I did the two most unforgivable things yesterday – one before my exams, and the other during my exams. My exams consisted of several stations which involved me talking or assessing the abilities of patients in front of consultants. After the talk and the walk, the consultants would fire a few questions at us, to which we must hopefully be able to respond before the bell (which reminds me of ice-cream or Holy Communion, depending on my mental state at that point of time) rings and an examiner outside slams the door open to remind us that OUR TIME IS UP!

Because i hate the adrenaline spike and tremors that come along with being punctual for an exam; i try to be early. Sometimes shit honestly happens, and you can just stare in bafflement whilst others find in amusing and can’t stop cracking up. Last year, i was on time, and just about to board the train when i happened to glance down at my shoes, and lo and behold, i have slipped on my bright red runners instead of the designated pair of black formal shoes. I literally felt the world lurched around me and frankly, that must be the first moment i experienced true vertigo. I had to rush back, change my shoes, and drive instead of taking the train. And guess what? It was peak hour traffic and a scorching 31 degrees Celcius out there. Not pretty at all.

So yesterday, i was on time, and the train was due in four minutes. In stark contrast to the last time, it was pouring. And i obsessively checked my shoes to make sure that they did not morph into hideous red colour. Then my phone rang. Who calls at 7am? Certainly not good news. I checked the caller id. It was my housemate. Even worse news. We don’t usually call each other unless we absolutely have to. We do not sweat the small stuff.

“Hello Spud.”

“Hi E.”

“You forgot your stethoscope. It is on the chair.”

“My stethoscope?”

I felt a large black chasm open up in front of me. There was silence on both ends. There was really not much of a decision to make. The train was arriving in two minutes. I did not want to be late.

“Just leave it, thanks.”

“Ok, good luck.”

A few seconds of catalepsy later, i found myself dialing the numbers of my other friends . But the chances are slim. Which medical student will possess a spare three hundred dollar stethoscope?? In the end, i found myself reassuring them and myself that it is all right, i will use the ones in the clinic, or get one off from the clinical school. At this time, i also noticed the other passengers on the platform trying to discreetly turn around and take a look as they overheard my conversation. Great, so much for planning.

We never needed a stethoscope for our examinations. I am just appalled with myself. Every trade is characterized by a special tool. My profession is equipped with the stethoscope. This is my bread and butter. I so readily forgot about it. What does that say about me or my attitude? Although there were other students who did not bring their stethoscopes that day because we simply have no use for them in our current rotation, i can’t help but still feel a little horrified with myself.

And the next unbelievable thing happened during my exams. It was a bit chaotic, but when i entered the first examination room, i felt a slight stirring of anxiety. It was not rational and it certainly was not a good sign. And i recognized the consultant psychiatrist in my room – didn’t help that i also remembered skipping his lecture. I introduced myself to the patient, and before i could stop myself i heard my mouth opened and said the usual greeting i normally reserved only with friends.

“What’s up?”

What’s up?!! Appalled once again this time with my disinhibition, i stringed my first few words hurriedly together, hoping no one noticed my apparent blasé attitude. What the heck just happened???

My stream of bad luck did not end there. I got the diagnosis right – panic disorder without agoraphobia; apparently a lot of the students miss out on the agoraphobia bit, and therefore did not give a complete diagnosis, as evidenced by the psychiatrist almost whooping in joy and thumping the table as he beamed and repeated my answer.


I nearly jumped out of my chair, startled by the consultant’s reaction, but only my disbelief from my earlier blunder kept me rooted to the spot. Clearly i was still spaced out because when he asked me about management, i reached a blank in my head, and suddenly everything didn’t seem to make sense. It almost felt like derealization. I just mumbled some things off the top of my head, and the consultant suddenly looked bewildered. I felt and still am feeling really bad about it because the disappointment was evident and one thing i hate apart from disappointing myself, is to disappoint others.

I was discussing with a good friend later about our respective performances when i told him about what happened. He slapped his forehead and said, “What were you thinking?? You know the answer to that question! We have seen millions of patients with panic disorder. That’s stupid.”

“Shut up, i know, don’t rub it in,” i laughed.

Oh well, so that’s my exams. It is holiday time (or surgery time for me anyhow).


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