What's love got to do with it?

It was 3:30pm, December 17, 20-something. No-one else was home. The phone started ringing. I began the always awkward, somewhat dangerous run from my room to the landline, narrowly missing walls, poorly placed floornaments and table edges to pick up the offending buzzer. "Hello?" I asked, ready to tell the caller that, no, I was not my mother and no, she wasn't currently available but could I take a message? "Hello!" the voice responded, seemingly happy to hear mine at the other end of the line, despite it being the rather familiar contralto of Mum's walking buddy. "Congratulations!" she said, as my face scrunched up, ready to cringe at what I knew would be coming next. "Well done on your Year 12 score!" she continued, and without a moment's pause, "Now, you know you're starting University soon? What is it you want to do? Surely with that sort of score you'll get your first preference! But more importantly," her voice dropping a little softer while also becoming more purposeful,"you'll need to find yourself a good man while you're there. You know, after University, they're all taken!"

I blinked rapidly, trying to work out what had just happened. Dating advice from one of Mum's friends? And more importantly, how did she already know my scores? I'd only found them out that morning. I had insisted on sleeping in even though scores would be released at seven. My anxiety had roused me just after 6:30am and I'd tossed and turned until a more suitable hour. Nervous, heart beating faster and faster as I told myself "it doesn't really matter" but knowing all too well I'd be crushed if it were anything below my ridiculously high expectations. All the conversations about alternate pathways to our dreams flew out the window as I logged onto the website. The numbers awaited me. This - my education - was my love. It had been a terrible, exhausting and focused year. Never before and never again would I complete 439 Chemistry and Physics examination questions in one weekend. University would be about discovery, invention and innovation. From now on, I could dedicate myself to the sort of love for which hard work would almost always reward me.

Why then, I wondered, was I being given advice on dating? As if I'd have time for boys. I'd be busy learning. Filling my mind with knowledge. Studying because I wanted to know how things worked rather than the need to meet specific and restrictive learning objectives set by the State education authority. Discovering a world where people loved flexing their cerebrum more than their biceps. I had dreams of becoming a career academic. Building an environment that would foster a love of learning. A sandstone, Group of Eight, tree-lined campus would give me all of the love and fulfillment I would ever need.

They say distance makes the heart grow fonder. After my first year of Undergrad, I jetted off the US for two months of experiential learning that had nothing to do with Chemistry, Biology, Physics or French. Cruising down Fifth Avenue and through the National Mall, gazing at the statue of John Harvard and standing atop a frozen salt lake gave me so much more than textbooks and lectures. Yet I missed my third-row-from-the-front-on-the-left-side-of-the-middle-section seat, my hefty books and slightly odd lecturers. I yearned to understand more about the intricate ways in which the world functions. And when I made it back to Australia, the first time I felt like I belonged in this sea of Australian accents was walking through my University campus. Running my fingers across the walls that represented not only structural success but also a place to build dreams, it was then that I knew I was home.

In my three years of Undergraduate studies, I made little attempted to listen to my mother's friend's advice. My one, relatively short-lived, relationship was a different sort of learning experience and one that didn't come with a framework or multiple choice responses. It was a bit of shock to be without a marking scheme or learning objectives. I ran right back to something I understood. Something where hard work would always pay off and where failure could only be borne of poor planning for exams.

And then it happened. In my first year of Post-graduate-entry-undergraduate studies, I fell in love. The sort of love that makes you glow on the outside, wax lyrical about this new addition to your life. Fell in love with the way my life suddenly made sense and how I could imagine nothing better. I fell in love with Medicine. Fell in love with having three hundred and thirty new friends who just got me and where being a little odd was the norm. We all suddenly, many for the first time, fit in perfectly. It no longer mattered that our holidays would be shorter. In fact, we were all eager to spend our holidays doing health-related activities. We were all married to our careers. But we were lucky, because if things continued like this, we'd never work a day in our lives. We'd just be doing what made us happy.

First year was the honeymoon. Reality hit in Second year - the tough times we all endured in the ten weeks of mind-boggling neurology, a period of respite and then being slammed by the seemingly innocuous kidney. It started to feel like hard work rather than the fun and games we'd all had before. We actually needed to know stuff. And there's something about a career that puts lives in your hands that really impresses a sense of seriousness upon your studies.

Second year has been a lesson in managing stress. A lesson in not locking myself in my room to study because I get lonely. A lesson in interdependence because we all do better if study sessions are peppered with Med jokes that would fall flat on our non-Med friends. A lesson that textbooks, physical exams and walking around with a stethoscope around my neck is only part of the answer to happiness.

Before I started Medicine, I attended a session about life as a doctor. All I can remember from that 90 minute session is one spine-tingling message. No matter what you do, you will be married to your job. Your family, your loved ones, your children, they'll all suffer so that you can take care of other people. And that will hurt you. But you'll do it because you have knowledge that gives other people their own lives back. And you'll do it because, even when you're exhausted mentally and physically, this is part of  who you are.

And this year, as I've learnt with fear about the risks of waiting until after 30 to have kids, as I've watched my peers get engaged or married, have children and balance their studies on top, I've realised that Medicine and having a life are not mutually exclusive. And I've realised that I wouldn't want them to be. Because when I'm at the end of my tether studying for exams, or when I've had a tough time dealing with a patient's prognosis, I want to come home to a hug and a conversation about anything other than medicine. I've learnt that life is about more than Ssx, Ex, Ix, DDx, Rx and Mx. I've learnt that love isn't about a white-picket fence and 2.5 kids. That it'll never be easy, and rarely work out the way you want it to. And that it'll never be convenient or pain-free. And that, yes, the people in my life will always suffer a little bit because of my marriage to medicine. You can move house and hospital. As long as your loved ones are with you, home will be wherever you are. This year, I've learnt that the people who will one day be my patients will be much better off if I love a lot more in life than my job.


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