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     Volume 8 Issue 55 | January 30, 2009 |

  Cover Story
  A Roman Column
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  Food for Thought
  Star Diary
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Food for Thought

Farah Ghuznavi

It's true that the shock of entering the working world can destabilise (and in a minority of cases, un-hinge) even the most balanced personality. It could however be argued that those who wilfully undertake careers in notoriously unpredictable sectors ("unpredictable" here being used in the sense of exposure to atypical circumstances, rather than in job security) like as education or health, should expect to be shocked by some of what they encounter - to a degree, at least!

But I do believe that most teachers, for example, are well aware that theirs is a demanding profession - even more so when they have to take on responsibilities beyond the classroom. A British friend of mine working in Zambia described the painstaking preparations for a school camping trip, which included reassuring the youngsters in her class that she was taking extra sleeping bags in case anyone accidentally wet the bed.

Even the most stable of people can have one of those days when they question their own sanity.

"Don't be embarrassed to come to me," Helen told them, "In fact, you don't even need to tell me about it. Just come and ask for a spare sleeping bag." "Yeah… Well, Owen ate Nik-naks (cheese flavoured crisps) on the last trip, and then we went on a plane and he threw up everywhere. People might need a spare bag if they throw up like that!" one of her young charges responded cheerfully, providing some unnecessarily graphic details.

This discussion was followed by a series of (not very) intelligent questions regarding additional preparations for the camping trip itself. Helen answered most of the questions patiently, but by the end of the process, her patience had been sorely tried. And that is really saying something, because most of the time, she's a singularly easygoing individual! It must be conceded that some of the questions were simply too idiotic for anyone to take seriously, the gradual deterioration in the dialogue ultimately resulting in the following exchanges:

"What will happen if we get bitten by a black mamba, Mrs Radford?"
"You will die."
"Mrs Radford, if we are on a walk and one of us gets our foot stuck in a hole, what will we do?"
"We will leave you there forever".
"Shall we wear clothes to school on the day we leave?"

"No, you come without your clothes!" (This last response however, Helen does now regret, since she now thinks perhaps the student meant to say school uniform rather than "clothes"!)

Most teachers, for example, are well aware that theirs is a demanding profession - even more so when they have to take on responsibilities beyond the classroom.

But all this pales in comparison to the experiences of those working in the health sector (not to mention some of their patients!). Of course, if you're working in the mental health ward, you should probably expect a rough ride some of the time. My friend Lisbeth described how on one occasion she had to explain very firmly to one of the inhabitants of the ward that he was not The Messiah, despite his assertions to the contrary! To make matters worse, he had managed to convince some of the other patients that he was indeed Jesus - as a result of which they had all become his followers… Needless to say, this created all kinds of problems for the nursing staff. The good news is that the man responded very well to the medication he was prescribed for his mental disorder, and subsequently returned quite happily to life as an ordinary civilian, much to the relief of his caregivers (though possibly not his abandoned followers!)

Another friend, Ewa, works as a manager in a sheltered living setup, where people with a variety of mental health issues are encouraged to live in supervised flats, in order for them to have as normal a life as possible. In order to further facilitate that, Ewa has been known to occasionally take some of these individuals home with her, so that they can participate in family events and festival celebrations. Her family members have become inured to this, mostly accepting the presence of eccentric visitors in their midst with a degree of good humour. That is, except for the time when Ewa's elderly mother, upon being informed that they would be having an additional guest for Christmas dinner, worriedly enquired "It's not the one who bites, is it?"!!

Of course, even the most stable of people can have one of those days when they question their own sanity. A massage therapist I met told me about an incident that took place when she was treating an elderly patient. As the woman reclined on the treatment table, the masseuse glanced across the room to the chair upon which some of the patient's clothing lay neatly folded. To her amazement, she saw what appeared to be a cat sitting on a pile of clothes! Since there was no way that a cat could have come into the clinic, she remarked on this; the patient looked in that direction and emphatically said that there was no cat sitting on the clothes. For a moment, the masseuse wondered if she was going crazy. But as she described the cat to her patient, things got even stranger. She told the woman that the cat wanted her to know it was well and that the patient should not worry about its whereabouts. It turned out that the woman had recently lost a cat that looked exactly like the animal that the masseuse was describing! While telling me the story, she said that the patient had not come back to see her for over a year. Hardly surprising, since in that position, I'm not sure I would have ever gone back...

But at least when you are on the authoritative end of medical services provision, you have some chance of knowing what you're dealing with. For my friend Jannicke, who is herself a nurse, a recent incident with a dentist has left her questioning who should be receiving treatment. Having had a positive and pain-free experience with her new dentist, Jannicke had wasted no time in singing his praises to her friends. She was therefore more than embarrassed when one of her friends came back from a dental visit with a very strange story to tell.

Apparently the dentist had spent some time telling this woman about his previous incarnation as an Egyptian pharaoh! If that wasn't bad enough, he also shared with her (his captive audience) the story of how he had swiftly divorced his wife after meeting a woman who, according to him, was the reincarnation of his Egyptian consort. It must be admitted that this is an unusual justification for infidelity, but one wonders if he had to go to such extremes? As nurses, Jannicke and her friend had both seen a few strange things in their time, but this was one occasion that left them with their jaws dropping, literally as well as figuratively!

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