I have recently emerged from a week of total hibernation. You’d think that after the most gruelling year yet and almost two months of self-imposed solitude while studying for exams, I’d be ready to throw myself into a full-blown social life. Honestly, I thought so too.
The sad truth is that a social life on this island requires energy, some degree of patience and the ability to dance. Oh, and a good liver. I have the latter, but I like to use that luxury sparingly in the hope that it will last me into my eighties. I cannot dance to save my life. I found myself in a mosh pit lately, and realized that I’d much rather be in that howling mob than shifting nervously from one leg to the other to the sound of repettitive tunz-tunz-tunz and fit-inducing strobing light. More importantly however, the former two qualities had been so depleted that socialising was not a pleasure, but a task. I was sick of tasks.
Luckily for me, I had the chance to re-locate. Most students in my class were born on Malta, and live within a half hour drive to medical school (yeah, that’s how small my country is). But I was born on the second largest island, Gozo, which despite being less than a half hour ferry ride away is considered by most Maltese to be akin to a land far far away in space and time (cue the Stone Age jokes. Again, that’s how limited the average Maltese’s idea of distance is. It’s cute.). Going to Gozo means having a cast-iron excuse to NOT go to parties. I am two hours away from the fun, so I might as well be stuck in the Renaissance. It’s brilliant.
Don’t get me wrong, I love parties. I wouldn’t mind hitting the clubs in the roaring 20s, the 60s or even the 70s (at least their idea of fun – if John Travolta is anything to go by – involved pink socks and funky hand movements). And I think a couple of glasses of some kind of alcohol is a great way to loosen the tongue and relax. But this generation’s kind of parties? And binge drinking? Meh, not so much. My problem, you see, is that I don’t want to drink away my memories till I’m sick. That’s not my idea of a great time. Au contraire, I’d rather have the kind of awesome nights that I actually want to remember.
In Malta, medical students are reknowned, in university circles at least, for drinking and partying hard. I guess it’s our way of forgetting the stress. But it’s frustrating that it’s becoming our only way to forget, our main idea of fun. Is it really the best way ever to spend our precious free time; drowning our brains in poison to kill our inhibitions and generating gossip for the slightly less drunk people to titter over the next day?
Entering this course meant that I also entered into the medical student way of life, and got initiated into the medical student stereotype. It is a stereotype that changes slightly from one country to the other, but it ultimately boils down to two things. There are some things about it that you can’t change, that you have to adapt to whether you like it or not. The long hours, the studying, the stress, the struggle as you come face to face with situations and parts of yourself that you realize you were not ready to cope with – but also the satisfactions that come with the work, the pure joy of passing from one year to the next, the comfort that you are making a contribution to people’s lives.
And there are things you could change about yourself, but you don’t need to. The way you unwind and deal with stress is an art you’ll have to evolve in these years, for the sake of your own sanity. But it is an individual art that does not need to bow down to peer pressure. The reason is simple really. You are busy now. Life is short, free time even shorter on your hands. There just isn’t enough of it to waste on being a person you don’t enjoy being. You also don’t have enough brain and liver cells to make a weekly sacrifice of them for the sake of...what, exactly? A good time?
It’s called ‘a night to remember’ for a reason.