Surviving medical residency: the untold story of resilience and hope

Working as a resident in medicine can be tiring. You are expected to study, pass exams, take care of your patients without making any mistakes, keep your seniors happy, have friendly ties with your co-workers, work extremely long hours, and avoid conflict at all times. No one will ever think of your well-being or happiness. You’ll be blamed and criticized even when your work is exceptional. You have to deal with the bitterness of a lot of people every day. During my entire residency, I felt as if I were walking on eggshells. Every resident has a different ability to deal with the pressure and stress. Some are carefree and non-serious and don’t take unnecessary criticism to heart. But those who absorb negative energy from their surroundings are the ones who suffer the most.

Over time, I’ve seen highly intelligent people become disappointed with this system due to its bitterness, cruelty, and injustice. Sometimes this system doesn’t give you a chance to slow down your pace for a bit. And there are times when even a little tragedy can be the last nail in the coffin. Most of us have been there. It doesn’t matter where we work or in what part of the world; the experiences of young physicians are similar. Most residents have cried a lot during their residency. Medicine is like this; it can bring you to the brink of collapse. I’ve experienced this feeling for years. There was no motivation, and I felt like there was no hope. I’ve been there when I couldn’t see the good around me. It doesn’t mean that I was unaware of my blessings; I tried for months, but the pain and heartbreak clouded my vision to such an extent that it made it impossible for me to appreciate the beauty around me.

There comes a time in our lives when we start questioning the mere act of existence. “To be or not to be” makes us restless. It happens mostly to people who keep running after happiness all their lives and forget that happiness is fleeting. If our lives are meaningful and can give us some sense of purpose, then being happy at all times becomes secondary. Happiness can find us on the way.

After suffering for years, I made the wisest decision of my life. Maybe there was no other option. I asked for help. The bravest thing in life is to ask for help. When you throw away that mask of “I am completely fine” and are not ashamed of accepting your own vulnerability. I’m not saying that asking for help, practicing gratitude, reconsidering your old habits that no longer serve you, or trying to inculcate a sense of responsibility towards your own life will always make you feel better. There will be days when you will fail to feel a sense of purpose, you will forget your progress, and you will fall again into that nasty pit hole. But I have a little hope that there will also be days on which you will make an effort, and even if you don’t, that’s completely okay. But please keep living your life one day at a time. You never know what the future holds for you. You underestimate your own abilities and have no idea about the miraculous things you are capable of doing. “Sometimes it’s the people no one can imagine anything of who do the things no one can imagine.”

After suffering for years, yesterday was the day when I made my “Gratitude List.” The things that have always been there for me, but I couldn’t see them:

1. I am perfectly healthy.
2. I have food on my table every day. I get to eat many nice things every day.
3. I have a job that not only provides a means to earn a livelihood but also gives me an opportunity to help others and adds meaning to my life.
4. I can appreciate the beauty around me. I love the colors of the sky, clouds, flowers, and the sounds of birds.
5. I have a loving and supportive family.
6. My parents and siblings are healthy.
7. I get to wear freshly washed and ironed clothes every day without much effort.
8. I am not indebted to anyone in terms of money.
9. I have been given the privilege to think. I have an intellect and a memory.
10. I can read books, watch my favorite shows, and listen to music. I am thankful to God for my eyes and ears.
11. I can smell the scent of my favorite perfume every morning. I am thankful for my nose.
12. I am not crippled or handicapped.
13. I have the ability to make my patients smile. I provide them with hope and support every day. I earn many honest prayers every day.
14. I have friends who are just a call away in case of any problem.
15. I can thank and remember my God. I know He is watching over me and is all-hearing and all-seeing.
16. I can feel emotions. I am not insensitive. I can cry. My tears are not a sign of weakness but only an indication of my soft heart.
17. I have a roof over my head and do not have to worry about my accommodation.
18. I enjoy my tea every day, and that makes me feel good.
19. I am thankful for my bitter experiences because they taught me something.
20. I am extremely grateful to those people in my life who were not kind to me; they taught me to be humble and kind towards others so that I don’t grow up to be like them in the future.
21. I am thankful to God for my beautiful handwriting.
22. I think the best feature of my face is my eyes. I am thankful to God for my eyes.
23. I have really nice hair.
24. I can go anywhere, at any time. I absolutely love being independent.
25. I can plan a holiday whenever I want.
26. I can feel the raindrops on my palms.
27. I have pets, unlike my friends who can’t afford to keep pets either due to their busy lives or their responsibilities.
28. I get to hug and kiss a lot of young children around me every day.
29. I can smell the scent of the soil whenever it rains, and I love that.
30. I can appreciate the beauty of a full moon.
31. I really like the feel of water against my skin. I am thankful to God for giving me the sense of touch.
32. I get to drink clean water every day whenever I am thirsty. A lot of people in the world are suffering and unable to get clean water.
33. I live in a beautiful city and a peaceful locality. I can go for a walk in the park in front of my home whenever I want.
34. I love rain, and it rains quite often here.
35. I have a collection of good books.
36. I am free from the desire to earn a lot of money. I thank God for not making me greedy and giving me the ability to always think about the less privileged. I think that’s a gift.
37. I have a beautiful heart and did not lose my innocence compared to other people of my age group. That’s a unique thing too.
38. I can accept people the way they are.
39. I can’t hold grudges for long.
40. I have the courage to apologize to others if I am wrong.
41. I love to use good stationery and feel thankful for being able to buy all the beautiful journals, pens, and markers that make me happy.
42. I can relate to the sufferings of others because I have suffered.

I want to convey this message to all the doctors and health care workers around the globe who are facing darkness: Please accept that you are not fine and that you have every right to be fine, happy, healthy, and productive. You are not alone. Please ask for help. It can be a parent, a friend, a sibling, a partner, or a therapist. You have every right to be loved and understood. You are brave, courageous, and capable. If you weren’t, then no one would have chosen you for this noble profession that demands your heart and soul. There is nobody like you because everyone on this planet is unique. No two people are alike. You have every right to look forward to the next day. You have every right to smile, like everyone else around you. And by that, I don’t mean an empty or fake smile, but a genuine one. That warm and beautiful laugh that comes from a delightful heart only when someone is comfortable and completely at peace. Your eyes don’t deserve to shed tears only. There is definitely light at the end of the tunnel. Your soul has been enduring bitterness for a long time. Please let it be happy.

Damane Zehra is a radiation oncology resident in Pakistan.

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