An Arena, Historical Landmark & Apartment Block

      So, if this were a game where you must draw a connection between these three places, my answer would be memories. That’s what I used to think of – vivid concerts provoking newly discovered human senses, tourist attractions bustling with awe, and home sweet home.

          But in just less than a month, my answer has changed to tragedy.

          Tragedies struck in each of these places in the UK; every media outlet was suddenly alert, and social media began receiving immense traffic. And, like any normal person, I felt vastly hollow and utterly powerless upon hearing the news. So many lives were taken – God bless the families who were affected – and, you know what?

           It baffled me.

         Yes, it did. Of course it made me outrageous, no doubt, but even more so, it really, really baffled me. How great of a satisfaction can one receive in the act of cold-blooded killing? How could one even receive fulfilment if the void was filled with empty, disgusting cowardice?

            And, most importantly, why is innocence the target of death?

        It screwed my mind up thinking about it, so instead of searching for answers, I searched for something a little more abstract.

            I quickly realised, something beautiful emerged from each of these horrific events, something so incredible that you only witness in dire times: selflessness. The London Metropolitan Police were heroes the night of the London Bridge attack – they risked their own lives, and in that 8-minute response time, saved goodness knows how many other lives that night. And then there was London’s Major Trauma network in the same incident – the rapid response of the medics & the London Ambulance Service was extraordinary. Because, guess what – of the 48 victims admitted to the hospital in time for medical attention, every single one of them have survived their injuries. The NHS also worked tirelessly to help victims in the Manchester Attack, including NHS staff who happened to be attending a conference in Manchester, whilst the police continue to investigate into this horrific terrorist attack. Then there was the devastating Grenfell Tower fire in West London more recently; 12 people are currently confirmed dead. But once again, the London Fire Brigade arrived just 6 minutes after the fire was reported, and it took them a jaw-dropping 10 hours to douse the flames.

          Ariana Grande organised an entire benefit concert for 50,000 fans at Old Trafford cricket ground, two miles away from the arena, raising almost £3m for victims of the Manchester Attack. To see all the worldwide-famous singers fly straight into Manchester to perform purely out of the goodness of their hearts was incredibly heart-warming, and so extremely humbling. And as Ariana walked out one last time, blowing kisses to the concertgoers, a hushed silence fell over the crowd as she closed with a beautiful, emotional rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. There were tears in her eyes, and for a while, I didn’t realise there were tears in mine too. It was a concert by heroes, for heroes. 

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          But the heroic fire of gold burned even brighter, if that’s possible, because who could ever forget the public? The public was such an integral role in all of the incidents. Bystanders kept victims alive with simple first-aid skills; in the face of horror, people did not panic, but rather, harboured a calmness that ensured everybody’s safety. Cafes threw open their doors and offered free refreshments for the heroic firefighters in the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Chris Parker, a homeless man who heard the bang in the Manchester Attack, ran towards the danger and helped people get out of the foyer – he is one of the many heroes who shined in Manchester’s darkest hour. These are only a few examples of the heroism that illuminates through the sludge of violence and tragedy; a beacon of hope, that screams, “We are still here!” because who could tear us down if we grasp each other’s hands tightly?

              I am incredibly lucky to have not been directly affected by the events. Sure, I was at Borough market the day before the London Bridge incident, scarfing down a falafel wrap. Sure, I attended the Shawn Mendes concert at the O2 after initial fear hearing about what happened at Ariana Grande’s concert. But it doesn’t mean I was connected to the three tragedies – I just kept going on with life, and that’s that. It’s what you have to do. I’m simply lucky.

             But I am not relieved; I am not at ease. I know I’m not native to this country and simply a student here, and I know I’m only knowledgeable on what I can read from personal accounts on social media and what I can watch on BBC News. But as a bystander in this time of instability, I can honestly say how thankful I am. Thankful for the NHS services, thankful for the Metropolitan Police, thankful for the brigade, thankful for everybody who extended a helping hand even if it meant risking their own lives.  And this is why I am writing this post, not because I’m afraid, but because I am thankful. I hope one day I can do the same as the courageous people who put their life out on the line to help others.

            I guess what I’m trying to say boils down to this: do not give into fear. Do not back down. Because if we do, we lose more of the freedom we seek to protect. A map may contain well-defined borders around every single country, but that isn’t representative of the universal kindness in people’s hearts – in fact, there are no borders. Because whatever nationality you are, wherever you were born in this world, we all want peace. And it’s our duty as a human to fight for justice.

To end, I have a quote from Yip Harburg, the lyrical writer of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, explaining the meaning behind the song: 

“We worked for in our songs a sort of better world, a rainbow world. Now, my generation unfortunately never succeed in making that rainbow world, so we can’t hand it down to you. But we could hand down our songs, which still hang on to hope and laughter … in times of confusion.”
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Yip Harburg

Quite right, isn’t he? Stay strong, my friends.

Oh, and as for that three-word game, I’d like to now change my answer: heroism.

©TMK

 

Anatomy Thanksgiving Day: Meeting Families Who Donated Cadavers

*Warning: this post contains explicit details about cadavers. 

Last Thursday, I attended Bristol’s annual Anatomy Thanksgiving Event in the Great Hall of the Wills Memorial Building. It was a beautiful service, giving the opportunity for students and staff to express their appreciation and thanks to the families of those who donated their bodies to the Centre of Anatomy.

I did not know what to expect, debating what colours were appropriate to wear – it was not exactly a grieving event, as this was explicitly made clear during the opening remarks, and definitely not a full-blown celebration of education in anatomy. Confusing, really.

I go for middle-ground attire (nothing too flashy, nothing too dismal), and upon entering the Great Hall, we were each given beautiful stemmed white peony flowers. And then the service commenced with an opening speech from the head of the centre for applied anatomy, followed by a free church chaplain. There were poems recited, and melancholy music, one filled with lingering chords and a simplicity that was so stunning yet simultaneously emotionally overwhelming at the same time. Members of the centre for applied anatomy went up to give their thanks, each with their own scripts – how difficult it must be, I thought, to write such a speech. There’s only so much you could say, a limited scope of vocabulary appropriate to stay clear of offence and any triggers.

I had been rather solemn and contemplative at this point, more out of appreciation and common courtesy for the opportunity I had to learn from cadavers, but it did not really hit me until we were invited to put the flowers of thanksgiving in one of the five differently shaped glass vases at the front. We formed two lanes: those putting flowers in the vase and those who had finished, and I was trailing back to my seat once I was done, humming quietly to the song the choir was singing. A lady who was walking back had eyes brimming with tears, and in the other lane was I presume her friend, because they held each other’s hands. And suddenly, they embraced – the lady cried, and I could see her fingers clutching her handkerchief trembling. They stayed like this for a while, even as the line halted just for them. It was a standstill moment, where receiver and the giver finally aligned, and nobody would dare break the fragility of it. I was stunned.

Retrospectively, maybe the cadavers in our anatomy sessions were not treated with the uttermost respect perhaps required – we’d stick our fingers in their mouths out of curiosity, interlaced our fingers with the cadaver hands in intimate pretence, tugged on the tendons to make individual fingers move to scare our friends, playfully hit each other with a femur, stroke the calves (gastrocnemius) saying “#GOALS”, open up the transversely-cut penis aggressively in front of the guys as a joke, and so on. I’m guilty of having done all the above. The demonstrators, being experts in their field, were also very accustomed to the cadavers and sometimes did not use gloves before sticking their hands in the abdominal cavity of a cadaver, or would just lightly scold us for inappropriately playing around with the limbs. And I know this can be seen kind of terribly, that we’re supposed to be treating them with more respect – after all, these cadavers were once walking, had families, and had a life. The families I had met at the event, remember their loved ones as breathing, whilst we saw them dripping into collection tins under the metal tables. But I guess this was our coping mechanism: a glazed superficial persona we switch to once we wake up and smell the formaldehyde; the clumsy tightrope walk of first year medical students wondering where along the scale of total emotional isolation and hearts-on-our-sleeves we should be. I know if I think too much about this cadaver as a person, somebody who once harboured memories I’ll never know of, the face may terrify me more than I think it will. I know it’s kind of sick, almost sadistic, that we think this way. But we’re just humans trying to cope.

Once the ceremony was over, we all went into a backroom with sandwiches, tea, coffee, and other wonderful tidbits were served. This was the time where we had the opportunity to talk to the families and thank them – this, by far, had to be the most difficult situation to initiate a conversation in. I drew so many blanks as to how I should begin: thanks for donating the body of your loved one? Thanks for helping us learn better because anatomy is the most exciting part of the week? Thanks for letting us benefit from the bodies? None of the phrases sounded right in my head – either too blunt, too crude, too insensitive. I ended up saying something along the lines of, “Thank you for coming today, giving us an opportunity to express our gratitude for donating the body of your loved one – anatomy really enriches and benefits our practical learning, and I hope I can give back just as you have given to us.” The responses from the families were thankfully not raging anger against me (I was fully expecting this to happen at some point, because I 100% thought I would get my words wrong). Instead, some would immediately ask, “Do you get spooked seeing the faces?”, some would thank us graciously, some would jump into the story of how their loved one died – however, every single family I talked to always were surprised to hear that anatomy was our favourite subject of the week, which I was, in return, surprised by. Because it was the honest truth: anatomy is so vastly different from any high school subject, and it is a true privilege to see textbook prose come to life (ironically). Everything I said was genuine. I was happy to have told the families this, because it really did make them smile when I told them how much it benefited and enriched the program to have real cadavers to study from. One lady even said, “Well then, maybe I shall donate my body, too!” One family said they did not even know their loved one had already signed papers to donate their body to the university and did so without discussion, and it understandably took them a while to get over that fact, but were more than happy to hear us, the students, were learning from the cadavers.

The service was unlike any other, unique in its intent and beautiful in its approach. I RSVPed the event, entering with a “Oh dear, what am I doing, I’ve seen your loved one sprawled on a table with weird smells” mindset, but I walked away from Will’s Memorial enriched with a feeling of peace and even more respect. Maybe medical, dentistry and vet students won’t completely stop picking the noses of the cadavers or giggling when studying the urogenital & anogenital region, but I whole-heartedly assure you, we truly appreciate the opportunities we get in the dissection room that help us gain knowledge. We’re still learning how to deal with cadavers, as well as figuring out what mentality we should embody. But there is definitely nothing more we want to do than try our best to be good future doctors.

©TMK

“It’s Worth It” (Original Piano Composition)

     So, as part of the curriculum coursework, one of our assignments was to do a creative piece – it could be a poem, an imaginative fictional story, a musical composition, or even an interpretive dance. For those who feel strangers to their right hemisphere of the brain, a long essay is another option (but bumps up the minimum word count requirement). This element, and this particular assignment, was genuinely one of the reasons I chose to study here in the University of Bristol. Honestly, the amount of emphasis put on the human basis of healthcare is incredible – we’re even going to have a 30 minute session next week to do mindfulness meditation (all educational!). So, without going into details, I present my original piano composition, “It’s Worth It”, penned about a courageous patient I met on home visit. It would not be a lie to say I wrote this in three days, but I would be lying if I said I hadn’t been tinkling around with motifs for a couple of months.

     On Day 1, I fooled around for 2 hours on a piano with a missing G key and both pedals broken off so I had to jam the tip of my shoe into the hole to sustain, and came up with a loose framework for my composition.

     On Day 2, I was back in the alternative music room, with an upright acoustic piano that reverberates too loudly and has a pedal that is squeaky like no other. Really. It was bad. And there was an uprising rock band next door (walls are not soundproof) who were shredding their souls out. But I figured out more embellishments and got more comfortable with what vision I had in mind. The pressure of having to upload the assignment in a few days made metaphorical beads of sweat trickle down my temples.

     Finally, on Day 3, I was talking to a friend who lived in CHH (where I had moved out from), and asked randomly about the baby grand piano tucked away in there. “Come during dinner-time, so no one will be there,” she said. I had booked the piano room in the Bristol SU for the following night, but thought, hey, why would I miss out on an opportunity to play a beautiful piano? It was a devastatingly windy night, and I charged through, face numb and leaning so far forward I would have fallen if the wind had not been that strong. Honestly. My contact lenses were so dry I swear they were clinging onto my cornea for dear life. I reach CHH, and go in the piano room – I didn’t think I would record, but I ended up doing so. Because, I realized, the longer I think about it, the further away I am from the initial emotions I felt about this wonderful patient I was inspired by. So, with mistakes and lack of any technique from my classically-trained years, I produced the recording you hear below. Some of it is improv, and I probably won’t ever play it like that again. Raw and real.

     Here is a quote from the patient that beautifully sums up the meaning of the song: “Because I’ve enjoyed living life so much already, I want to continue. I quite like life. Of course, you don’t want to get old, and there are some things in life you won’t like. You got no choice in these things. But it’s worth it, don’t you think?”

     And I couldn’t agree more.

EDIT: So, my GP nominated me for the Year 1 GP Placement Prize for this reflective piece and another essay I did on a rape consultation. That in itself was something I personally was incredibly shocked by and celebrated with chocolates, but I recently received an email saying 19 people were nominated, 10 people were shortlisted and they had selected the top 3…and I received first prize! I’m just so very happy the message of courage the patient gave to me came across in my work. Gah.

*The patient has given permission for use of his words.

©TMK