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Wilkommen to my blog - my name is Karin Purshouse, and I'm a doctor in the UK. If you're looking for ramblings on life as a junior doctor, my attempts to dual-moonlight as a scientist and balancing all that madness with a life, you've come to the right place. I'm currently a doctor/research trainee in oncology after spending a year doing research in the USA. All original content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Failure is Always a Good Way to Learn

Music seems to be a heavy theme of recent blogs.  Isn't it amazing how music can influence and reflect your mood?  I have been blasting everything from Einaudi, Brahms and Arvo Part to Phoenix, Bloc Party and Arcade Fire on the lab speakers of late.  Recent concert highlight (hard to pick just one...) - Liszt's Piano Sonata in B Minor - what a journey!

As I've just jumped the 'unlucky' 13 (000! Thanks, lovely readers, whoever you are!) mark on this blog, I thought I'd tackle all-things unlucky and find a positive spin.  The title of this blog post comes from one of my favourite bands when I was a teenager - and now - Kings of Convenience. The lyrics pretty much define why the outdoors are such an important place for me; a place where there is no blame or retribution or, well, failure.  Here are some of the highlights:

I wish I could travel overground
To where all you hear is water sounds,
What do you think of our high-quality arts and crafts?
See, scientists can be creative...
Lush as the wind upon a tree.
I wish I could travel overground
To where all you hear is water sounds,
To capture and keep inside of me.
Failure is always the best way to learn,
Retracing your steps until you know,
Have no fear your wounds will heal.

I have just had to throw three months worth of lab work in the bin, literally (slightly anxiety-inducing given that I have a thesis due in two months), and hands down the worst thing about living overseas is feeling like a friend failure for those back home.  The risk of failure is everywhere, from big things like jobs and relationships, to little ones like missing a phone call or forgetting to send a birthday card.  Big fat failure lies at every turn.

My research in beer form.  What a find from the boss...
I maintain that a bit of failure is good and healthy, and it is constant.  I fail at stuff all the time; just thinking about my funding for coming to the USA, I applied for a whole bunch of grants and scholarships, and got precisely none of them apart from the Fulbright. Well, of course I am grateful and glad for the one I DID get; but there is nothing more soul destroying than weeks of preparing an application, only to be told in three lines that you, yes YOU, weren't good enough.  When I applied for my first job after medical school, I got rejected without interview at most places I applied.  Lab work is utterly soul destroying when it isn't working, again because it feels like a very personal, individual failure - I feel like the world's suckiest scientist at the moment.  More generally, I cringe all the time remembering things I have said (or not said); surely speaking before thinking is one of my biggest faults.  Don't even get me started on my failures where my friends, family and the rest are concerned (but you'll forgive me if I keep them to myself!).  People often assume that stuff just 'works' - I'll concede that overall I've been very, very lucky thus far, but really - if only.  It's just easier to avoid talking about the failures, and as a result they remain unseen.  Damn that game face.

Clinically, I harbour my own guilt of bad decisions made and failures that I have come to accept and live with.  That once meant telling a patient I had made a prescribing mistake that fortunately didn't affect their care, but could easily have done.  On another occasion it meant telling a relative that their husband had died after they suddenly had a heart attack which we couldn't save them from despite 45 minutes of CPR - so no active failure, but it certainly feels like it when you've been crying about it in the patient's toilet for fifteen minutes and then have to get your face and professionalism together to talk to their family.  There's been a photo doing the rounds of a doctor after he lost a patient - I have certainly pulled that pose more than once.

A bit of the Bindra lab!
But in time I have come to realise that failure is really how one chooses to see it.  Without wishing to get too profound, perhaps we allow what society dictates as success and failure to cloud our judgement.  As a girl with a career (shocking!), there are many views I encounter about my work/life balance and society's expectation that my ovaries dictate my every move.  Clinically and particularly scientifically, I must accept that sometimes I will fail, in someone else's eyes even if not in my own (although one of my other major faults is usually seeing it the other way round).  Failure is a part of life, and I have learned in time to try and forgive myself and others - like an alcoholic, I guess acceptance is the first step to recovery.  And maybe that makes me seem like a pushover - well, whatever.  I feel quite the opposite about it.  Of course, all easier said than done.


I only have to cast a glance at any newspaper to know my failures are of absolutely no import.  So I'll take comfort from the successes, however small, and focus on them instead, all the while trying to live and learn, and maintaining some bigger world perspective.  Case in point - realising the happiness of taking my stresses out on the pages of a journal or in the park when I'm out running - and the peace of keeping them there (as opposed to letting them come out of my mouth!).  The overworrying - well; that's a work in progress...

NB: The photos are from a bit of recent lab-success celebrating - good to stay positive even if my lab stuff isn't working at the moment :)
N 'in più' B: Just to round off the music theme - I've been reading a Gershwin bio recently to accompany listening my way through his back catalogue - turns out there's a rather large coincidence between Mr Gershwin and my field of science research...

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