Dear Readers, I can only apologise for my radio silence for the last couple of months. I do have a very good excuse, however… I got married three weeks ago and my new husband and I have just got back from our honeymoon! We had a perfectly elegant wedding day in Essex, and a splendiferous time in Sri Lanka and Thailand. I must publicly thank my excellent parents for pulling off such a wonderful occasion, and at present I am so happy that I have a mind above career troubles.
That’s not to say I wasn’t able to make some interesting job-related observations in the process of getting married. I think I may have said before how lucky I was, not only to be free of on call rotas and late shifts, but to be working only part time in the lead up to the wedding. I feel even luckier now thinking about it afterwards, and I can’t imagine how doctor couples manage to plan this sort of thing while working full time (especially Asian weddings, with their huge guest lists and numerous functions!) Some of my married doctor friends have told me they were obliged to rely heavily on friends, family or paid assistance to pull off their big day, and many ended up doing things last minute. Of course, we too relied on my family and did things last minute, but I felt I could be mentally more involved with the process than I could have been before.
One of the biggest gripes about working as an NHS, for me and I think many others, was the ‘life event’ factor. How many of us have missed the weddings, funerals and other important moments in the lives of loved ones, because we couldn’t swap our shift, or because we had an exam or an assessment coming up, or even just because we were too exhausted to go?
I was once shocked when a former colleague of mine told me how the management at her hospital demanded that she work the evening before her wedding! I guess, looking at it completely dispassionate way, there was no reason she couldn’t work that shift, but from a human point of view – how cold, how unfeeling it was! To deny her those sweet hours of anticipation and delight, to prevent her from making any final arrangements and preparing herself for this symbolic and serious moment in her life… It is easy to understand how doctors feel dehumanised and undervalued when their personal quality of life is so apathetically ignored.
I feel truly thankful that my current employers not only gave me a generous amount of leave, but were also kind enough to give me a card and present. Such kindnesses from the management can perhaps only be found in small companies, but they mean a lot.
It is true that not everything about my situation was ideal – my drop in income wasn’t particularly helpful in the lead up to one of the most expensive periods of modern life! But personally, it meant a lot to me to have the time. We got to spend lots of time with my mum and other family members and friends, planning and making a lot of things ourselves. For example, I spent six or seven hours scoring, chopping, hand-painting and hand-writing 300-odd place cards, and looking back, I am so glad that I did that. It was important for us to feel that our wedding had a personal touch, and it did. It was truly special.
Also, as weird as it sounds, since working in marketing, I’ve developed a bizarre need for ‘consistency of branding’, and I confess a secret satisfaction that we had standardised themes, colours, fonts and styles running across all our wedding stationary and decorations. Laugh if you will!
During the wedding there wasn’t much time to think or talk about my current occupational quandaries, but one thing that made me feel quite emotional was my dad’s speech. He mentioned how proud he and my mum were about my educational achievements at school, getting into medical school and eventually becoming a doctor. I know how much it means to them that I joined a profession that they both value so highly, and I felt a pang of sorrow and guilt that I couldn’t continue to make them proud in the same way.
I was expecting far worse, however, during the party in Sri Lanka. We went out there for what Sri Lankans call ‘the homecoming’. Traditionally it is the ceremony that takes place after the honeymoon, in which the bride is welcomed in the groom’s family home – but nowadays it’s more an excuse to have another big party post-wedding, and it was ideal for us because it meant all my family and friends living in Sri Lanka could be part of the celebrations.
My only concern was that it would be difficult to talk about leaving medicine with people there. It’s hard enough to discuss it with some of our Sri Lankan connections in the UK, and I convinced myself, perhaps irrationally, that I would see looks of shock and dismay on the faces of my relatives. The thought of the concerned questions and maybe the shaking heads of disapproval, made me feel faintly sick.
However, circumstance cut me some unexpected slack in this regard… As we went round the tables meeting and greeting everyone, I discovered that the fact that I was now a wife gave me the perfect cover. People seemed to think it quite understandable that I was no longer working as a doctor – I am a wife now, after all. Time to step back in my career, look after my husband and have children. It made me laugh inside to think that, having been such an earnest believer in feminism as a young woman, such a high-achieving, determined career-girl, I would now find refuge in these old-fashioned notions!
I was grateful, however, that I was let off so easily. It meant I enjoyed the party a lot more than I imagined I would!
I can’t deny that the idea of ‘relying on my husband’ is uncomfortable for me. My father has always impressed on me the importance of being independent.
My husband has a different view – he sees our marriage as a partnership, where the burden of support is about more than just finances, and fluctuates according to the situation. One day, the tables may turn, and he may rely on me – there’s no telling what may happen in the future. Unwavering and unconditionally does he look after me now, and I must find a way to make peace with this and be happy until I can regain my independence.
As much as I tell myself this vocational hiatus won’t last forever, it is difficult for me to think that I left medicine almost a year ago, and I still have not found a suitable replacement. It is hard, after following a path and a plan for the last twelve years, to suddenly feel adrift. At a time when patience, faith and belief in oneself are paramount, and I have discovered that I, despite all my attempts at courage, am grievously lacking in all these areas.
Having just been in Sri Lanka and Thailand, both majority Buddhist countries, I have reconnected with my religion somewhat over the last three weeks, and I have been reminded of the importance of the Buddhist belief in appreciating the present moment. We spend so much time regretting and reliving the past, and planning for or worrying about the future, that we forget that we live in the present – that everything we do happens in the present.
There was a moment on my wedding day when my favourite Bollywood song came on, and I grabbed my cousins and spun them round on the dance floor. Before I knew it, there was a whole contingency of (mostly female!) guests around me, including my mum, copying my Indian dance moves and making me feel like we really were in a choreographed Bollywood dance scene! For a moment, I stopped worrying about the caterers and the plan and whether things were running to time. The only thing I was thinking about was the next dance move, and for a few minutes, it was blissful and joyous fun.
It’s time to employ a new attitude. I can’t spend my time worrying about how to replace medicine. I just need to live, and maybe one day I’ll look within and discover that the hole it left has finally been filled.