This idea just floated into my mind one day. You see, I spent almost 11 years working in the Malaysian Ministry of Health and the first eight years were at a district hospital. During that time I learned quite a few life lessons and for some reason I just thought it would be a good idea to do a small series of these events.
Maybe it is a way to remind myself of the lessons I learned, maybe it is also a way to share those lessons to those who read it and though these lessons are things I truly believe we ALL know whether consciously or not, I’d like to go with the flow and do it anyway.
It was a balmy Indian afternoon and I remember sitting in our little living room in this little house that I and two other friends were renting, talking to one of our seniors who had come down for a visit from Malaysia a year after graduation. He had just finished a year of internship in a hospital in Malaysia and was regaling us with the “horror” stories of what it meant to be an intern. However, amidst all those nightmare inducing stories, he dispensed one really good piece of advice : “Always be friendly and polite with the nurses. They rule the wards. If you ever get on their bad side, they can make your life a living hell! Also, they’ll teach you a lot, but you have to be humble enough to listen and learn.”
I made sure I remembered that. See, I’m generally not the type to fluff my feathers and walk around with a puffed up chest, sauntering about as if I know everything. It’s probably the childhood problem of inferiority complex that’s plagued me for most of my life. Ah, the silver lining to that is it helped me to be grounded enough to realise that I really don’t know everything and it’s always prudent to ask for help and to generally just be nice to people. (Not sure how this works as a silver lining to having an inferiority complex…but hey, that’s how I roll)
So, it wasn’t hard for me to humbly bow my head and be the lowly servant (intern) of the great goddesses called “Nurses” at the hospital . I just fell into that role quite…naturally.
You know what though…it was true. Not only did I learn so much more about the practical side of medical care from them, I also learned it from the hospital attendants. These were the people who supported the hospital staff carting patients to and from the different parts of the hospital, the ones who ran around carrying samples to the lab and getting results, or medical records…you know the stuff which makes a hospital run. There were those who had been working for years at the hospital, rich with wisdom that only experience can give us. It didn’t matter where they were on the scale of “importance” or where they fit into the hierarchy of the organisation, they all taught me valuable lessons and made me a better doctor.
The nurses and the attendants were the ones who taught me how to transfer patients
from the “patient gurneys” to the bed without dropping them, how to care for a bed ridden patient, how to set an IV line, how to deliver babies, that particular antiseptic which helps stop bleeding, the little tricks to help shorten the labour process, how to do a proper wound dressing…- what it means to actually take care of someone who is ill. It wasn’t the specialists, it wasn’t the senior medical officers – they gave me the knowledge but it was that other group which taught me more than that. And if I remember correctly, I am pretty sure that as a medical officer who had survived the great (and at times horrific) period of internship I spread the word around to the new interns – Be nice and learn from the nurses and the hospital attendants. They’ll be your greatest teachers!
That was my first lesson and it was a beautiful one. It taught me to never underestimate a person because of their “standing in life” or “their position”. It took the idea of being respectful to everyone up another level which is : When you are open to learn and when you come down from whichever high horse you’re sitting on at that moment, there is a wealth of information and wisdom that can be garnered from almost anyone…or any situation.