Note XXIII and the Reality of Survival in Med School

I want to blame Ben Carson. I really want to. Like many of my classmates, seniors, and co-apprentices of this hallowed profession, there are days when I wonder if I wouldn’t have been better off without that library-worn copy of Gifted Hands; a quartet of lecture slides, a textbook, jotter, and pen most likely laying before me. I even make it worse by recollecting the saying, “This is the easy part. It’s going to get harder, and you’ll have no choice but to cope” And with this, I return to the pages before me and spare Ben Carson for another day, or at least that happens on the good days.

On other days, passing the blame isn’t a good enough coping mechanism, and I seek distraction elsewhere, such as when I discovered Note XXIII from Boluwatife Afolabi’s 2018 Anthology, 25 Notes on Becoming. Growing up, my inclination towards poetry was little; save for a brief period in Primary School where I was mildly obsessed with John Keat’s The Naughty Boy and another during the eight-month strike where I wrote haikus endlessly for about two of those months. I loved – and still love – Rap and Hip-Hop but those abstract lines of poetry, not so much. In recent months, however, the influence of one close to me (who writes the most incredible poems), kindled my desire. I began to stay on the lookout for poems on statuses, Twitter, and anywhere else I could find them, trying to decipher this world I had always admired but never truly understood. Enter, Note XXIII.


I write to tell you that

I have wandered and wondered

and called salvation many names—




See, on my first read, it didn’t occur to me just how good of an over-arching metaphor this poem could be. It took me even longer to see it as a metaphor for survival in medical school. But as soon as I did, it became impossible to unsee.

 “I write to tell you that/ I have wandered and wondered”

First, there’s the never-ending search for answers in and out of one’s head. The only time a medical student doesn’t have an exam or test on the horizon is when he/she, is no longer a medical student, and this even applies mainly to the minority that may not choose to practice. It’s like a continuous weather forecast for challenges where the only certain thing is the uncertainty of results. There’s also the literal wandering; from study sessions to practicals, ward rounds, postings, tutorials, extra-curriculars (in which a surprisingly large number of medical students partake), group and individual hustles for signatures, and everything else you can imagine. Over here, it’s not unusual to encounter someone you know ‘just taking a walk’; the long stretch of road serving as their salvation for that moment.

and called salvation many names”

Unlike the Judeo-Christian concept the word ‘salvation’ has come to define for many, salvation here isn’t always a one-way street paved with the promise of gold at the end. It’s not an escape from a ‘what’ or ‘who’ – sin or the Devil –  only. Here, salvation is a hydra. Its many forms requiring different modes of supplication; its many names never truly spoken of.  Because, you see, naming would be an acknowledgment of the need to be saved, and that would be one confession too many, even in the privacy of one’s thoughts.


Here, salvation often arrives in the bosom of another soul. Classmate. Coursemate. Friend-of-a-friend. Medical students exhibit such an incredible capacity for love that it’s hard to reconcile us to the ‘bespectacled, never smiling’ image painted by the media. For clarity, I’m not referring to Agape love (although that also exists, as many brethren, and non-brethren, end up married).  I’m referring to the passionate stuff. Love is found in the bosom of others figuratively and more often than not, literally.

In our defense, expecting that one undergoes 18-hour work days (including studying) for weeks on end – and at what is statistically an intense ‘hormonal’ period – without the comfort of another is simply criminal. More appropriately, it’s delusional. All of that pressure has to be relieved at some point. And what better way than spending time with someone you deeply care about? It’s inevitable that people who live together and interact daily, develop feelings of attraction for one another.

However, this also means that some develop multiple feelings simultaneously. It’s not uncommon to witness the emotionally conflicted among us do a few wild things in the name of passion; often resulting in broken-hearts that have no choice but to mend in the face of tests and exams. In the process of seeking salvation, many a medical student leave their partners themselves needing salvation and therapy. Breakfast is served so frequently in this community that it doesn’t startle anymore. Still, if you want the best romantic experience of your life, date a medical student. You might cry in the end but such is the nature of life.

Fun Fact: There was no relationship between Asclepius (god of Medicine) and Eros (god of passionate love and desire) in Greek mythology. I guess they just weren’t looking hard enough.


Take a moment to Google the name above. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

When you’re done with that, cast your mind to the beloved 2009 Bollywood classic, 3 Idiots. What do you remember? The plot twist of Rancho being Phunsukh Wangduing?  “All is Well” and the “Give Me Some Sunshine” song by the character who committed suicide? Or maybe it’s the birth scene or how Rancho’s friends, Farhan and Raju, eventually got good jobs doing what they love? Just try to remember as much as you can, that’s all.

Now that you’re done reminiscing, allow me stain that memory by mentioning this: Rancho, Farhan, and Raju were followers of Ninkasi (No, I won’t explain who that is. Use Google, goddammit). Well, not exactly followers in the sense that they worshipped or prayed to her but in the sense that they consumed copious amounts of the deity’s offering; alcohol. They drank, a lot! In fact, Rancho in particular seemed to be adept at holding his alcohol down; staying coherent while at it.

There’s a particular scene where his love interest, a medical student, waltzes into his room drunk as hell, bottle still in hand, and teases him about proposing. With a few changes in dialogue, that scene could very well have been shot in South-Western Nigeria. I won’t go into explicit detail but the reality is that like Rancho, quite a few of us look to Ninkasi’s bottles for help when the going gets tough. And trust me, it does get tough; a lot. It’s a way to escape; if only for a little while. Sometimes, it’s taking enough to blackout that works. It could even be to kick back after a particularly tough test or to celebrate passing an exam. All that matters is that it works. In the end, the system gets its new doctors and everyone eats their induction rice; for the price of a few hepatocytes. Fac parum nocere, innit?.


I’d like to assume that Bolu Afolabi was a Christian as of the time he wrote this, hence his use of  Yeshua which is an alternative for the Hebrew name, Yehoshua. You’re more familiar with the Latinized version anyways; Jesus, our Lord and personal saviour (if you’re a Christian). For those of the Islamic faith, however, salvation is Allah’s. It’s essentially the same admission that Medical school is undoable without God.

During test and exam periods,  and even on regular days – which do not exist for us, now that I think about it – medical students draw close (r) to God. We pray consistently while fellowship with the brethren/faithful becomes non-negotiable. On statuses, verses from the Bible and the Quran are never in short supply. Most of these are verses where God re-affirms His promises, while some come from the stories and declarations of men and women of faith. Also, there’s the occasional extract from a Quranic recitation or church sermon to allay any fears or perhaps address a trending issue.

You won’t find a more ardent group of worshippers anywhere else in the student community. Not only are they vocal about their dependence on God, they (mainly Christians) readily preach this to others. One can always count on brethren to carry out room-to-room evangelism; spreading the message of the salvation they enjoy and inviting you to worship. And their theory for this is simple: If something works for you, you’d want others to enjoy it too.

In its way, Note XXIII  depicts, accurately,  the reality of a considerable number of your future doctors. The only thing more accurate, though, is that like Boluwatife, more people here tend to face salvation as a hydra, battling different heads at once. Here’s one of mine:


Yes, the deity. No, not in the context you’re used to. Sango in this context is the Marvel Comics character, Shango, Orisha/Vodun of the Internet. Actually, that’s one of the things I remember seeing on the character’s Wiki Fandom page circa 2016. And even though a recent surf through Fandom says otherwise, that’s what I’ll stick with. “The Oba who didn’t commit suicide by hanging from a rope” is the patron for my source of sanity: the Internet.

I don’t have to explain this one, I think.

Fun Fact: Shango is one of the few characters to exist in both the Marvel and DC Universes.

If someday I ever become a poet,  I hope my poems would be of this quality or better. If  not, I’ll take comfort in the knowledge of my eye for quality poetry. And maybe, then, I won’t have any blame left for Ben Carson.


P.S – Read 25 Notes On Becoming here.

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4 thoughts on “Note XXIII and the Reality of Survival in Med School”

  1. The flow is mesmerizing. I found myself reading till the end.
    I’m still blown away by how engaging and informative this post is. It’s both entertaining and educational, and I can’t wait to read more from this author.

  2. I sat in awe for about 7 minutes reading this. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting this caliber of writing when I clicked on the link. You’re an excellent storyteller. Keep it up!

  3. This was absolutely delightful to read. I casually saw it on the board and remained transfixed till I read the last word. Beautiful!

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