Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Journey of Self Discovery

It has almost been 2 weeks since this journey began. From Phnom Penh going 150 miles north to Siem Reap and back again, this travel has opened my eyes to the harsh reality of living in a country still haunted by a recent tragic past that drives the country into extreme poverty. It has made me realize how absurd I was presenting about health care in resource stricken countries in air-conditioned conference rooms, when actually being here among the poor, going through the sweltering heat, thinking “how can these people live like this?” is an absolutely different thing. If my years spent living in Indonesia shapes my worldview of developing countries, Cambodia confirms this viewpoint. Yesterday we visited one of the best hospitals in Phnom Penh and I was still surprised to see a patient fresh off brain surgery put into a hot, dark room crammed with other patients. Being perfectly healthy, I could not maintain being there more than 5 minutes without being drenched in sweat. I can only imagine lying helplessly in pain or gasping for air when the air is already hard to breathe in. It reminded me of a patient back in Malaysia who demanded to change bed because the air conditioning is too strong. How we are blessed with choices when here, there is no such option.

My time in Phnom Penh was purposely devoid of living in hotels in order to immerse myself into the local culture. Living with the locals has allowed me to learn a bit of their language, eat their local dishes and live their daily activities. Each day is fully taken advantage of. Cooler mornings were spent writing or reading the numerous books written about Cambodia’s tragic history under the Khmer Rouge regime. Work starts near mid-day, where we would visit our proposed hospital site, visit the school which our collaborating NGO runs, go to our meetings, or scouting for a suitable site for our health screening project scheduled in a few months time. As young doctors, there seems so much for us to do, but so little resource we have. Sometimes we feel helpless compared to the gargantuan task of building a hospital in this resource stricken area and improving the health care of the community and their economy as a whole. However I kept holding on to a humorous quote I found: “Dream big, start small, but most important of all, start!”

The late Steve Jobs once said “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you will know when you find it”. I believe that I have found it through this journey. I set out to discover this so called ‘Kingdom of Wonder’, but it ended up as a journey of self-discovery. My days have never been happier doing all this work that I am doing now. It is very tiring, but when you love doing something, it is as if you did not go to work at all. All I wish is that this passion and excitement would not simmer down once I have started my housemanship training. Time and again I saw my friends lose their passion in the things they love to do, the things that really creates meaning, after beaten down by the harsh life of a young doctor. Things will not always be easy, but when everything seems to fall apart, I hope I will always remind myself of the worse hardship I see during this journey. When I do, everything else will pale in comparison.

Phnom Penh, 16 May 2013 

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