“Not Today”…Arya Stark of Winterfell
The twitter message from the acting vice chancellor, Professor Isaac Mbeche announced her the valedictorian in 2019. She was the top student in the whole University of Nairobi during its 62nd graduation! To many she is a force to reckon with, to most she is a 22-year-old myth and to those she has interacted with she is a Legend!
A BURNING PASSION
Muse Bridget Neema always had a dream of becoming a doctor. From her childhood she always fancied the stethoscope and the snow-white coat that adorns every doctor. This childhood resolve was made even stronger in the prestigious Kianda school. In her third year of high school, her dad fell very sick! From then on she was determined to get the government sponsorship to study medicine, which was not only a cheaper option but the better option for the family’s finances.
Her hard work saw her pass very well and get admitted to the school of Medicine in the University of Nairobi. Choosing this particular career trajectory, which was to define the rest of her life, was done meticulously and carefully. She did her homework well on other courses such as engineering and architecture. In the end, however, she knew her heart was bent on doing medicine and so began the long journey to achieving her dreams.
It did not take long for Bridget to realize that she was in love with human anatomy above all the other subjects offered in her first year of medical school. This endearment for the subject had her spending long hours in the Human Anatomy laboratory, the malodourous smell of formalin notwithstanding. She was constantly seeking help from several anatomy demonstrators, pulling off long study hours, attending the lectures. She was totally sold out to this unit and simply could not have enough. It was assumed she was chasing after the intercalated Bachelor of Science in anatomy course, but nothing could be farther from the truth. She was just a girl passionate about her anatomy, period!
Her hard work saw her score very highly in anatomy, but even then, she was still not keen on applying for the intercalated course. She sailed on to an eventless second year and ultimately third year. It is in this first year of clinical work that the magic happened. Several events had her change her mind very fast.
LUCK OR GRACE?
She was in her surgery rotations in Kenyatta hospital when it happened. A patient passed on in the hands of a registrar (master’s student) because of his choice of surgery method to combat the illness. The consultant in charge was furious to say the least. He had the registrar read research papers and articles on the case, because his decision was apparently not well thought through! It had no scientific backing. Bridget silently noted this. Research work was apparently pivotal to her becoming a great doctor she wanted to become. Strike one!
In this same year she got to join the research club at medical school. It is here that she interacted with students who had done research work or were contemplating to do some. Their jargon, their way of thinking and reasoning. The air they carried around them even their gait attracted Neema. Such mindsets were what she wanted, such reasoning was what she craved and yearned for! Strike two!
Strike three came when the department of human anatomy advertised positions for bachelor of science in anatomy for senior years other than second year as was the norm. Everything was perfectly aligned and Bridget was one lucky girl. Given her earlier mastery and proficiency in the subject, she applied and got into the program! Astrologist would say all her stars were perfectly aligned, but she insists that grace led her home. She deferred her ongoing course in medicine and set out to live out her passion for anatomy for a year.
THE ROAD NOT TAKEN
The rubber met the road quite intensely and with a lot of unprecedented activity. In the first month she and her classmates were expected to prepare a concept paper for the year. Apart from this, they were also expected to guide the newly admitted first year students in anatomy, do their own studying to perfect their knowledge as well as research. They were thrown into the deep end and learning on the job was no longer an option, it was the option.
“That year was the most intense academic period I have ever undergone,” she reflectively says.
In that year she had to commit to seven-day weeks. Long hours in the department often leaving at or past midnight, with some of her colleagues even doing all-nighters became a culture! There was so much to do and very little time to do it. No one had prepared her for the intensity of the program, yet she braved on. After all, faint hearts never did win fair ladies, did they?
Disaster struck when the rats she was rearing for her project suddenly died and she had to re-do the whole process. This was way out of her comfort zone given her fear of jumpy animals. The crisp critiquing of her work by the alumni of the program and some members of the faculty sometimes peeled off sore spots in her. Do not get me wrong, Bridget took most critiquing in her stride since none was laced with malice but rather was meant to build her, but some went too far and got to her.
” Medical school has a way of putting so much on your plate at once, if you’re not careful your mental health can be jeopardized! “She confesses.
She slowly narrates one particular incidence. A brusque comment was made after her presentation. It hit her hard like a torpedo. She walked out and ran to the washroom and cried her heart out. What was meant to be a little break down soon turned into a panic attack. Her breathing was strained, she was wheezing and could not think straight. It was one of those mystical terrifying moments where one’s life flashes before them. It took much effort from her classmate Fiona to soothe her and calm her down. Such and maybe worse experiences furnish the lives of many medical students the world over.
The year was not all that bad, nonetheless, but was actually fun in many instances. The sweet companionship of her classmates, the guiding hand of the alumni group of the program and faculty members was a welcome respite. They celebrated each other’s birthdays and had many free lunches provided by the members of staff. It was a sweet year of connecting with each other and forging strong bonds of love and comradeship. Taken back, Bridget would choose to get into the program without a doubt, again and again.
She is in a pathology class she receives the news. Bridget Neema is the valedictorian! She has to prepare a speech. In all the excitement and ecstasy, she can think of nothing to address other than mental health. Having been a victim of stress what better topic to address than this? She has to emphasize that an individual’s mental wellbeing is hallowed ground. The world has to be told that nothing and indeed no one is worth sacrificing mental wellbeing for! Oh! she has to say it loudly and clearly that depression, fear and self-doubt should not be given a foothold in an individual’s life!
And she did. In her phenomenal speech, she concludes by a quote. A quote that resonates with so much love, life and power. She said, “What do you say to fear and self-doubt? NOT TODAY!”
As we walk away from the interview, my hear swells with pride and a new resolve. When faced with people or situations that bring me down and lower my esteem. When winter draws nigh and times are tough. When depression, self-pity and giving up seem so appealing. I will yell NOT TODAY, NOT EVER!
Dear reader till we meet again, take care and when fear peeps in, shout out loudly and confidently…”NOT TODAY!”