Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Thankful - a wrap up of Norway

It’s Christmas time of the year once again, a call for merriment and praise, and also perhaps some new year resolutions that we simply cannot keep. But as my exchange in Oslo comes to a tearful end, I thought I’d pen down some thoughts on paper before I fly away for my juleferie.

It’s funny how December is meant to be that time of year of wrapping up, of trimming loose ends and looking forward to the next 12 months. I usually look forward to new years, and this time is no exception. Yet whereas once ago I would get excited over festivities leading up to the event and the melodramatic countdown, I suspect now that it is the unspoken thoughts in our head that truly makes new year’s eve such a special occasion. It is the acknowledgement that the year I’m leaving behind has not gone entirely to waste, and that I’ve learnt something fundamentally important about myself that I will surely keep with me for the rest of my days.

I must confess, my departure from Norway will not be without mixed feelings. At this point, I’d like nothing more than to go home to Melbourne, if only just for a week or two. The holiday season kind of does that to you. But then I recall all the wonderful people I’m leaving behind, so to speak, and suddenly my homecoming doesn’t seem all that one-dimensional anymore.

What will I miss the most, I ask myself? I think one of the things I’ll miss are the silent cartwheels I do in my head when I overhear conversations in Norwegian on public transport, and realize without great certainty that I probably understood most of what was said (rare, but it happens). Yesterday I sat my written Norwegian exam. The invigilator gave us instructions entirely in Norwegian and I can confidently state that I understood 100% of it. Which is crazy, because when I first arrived in Oslo four and a half months ago, I could only parrot a few phrases off the Teach Yourself Norwegian CD.

Obviously, going abroad is about more than simply learning a new language. As cheesy as it sounds, it involves learning about a new culture, and of course about yourself, what you believe in, how far you’re willing to compromise these beliefs and having an amazing time doing so. It’s so difficult trying to encapsulate the whole experience into paragraphs, but I think the best analogy I can offer is this: Being on exchange is like signing up for a massive social experiment in which participants live in this bubble. Kind of like reality-TV. And so everything you feel appears to be magnified, whether you like it or not. You see the beautiful side in people, the keenness, the enthusiasm, kindness and camaraderie. But naturally you also see some uglier shades, and it would be a lie to claim that not every single one of us has been hurt by somebody at some point on exchange. I’ve been surprised by people in such beautiful ways here, but also disappointed with others so much that I couldn’t have imagined it before. With all of this comes a degree of self-reflection, but I think it’s necessary for all of us to undergo such moments of introspection because it’s only then that we can build a stronger sense of our self and our identity. We’re still young. It’s an ongoing process. The best part is that being on exchange means we get to go through these processes at the same time and thereby bond in solidarity.

As a smart friend once told me, making mistakes is painful but at least it heals quickly. Regret, on the other hand, lingers. It lingers like the bitter aftertaste of a poorly chosen drink, and most of all, it gnaws. So I hope I leave Norway with no regrets, and for the most part, I really think that’s true. To be completely honest, there are certain things that I wish had panned out differently, but then I have to accept that some things are simply beyond my control. Like in the Senerity quote: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”. I think I’m getting closer to knowing the difference, and I feel at peace with all the decisions I’ve made here in Oslo. So I don’t know. Maybe this makes me a happier person.

Which brings me back to my original question. What will I miss the most about Norway? The beautiful nature? The beautiful people? The calm, orderly state of being? All of the above? I honestly think that the thing I’ll miss the most will be the constant learning I have done here on a daily basis. I mightn’t have learnt a lot about obs and gynae, but I’ve sure as hell learnt that most things in life happen for a reason. I don’t always get what I want, even if I give it everything I have. But that’s so I teach myself how to accept compromise. People come into my life in order to bring out the best in me, only to leave so that I can learn to let go.

But learning can be a tiring process, and soon it will be time to hang up my gloves and call it a day. Whilst I will be sad to leave the people and the adventures behind, I know with House-like certainty that I will carry with me my ‘personal’ education no matter where I go. Realistically, I’ll probably forget some of the words you’ve said to me, or the things you’ve done. But all the ideas you’ve inspired, and the way you’ve made me feel, that I’m pretty sure will stay with me for a very long time.

I feel sad to be leaving so soon, when perhaps my relationships with some friends are yet to reach full bloom. But that’s all part of the package in coming on exchange, and I knew beforehand what I was getting myself into. So where does this leave me? I think a sense of thankfulness. I’m thankful. So my pledge to myself is to go back home armed with a new set of artillery, and hopefully arrive back at Tullamarine Airport with a renewed sense of myself. One which is stronger, happier and more confident than the person who left nearly five months ago.

Jeg elsker Norge :-)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pelvic Anatomy

So I don't wanna jinx this, but I'm fairly certain that I passed the Anatomy flag race examination this afternoon. And that makes me ecstatic, because:

A) I feel like I have studied less than half of what I would back home
B) Anatomy is not my forte. Second only to histopathology.

But I now feel a sense of relief. I don't know why I got so stressed about the stupid Anatomy exam...I guess it's in our nature to stress for exams, focus, get it over and done with, then move onto the next task. But you'd think that after so many years of practice, I'd sort of get better at it. Apparently not. [Refer to waste paper basket in room, currently filled with biscuit wrapping, two packets of chips (consumed), beer holder cardboard, other miscellaneous traces of consumed food]. But seriously, today was like a game of naming Sacral Plexus and Levator Ani. My word, if I have to write the name Levator Ani one more time... Prostate gland was also a recurrent theme, as was Internal Iliac Artery.

Onto more exciting news, next week I will be going to Tromsø (Northern Norway). Fingers crossed, and if the stars align (both figuratively and literally), we will get to see the famed Northern Lights. Today, after the anatomy exam and post waffle consumption, I found myself caught in the most bizarre situation. There we were, 4 Spanish and I, standing outside Martin's building in subzero temperatures, and Anna was huddling over this little booklet with José. It turned out to be a booklet on the waxing and waning of the moon in Norway, as in an actual calendar - the sort of lunar calendar that the ancient Chinese such as Confucius used - like she carries these sorts of things around in her pocket, just for a rainy day... Apparently our likelihood of seeing the Northern Lights can depend on the moon, but honestly, I'm more concerned about those huskies/wolves that will be pulling our sleigh, and the effect of a full moon on them. No seriously, apparently we're gonna rent some wolves...

Another thing I learnt today is that the Spanish have EXCELLENT pronunciation of the Chinese consonants. One of the biggest challenges faced by foreigners learning to speak Mandarin is the correct pronunciation of 'b' and 'g'. In English, 'b' and 'g' are soft consonants, with their plosive (hard) counterparts being 'p' and 'k' respectively. The Mandarin 'b' and 'g', however, lies somewhere in between 'b' and 'p' for b, and 'g' and 'k' for g. Not as soft as 'bale', not as hard as 'pale', not as soft as 'gate', not as hard as 'Kate'. The Spanish, however, naturally pronounce these 'in-between' consonants in their language, and thus have no problem whatsoever with reproducing these sounds. In fact, they have more of an issue with pulling out the plosive p's and k's. So Kevin becomes something slightly more plosive than Gevin, but not as hard as how I would pronounced Kevin myself.

Another, very distressing, event that recently took place is the mental black hole I developed. Despite having used, sans problems, my NAB ATM card for the past 15 weeks, I suddenly find myself in the peculiar and embarrassing, if not disturbing, position of being unable to recall my 4-digit pin code. For God's sake, I've been using this pin for 15 weeks!!! It's never been an issue. Why then, have I suddenly forgotten the combination, and still fail to recollect it?!? I tried so many times that I had to eventually call NAB and ask them to send me a new pin code. I wonder how these memory black holes develop, and what I would do if such a black hole were to develop in future and it was about something critical like which vessels lie in front of the thyroid gland, and I'm standing there assisting in a thyroidectomy.

Anyway, sleep beckons. I need to catch up on life again, post exam.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Boy Interrupted

Today I started my first clinical day in paediatrics. Babies are so cute - is what I've learnt. To be fair, Norwegian babies aren't particularly cuter than any other babies, for example Australian babies or Malaysian babies or Jordanian babies. All babies are cute (unless they're not...) and I totally understand why parents say they'll do anything for their child. Heck, these aren't even my children and I'd do things for them.

So recently we've had lectures about childhood diseases like epilepsy, and it really does break my heart to see some of these kids suffering from uncontrollable seizures or perhaps more dramatically, atonic lapses where their bodies lose all tone, as if someone had flicked off a switch, and causing these kids to face-plant onto the ground where more often than not they injure themselves. Many of these children, previously healthy and thriving, become in a sense, interrupted. Henceforth they may grow with mental retardation and other disabilities and if you plotted them on the percentile charts, you'll probably see a sharp drop.

Acquiring a disease can be a heartbreaking process, but for me this holds true particularly in children because they never even stood a chance. Without dissolving into a clichéd, day-time soap, these infants truly are helpless, dependent on us, learning, reaching, grasping. They are, let's face it, learning adaptive techniques they will require in future to combat the world as they slip awkwardly into adolescence and later, adulthood. I love life, but life can also have its harsh moments which are testing to even the most robust kind. The rest of us have trouble enough juggling it with two good hands - when these children have debilitating diseases, I really wonder how I would be able to cope if put in their shoes. Of course, I can't do that because if I were in their shoes, I wouldn't be thinking the way I do now. And whilst society makes a big hoo-hah about not letting a disease define a person, in some respects it does influence your psyche, let alone your physicality.

Unless you're some sort of child abuser, something about children brings out the best in us. We become kinder, and shed the inhibitions that normally dictate social etiquette. We laugh more, smile more, feel warm and fuzzy in the chest, we feel a sense of responsibility to protect this child from harm, at least to the best of our abilities. And you know, they might not feel it or believe it, but some of these children living with handicaps are the strongest and bravest people around. And so are their parents, who support, nurture and love them like any other child, even if this child mightn't reach its full potential. Okay, what is this, some Hannah Montana rally-talk??? But seriously, I think we could all benefit from taking a moment to ponder upon the things in our lives that currently bother us, such as the absence of milk in the fridge or the shitty weather in Oslo, and compare that to what these children put up with every day. And then, as if I were in a tampon-ad and rain is pouring down, light shines through the parting clouds and some chick-rock song about a Beautiful Day is playing in the background, I realise I have a lot more to be thankful for.

Why do you have to be so cynical, Kevin?

Actually, why are you referring to yourself in third person?

Okay, that was officially a conversation now. This is getting a bit creepy.

Stop typing.


Haha... that was a joke by the way.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


I think I have an addictive personality. That's why I've never gotten into smoking. That's why I'd rather not get into a habit of drinking too much. I think I run the danger of getting addicted if I cross that threshold, and find it difficult to imagine how to pull myself out of the quicksand. The fastest (though perhaps not the best) way to get over an addiction is to obviously replace it with another one. But there's only that many things you can get addicted to before it starts to become costly, unhealthy.

Sometimes I feel like my life is a game of scales. How much is enough, how much is too little and more importantly, when does it suddenly become too much? Essentially, it's all about balance, right? They kept telling us at the start of medical school not to sacrifice everything in your life, otherwise you will end up a bitter, lonely, cynical, jaded crone who snarls and throws shoes at young people. And of course it's true! Too little iron in your body and you get anaemia, too much and you start to get a condition called haemachromatosis. Too much money and it just becomes a piece of paper, yet too little money is called poverty. See someone too seldom and you become strangers, see someone too much and you get sick of each other's company. See how it starts to get messy? See how easy it can be to slip between sensitivity and neuroticism? Sometimes it can all become a massive swirl of thoughts that starts to resemble an Alanis Morrisette album (not sure how many of you have seen her video clip for Ironic but it's pretty wacky. Actually scratch that - all her video clips are pretty wacky...)

As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, we never seem to be able to attain that perfect balance. And that, perhaps, lies in part with the inherent fact that when faced with options, we usually know what we should do, except naturally that isn't necessarily often isn't what we end up doing. What I need, what I want... Discipline is a difficult beast to tame - set it loose for a short while and you suddenly find yourself back to square one.

On another level, maybe balance is the way through which we find ourselves. You know, define our identities or some shit like that... I mean after all, we learn our life lessons through trial and error, don't we? We push ourselves one way too far, only to discover it in all its unpleasantness, recoil (sometimes a bit too far), and keep swinging back and forth until the day we find that happy medium which we can call home. We've all stepped into the various roles at least once before: Kind, cruel, a gentleman, an arsehole, popular, lonely, ecstatic, depressed. And sometimes, most of the time, hopefully we find the dial and tune it to a frequency somewhere in between insane and insecure [in the words of Greenday].

So it's natural to want more. But wanting too much can be a bad thing. Jokes can be hilarious until they stop being funny and start to become wrong. Drawing the distinction between play and pathology can be more difficult than initially obvious, and unlike groceries you can't weigh up your life choices the way you can with apples and potatoes. Sometimes it doesn't seem so plainly obvious, but the life we live today is a constantly evolving product of the choices we made yesterday. Where I stand in 10 years will be a sum of my decisions now. Sometimes it's not even about a conscious choice on our part, but simply the outcome of a lack of action. That too, I suppose, is a choice, whether or not we choose to acknowledge it.

And I should go to bed now, and stop thinking so bloody much or using the first-person plural. And maybe redirect my thoughts to pelvic anatomy. That would certainly contribute to a better balance in my life!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hello wien!

Groan...Sorry Austrians...[then again, it was reference to their recent National Day 26/10]

Yes, it's that time of the year again.....Halloweeeeeeeeeen!!!!

Yeah, who am I if my family ever celebrated Halloween...what are you, American?

It's true. I've never celebrated this holy day. Never dressed up in macabre costumes or wandered down the street collecting assorted candy (perhaps a result of my mother's overwhelming fear of me being sodomised by the creep who lived down the road from us...). Now as someone who may perhaps be the giver of candy, I must admit I've still never dressed up as Bride of Chuckie nor chased little children down the street screaming "Candy!!! Candy!!!" as I fling plastic snakes and jelly babies in their eyes. (Again, something about dispensing candy to little children - not least to say chasing them down the road - strikes ILLEGAL in my mind).

On a more serious note, I've always thought Halloween to be an American thing. Commercialized with a Z, [insert adjective]. We never had whole pumpkins at Coles this time of the year. Now when I walk around ICA (the equivalent of IGA in Australia), I see whole pumpkins everywhere. Lollies and candy are on sale for about 33% discount, and all the 2-dollar shop equivalents are now stocked up with scary and/or skanquey clothing. And that's skanquey with a -quey thank you very much! All this pumpkin business has gotten me thinking. Maybe I should make some pumpkin soup!

Anyway. On another note, I think some of my friends here are probably sick of hearing me express my fear of failing these upcoming exams. So instead of fearing of failing, I've decided to do something about it. Three days ago, I spent the whole night tidying up my amassed pile of notes. Some of the slides (vulval pathology in particular) made me wince as if I swallowed a shot of balsamic vinegar. But it was done. The next day I hole punched the notes and arranged them into nice folders. The next day (today) I sat down with an embryology book and started with Square 1. I spent 5 hours in the library, and they were perhaps the most productive academic 5 hours I've spent here in Norway. And now I'm thinking about Trondheim and how wonderful it would be to visit there before I go home.

On another note, why is my dandruff playing up? I mean, come on, it's okay to say it, I have dandruff. It's not like incest or something... And normally it stays relatively under control with regular hair washing. But this is seriously getting out of control now, I feel like I'm malting just like the rest of Norway's trees. Snowflakes, yes. Scalpflakes, no... Maybe it's time to whip out some of that Beclamethasone...I think that's the stuff they use to treat babies with RDS, isn't it?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Det andre forsøket

OK, kanskje skal jeg prøve å skrive mitt neste innlegget på norsk igjen.

Som jeg skrev tidligere, nylig har jeg reist til flere byer (veldig opptatt!) og derfor har jeg ikke vært i Oslo så mye. I dag innså jeg at jeg ikke har ennå besøkt Oslos attraksjoner, men det er alltid slik, ikke sant? Det er kanskje flere steder i Melbourne som jeg ikke har sett også, og noen ganger når jeg snakker sammen med studenter her er det så flaut fordi jeg ikke har engang vært i New Zealand!?! ( vanligvis kommer til oss, ikke omvendt) Jeg håper at jeg skal finne tid (finne tid? lage tid?) til å besøke disse attraksjoner før jeg reiser hjem.

Forrige uke gikk jeg på tur sammen med min samboer - vi gikk fisket på Sognsvann. Vi dessverre ikke fange fisk, men det var kult allikevel (været var flott og landskapet var så fint). Også i helg gikk jeg på en vandring i Oslo (vi ville gå til Grünnerløkka, men endelig var vi på Slottet??). Heldigvis tok jeg flere bilder, fordi nå skal været begynne å "go to shit, so to speak", tror jeg. [Bilder ned...]

Fisketur på Sognsvann 1
Livio, Janusz (haha....Janusz...), Eirik, Meg

Vandring i Oslo

Innebandy spillere

Snø! (utenfor balkongen min)

Okay, so that was a little tricky...writing in Norwegian is becoming more complicated now that I'm reaching for complex sentence structures. Norwegians have this thing with inverting their subjects and verbs after some words such as also, therefore, now, today, tomorrow, yesterday, as well as following subordinate clauses (eg. If you come tomorrow... or ... After you left the room...). But not after certain words, such as and, when, if, but... Throw in the fact that the negation (ikke) switches position to before the verb in subordinate clauses, and so now when I'm writing a subordinate clause after a special word, I start to wonder A) do I still invert? B) where does the 'ikke' go now? C) then where do I place the adverb? D) how the hell am I supposed to think of all this during spoken Norwegian? Truth be told, I probably fucked up a couple of the word orders above, but it's too late in the night to notice any mistakes now.

Things on my mind lately:
  1. I should read more novels. Okay, so fiction is fiction is fiction, ie. not real, but the feelings and thoughts we conjure from this fantasy land is real. I think I should do it more often, and using medicine and exams as an excuse is no longer justifiable. I just finished reading a book called One Day by David Nicholls and like a silly, deluded, bubble gum blowing [raises eyebrow...] schoolgirl, wrote him fan mail...hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha..................wait, he hasn't replied yet...
  2. I need to get new jeans! These washing machines are desiccating my lovely Australian jeans faster than a Romanian gypsy pickpocket. Will look for some today with the Spanish (if we manage to coordinate a meet up - unlike last night!) Also looking for a pair of black, leather, hit-man gloves. Tellement européen...
  3. I need to pull my shit together for the exams. I've sort of treated my time here so far as a holiday, which will no doubt screw me over in both exams. I mean, I think the clinical level required of us here is lower than that in Melbourne, but the anatomical/histopathological learning objectives are crazy! I don't want to sit on my high horse with a British accent and frown upon the UiO curriculum (and I'm not), but who cares about the lymphocyte patterns in choriocarcinoma of the placenta, or which structures are what in a chicken embryo slide. Chicken embryo! That was actually on the exam last year...
  4. I'm going to make a photo collage soon. Eeeew. Sentimental. [Let's sit down and clap hands and braid our hair with unicorns and fairy dust behind smiles and rainbows ....] Whatever....
  5. I made chicken curry for a friend's farewell party tonight (okay, so it's not really a farewell, she's just leaving for a town 40min away for 3 weeks, but we love an excuse for a dinner party so a farewell it is). It turned out pretty good, I must say, though perhaps not quite as Malaysian as I'd hoped. It still tastes alright though
So I feel like I'm coming down with a cold, which sucks because I've managed to avoid getting sick so far. At least I get to put the cold and flu tablets to use here... Can you believe the Norwegians don't sell pseudephedrine over the counter...??? They don't know what they're missing out on...

Anyway, time to do some work now. Missing my family and friends in Melbourne at the moment, but that too shall pass in an hour or two. Maybe I should buy a DVD or something....