I thought I couldn’t do it but… here I am

First of all, I’m so sorry dear blog for having ignored you for months. Life got a bit too much for a while. But now, I’m again back in my tropical home country of the Philippines at my more relaxed and habitual state So let me tell you what’s been going on.

This semester, I think I really pushed myself to my limit. At least nearing the end of the semester anyway. As a hired part-time researcher and now hired in a start-up IT health company, I already had a lot on my plate outside of medical school. Luckily because of this, my wallet allowed me to do more things without feeling as guilty. However on top of this, I am also the Regional President of the Swedish Young Catholics of my region. I also was organising the wedding reception of two very good friends of mine (who got engaged in my apartment last year) a week after exams and lastly, I was preparing for the visit of a friend of mine coming all the way from Guam for two weeks. And again, I’m also a full-time medical student.

For the past few months, I guess you can say I was stressed. However as my exams came closer and closer, and the end of semester was coming closer and closer, my physical and mental health suffered.

As a transfer from the UK to Sweden, the layout of my medical program differs slightly from my peers. Long story short, I had three exams at the end of the semester (my classmates only had one) of which two I needed to pass to continue on to my next and final semester. I also needed to give the best wedding reception my friends could ever have because they deserve it, and I wanted to give my friend from Guam the best vacation and first visit to Europe he could ever have, considering the recent events in his life and that he just finished his tough military engineering training. All within a span of two weeks. Oh, and also reach all my work deadlines too of course.

I stopped eating and sleeping. I started having daily nightmares. I would wake up 5am no matter what time I slept the day before. I could also go an entire day and realise I hadn’t eaten. My colleagues in the office had to force to go on lunch break. They would also bring me snacks in the office to help me take care of myself. I have the best colleagues in the world.

As a previous sufferer of depression and anxiety, I noticed the warning signs. I know that I was reaching my absolute limit of my physical and mental capacity. However what could I do but to carry on?

The days of my exams were in a few days and I was stressed as ever. Then I receive a text from Guam two days before my biggest exam saying that he couldn’t come anymore. This being something I had been looking forward to for months as my award after these exams, and had been my voluntary distraction whilst studying, I was… disappointed to say the least. I cried for half a day until I realised, what can I do, I still have exams to go through. Thanks to a friend who was with me that day (who’s birthday is today actually, Happy Birthday Merlijn! :D) who encouraged me to just keep going I kept studying. The next day the day before my exam, suddenly I felt as if a weight just lifted because I realised, hey, it’s one less thing to think about for now at least. I just have to get myself through this.

The day of my biggest exam arrived and there I was sitting there discouraged and feeling unprepared, with thoughts of anger rushing through my head because of my friend who cancelled so last minute. I left the exam room knowing that I failed it. Then I came home thinking, damn, I have my exam to prepare for tomorrow I haven’t done any preparation for at all.

I talk to my mom and my friends and tell them I want to defer. What’s the point I’ll fail anyway. After some convincing, they managed to encourage me to go to my exam the next day anyway. So I pushed myself for one final evening and thought to myself, whatever, I’ll learn from my mistakes this time and I’ll redo it in August. I came to the exam the next day expecting to fail and left the exam room with the same expectation. But once I left that room I realised I’m finally free.

The week after my exams, all my time and efforts went to preparing for my friend’s wedding (as the main in charge for the program and as Toastmaster with another friend) as well as going to the Philippines straight after. I still wasn’t eating or sleeping properly but as I came to the Philippines, I automatically switched to my more relaxed state and now here I am. The wedding went well by the way. 🙂

Two weeks later, our exam results came out and I don’t know how it happened but… I passed all three exams. I laughed out loud when I saw my results. How did I even do that?! Nevertheless, I was ECSTATIC. I am now assured to be able to continue on to my next and final semester of medical school, and I am graduating as Dr Sam in January 2018.

So what’s been going on these past few weeks? Well to be honest, the past few weeks have been hell. But those weeks are finally over and I’m now relaxing by the sea which I love best in the Philippines. And no matter what happens next semester, the end is finally near! So here’s to my final summer vacation and then final few months as a medical student until my real doctor responsibilities start! 🙂

For Elena (original)

All of us, or at least the majority of us, become doctors because we want to help people. We’re idealists, hoping that we can make a difference in people’s lives. After two weeks with a refugee doctor, I realised that sometimes, we can’t.

Everyday, I heard stories of families being separated because of war, innocent loved ones being killed or even worse, being deported back to the place they fled from.

I was frustrated. So frustrated that their stories stayed with me even after I left the clinic, even during my sleep. I hated that my patients had to go through this and worst of all, I hated the fact that I can’t do anything about it.

During my final day, I received a patient about my age who has been through a lot more pain than anyone in their 20s should do. I asked her what she wanted me to do and she just said she wanted someone to listen to what’s inside her heart. Even though I was happy she eventually left the clinic with a smile, I was burdened more than ever.

I realised that as a doctor, and as a person, I’m limited. I can’t change the world, I can’t stop the evil that’s happening around us, and I can’t undo what has happened to the victims I meet. What I can do though, is be there for them and pray. And so that’s what I’ve been doing.

This is a song I wrote for that patient (the title is not her real name) and all the other patients I met and will meet. To my patients, I’m sorry for everything that has happened, but I hope and pray that everything will be okay from now on.

 

I’m tired. (KUA/student-lead ward finally over)

I’m tired. For the past two weeks of this student-lead ward placement, I’ve been met with prejudice, discrimination and disrespect. Even some trying to undermine my role as in this case, the doctor. It turns out, it doesn’t matter how many times I present myself as the doctor. Just because of my appearance, it will never sink in for some. During the day, I told myself to hold on for just a few more hours but… I broke down.
 
The world is unfair I told myself. No matter what I’ll do, some people will just never take me seriously. Why did I even choose this profession in the first place? After crying on the phone to my friend, I returned to the ward.
 
At the end of the day, as it was our last shift at the placement, I said goodbye to our patients. They then told me that they were sorry to see me leave, and thanked me for all that we’ve done.
 
“With you guys around, I will always feel safe even if I’m home alone. We always hear nonsense on the news, when they should really be publishing about the work you all do. I wanted you to know that and, thank you very much for everything.”
 
I remembered why I wanted to be a doctor again. ❤️

World Health Day 2017: my story

I know this might come as a shock to some of you, but I have long thought that it’s about time for me to speak openly about it. Especially today, on the launch of WHO’s 2017 World Health Day campaign. Two years ago, I was suffering from depression. #letstalk 
I was doing well academically: published as an undergrad and was even invited to present my research internationally across the world. I was proud of what I had achieved, but others around me did not share my happiness. I was bullied in my medical school. I sought help from my medical school but I was told that it was my fault. They referred me to doctors and psychologists/psychiatrists for my depression, who all disagreed with my medical school. However, my medical school didn’t listen. I was forced on medication and psychotherapy. I then started to believe that maybe there was something wrong with me, that it was my fault I was being bullied.

I left my medical school that following summer and moved back home to Sweden from the UK. I was ashamed of the weak and lost person I perceived myself to have become. I chose to isolate myself and battle with my thoughts alone, as I didn’t want my depression to be noticed. Until one day, my sister sent me contact information to a therapist, and I secretly started to go.

After half a year of therapy later, I came back to my now new medical school, continuing where I left off in the UK. I learnt that everything that happened wasn’t my fault, and I was no longer ashamed. Now, I can talk about it more openly and I’m back to the same old happy and always smiling Sam that I’ve always been. 

So to all those battling depression, you are not alone. Acknowledge it, open up, and talk. I’ll listen if no one else will. If needed, professional help is always available. No matter what, never believe that it’s your fault and never be ashamed. We’re all human so in the end, we’re allowed to act as one every now and then! 😊

No man is an island (Psychiatry in Växjö)

I’m now on my final week in psychiatry in Växjö, and so far it’s been amazing. This week is a bit special though, as now I’m in Children’s Psychiatry. Otherwise during the past three weeks I’ve been in Adult Psychiatry, rotating within Emergency Psychiatry, Psychosis, Geriatric Psychiatry, General Psychiatry and lastly what I call the Psychiatric Jail. I’ve seen a great array of cases, and I think if there’s something I’ll bring from my placement, that would be that no man is an island.

Psychiatry is all about relationships. Well, for the main part anyway except for perhaps the cases of schizophrenia, autism etc. Otherwise, it’s all about relationships.

Relationships with your family, with your partner and of course with yourself.

When I was in the Emergency Psychiatry clinic on Valentine’s day, we all of a sudden saw a rise of emergency bookings compared to the day before. 10 patients vs the 2 yesterday on a Monday. It’s just a regular Tuesday I thought, but nope. It’s Valentine’s Day. The next day, only one patient came to the clinic.

Patients came in with depression which started from their divorce and/or patients coming in with suicidal thoughts from failed relationships. I thought to myself, this must be because of the holiday. If you’re surrounded by things that will constantly remind you about love, loved ones and relationships, if you don’t feel loved, it’s not too surprising if you would do something crazy on Valentine’s day.

As humans, we have a strong sense of belonging. Sure, being strong and independent is a quality to be desired and to strive for, but being independent doesn’t mean one is alone. Being independent means you are in control of yourself and your surroundings. With surroundings, I don’t only mean the things around us, but also with whom we live our lives with. Because it is through these people we feel like we belong and we gain purpose. It is through these people we find a home. And a home is a place where we feel loved.

When I meet these patients in the clinic, it saddens me that they are deprived of a home where they feel like they belong, a place where they receive love. If these basic needs were met, I believe a majority of these patients wouldn’t be here in the first place. If they have a place where they feel love, it will be easier for them to have love within them for themselves. And with self-love comes our power as human beings. Without power, what are we then?

It’s true what they say, love makes the world go around. Love is the answer. I believe this is more true than ever in psychiatry. Sure, as doctors we can give medication to try and help their situations, but if they don’t have that love within, medication is only a band-aid. If they haven’t nurtured a love within, with the help of others’ love for them, then they definitely need it now. In the end, no man is an island.

…But then again, what the heck what do I know, I’m only a student ✌️️

5 lessons I learnt from failure

For my entire life, I have never failed an exam. Study or no study, somehow, I’ve been lucky with exams. I have always taken pride in my ability to have a perfect pass record and my high marks. Failure, has never been an option neither a possibility for me. Then I came to Linköping and I failed my first exam ever. Twice.

I was devastated. For a long time, I questioned my abilities. How have I managed so far when I can’t even pass an exam, even after redoing it? I was discouraged, and all of a sudden, my belief in my natural superpower of doing well in exams was gone. Countless tears were shed and I was crushed inside. Then I thought, perhaps I made the worst mistake of my life by transferring to medical school in Sweden. I doubted myself and my decision.

I felt like a failure. I felt unworthy of staying in medical school in Linköping if I couldn’t even pass this exam after another try. Nevertheless, I persevered. I listened to my friends who told me that it’s okay to fail, and it’s understandable. You’ve never studied in Swedish and this is your first time taking an exam in Linköping and in Swedish they said. I held on to that thought for the entire of last semester, with the fear of being put on academic probation in the back of my head. I retook the exam once again in January, and I passed. Third time’s a charm.

Failing, was definitely a tough experience to go through, but I believe that it is a valuable experience to have. After all, we learn from our mistakes right? Failure is the best teacher.

 

5 LESSONS FAILURE TAUGHT ME

1. Failure doesn’t define you, but rather what you do about it afterwards

I had this idea that by failing, I will always be marked as a failure. Something that will continue to haunt me for the rest of my life. I was wrong. After failing, no one seems to remember that I failed, but only remember the fact that I passed. Looking at successful people in the world, like Bill Gates and Michael Jordan. Are they remembered for dropping out of college or not making it to their basketball team? Nope, they are only remembered for what they had achieved afterwards.

smooth save gymnastics girl on bar

2. Failure is simply an opportunity for growth

After finding out that I had failed, I repeated to myself of how I knew nothing. I beat myself about it, telling myself how stupid I was that nothing had gone in my head during my entire time studying. When I got to see my score, I found out that I was only 3 points away from passing. The second time, 4 points away (wrong way I know).

Failing doesn’t mean that one isn’t capable of succeeding, but rather one isn’t there just yet. 3 points away to be precise in my case. In this case, one is given the opportunity to continue developing using the lessons learnt from one’s failure, so that one in the end one can reach one’s goal in the best way possible.

you can dust it off and try again aliyah gif

3. If your friends and family believe in you, so should you

When I had failed, my friends and family kept telling me nonchalantly, oh don’t worry you’ll make it next time. I kept saying I would do my best, but I already had failed twice so my statistics looked grim. How come my friends and family trusted my abilities so much but I didn’t? Once passing, I was over the moon, and then they told me that they told me so.

If I had believed in what my friends and family said, I would’ve saved myself all the mental anguish and anxieties from the fear of failing yet again. There really is a strength in faith, especially faith in oneself. If they didn’t believe in me, who knows if I would’ve passed if I didn’t even believe that I would. The first step in doing something is believing one can accomplish it right?

child saying you have got to believe in yourself gif giphy

4. Not reaching one’s own expectations doesn’t make one a failure

I expected myself to have gone through medical school without failing a single exam, and on the time I expected myself to finish. I was supposed to be a graduated doctor by 23, with a perfect academic record. I’m graduating at 24, in Sweden, with a few failed exams here and there. Does that make me a worse doctor? Does that make me a failure? Nope, in the end I will still become a doctor, which is my goal in the first place. With a lot more experience than I had expected to graduate with.

arrested development i don't know what I expected

5. Failing is not the end of the world

You failed, so what. Life goes on. In the words of my favourite prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

In other words, better luck next time!

i'm rooting for you patrick star spongebob gif

The concept of health insurance in the US

I’m now back in Sweden after an amazing three weeks in Guam and currently am suffering from a severe Guam hangover. From sunny tropical weather to darkness and snow on my face for the next couple of months, yes there is a difference. Ah well, at least winter is kinda pretty and Christmas is just around the corner.

During my time working as “Dr. Sam” at the clinics and hospitals in Guam, I got to experience what is really alien to most of us here in Europe, which is the novelty of health insurance.

It’s true. All treatments are based on the insurance of the individual.

Let me explain it a bit more. Before going to a doctor, to be sure that the insurance will cover it, you need to apply for what you will be going to the doctor for. Because of this, some people are forced to wait, which sometimes leads to the worsening of their condition. Sometimes, it gets too late. This is mainly the case of patients who cannot pay for it first, or those who don’t want to risk the ability of not getting reimbursed by their insurance.

Secondly, there are different types of insurances. Depending on the type of insurance you have, doctors will treat you differently. Most health insurances are costly and privately owned, but some patients get free health insurance from the government as they are earning below a certain amount. Because of this, some greedy doctors (I’ve heard) do not prioritise these patients, as they barely will get money from them from their health insurance. In contrast to the patients with expensive health insurances, they will profit a lot from them.

To those who do not receive free health insurance and cannot afford the privately owned one, they’re in trouble. Going to a doctor then becomes very expensive, and a trip to the emergency room alone would cost several thousands of dollars. I wish I was exaggerating. Even the medicines are expensive.

For example, during my time in the US I managed to get an external otitis, aka swimmer’s ear. For this I needed anti-bacterial ear drops for. I got a prescription from my uncle, went to a pharmacy, and got my ear drops for $57.60. This is about 550kr. In comparison, I had a surgery in my arm in Stockholm in May, and that cost 350kr. Crazy isn’t it. I guess in this way, in one way or another, it is good to be home.

img_7796

Hafa adai from orthopedics in Guam, USA!

“Tito (uncle), that man has a limp on his left foot, what do you think is the possible cause?”

And so starts our lecture over lunch at the Hilton hotel, about different causes of asymmetrical limb lengths, ending with the classification of the different types of scoliosis and how to treat it.

Right now, I’m in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a tropical island called Guam, which is a territory of the United States. (I know you were wondering where Guam is). I’m here for a three-week external orthopaedic placement with my granduncle-in-law, who is the local orthopedic surgeon in the region. I’m currently staying with him and my grandaunt (my grandmother’s youngest sister) at their house and am following my granduncle whenever he goes to work. It’s basically a mixture of vacation with work which I like to call, workcation. There is no better kind.

Since I was younger, I’ve grown up knowing of the many great things my granduncle has achieved throughout his career. I cannot even begin to describe how honoured and fortunate I feel to now be a part of it as his pupil. The generations of doctors in my medical family are now meeting. From breakfast lectures and handouts to clinic and surgeries, and finally ending the day with yet another dinner lecture. Everyday here in Guam has been countless learning opportunities in orthopaedics, and no time has gone to waste. Even the short car drives.

So you may be asking, how am I liking it so far? Well, I’m loving every bit of it, and somehow studying actually became fun now. I’m getting more and more tanned, bigger (no student diet here no) but definitely learning. I often reflect on how I ended up to be so fortunate with such amazing opportunities in life, but all I can do is be grateful.

This week I will be with Dr. Landström (yes, he is Swedish – what are the chances!) the local hand surgeon of the island, to have a greater diversity of cases within orthopaedics. Hand surgery cases that is. Tomorrow, I’ll be seeing my first hand surgery with him, and I better be on top with my anatomy. Like my granduncle, he is a very well-respected and experienced doctor too, who even has worked in Afghanistan. So to be on his good side, I better get back to studying, my break is over.

Hafa adai (the local greeting here which is pronounced half-a-day) from Guam! I promise to be back to write more about medicine and life here on the island. Until next time! 🙂

Just another day with me and my knee (model) at Guam Orthopedic Clinic 🏥

A post shared by Sam (@samvsworld) on

The Papal visit in Sweden

After five amazing days in Skåne, I’m back in Linköping. Now that I’m back, I have finally had the time to reflect about the amazing and historical experience I was so fortunate to be a part of. The chance to be able to see the Pope in your own country is already special as it is, but to be able to witness this in the context of the Catholic and Lutheran church taking its first step towards unity, now that is special beyond words. After 500 years of conflict.

However as many misconceptions lead, we are NOT celebrating the Reformation. The Reformation made a tear in the Christian family worldwide, where countless suffered as a consequence in the generations to come. A tragedy we do not forget, but commemorate this weekend. We remember and forgive all that has happened between the two churches, and focus on mending this tear. Rather than focusing on our differences, we focus on what unites the two churches together which is our common Love for Jesus Christ. And with Love, everything is possible.

I thank all those I met from the Swedish and Catholic church during the ecumenical youth meeting this weekend, and of course those who organised it. I hope to see you all again soon, and hope that we have more activities together in the future!

For the first time ever, my friends and I were put in focus because we are Catholic. For the first time, people have an interest in the way we act and think because of our faith. I’m happy to be able to for the first time share this in the media both at home and also around the world.

So amidst all the election frenzy and conflicts in the Middle East, here are a few TV shows I managed to be a part of from the past few days! 🙂

America Magazine:

Aftonbladet from 9:03 onwards: http://tv.aftonbladet.se/abtv/articles/201298

SVT Aktuellt from 29:38 onwards: http://www.svtplay.se/video/10820257/aktuellt/aktuellt-31-okt-21-00 

 

5 uniquely British medical practices

I’ll be blunt and admit that I don’t really have a lot of exciting things to tell from the hospital after my placements. I think my placement in medical emergency is a tough one to beat. However recently, I’ve been remembering all these medical practices that was everyday for me in the UK, which now actually seems completely alien to me. I’m converting. There’s a lot that comes to mind, but for starters, here’s a list of five uniquely British medical practices.

1. Clinical wear is basically formal wear

For doctors, clinical wear entails shirt/trousers (NOT JEANS) for men and shirt/blouse/skirt/trousers (again NOT JEANS) for women. Nice flat dress shoes for both genders. Yes, this practice is extremely questionable hygiene-wise, as you come to work with the same clothes you will be wearing the whole day at the hospital, but there is some reasoning behind this.

The medical practice in the UK wanted to take a step away from the hierarchical system by abolishing the white coat and scrubs for doctors. There shouldn’t be anything to distinguish a doctor from a patient appearance-wise, as in the end they’re both people. This is so that there will be no “us and them” mentality between the doctors and the patients, and hopefully, doctors become more approachable during patient contact. It’s a nice thought I guess, and perhaps the prevalence of “white coat syndrome” has diminished over the years. However hygiene-wise once again, questionable.

homer gif giphy saying why so formal lenny you're my go to guy

2. Only black or white shoes are allowed to be worn in the hospital

The professional clinical look in British standards is to be somewhat uniform. Black or white shoes are to be worn as they are more professional. No bright colourful sneakers were allowed. However, I was always jealous of my sister and the bright colourful sneakers she wore around the hospitals in Sweden. So I never listened and decided to rebel and wear my bright orange sneakers. Did I get looks? Yes. Did I get scolded? Sometimes. But boy did I get compliments from patients – “I like your bright orange sneakers, you’re hard to miss in this hospital!” At least I was remembered for my fashion sense.

3. Some doctors wear bow ties or tucked-in ties

As an attempt to improve hospital hygiene, it was implemented that anything hanging around one’s neck is not allowed to be worn in the hospital. Including neck ties. This angered many doctors, as they viewed it to be a crucial part of their professional clinical wear. Therefore they came up with a compromise. Some switched to wearing bow ties, whereas others decided to keep wearing neck ties but started tucking the end of their neck ties inside their shirt. Works I guess.

bow tie from sing movie

4. British hospitals only use black pens

If you look around a British hospital, you will only find black pens and no other colour. I recall being scolded when in the hospital once for taking notes with a blue pen. They told me – how would colour blind people be able to read what I’m writing? I assured them that the notes were only for me to see, and afterwards I had to promise to never use my blue pen again. Since that day, I only brought black pens to the hospital. Yes, it is a rule in British hospitals that you are only allowed to use black pens so that everyone can read what you write, including those who are colour blind.

blue colour blind pen screaming gif giphy

5. You address surgeons as Mr/Mrs/Ms and DEFINITELY not Dr.

“Dr. McCloy… Oh sorry, I mean Mr. McCloy!”

I bet it’s probably only in the UK where some doctors would take offense if you call them Dr. Why you might wonder, which is a pretty good question. As told perfectly in this article, during the origins of surgery around the 18th century, surgeons back then did not possess any formal qualifications let alone a medical degree to be able to hold the title Dr. They were sometimes compared to butchers, and doctors were definitely more superior. However as times have changed, the status of surgeons have risen and thus have become so proud to distinguish themselves from doctors. Today in British hospitals, being called Mr or Mrs/Ms is a badge of honour and could only mean one thing – and that is that you’re a surgeon.
they call me mr tibbs gif giphy