There is a brown parent phenomenon - it’s a phenomenon they perpetuate even without sometimes realising it. And that is doctor, engineer or loser. Ok, maybe you can add a couple of more careers to that, but you get my drift.
My story is one that starts boringly similar to that of brown kids everywhere. Dad’s parents see Mom. Parents like mom. Dad and mom get married. Mom finds out she is expecting me. They go to their doctor for their scan and find out they are having a girl. Dad exclaims Alhumdullilah! Our doctor is coming. And there you have it, folks! Fate decided. Six months or so later, I make my entrance into the world, all shiny, new - and let’s face it, gross. My mom is happy I am finally out, my dad counts my fingers and toes and wonders when my hand would be big enough to hold a stethoscope, and all is right in the world.
I go through school where there are times when I sometimes have the illusion of choice. Maybe once every couple of years I do get a throwaway ‘you can be whatever you want to be’ here and there. But who are we kidding? My fate was decided at three months in utero and that was that.
I’m going to be honest: I was a good student. I had thoughts in my head. I also had zero filters. So, unfortunately for my parents (who despite my prior ranting, are pretty fantastic) and brother, verbal diarrhea was also one of my gifts. Somewhere along the road, I discover good old Us magazine and I think to myself, why not turn my annoying habit into something productive? And so, I start putting my thoughts on paper or on my pirated version of Microsoft word, rather. I discovered at this point that nothing I had ever done so far in my life was quite as satisfying as completing an article and reading it through. And this was even before it was published. That fateful day when I first saw my byline in print was like no other! I was in school still, and wholly surprised that someone out there actually liked to read about my life experiences. My seemingly useless habit of obsessively following celebrity gossip was literally and figuratively paying out now that I could write about it. Every now and then I would get a check in the mail, life was good.
At some point, I think to myself, can I make this into my career? Journalism does sound glamorous, right? While I was mostly writing about teen issues in a magazine, I could graduate into doing exposés on corrupt politicians, right? While I was a good student and well en route to becoming Dr Shaza Khalid, did it really give me the same personal satisfaction as completing an article and seeing my name in print? And so, I hesitantly discuss the idea with my mom and while this is not that dramatic movie where all hell broke loose, the response was a very solid ‘bad idea’. There is no stability in this job. Haha, as if young doctors in Pakistan have any stability whatsoever. Do you know how much they earn, was one of the concerns? Do you know how much medical residents make, Mom? Being a doctor is the ‘most respectable’ profession for girls was another one. Hello! Do girls in journalism lose respect all of a sudden? Ok, you can be a doctor and write on the side. Be like Robin Cook if you want to. But you cannot throw a solid career away like this. Writing is a hobby, not a career after all. You can write at any point in your life. This chance at medicine will not offer itself again.
I am nothing if not pragmatic. I come from a middle-class family. Growing up, we were not rich, and I saw my parents worry about finances constantly. My mom’s argument about financial stability did make sense to me. I am also mildly competitive and I knew that people in my family would definitely consider me a failure if I didn’t do medicine. After all, in Pakistan, the only reason to do anything else is you didn’t get into medical school, right? Like I said before, there was no dramatic tussle between my parents and me here. My parents were (and are) incredible, and the idea of disappointing my father was definitely more unpalatable for me as opposed to me nurturing this budding dream I had. Also, in Pakistan you pick your career fairly early - too early in my opinion to logically consider the pros and cons of your entire life choice. So, a large part of it was my ego, my inability to go against the grain and venture out of my comfort zone, and definitely my own fear of being in a somewhat unstable career. It helped that I didn’t hate medicine, either. So, medical school was where I went.
I kept up with my writing in med school, though. As a student and last-minute studier at that, I managed to carve out reasonable time to do some pieces. My editor continued to treat me like a fairly regular freelancer who could churn out a 700-word article in a relatively short period of time (did I mention I was fast?). But then medical school ended, and real life began. Somewhere down the line I decided to come to the United States for further training and that took so much out of me in terms of time, energy and brain power that my writing dwindled down to just about nothing. Every time I decided to write something new, I had a voice in my head telling me that writing a research paper would likely be a better use of my time since it would help me get into residency or further my career. The excuses and oftentimes valid reasons are endless.
I wasn’t following a doctor giving out orders anymore. I was the doctor. My decisions mattered. So, while it was ok to skip out early as a student, I couldn’t do that anymore. That one full weekend that I got in the month, I wasn’t going to sit in front of a computer and type. There was no way I was going to meet a deadline when my patient was in a bad way or dying. All the other guys training around you are going to be there at the crack of dawn. So, there was I, doing the same, not willing to let anyone show me up at the expense of other ‘hobbies’ that I once had. In a life of microwave dinners in front of Netflix before passing out on the couch, am I really going to find time to channel my thoughts onto a piece of paper? I also got caught up in the egotistic (and false) perception that doctors have. One that considers all other professions and hobbies somewhat less important than what we do. You see, it’s easy to get caught up in the feeling of ‘what I do in the hospital is the most important thing of all’. Sometime later, it wasn’t enough to be a simple resident anymore, subspecialisation is the name of the game now. The rat race is real, my friends, and it never ends. The robin cooks of the world are rare. And there is a reason for that.
A little while ago, my editor contacted me out of the blue. Turns out she came across something I had written many eons ago which hadn’t been published. She somehow found it still relevant and wanted to see if I was ok with her using that piece. She sent me the piece to approve while I was waiting for my flight at the airport. After skimming through it right before I got onto my flight, I sent her a cursory ‘yes I think, it’s good’. She replied with a ‘yes, you used to write well’ and that’s when it hit me. I ‘used to’ write well. So that’s how I am here at 35000 feet, wondering about how life is, how it could have been and why it isn’t that way. I do like what I do. Yes, helping people is great. Making good money while doing it is fantastic. But will I ever get that feeling I had the first time I saw my byline? I think not.