Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Sleeping Away, Slipping Away



Perhaps there is some genetic link and heritage to both insomnia and a nocturnal circadian rhythm.

Deep inside, I know there is more that meets the eyes, not unlike the Transformers.


Sleeping Away, Slipping Away

I’ve been working like a dog the last two weeks, barely getting 2 hours of sleep per day. My schedule of work and locum slots this month amount to an average of 18 hours per day. It still leaves me with a theoretical six hours of sleep but the fact is we all have biological needs and physiological functions to fulfill some of which might take a big chunk of your daily life.

A low requirement of sleep is an advantage in the medical profession. I sometimes pity the doctors who had had an easy pathway to their medical careers. They are not used to sleepless nights and end up I fatique and depression. My colleagues ask me why I don’t appear exhausted despite my lack of sleep. Most exclaimed surprise that I was on call the night before but still appeared energetic. I shrug and say that’s just my body.

My father has been a self-diagnosed insomniac for as long as I can remember. He falls asleep only with the aid of midazolam and wakes up just in time to greet the newspaper vendor and catch the daily news.

Unlike him though, I have ceased trying to resist my nocturnal system and instead embrace it to my advantage.

People impress upon me that the early bird catches the worm and that many successful personalities adopt an ‘early to bed, early to rise’ approach in life. Most ‘longevity experts’ advocate adequate sleep and a regular sleep-wake pattern in order to live till a hundred years old.

Well, worms are not my delicacy and I don’t fancy living to an overripe old age in time to witness Tanah Melayu becoming Taliban-land a hundred years from now. Unless researchers can find the Methuselah gene and couple it to the Fountain of Youth, thank you very much - I’m pretty comfortable with a nocturnal lifestyle even if it means I’ll die a little younger.

Perhaps there is some genetic link and heritage to both insomnia and a nocturnal circadian rhythm.

Deep inside, I know there is more that meets the eyes, not unlike the Transformers.

I may have had nocturnal roots engrained within my system since childhood, but I nevertheless slept to my contentment back then.

I started surviving on two hours of sleep back when I was sitting for the pre-university/STPM examinations.

It was sometime around May/June of Upper Six, that time of the year when the local universities announce their student intake for the year. My Malay peers who went through Matriculation were to enter university a year earlier, while us non-Malays in secondary school outfits were still fighting one another for our share of the varsity racial quota limits.

Lest and before anyone accuses me and other nons of being kiasu and competitive, essentially STPM was just that – an intra-ethnic survival of the fittest. This is one salient feature about the New Economic Policy (NEP) that many folks don’t point out. It pits Malays against Malays, Indians against Indians and Chinese against Chinese, instead of providing for a clean contest that rewards meritocracy without regard to race and religion.

It really doesn’t matter how well one performs objectively, all that mattered at the end of the day was how one fared in comparison to another person of the same ethnicity. This bitter fact of Malaysian life did not hinder us STPM students from helping one another though. I received loads of help from my studying partners and ultimately we all fared pretty well in the examinations.

Burning the midnight oil was not the trigger of my nocturnal state though. Most STPM students studied real diligently, except for some who was lost to cloud nine from day one of school. On my side, knowing that the NEP cloud was hovering above me at all times may have driven me to strive harder, but it certainly did not deprive me of sufficient sleep. Sleeping was very much an option still.

I was shouldering multiple positions in school because we required our extracurricular activities to propel us ahead of the others with similar academic credentials. I was determined to enter medical school, not any medical school but the Medical Faculty of University Malaya. My teachers told me to drop the idea, aim lower and even something else apart from medicine. They meant well I suppose, considering the fact that no head prefects in the preceding few years have ever came close to achieving a decent score in STPM. I appreciated their apparent belligerence and belittling of my hopes and dreams for it made me even more determined to prove them wrong.

Naysayers should never be brushed aside and ignored. They play an omnipotent role in one’s life. Ultimately, it’s our response to critics and skeptics that truly matter. We can ignore them and proceed at our own momentum. If one is has an intrinsic high level of motivation, one will do just fine, like my sister. If one is a lazybone with inherently great inertia and low drive, one ends up paying a high price for ignoring antagonism, like Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. One can also pay too much heed to cynics and end up dispirited and downcast, like Britney Spears and half of the Hollywood neigbourhood. That too is not desirable. I don’t know how and why but I’ve always liked the idea of proving detractors wrong which must not be misconstrued as discrediting every dissenting view.

That was a side track from the main topic, if there were any to begin with in the first place.

In summary, high school activities were not how I came to survive on minimal night sleep though.

Both my sisters were away from home pursuing further education during my STPM year. Essentially, only my brother and I were left in the family home. He has been at home for most of his life in fact. Don’t ask me to elaborate in detail why he was not sent to a special school for children with Down syndrome.

Suffice to say, there were multiple, intertwining factors. The UMNO/BN government did not offer decent special education to begin with. Back in 1996, I checked out this special school called Sekolah Semangat Maju literally translated as the ‘school of progressive spirit’. The windows were broken, the doors were rotting and the teachers in tudung were yelling at the top of their voices. It was an atmosphere of regression and the teachers were anything but spirited. That was then. Things may have changed a little for the better now but ultimately, the fact remains that special education in Malaysia is a farce compared to other nations, and I am not talking about Burma and Zimbabwe.

Brother was lonely. He could have well been lonely his whole life, but I’m sure he was happy and at least contented when Mother was still around to talk and listen to him. They kept each other company. Hers was a body weakened by multiple sclerosis but Mother remained strong in mind and was determined not to neglect her special child from heaven. Brother was lacking in cognition but abundant in character and he too has resolved not to be inhibited by an extra chromosome.

I don’t think I was a responsible brother all those years Mother was around. Truth be told, I was lousy. I came to this realization when I was left all alone with Brother at home. I had to learn everything about him from scratch as though I never knew him all those years we were growing up under the same roof.

We talked. We talked a lot those two years of STPM. Actually, Brother talked mostly while I did the listening. Mother had taught him well enough while she was still around and able to. She must have done an excellent job in that because Brother seemed to have endless to talk about. In between recounts of the latest episode of Kindred Spirit and a daily reminder of whose birthday was coming up soon, Brother spoke of his endless hopes and dreams. From his down-to-earth desire to have Hawaiian chicken pizza the coming Sunday evening to the far-fetched even absurd ambition of being the next new character on Kindred Spirit, the hours spent with Brother turned to weeks and months.

So while other students spent their time at home reading Chemistry and doing Mathematics, I was getting to know a brother I already had my whole life.

We usually spoke till way past midnight, after the mandatory drive around town and a game of modified racquetball in my bedroom. After supper at around 1 a.m and a drink of Daisy Hi-Low milk, my routine-obsessed Brother retires to bed.

I’m left with five hours before school the next morning, where I’ll spend one third of my time out of class chasing after Malay guys smoking in the school toilet and catching Chinese brats playing truant at the nearby snooker outlet. The dark-rings around my eyes suggested an all-out studying orgy, but only God knows that I have had less than two hours of Biology/Chemistry/Maths.

That is how I came to survive on two hours of sleep every night. The STPM examination paved the course. A racist system placed me at the starting line and a tall ambition blew the starting whistle. My brother kept me on the course, alongside my silent prayers to Jesus.

It’s 6.30 am now. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the grass is green and you might still be sleeping. Now if you’d excuse me, I think I need to sleep too.


8 comments:

darren said...

You are not alone.

Most of us who have gone through STPM knows how it is like having only 2 hours of sleep. It didn't get any better after it when we were forced to take those crazy TITAS papers in the form of long essays to glorify certain civilisation.

... anyway, 6th college's foodstall is always full at night though. Maybe you guys really don't sleep at all.

Melissa said...

You write so beautifully.

Anonymous said...

Keep up your good work. I noticed that even Lim Kit Siang is using your article. I hope that you will eventually qualify as a specialist because I know you are one who always give back to society. Good Luck and may god bless you and your little brother

CK Tan said...

:) tat's all i can say.
n of course, take k.

Anonymous said...

ENERGISER BUNNY

Quote
“I’ve been working like a dog the last two weeks, barely getting 2 hours of sleep per day. My schedule of work and locum slots this month amount to an average of 18 hours per day. It still leaves me with a theoretical six hours of sleep”

TWO HOURS OF SLEEP!!!! Wow!!!! Wonders never cease. How can anyone function with only two hours of sleep? A Herculean feat so monumental it’s beyond the comprehension of diurnal creatures like mois who needs 8 solid hours of sleep. Anything less and yours truly will be in a state of comatose torpor. As far as I’m concerned the equation is simple, brain addled by sleep deprivation results in me being zombie like.

Diurnal creatures are the complete antithesis of nocturnal creatures and yours truly who is an archetypal diurnal creature with a singular lack of skill at keeping sleep at bay (my batteries get weaker by the hour particularly anytime past the witching hour) is awed by anyone with the phenomenal ability to that.

But I guess it’s a doddle for an indefatigable intern cutting his/her teeth at a public hospital. After all an intern’s days are probably packed solid with all manner of health-care exigency (interns are so far down the pecking order that even senior nurses can lord it over all 'lowly' interns eh!). Of course premed and the few years at medical school (ploughing through those stodgy medical tomes) has given you solid grounding in the art of doing with very little sleep.

Having said that it does sound like you’re spreading yourself too thin and working yourself into the ground.

Quote
“In between recounts of the latest episode of Kindred Spirit and a daily reminder of whose birthday was coming up soon, Brother spoke of his endless hopes and dreams. From his down-to-earth desire to have Hawaiian chicken pizza the coming Sunday evening to the far-fetched even absurd ambition of being the next new character on Kindred Spirit, the hours spent with Brother turned to weeks and months.”

Ah yes! The alluring anodyne bolthole mindless soap operas provide.


Quote
“I was shouldering multiple positions in school because we required our extracurricular activities to propel us ahead of the others with similar academic credentials”
Unquote

Quite the renaissance man (ever so adept at multi-tasking).


Q8-) Energiser bunny…….NOT

sojourner said...

i can only say that God loves you and your bro so much. Despite your circumstances, He has raise you up above your circumstances and answered your prayers.
i think your mom thought your bro a lot more about life than any special education school could ever have done.
so you wrote this during your overnight locum huh? thought you'd write about the wedding. maybe you should write that as anonymous, hehe ;P

Xiao_zhai said...

2 hours is certainly undoable for me...

I tend to go with 5 myself.

I certainly hope and pray that you'd last the leg.Gd luck.

the cili padi doctor @ Lynette said...

My dear friend...

how do u manage to go about with 2 hours of sleep for a long stretch lar?

i confess that us doctors tend to be 'kan cheong' people and have type A personalities..as a result, insomnia comes easily. it's good that our working life fits nocturnal creatures like you well..but do think about your physical, emotional and mental health ok?

take care. you are in a land of great contrast and at the same time, amazing beauty and wonders. Sabah is blessed and you are there for a reason. don't look down upon your contribution to the nation, both through the medical world and the cyberspace. I m so proud of u.