Academia: so it begins

This one time, Betty did a master’s degree. In her thesis, she wrote about three Australasian physician-writers, and interviewed some of them to talk about the ways their literary writing affected their medical practice, and, of course, vice-versa. It was lovely fun, and during the two years that she spent writing it, Betty gave a couple of guest lectures on related topics as part of her supervisor’s medical humanities course.

Last year, her supervisor asked Betty to consider coming to the big city and co-teaching the course, as well as giving it a bit of a reboot and adding a creative writing component. Betty considered this for about a quarter of a second before quitting her job and looking for an apartment. (In the interests of full disclosure, Betty must also reference the opportunity to train with the world-class Pilates master teacher, the wonderful studio to train in, and the boy person friend.)

Betty and her supervisor (who is awesome; he was at Oxford) split the teaching 50/50, and the course was a roaring success. That is to say, the students (all third-year medical students, with backgrounds in literature ranging from BA to “haven’t read a book since primary school”) read Chekhov, Kafka, Carlos Williams and Verghese until narrative and metaphor started coming out of their ears, and then they wrote a collection of poetry that made Betty blush with pride, and hope that if she ever drops almost-dead she finds a physician as empathetic, ethically sound, and articulate as they are.

This year Betty and her supervisor arranged to split the teaching 80/20. Betty is very excited. Though she has no desire to become a full-time professor, being a Lecturer: Medical Humanities is just what the doctor ordered. It’s a tantalising and chewy reminder of how much Betty loves academia.

A macadamia.

All this, of course, means that Betty has a bunch of work to do redesigning the course. She plans to improve the section on mental illness by adding some more literature (the current readings are “The Yellow Wallpaper”, a semi-autobiographical story about undifferentiated schizophrenia, and some Plath poems; keen students can also read Alice W Flaherty’s The Midnight Disease), and create a specific section on grief (using CS Lewis’s A Grief Observed, Plutarch’s letter to his wife on the death of their child, and scenes from Truly, Madly, Deeply). Other sections cover topics like traditional medicine, ethics, metaphors of warfare and information systems, and the doctor-patient relationship.

Gentle readers with favourite literary texts that relate even remotely to practising medicine, giving birth, dying, being well, or being sick, should let rip in the comments section — no Lecturer: Medical Humanities is an island. Medium-sized stories or excerpts, or poems, are best, but I can show a few movie clips as well.

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2009 so far

It’s been rather an, oh, how shall I put this delicately, annus abyssus? A hell of a year. At the end of last year, I threw caution and the dregs of childhood to the winds, quit my job, left home, and moved to one of the swankier suburbs of the big city. Once the wheels were in motion, there was no stopping me: one thing led to another, and in the space of a year, I have

  • Found a flat, or rather, a bedroom and a landlady
  • Found a part-time job, in which I got to use a hoist
  • Broken my right ankle (walking on the beach, slipped on the rocks, rescued by paramedics, tide coming in, hopped up the cliff, true story)
  • Entered a second Pilates training programme, and completed the first two stages of certification
  • Been hit by a car, badly spraining my left ankle
  • Rehabilitated two ankles
  • Crashed someone else’s car, in a very minor manner, but still
  • Found another part-time job, in which I get to drive cars
  • Quit the first part-time job
  • Found a full-time job, teaching Pilates
  • Had another part-time job, lecturing in humanities at medical school; secured same gig for next year
  • Done NaNoWriMo, winning by the skin of my teeth
  • Started a blog, and posted more than five times (see previous blog)
  • Watched Battlestar Galactica
  • Done Balance Control Step Off on the Reformer

In order to round out the year, there are some things I plan to do in the next few weeks:

  • Complete the Pilates certification — practical exam on Friday, mat test on Saturday, updates then.
  • Turn 27.
  • Fix the car.

Stay tuned, gentle readers.

Things I love about my job

  • The dishwasher works perfectly. When you pick up a cup, it has no lipstick, coffee-gunge or limescale on it.
  • There are eighteen different kinds of herbal tea on the staff-room table as I type.
  • I get to drive a nice car.
  • There is a wage range for my job, and though I was quite inexperienced and had a BA, they paid me above the minimum.
  • They send me emails asking whether I would fancy attending a psychosis conference on my days off.
  • They have whiteboards.

Gainful employment, what larks

Wednesday was the first day of my new job. I went to the studio in the morning, and taught clients at 7, 8, and 9, and then I did a bracing Advanced Reformer workout with one of the other teacher/apprentices. It was smashing, actually: the first full Advanced I’ve done since I broke my ankle, and I left out only the Arabesques and the kicks in the Control Push Ups Back. I did Snake and Twist and stepped off in Balance Control and all sorts. Then, I went home and changed, and caught a bus to Mairangi Bay. The truth is that Windsor Park buses are rare and flighty creatures — I’ll be walking up Hastings Road many times yet, I suspect.

When these bods say induction, they have their minds made up. They started me out as they mean to go on by producing a training supervisor with practically the same name as another supervisor, who I was expecting; while I was still reeling from the dissonance, she started using a cunning technical-difficulty manoeuvre developed experimentally at Guantanamo, and when I was good and stonkered, she gave me a 60-page PDF about divergent models of mental health care. It was written in academic jargon, however, and contained a joke by a PACT alum about narrowly escaping a life “running for Clubhouse president”, so sucks to her: I survived the reading time with wits to spare and finished the day with a meeting. Meetings and acronyms, that’s where it’s at.

So. Thursday. More of the same. Obtained keys, drop-files, photocopier logins, and the lay of the carparking situation. Began the more interesting and useful orientation to various mental health disorders and diagnoses, treatment models, clinical teams and care responsibilities — I had a brief moment of doom when the supervisor asked me, for the purposes of analogy, to name people involved in a long-distance car rally. “The driver…?” said I, racking the remaining quarter of my brain; but she was kind enough to tell me, and this may interest readers, that someone sits next to the driver during these rallies. I was surprised, frankly: surely, in this modern age, such an arrangement represents an unnecessary risk that will inevitably lead to tyre and suspension wear, higher petrol costs, social awkwardness, helmet-hair — the list goes on. It’s fortunate that nobody has yet revolutionised this, however, in a way — I doubt that the mental health sector would take kindly to having to replace their navigator (family support, for anyone who’s still reading) with the equivalent of KITT or a GPS device. KITT, incidentally, is one of only eight remaining acronyms in the world (two of them undiscovered, like dvi-lanthanum) not in use in the mental health sector. Fascinating.

Anyway the point is, after lunch, I went back for three more meetings. Client perspectives, other services, and health and safety. Doting relatives may rest easy: there are plans for every hazard from stress to tsunami. Do not drink the floodwater, it may be contaminated.