Sunday, November 30, 2014

Chichen Itza

My favorite destinations when traveling in a foreign country are either beautiful nature or archeological sites. Both will make you rethink about your existence in this world, make you feel small, but at the same time calling you to do things bigger than yourself. In Mexico, I took a 2-hour journey from Cancun to the state of Yucatan to visit one of the most famous archeological sites in the world, dubbed one of the new 7 wonders of the world: Chichen Itza.

Remember all the havoc back in 2012, propagated by Hollywood that the world is going to end? It stems from here, Chichen Itza, built by the Mayans, where their numbered calendar ends at the year 2012. But according to our guide, the Mayans never said the world was going to end in 2012. For them, 2012 marks the end of an era.
The Chichen Itza was most probably built around 7th century AD, during the golden age of Mayan culture. At the height of their civilization, the Mayans must have thought that their civilization would last until 2012, which then a new era will arrive. But it is a mystery to both them and us, how, having created the most unique written language, sophisticated art, architecture, mathematical and astronomical systems, the civilization disappear without a trace.

As an example of the Mayan's extraordinary mathematical, astronomical and architectural feat, the four faces of the temple of Kukulkan have stairways with 91 steps each, which makes 364 steps total. Combined with a base platform on top of the pyramid that unites all four stairways, it comes to 365, the exact number of days in a solar year. Then At about 3 pm on March 20th and September 22nd the sunlight casts a series of shadows against the western balustrade of the main stairway, which creates an optical illusion of a 37-meter-long snake that follows the sun "slithering" down to its own head carved at the base of the staircase.

When the Spanish conquerors came to discover this ancient site, and came in contact with the surviving Mayan people around the area who seem so humble and shows no evidence of sophisticated mathematical, astronomical or architectural knowledge, the first thing that came to their mind was that the Romans or Egyptians must have been here. For them, it is impossible for these people who seem to know nothing to build such a magnificent architectural masterpiece.

Our tour guide went on to explain that the enemy of the Mayans are Mayans themselves. The Mayans divide themselves into different settlements, and there was no effort to unite them all. Fighting off each other might be the reason how they perished. He also mentioned that the decay in society might also be the cause, political tremors, greed, lust for power, etc, which today's society are also guilty of. Sometimes we are so proud of our achievements, but look at how our society is decaying? Chichen Itza serves as an evidence of how no achievements lasts in this world, even the most advanced civilization of an era. Everything is beautifully summed up in the Holy Quran, Surah As-Sajdah, Verse 26:

Has it not become clear to them how many generations We destroyed before them, [as] they walk among their dwellings? Indeed in that are signs; then do they not hear?

The people of the great Mayan civilization may have perished, but what lives on is their knowledge, passed down to generations until it is still used today. Perhaps knowledge is something which we humans are bound to discover and carry on from one generation to another. It is from our Creator, and never belongs to someone or a particular civilization. That is why I love traveling to places like this. It reminds us that no matter how smart we think we are, every single knowledge never belongs to us. So never be too proud, but keep on advancing knowledge. In the words of a Sufi poet, never let success go too much into your head, but don't let failure go too much into your heart.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

In Defense Of The Humble Doctors

"Mak Cik cek kejap ye".

This is not the first time I heard a doctor calling herself 'mak cik' when dealing with a patient, but every time I hear it, it is none other than from a Family Medicine doctor. Family Medicine is a medical specialty provides health care for the individuals based on knowledge of the patient in the context of the family and the community, disease prevention and health promotion.

They are the doctors that we first meet at the local Klinik Kesihatan, before we are referred to the hospitals, if necessary. They are the "gatekeepers" as what the medical fraternity likes to call, the ones who holds the dam to prevent a flood of patients to tertiary hospitals. Through emphasis on disease prevention and health promotion, they not only treat individuals but also the whole community. Family Medicine is an arm of medicine that is indispensable, but sadly are the heroes that are unsung.

Since Family Medicine doctors are the first to see patients, they can deal with any diseases under the sun. Hence in their training, they are required to do rotations for a couple of months in each department at tertiary hospitals. That is when I get to work with one of them, in the Paediatrics department, during one fine Saturday morning rounds:

"Mak Cik cek kejap ye"

She said again when dealing with a child. For some may argue it sounds unprofessional, lacks formality and all.

But I think to a child, it doesn't matter.

There is nothing wrong with it, and I think what is wrong is when a doctor is arrogant enough to be irritated when someone calls them 'Encik' or 'Puan'. She took time to talk with the mother, asking about the family, how they are supporting the child, socially and financially, in a very friendly and humble manner, like really talking to a 'mak cik'.
Being a doctor is a demanding job, I admit. The hospital can consume us and make us think that the wards, clinic and operation theatres are the only thing there is to life. Last week I was scrolling through the Facebook feed a post by a friend of mine caught my attention. It is about one surgeon, allegedly from my hospital, a tertiary centre, arrogantly bashing a Family Medicine doctor, labelling them as dumb and resistant to teachings.

It is quite common, when you spend too much time in the same place, with the same people, to develop an inflated sense of importance, putting yourself in the centre and thinking the world revolves around you, ignoring the fact that the outside world is bigger than what you see. Everyone is good at something, but not everything. It is not wise to judge that a chimpanzee is better than a dolphin based on a race to climb trees.

Respect must be earned, not forced. For many people, the more title you get, the more Dato' Dr, Professor Dr, and all sorts, the more respect you will earn. But for me, I can respect a doctor who is not a little bit annoyed when someone calls them 'Pak Cik'. I would hate it if I spend too much time inside that 4-walls of the hospital and develop this very false sense of self importance for myself. A way that I have found effective is to spend more time on the ground with the community through volunteer work, and secondly through traveling the world. That is how I think Family Medicine and Public Health doctors do it. It is a way to see that the world is wide, and what we do is just a speck of dust in this huge universe.

During my last call there was a death of a baby, which we failed to resuscitate after being exhausted of all efforts, and also a birth in the O&G ward, a premature, which we successfully resuscitated. It happened so spontaneously that the mother did not even make it to the labor room.

Moments of intense pressure makes time move so fast, you barely notice the clock ticking, during evening calls you come in when the sun is setting, go back when it's near noon the next day and punch in when the sun is setting again. I do enjoy the work, it made time felt worthwhile, but the most important thing is that it doesn't end there. It further values and add meaning to the moment when I am free to do what means most to me: treating the community and traveling the world.

Volunteer work and traveling should humble you. I am nonchalant when talking about my NGO trying to build a hospital in Cambodia because I went to South Africa and saw a kid of 17 years old who opened a school, and giving scholarships to people older than him. What I do is just 10% of what a 17 year old kid did. If that doesn't humble you, I don't know what does. We don't see this when we stay for too long in the same place with the same kind of people. Hence I always promise myself to use my free time for my NGO and for travel. It fights off arrogance. It makes me perfectly fine when people don't address me as 'doctor'. Call me "Pak Cik", I wouldn't mind. Because in front of the Creator, I am just a slave

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