and crowded pedestrians looking forward to a big night in town. There were operas at the King’s theatre, and plays at the Lyceum.
Runs through the Meadows park and live music playing Rage in the bars on a Friday night. Then there was the Rosslyn Chapel, with the surrounding castle and walks, rustling green and beaten tracks that meandered along the river. Oliver Cromwell must have loved it too much to knock it down.
So, three weeks in Edinburgh and I suspect I’ve fallen in love with the place. And it hurts a little to think I’d have to let it go in a short while. Melancholy can creep up upon those least suspecting. But for a sino-kiwi, the UK represents a place which connects with me on many different levels – if you believe in the six degrees of separation, that is. From Dunedin, the Edinburgh of New Zealand’s south island, to the city that bears the real name, I should think it provides a fresh perspective to observe a continuation of history and culture, spanning half the globe and two centuries. And it hadn’t been difficult to appreciate the striking similarities – tempermental climate, friendly people, and the charming small big-city feel. The haggis even tastes similar. George, Princes, Hanover, and Frederick streets.
On the other hand, the Chinese part of me finds this place wonderfully exotic – the Victorian Gothic architecture, the foot prints of a rich history at every street corner, and the birth place of Renaissance greats like Adam Smith and John Knox. It’s a city that would be relatively less known in the Far East, but shouldn’t be so.
Then with a dose of reality, I come back to the reason I’m here. Medicine is medicine, afterall. The Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine is found carried by most students here on the wards, just like the worn and overly highlighted one in my satchel. Though, the Scottish Transplant Unit on 207 is a hectic place. Fluid balance, healing wounds, creatinines at blasphemous levels, and the perpetual sound of the dialysis machine, churning through the night into dawn. The ICU and HDU never sleep. The patient who came in with PBC had scleral jaundice that you could spot a mile away. And the endless CTs and bloods you order to complete the assessments just keep on coming. It definitely keeps me on my toes, that’s for sure.
Which I had not envisioned when I opted to come to the UK for a three month elective. The world seemed a smaller place to me then. The life of a final year medical student in New Zealand was straightforward: Get through the year, get your first job, and keep on the straight and narrow. In a few years I would come out the other end, and I could have visualized it by extrapolating time from the present. There weren’t too many perils and sunken reefs to navigate around. But since I’ve been here, it seems like I’m more prone to contemplate my destinations. Spending some time in a new and different place has a funny way of making you look at things objectively, consolidating and materializing what’s important and what can wait. And so I find myself doing things like jotting down on scrap notes what is to become of myself, as I sit on the tour bus coming back from Stirling; the sun roasting my glance held onto the moving landscape. It gets me to brainstorm. And so with this opportunity to put it on paper, I write, naturally. It helps me compile thoughts into concepts, and concepts into actions. And hopefully, along the way, I will arrive at something definite. Something substansive
In the meantime, however, I’m just enjoying myself. And hopefully, I will blog about something worthwhile.
Oscar Yang is a New Zealand doctor who is currently undertaking an elective in the UK.