An Expedition through the Vortices of Time
The voice on the other end of the line that afternoon was soft, with a soothing blend of Yoruba and English “…Yes, it’s AY…AY of Medilor” “Oh, I see” I feigned recognition. Later that evening, somewhere in the enclaves of Agbo-Oba, we met. “Oh, you”, I muttered under my breath when I recollected where we had first been acquainted. With surgical precision, he unwrapped, like a suspicious looking package the reason why he had come to see me…and placed a burden on my heart.
Four weeks , four journeys, An oral house-job interview and a handful of other headaches later (Our yearbook most especially), I was finally staring at my Toshiba laptop screen waiting for the words to spew out like water from the Rock Moses had struck but all it did was stare back. It was times like this that got me wishing I too had a pensieve akin to that owned by the sagacious Dumbledore of the famed Harry Potter novel so I could submerge my face in its mystical waters and swirl through the vortices of time. Fantasies aside, I had to improvise. So I directed my attention upwards at my higher centres-closed my eyes for a moment as I mentally created an echo sounder that sent signals to my hippocampus, swept through every gyri and lobe, queried each cell and the strength of its synapses and sent back images of things said, done and seen. And oh, by the way, it sure helped that I had a document nearby dredged up from the diaries of Femi Aiyemowa who helped me compile notable dates in our sojourn through school which I used in conceptualizing the class’ year DVD.
March 14th 2005 was the day I saw my name in The Punch newspaper as one of those given the much sought after admission into the College of Health Sciences University of Ilorin to study medicine. Ecstasy quickly degenerated into anxiety as a whole horizon stretched out before me. Everything changes when you join the profession, even at its most paediatric cadres- the way people relate with you and their expectations of the way you conduct yourself. With unspoken words, each member of your family stares into the penetrating divide of eyes and soul and asks if you are up to the task, then without waiting for an answer follow it up with a silent plea that you shouldn’t fail them. In less than a week’s time, I was on my way to Ilorin along with my elder brother who studied in the same institution. Lectures started on the 28th of March where with silent condescension I wondered what I could possibly be taught in physics or chemistry-for goodness sake, I finished Abbabio before my S.S.C.E! Soon however, like the carefree hunter spoken about in the local slang “Bushmeat go soon catch hunter”, I realized the people who designed the curriculum were no fools. Basic science courses soon attained depths I had no idea had been charted. Notwithstanding though, and without any hint of braggadocio but rather, candor, I pulled through 100 level with a G.P of 4.1 despite also picking the name ‘Landlord’. This name was bestowed on me by my room-mates, themselves students of zoology because they felt that for a medical student, I spent way too much time in the room!
200 level came with new demands and of course swagger as finally, the anxious ones among us were finally licensed to imprison their necks with shimmering designer ties and don their legs with over polished leather shoes. I remember picking up an embryology textbook while in 100 level and having a mental ache to finally study something a bit more medical and not all lattices, phylum or dimensions. But like everything else, in the manner homo sapiens are notorious for, I was soon weary of this too as I ached to touch actual patients and not just cadavers. 200 level is particularly memorable for the COBES program which started on the 16th of June-forget all the ‘grammar” spoken about it, one thing COBES noticeably does to the 200 level class is break the ice of ego formed between class members. This is to the chagrin of lecturers of course, as the class is suddenly all chatter and noise as new alliances are formed in the course of our stay together in the COBES’ sites. In the spirit of Ying and Yang- feuds also develop during the same period but I guess that gist is for another paragraph, or more likely, story. Comprehensive saw us being bundled like slightly over obedient pawns to Mini Campus, no questions asked. Once more, the tide of a promotional exam came and went as it pilfered some of our erstwhile classmates away. An intermingling of joy and sadness occurs somewhere in the chambers of the heart you just learnt a whole lot more about during Cardiovascular program. It suddenly occurs to you that medical students are like foot soldiers advancing daringly into enemy territories as arrows of failure and frustration pierce the bodies of compatriots by your side, but you trudge on, oblivious, unrelenting…One Anatomy lecturer actually summed it quite neatly for us in our first lecture in 200 level “Medical students are like fetuses,” He boomed “You can be aborted any minute!”
Exams in Gastrointestinal, Urogenital systems, Extremities and endocrinology took place between 9th and 20th of July 2007. It was the turn of Neuroanatomy to utterly confuse us as we tried to hurriedly stuff in information so esoteric they made Inception(the movie) look like just another episode of Tom and Jerry. Meanwhile, we wondered what January had in store for us. I remember once thinking to myself on seeing a student in 300 level when I was in 100 level that the guy must know so much about medicine he might as well start a hospital once he was done with his MB exams. After all, the curriculum of the preclinical wing covered the human body in its entirety- Anatomy, physiology and biochemistry. January soon came and went, and at the end of it all, I took a curious look at my frail frame and asked my innards “So, do you now know all of medicine?” If I did not have a definite answer then to that question, the first two postings of 400 level (Ahh, yes, we were now in the terrains of postings and no longer programs) gave me a definite answer. Yes, you guessed right, the answer was no!
Truth is, we had not even scratched the surface. 400 level hit you with exams so fast you had barely recovered from the last dazing blow (pun strongly intended) before you were slammed with another exam timetable. The scary thing was that we had lectures till the very night before the exams themselves. The notorious ‘Intro B’ exam in pharmacology (5th of September 2008) approached us like scary pirate stories and still caught us dead in our tracks, deadlier than even the stories threatened. Of the 214 members of the class, only a drab 22 of us crossed the ‘50’ benchmark. (Yes, *chuckles*…us) I must confess that while misery overtook a lot of my classmates, I had begun to gain confidence that maybe this medicine thing wasn’t so hard after all while I remained grateful to God because in the depths of my deeps, I knew I really didn’t know enough to deserve to pass- but in retrospect, I realize most of us felt the same way. While pathology was more intense than an assassin, and ironically, it did take a couple of guys down; M1 and S1 postings gave us a little more breathing space. Truth is, it wasn’t supposed to be if you did it right. Truth also is that we needed a break! Seeing that this was one posting whose success or failure was not really accounted for till 600 level, it heralded a period of traveling and ‘extra-medical’ affairs. I personally made at least 3 trips (I hope my dad doesn’t see this though…lol) 400 level MB exams finally came up between the 1st and 11th of June 2009 and the results, like its precedents, snatched away dear friends from our class, but of course no one was sympathetic enough to wait behind with them. We all moved on.
500 level meant we were finally bona-fide clinical students, bestowed with the powers and burden of clerking patients and playing doctors. Our faces shone whenever we were locked in a room with patients and their relatives during clinic hours or ward rounds and asked them questions like real doctors should. They looked on our enlightened countenances expectantly and answered our queries, but the truth is that many of us did not even know what to do with those answers…at least not yet. By the 7th day in August, 2009, we were writing our 1st end of posting exams as clinical students-some in Paediatrics, and others obstetrics and Gynaecology. Our S2 (Surgery 2) posting also came up sometime during this period. Community health posting also conjures a thousand words in images and memories. I was personally not too keen on the lectures on types of refuse, or definition of planning, and other ‘complicated apparents’, but in retrospect appreciate them because I realize it is necessary for the wholesome education of the physician. I however was grateful for the introduction into the art of project writing and of course, the excursions…Yes. I sure loved those! The COBES posting of the last month in December, 2009 once more allowed us first-hand experience of what it really was like practicing medicine outside the meticulous confines of the teaching hospital-its reality and pitfalls. The 500 level part 2 finals of July 12th-23rd 2010 once again left behind an avalanche of escalating frustration and shattered dreams as only 31% of the class made it to 600 level at their first sitting.
The special postings of mid-2010 left me grateful that I had passed because it was our first and only exposure to fields which were specialized and critical in the practice of medicine- anaesthesia, otorhinolaryngology, ophthalmology and radiology. For the most of our final year though, we were especially preoccupied with rounding up our community medicine projects and of course, our final year activities. Then as quickly as it had started, 600 level too drew to an end as pangs of anxiety lunged for our livers-or maybe I should speak for myself- as I realized that very soon, there will no longer be any hiding under the cover of being a medical student when the cold insensitive hands of ignorance bare you up for all to see and scorn. I had to know my stuff! But as these things go, before I could scream out an unfaltering resolution to read my eyes out, literally, as I needed to do even more, May 23rd came calling- The dreaded Part 3 final MBBS exam. Pick up your crucifixes or whatever paraphernalia you cling on to for faith because I need you to believe something. Believe me when I tell you those final papers where bloody. Yeah, bloody. More bloody than the hands of a general surgeon. Like a fatal blow to the head, it was soon over.
The dictionary defines a veteran as an experienced soldier, or a long serving member of the military who has had much active service. What fascinates us about them is that we watch all these war films where bullets fly about like bees in a hive, each one packed with death…lethal and terminal, but somehow we see this guy who has survived and we wonder how he did it. That’s what it means to be a doctor-or at least one who comes from my Alma-Mata and studied during the years I did. Sometimes you look back and reflect on all the nonsense you said to your examiner during VIVA-(Thank God for doors), or the purulent, gangrenous stuff you sometimes wrote during essays; You also take a look at fellow eggheads like you who have fallen in the struggle and wonder just what gives you the audacity to have pulled it through. But I guess that is what the audacity of hope is all about, working towards a goal like nothing else matters and hoping that somehow, it counts for something.
Dr. Adebola, Oluwaseyi is an alumnus of College of Health Sciences, University of Ilorin 2011 set and was the chairman, Editorial and Yearbook committee, ‘The Eclectics’, Medical graduands of 2011