The Sound of Silence..

The sound of silence has really been bugging me lately. Does the sound of silence bother anyone else?

Let me explain. I have recently found that silence can be quite loud. No, actually it can be deafening. And you never really appreciate that until you’re sitting in a quiet room all by yourself in a new place trying to bully your brain into studying. Well, in my case anyway.

I remember vaguely when I was in primary school singing a song called “Sound of silence” for this thing called the Bay’s festival. I don’t actually remember the lyrics but I remember thinking what a creepy song it was on such a dumb topic. I think I appreciate it more now.

The saying goes – “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop”. But actually I think a silent place is the real devil’s party.

When I work, or study or whatever, I always have something on. Music, or TV or I prefer to study in a room with people. The gentle noise of people moving around or getting things done helps me concentrate. I always avoid the university libraries which I used to believe was full of study robots that give you the look every time you turn a page and there is a rustle of paper causing a ripple of sound that has broken their perfect concentration as they scan the pages of their own books and transfer data to their brains much like a hard drive would. Poetic, no?

But lately I’ve been finding myself alone a lot, at home, or out. In a new hospital with lots of time on my hands and places to avoid, I end up in a far too quiet room trying to be productive. I do everything but that. I feel like I can hear the air particles as they move past my head and hit my ear drum. One of my favourite chemistry teachers from school used to trick his other teacher friends by saying that a frequency we’re all exposed to during most of the day is likely to be the same as in deafness!! As in, the frequency of sound in a silent room. I can’t remember the number he used but apparently it sounded large enough to scare his friends. He also used to tell his physicist friends that dihydrogen monoxide is a potentially dangerous chemical that is everywhere in the world and in our bodies too!! Yeah he was pretty great.

But anyway. Whatever that frequency is, the ‘sound’ I can hear in a quiet room can be quite disconcerting. And what’s worse, it doesn’t help me study as an ideal quiet situation should. I either end up ruminating on things (not good.), daydreaming, moving around to make some noise, or go looking for distractions from the sound of silence. Very little actual study is achieved. Sigh.

I can’t even sleep in absolute silence. I have one of those standing fans. In addition to ventilating my room, the gentle hum of this machine provides comfort and helps me sleep. If I had to sleep without my fan in my room, I’d be a bit disturbed. Oh I used to have a wall clock which I pulled off my wall. That’s another thing. I think a quiet room with a constant “tick tock tick tock” is by far the worst thing in the world. I dislike silence. Why then, do I keep ending up in situations where I have no company other than silence? Eugh. Hopefully it’s just a phase.

I’m writing this blog currently in a quiet room. That’s probably why there’s so much waffle in it. Odd.

Do not worry, I shall play some music and get back to trying to study. But this is just such a weird state to be in. Silence is weird.

Not that I’m a raging party person who loves lots of noise and crowds. I actually hate that atmosphere and it can give me a headache. Yeah. I’m weird.

Awkward silences..

Scene at the paediatric clinic. Parents of an 8 year old boy describing his worrying behaviour:

Mum: Well recently he’s just been getting these rages and he becomes quite aggressi- *Son playing with blocks turns his head to look at mum*

—-Awkward silence—-

*Son continues to play with blocks and builds something resembling a gun*

Dr: What’s that you’re building there?

Son: *points ‘gun’ at the wall* It’s a gun!

Dr: What’s that for?

Son: *points gun around the room at the people present* To shoot someone

*Mother’s eyes widen* *Father shifts in his seat and looks at son*

—-Awkward silence—-

Son: *Points gun to own head* Or to commit suicide


Dr: Do you think that’s a good idea?

Son: *shrugs*

————–Awkward silences—————


You know what’s weird? 

When someone asks you a vague question with just one possible answer in mind…

Dr: So how do you check a child’s development? 

Me: Um you can check if they’re meeting the milestones for their age.

Dr: *silence* *staring*

Me: Well there’s gross motor, and fine motor, and social and communication..

Dr: *eyebrows raised*

Me: And you can ask the parents if they have any worries…? 

Dr: Mhmm you just have to say “use the Denver scale”. Bosses will think you’re really smart if you do. 

Me: ….. -__- I see. 

Why do people do this? Eugh. Just why. 

It’s all in your head

One of the lectures I had during formal learning week included a session on ‘Mind-Body Medicine’. This basically talked about how psychological stimulants can affect the body physically.

The lecturer that talked about this topic said how your body is a “metaphor” that conveys what your mind goes through. She provided a couple of case examples.

There was a woman who had recurrent mouth ulcers. Doctors were unable to ascertain a cause for these mysterious ulcers and were unable to cure the patient. Eventually she was seen by a psychiatrist who questioned her about the time of the onset of the ulcers. If anything significant happened in her life. The woman stated that she and her family were devout Catholics, but recently her daughter left the church. She was deeply affected by this. When asked what most bothered her about this situation, she said that it bothered her that “she couldn’t talk about it” with her daughter. The psychiatrist suggested that she try talking to her daughter. After the woman agreed and proceeded to do this, her mouth ulcers mysteriously disappeared as quickly as they came.

Another patient, an elderly woman living alone had once had a fall in her garden and hurt her foot. Traumatised by this incident, she retreated to her home and over a few months became agoraphobic and refused to go outside or interact with others. She developed scleroderma  (an autoimmune condition that causes hardening of skin). She did not respond to treatment and doctors were unable to find a cause for her condition. She was approached by a psychiatrist to address her condition and her agoraphobia. When discussing this, she mentioned that she had “retreated into her shell” and did not want to come out. The psychiatrist proceeded to work with her to help her “come out of her shell” and get on top of her phobia. After a few months, she was no longer agoraphobic and her scleroderma resolved in an unexplained way.

These were both very interesting cases for me. I have some belief in the idea that psychological conditions can manifest physically, but to know that – as the lecturer put it – “the physical symptoms tell the story of the patient’s mental state as they would”, was quite surprising. And I began to ponder to what extent this was true.

While in the lecture, these cases were surprising to me. But my friend next to me said she thought they were “scary”. She didn’t believe that psychological aspects can manifest physically. She told me she finds concepts like this “quite fluffy” and so they can’t really be true. I wondered why she thought that. I suppose it comes from an innate fear that this is something unknown and thus isn’t controllable. I mean, if I told you that you would get an infection because your friend Bob sneezed on you and tiny microscopic virus particles were expelled in droplets and you inhale them and they penetrate your nasal mucosa, activating your immune system and causing symptoms of the common cold, you would know to stay away from Bob, so as to prevent him sneezing on you and unleashing the nasty little virus on you. But what if I said – you would get an infection because last week you were asked to go to your uncle’s wedding but you really didn’t want to go and you just got really angry? How could you stop that? (well it would get you out of going to the wedding, but still). There’s no way you can prevent that. And there’s no clear cause for it, etc. It just happens?? Because of thoughts?? Scary. And as the doctor, you probably can’t treat this person normally by giving them a medication.

I can kind of see her apprehension. I was later telling my mum these stories and she was all-too-eager to believe this. She went on to tell me that 90% of all patients I will see in my clinical practice will definitely only have some underlying psychological issue that once fixed will fix the person entirely. Now, I thought this was a bit extreme. My mum was convinced, from her experiences that everything psychological manifests physically and no one really needs medical treatment.

Seriously, how far does this go, I wonder? I believe in things like psychoneuroimmunology. So much so that I did a research project on it. Basically it was based on the idea that social closeness leads to better skin healing. Ie. If you feel more supported and less stressed, your immune system works more effectively and leads to faster healing. But even so, there is clear evidence and a physiological flow diagram to explain this effect. Things like abstract thought affecting physical body in a particular way (no talking = mouth ulcers and “shell” = scleroderma) is a bit difficult for me to comprehend. Could it just be a coincidence? Or maybe there is an actual physiological relationship to explain these effects but haven’t been discovered yet?

But if so, can all illnesses be attributed to a psychological stimulant? How then would doctors treat patients? Exclusively Psychologically? Without medication?

Thoughts? How big a role do you think psychology plays in affecting the physical body?

School Daze….

So this week was my first week back at school! Yay 1 week of lectures to kick off my penultimate year of med school! (Yes I refer to uni as ‘school’. Do not judge.)

But can I say, I am not prepared. After my 8 week hiatus of doing virtually nothing and being a bit agoraphobic, coming to uni with the whole mass of people and returning to the chilly lecture hall with the uncomfortable seats and awkwardly spaced desks was not something I was ready for. Nor was I ready for the whole waking-up-early thing to achieve the getting-somewhere-on-time thing.

So on my first day, for a lecture that was to start at 9:30am, I promptly missed my train and showed up at a fashionably late 9:28am. Whew. Made it. The lecture started with the punctuality my university prides itself on, at 9:35am. Yay I wasn’t late. Unfortunately for me, however, from 9:40am onwards as the faculty was going through ‘important’ admin information, I was well into a daydream. It is safe to say I have no idea what the protocol is to ask for leave if I was to get hit by a car and was unable to make it to hospital. To avoid being labelled as a wagger. Must not get hit by cars this year. Anyway, the day pretty much continued on like that.

It didn’t help that the first few lectures of formal learning were on immunology. Where every 5 minutes while the lecturer was talking, I blinked and thought to myself “omg she’s talking! I’m not listening!!” coming out of whatever grandiose daydream I was in. Eugh. I have forgotten how to listen to someone talking. Lectures are just so bleh. I don’t absorb a lot of what is being said to me in a lecture theatre with a hundred other people. And what made it particularly difficult was that the lectures were scheduled in 2 hour blocks. With pretty much no breaks. Honestly, I mean, I have a pretty short attention span, but even so, it’s kind of ridiculous to expect students to pay attention for 2 hours straight. Especially when it’s “MHC molecules, blah blah”…….Zzzz. But I still show up to these lectures. I guess some part of me is hoping my sub-conscious mind is paying more attention than my conscious mind and I’m absorbing information by way of some form of osmosis. That’s possible right?

Meh. It’s probably just back to school blues. Fortunately, formal learning is only 1 week. Then it’s off to hospital! Yaaaay. My first rotation is paediatrics. I don’t know how I feel about this. Kids freak me out. And I’m no good with them. Whenever I’m around kids, ppl get hurt. And it’s usually me. I’m not sure why but I always end up getting hit in the head by some kid’s toy. I wonder if I’m some kind of magnet. But Anyway! It should be an interesting 6 weeks.

This is my second last year of med school. What a scary thought. But I’m pretty much just hoping this year is going to be better. Taking each day as it comes! That’s kind of become my catch-phrase I think. Kinda. Sorta. Not really. But yeah.

Ahh this is going to be a loong week. Hopefully it passes quickly.

That New Year Post

So I looked over my 2016 post today and thought to myself, well that seems like a reaaaaaally long time ago and a reaaaaally different person.

I had said “I aim to stay positive, keep improving myself, and survive another year with the help of those around me.” I can tell you that I survived 2016. I cannot say much else. I’ve said I’m no good with resolutions and I don’t believe in them right? Well I don’t.

But I won’t bring anyone else down! 2017 is a new year ofcourse! And with every new year come the preachers and the soul-touchers. I actually avoided going on facebook for about a month. But when I logged on in the new year, sure enough I was bombarded by memes about the betterment of self, society and the rest of the world in 1 day as 2017 began. Not to mention friends posting a picture somewhere on their summer getaway (Yes it’s currently summer in NZ) with a caption about how grateful they are and how this year shall be their defining year and how they challenge everyone out there to do the same. Eugh. I won’t rain on their parade. If they’re happy, good for them. But honestly, they had posted very similar things in previous years and it really makes me wonder if the things they “resolved” to do actually worked out for them to continue posting the same things over and over annually. But hey, most pictures are pleasant enough.

However, in the midst of the preaching angels, a friend of mine had put up a new year status that actually really impressed me. She had said:

Happy new year! May it be what we hope for.

That’s all. No pictures, no bells and whistles, no loud emoticons (or emojis if you prefer), and not more than one exclamation mark. Enough said. Seriously.

What caught me about her post is how realistic it is. She didn’t mention 2017, or anything about 2016. This post was about this moment. She didn’t hope you have a great year. She didn’t hope she has a great year. She just hopes that it is what you hope for it to be. She didn’t offer any guarantee or challenges or big positive words. And she didn’t need to. She just hopes. And to be honest, that’s all there is to it. Anyone could write pages and pages telling you how positive you should be and how they are aiming for great things. But in reality, it’s all about you in every moment, regardless of time period, year, etc. Just hope. Nothing more needs to be added to her post. It’s the most realistic new year wish, and it made me feel good.

I doubt she thought this far when she put up this post, but I got this feeling from it. Felt good. Strange things tend to speak to me and I never forget them. I’m weird. 

Oh happy new year to everyone by the way.