Scalpel's Edge

A surgeon's notes

I want to write

GAF MSt Creative Writing

Since I last wrote, we have been on holiday and caught up with friends, the season has changed and the rain has stopped.  I have lots to share, but no stories spring from my keyboard.  It is not that I don’t have thoughts, questions, dilemmas.  Usually, the act of writing helps me clarify my thoughts, helps me work through what I feel and think.  But sometimes the words stay muddy, the thoughts are tangled and the ideas crowded.

Thinking about it, I realize that I share the parts of my mission experience that make me passionate and excited, but only once I have figured them out in my head.  I should share that this life is not always like that.  Sometimes the thoughts swirl and don’t become clear.  There is no happy ending and no moral of the story.  I’m not sure about other people, but at these times, I really end up feeling a bit itchy and cranky – my brain is turning over various ideas, and don’t even know if I am content.

I want to explain about how visiting short term surgeons make me question my role.  Do they wish they were long term doctors, or do I wish I was here for a much shorter time? Do we have the same reflections, growth and memories when we relax on the plane on the way home?

I read the words of other missionaries that describe their community as spiritually rich and uplifting.  I want to admit I don’t feel that spiritual giant feeling.  I have been working here for two years, and we pray about patients and we can talk openly about the spiritual side of being in a hospital.  But what I do here feels like what I did at home, except the people I am caring for are in much more physical and financial need than those in my other hospitals.  If I wrote a book about returning home from mission, would I admit that I don’t feel like a spiritual giant?  Or would I pretend?

I worry about my kids who look forward to the Australia they remember – baths and drinking from the tap (without filtering) and MacDonalds hamburgers and cricket.  They remember only the surface of our Australian life. When they remember the rest, will they be shocked? Will they even notice?  I worry about my youngest, who claims he hates Nepal and wants to go home, but lives in a world where he climbs hills and jumps off buildings and chases rat snakes on his way home.  I don’t believe him.

I want to talk about things I miss about Australia – bacon and lazy cafe breakfasts, going to the gym and walking my dog, but I think it will sound like I am wishing my time away.  I want to talk about the great parts of working in Nepal like operating on skinny patients, but also think about the worst parts of surgery in Nepal, like skinny patients who are septic who are actually sort of malnourished.  I miss a laparoscope that lights up the abdomen, and a diathermy that works without having to hit the foot pedal thirty times, but I worry about all the operations I haven’t done for so long.

I worry about getting multi-resistant TB, because I met a returned missionary who did. 

I look forward to speaking english, and swapping gossip with the random people I meet.  But I will grieve the progress I have made.  I will lose words that I struggled to remember.  And I remember that going home won’t change me into a raging extrovert. Language is not the only thing that prevents me from chatting with people.

I worry that my dog won’t remember me. She has had such an amazing holiday with her foster family.  What should I do if my dog doesn’t want me back?

I want to write about how crazy it is that our kids school uniforms are going to cost upwards of $60 per outfit, when tailoring a whole outfit here costs $2.50.  How is it that worlds can be so different, and labour so cheap.  And why does a school need emblems on their socks?

I want to write about sitting in the sun in front of the guest house, chatting to a visitor.  I know I won’t be paid to sit in the sun at home.  Then I remember I am not paid to work here either.  

I want to write about how I am looking forward to an ensuite bathroom and soft couches, and windows with insect screens that work.  But then I remember I will miss my big window seats and the geckos and the foster cat who snuggles at my feet.  And I can’t decide whether to look forward to the new or savour the current.

I want to discuss how people at home seem to be wishing us home.  Every conversation seems to end with “we’ll see you soon” like the next few months no longer count.  And every conversation with hospital staff here seems to end with “why aren’t you staying longer” and pointing out all the tasks we have to finish before we go.  And in between I feel like our remaining time belongs to other people – some people who would shorten it, and some who would stretch it.

I want to write about how I feel like I am cheating. We can still afford to live here, we have savings left, but we chose to leave.  I want a break from working here – from being on call every second day, and looking after burns and kidney stones and infected feet.  There is no question that is selfish.  I want to resist the urge to make excuses, but they bubble up inside.  Maybe I don’t need to be so self-centered.  Maybe a little bit of burn out would be ok.  Would it?

Our overseas life is just as complicated as any life I had in Australia.  Sometimes there is lots of confusion and mental struggle, but no wise, pithy answers.  In the meantime, I go to work, spend time with my kids, and start writing a thousand blogposts and letters home that never get finished.  Maybe some weeks are just like this.


Image credit: University of Oxford

One response to “I want to write”

  1. So well put, Cris — the paradox of being in two worlds, pulled between them in confusing and often painful ways, and living in that tension. Thanks for sharing. Hope you guys are all well. =)

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