My Joie De Vivre￼
Written by Dr. Aparna Govil Bhasker, Bariatric & Laparoscopic Surgeon
Saifee, Namaha, Apollo Spectra and Currae Hospitals, Mumbai
It is tough getting into medicine, it is tough to be a medical student and trust me, it is tougher to be a practicing doctor. There are few other professions that can be as demanding as the medical profession. The grind begins long before one enters into medicine and continues till it becomes a way of life. While the practice of medicine can be extremely rewarding, it can also be over-whelming and over-powering at times. Medicine has the power to change us as a person.
I come from an era when parents thought that medicine and engineering were the only viable career choices for their children. While parents haven’t changed much, the world has changed a lot in the last 25 years. Ours was an era sans mobile phones and social media. Justin Bieber was still a toddler and one had to travel across the city to buy a book (one was lucky if they had a book store in town!). Socializing and dating was largely frowned upon (Tinder did not exist). Being young in the 90’s was a tad different than being a millennial today. NEET did not exist in our times and neither did Kota, but the pressures of getting into medicine were similar. Trying to crack multiple entrance exams meant burning the mid night oil for years. The academic pressures didn’t leave us with much time to spare for anything else.
I enjoyed painting as a child, but the hobby was a legitimate sacrifice in my journey to become a doctor. I didn’t even realize when I stopped painting completely. It felt like natural progression. The brush and paints were replaced by the bone set under my bed in the hostel. The only colours that I saw as a medical student were the pink and purple in histopathology slides, yellowish pus, the green pseudomonas, the blue scrubs and the red blood (Quite a rainbow you can say!). Three years of post-graduation were even busier. Life revolved around admissions, emergencies, operation theatre and the boss’s formidable grand rounds. By the time one finishes medical education, other kind of pressures await, which include getting married and starting your own family (if you are a woman, there is always the ticking biological clock to add to this). Basically, life happens to all of us!
The story till now is familiar. Like me, there are many of us who chose medicine and, in the process, happily sacrificed painting, music, acting, cricket etc. We allow our profession to take over our lives. Saving other’s lives literally translates into sacrificing our own. People would consider this a lament with a very plausible argument that most doctors make a more than decent living, so why complain? There is no doubt that many doctors do professionally and financially well in life. However, as compared to other professions, the rewards of a medical career are experienced much later. By the time we start experiencing the joys of life, more than half of our life is already over. Our work-life balance is tilted heavily on the side of work and we live our lives in stolen moments interspersed between that work. Many of us experience a burn out by middle-age. It is also a known fact that addiction and suicide rate amongst medical professionals is at an all-time high and is considerably higher than many other professions and doctors are said to have a shorter life-span as compared to their peers.
I took up the brush once again almost two decades after getting into medicine. I was fortunate to find a teacher who was patient with me and taught me to discover hues and shades of colours in everything I saw. Off late my nine years old son and I jam together over painting. That’s our special time together. It has brought immense happiness in my life. My days are still full of patients and their illnesses but at the end of the day I have something special to look forward to. Painting helped me to connect better with myself and this translated into connecting better with my patients and everyone else around me. Medical profession can be rewarding and frustrating at the same time but painting is a constant joy in my life. It is my own safe space and sanctuary where I am just me and nothing else matters. Painting has also taught me to go with the flow and to accept that everything may not be perfect but it can still be beautiful. It taught me to be less judgemental of others. As a doctor, being less judgmental is a character trait that needs conscious cultivation. It is easy and convenient for us to constantly be on a high moral and clinical ground. Painting helped me to accept that human beings are imperfect and we need to help each other regardless of that.
My paintings also inspired me to start writing. Both writing and painting are expressions that can do wonders when they come straight from the heart. I try to be regular with both but as I said, it is okay to be imperfect and irregular.
At this stage in my life, I feel complete and satisfied both professionally and personally. As we age, our understanding and capacity to handle stress becomes better. In the last 7 to 8 years, pursuing my hobbies has brought more light into my life. I have been able to differentiate myself as a person from the different roles that I play in life (the doctor, the surgeon, the teacher, the mother and the home maker). I have realized that it is important to first nurture myself, to be able to fulfil all the other roles I have to play in life.
I only have one regret that I did not or could not pursue my hobbies/passions for almost two decades. Reflecting on the times gone by, could I have squeezed in some time for other things? Well, I am not sure about that even now, however, all I can say is that it is never too late. Go pick up that set of paints and canvas, restart playing your favourite instrument, take up those acting lessons, start singing, dancing or restart playing the sport that you once did. It will not be easy to begin with, but once you beat that inertia, it will be joie de vivre. Once we open ourselves to the myriad possibilities that the universe has to offer us, sky is the limit. After all, we only live once and we must love it.