On Being a Phone Friend, Adding Value and Reliance

I’m fresh from my OB-GYN rotation in school. It was a four week rotation, exposing us to the wards, patients and introductory lectures on the clinical aspect of medicine. Due to teething problems, we were only able to get two weeks worth of exposure, meaning that each student will have to make up for the missing two weeks on their own. I could go on a verbal rampage and lambast the entire department and the university for not having contingency plans when registrars (residents) go on strike, but this is not what I want to talk about today.

Many of us were excited to finally get out of the classroom and start ‘practicing’ real medicine. Kudos to them. I was excited too, but I was surprisingly calm about it. I got a flu in the first week, and got my first taste of what seems to be a string of hospital acquired infections waiting their turn to wreck havoc on my body. The consultants (Attendings) were something else. They had a swagger that can only be developed after sticking it out in the trenches and coming out on top. One of them spoke in a British accent during our major ward round in the labor wing of the OB-GYN section of the hospital. I found it really difficult to concentrate on what she was saying, seeing that I was thoroughly enjoying listening to the sound of her voice. I’ll definitely miss that voice. Luckily enough for me, she never noticed my struggle to remain in the present, and therefore I escaped with the skin of my back still intact.

However, I was lucid enough to catch one of the phrases she constantly used in the three hours that we followed her in the ward, checking up on patients and discussing management of said patients. She constantly reminded us to add value to every patient we met. “It is not enough to simply follow procedure and do what we’re supposed to do. We must consciously make the effort to go the extra mile and customize our ‘doctoring’ skills to each patient’s unique situation.” I cannot remember most of the conditions she talked about, but I definitely remember, “add value”.

Those words stayed with me even after the ward round. The more I thought about it, the more logical it seemed to extrapolate and use the mindset of constantly adding value to those around me. Even if they’re not patients. Instead of simply saying ‘hey’ and dashing off to the library (as is my modus operandi), I took the time to actively engage in a few conversations with some of my classmates. I believe I added value to the few seconds that we were together. It was definitely more than I’m accustomed to (no I’m not a loner). A touch here, a smile there, coupled with a handshake and a hug can really earn you a lot of social capital. I feel surprisingly emboldened and confident about myself after adding value that way. I’m anxiously waiting for next week to see if this mantra of ‘adding value’ will work when there are patients involved.

I’m also interested in adding value to my social relationships. A funny incident happened recently during this week (to be honest it’s not even twenty four hours old 🙂 ). I have been described as a ‘phone friend’. Someone who only keeps touch through the phone but doesn’t do to well when it comes to face to face interactions. I couldn’t help but agree. I’m very good at superficial, short interactions. I like leaving them wanting more. I firmly believe in the economic maxims I learned in high school: “Scarcity creates demand. Scarcity creates value.” Unfortunately, deep down I know it is fear that is holding me back, I do not want to think about the possibility that repeated exposure to ‘yours truly’ could make you feel bored and frustrated. I do not want to feel the pain that comes with rejection. The pain that comes with being seen as ‘plain’ and ‘dull’. But the only way to make progress is to take the plunge. What is bravery if it is not facing your fears while scared sh*tless?

There’s one more lesson that I’ve had to recall this week. Reliance. It is painful for me to finally accept that there are very few people I can ever rely on to get things done the way they should be done. If you tell me that you’ll call me before leaving the house so that I can start moving out as well, then you should keep your word and call me. However, if you conveniently forget to do so and things get messed up because you got to the meeting point and I was still relaxing in my room, then who’s to blame? Me. Because I trusted you to keep your word. Because I did not come up with a contingency plan. That makes me feel angry and sad. Angry at the fact that other people’s shortcomings will lead to blame resting on my shoulders. Sad that I have to make contingency plans. Sad that we have to go through life with skeptical eyes and mistrust in our hearts.

Growing up means masking the naivete and the innocence of our childhood. I really miss the old (or maybe young) me. The one who trusted fully, implicitly, without a second thought. Adulthood has began to wound my heart. That thought makes me quake in fear when I imagine how much it’ll hurt to extend myself to someone else, and then get betrayed.

However,I still believe that regardless of the very real chance of getting hurt, investing our feelings and emotions in others is the only way to be truly happy. I’ll give it a shot. I’ll stop being a ‘phone friend’!

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