On June 23, 2016, I had a close shave. About 7.30PM, I was on a bus traversing Lagos-Ibadan expressway when we were attacked by armed robbers. They were four in number, faces concealed with black masks, each of them carrying long guns whose description you wouldn’t expect me to know because it turned out the guns weren’t mere decorations, as I would have preferred. For the first time in my life, guns were firing at 3 or 4 metres away from me. Rat-a-tat-tat. The window glasses of our bus shattered, and, at that instant, it seemed as though our lives, our hopes, would be shattered, too.
Somehow, we escaped. Not without casualties, anyway. The guy who was sitting in front of me was caught by a stray bullet in the knee. Another behind me suddenly found his hand bleeding profusely and didn’t know how to explain it. The rest of us, lucky enough not to be inflicted by bodily injuries, would nurse another kind of wound forever — an emotional wound, a memorabilia of sorts that would be called psychological trauma.
I recall this unfortunate incident because, just yesterday, the result of the most difficult exam I have ever written was released, and I passed. No flying colours or anything. “The following candidates have satisfied the Examiners in the MBBS Part 1 Degree Examination held in July 2017…”, and right there was my matric number on the list. Unspectacular but definitive.
Are there any correlations between these two events?
Sure. One, both events have caused me the greatest psychological stress so far. Two, both events have casualties. Last night, a couple of hours after the result had been pasted, I ran into one of my classmates, who said he hadn’t seen the result because his phone was bad. I offered him my phone so he could check. He didn’t make it. He would be repeating the class. In that awkward moment, I knew what comforting words to say, but I couldn’t utter them. To voice them was to admit the obvious — that he had failed, technically — but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. So we stood together in silence, I studying his countenance, he fixating on my phone, agitated, zooming in, zooming out, swiping left, swiping right, hoping so faintly that he would find his matric number somewhere on the list. One would have a heart of stone not to be deeply moved.
When I got back to my room, I reflected on why I was unable to sympathize with him immediately, and I agreed that he needed some time to grasp the gravity of the situation all by himself, without being distracted by pity and the clichés of sympathy. It could have been me, I thought. If someone asked me how close I was in sharing his fate, I would respond, “Terribly close.” After all, I almost flunked Anatomy, and only heavens know how narrowly I scaled through Biochemistry and Physiology, since we have yet to see our exact scores. Another close shave, not with death this time but with failure.
There is an Igbo proverb that says one has to move close enough to perceive a man’s bad breath. This may be true for my other classmates, but I speak for myself when I say I have had a close shave with failure in medical school, and now I know how it smells. The anxiety of the past two weeks is unprecedented: how I have had to calculate, anticipate and prepare my mind for the worst possible, going as far as being more selective in my choice of books, songs, movies and games; how I have not been in the right frame of mind to do anything creative or productive; how I have relived in my thoughts the ordeals of the past one and half years; how I have watched each day drag by with crossed fingers. This must be what Seneca meant when he said, “We suffer more from imagination than from reality.”
Particularly to this friend of mine, to whom I couldn’t utter comforting words last night, and to other people generally in his shoes, I wish to say many of us who scaled through are not any better. In many ways, we are just as good and as bad as you are, so do not look down on yourself. Shit happens, but this, too, shall pass. In this trying time, I recommend that legendary poem by Rudyard Kipling titled “If”. And perhaps you would find equally helpful Ernest Henley’s “Invictus”, wherein he says, “My head is bloody, but unbowed.”
“…Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken/
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools…/
And lose, and start again at your beginnings/
And never breathe a word about your loss…/
And so hold on when there is nothing in you/
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’…/
*— excerpt from “If” by Rudyard Kipling.*
Yesterday evening, after telling my parents about my result, sounding it to them the need to tighten their belts as I would be needing lots of money to get new books, clinical materials and change my wardrobe, I spoke with C.Jas as well. While this is partly to appreciate the moral support she gave me before and during the exam, going as far as monitoring my daily reading hours and rebuking me when I fell short, this is still relevant for yet another reason, a curious phrase that popped up in our conversation last night: “the promised land”.
As it stands, as far as medical students are concerned, preclinical class is synonymous to the wanderings of Israelites in the wilderness, and the clinicals may be regarded as Canaan, the promised land. However, one must keep it at the back of one’s mind that it is not yet uhuru. And I remember this clearly, being one of the most humbling experiences I’ve had. I was sitting across the table, facing Dr. Akinlosotu and an external examiner, who vivaed me on Anatomy. I had been asked many questions on the cerebrum, Brodmann areas, expressive and receptive aphasia, dysdiadochokinesia, cervical vertebrae, bones and muscular attachments in the lower limbs, and I was doing quite well, confident, almost proud of myself. Then came out of the blues a question on cellular anatomy and circuitry of the cerebellum. And, geez, I was as blank as a sheet!
So this motherly lecturer, Dr. Akinlosotu, there and then taught me the first important lesson I’ll be holding onto for the rest of med school, that this is a continuous journey, and it is important I always check things I have not mastered, even if it means going back. This is why I’ll be seizing this break to write out and read up on a list of topics I never fully grasped in preclinicals. I strongly advise others do so, too. There may be shame in going back, but it’s necessary for us to go back sometimes in order to move forward better.
The second lesson is the title of a popular book by John C. Maxwell, “Talent Is Never Enough”. Med school has a way of putting people in their place. It draws you near and says, “Omoya, you’re intelligent. Agreed. Omoya, you have an amazing reading speed and assimilation rate. Agreed. But you know what? So do many other people in this class, some even better. I’m going to demand a lot of time and diligence from you, and if you take shortcuts, you’ll pay for it. Savvy?” I say, “Yes, I understand, man. Learnt my lesson.”
In conclusion, lovers of football would understand the difference between a “clean goal” and a “lucky goal”. For a lucky goal, imagine the “one-way” Antonio Valencia of Manchester United shooting a ball from his usual crossing position, only to have it deflected up by a defender. Imagine the deflected ball hitting the upper bar of the goal post, after which it rebounds and hits the left side bar before finally rolling over the goal line. Almost incredible, yeah? That’s the kind of lucky goal some of us can mostly boast of as far as preclinicals is concerned. Clinicals is the real deal. Hopefully, we would score more clean goals there.
Congratulations, 2K17. This cup has passed over us.