Most of the guests who visit the attic are people I’ve met relatively recently, but today’s guest and I first met many years ago in Hobart, Tasmania, when she was still a schoolgirl thinking of studying medicine and I was a much younger mum and doctor. We lost contact for about 16 years, but our paths crossed again last year through a mutual friend, Michelle Johnston, after I posted Michelle’s piece for the attic as part of this series.
Today, I’m thrilled to share this beautiful essay written by my friend, Shahina Braganza. Please enjoy!
‘As I faithfully scribed the words, I would experiment with print versus cursive, straight versus slanted, and – when the luxury presented itself – blue versus black ink.’
Shahina is a perfectly flawed individual who happens to be an Emergency Physician working in a public hospital in Queensland. She is passionate about sharing vulnerability – whether through speaking, writing, or in everyday life – in order to empower others and herself. She believes that the smallest acts can have the largest impact, and that it is possible to be extraordinary simply by being thoughtful and generous.
Converting Chaos Into Order
Simply put, writing decompresses my brain. The page acts as the overflow reservoir for the thoughts that are so tightly packed together that they threaten at intervals to explode and spill out. The ideas sometimes come together in a thoughtful, poetic reflection or commentary. Most times, they come out as a To Do list…
My love for the written word developed during my early childhood.
I grew up in India and Zambia. My family left India with our worldly possessions contained in a couple of suitcases and a steel trunk. We didn’t leave in haste – that’s actually all we had. Despite the fact that my father was a doctor, the Indian rupees we left with were worth little on international ground. We arrived in Zambia with a modest amount of material goods, and our lives remained modest in the years we were there.
My brother and I had few toys, but managed to make our own fun – the steel trunk served as a stage and we would entertain ourselves for hours with our “pop band performances”. Our mum sometimes stood in for our imaginary audience of thousands.
My most prized possessions were a couple of hardcover books – one consisted of nursery rhymes with accompanying illustrations; the other was a collection of fables and fairy tales. My mum tells me that I would read these books from cover to cover, and back again, until she was certain that I had memorised them. Now and again, an expat family would leave Zambia and I’d be handed down another book or two. These would similarly be devoured.
It was the early 1980s and the only link my family had to our relatives back home was the humble aerogram. I would sit in the kitchen as my Mum prepared the evening meal, and she would dictate letter after letter to me. As I faithfully scribed the words, I would experiment with print versus cursive, straight versus slanted, and – when the luxury presented itself – blue versus black ink.
It was my high school English teacher, many years later, and now in New Zealand, who encouraged my writing. Mr Riley taught me spelling and grammar, but he also taught me about structure – a captivating introduction, a tidy close, and all the bits in the middle. For the moment, this is about all I know about writing – perhaps I’ll have the opportunity to study it further one day – but perhaps, for the moment, it is enough. After all, my To Do lists seem to work with simple boxed points :).
My writing dwindled over the subsequent two decades – university, work, and then the demands of parenting and managing a family household took over.
‘I realised that my writing had allowed a connection between what we do in healthcare with what is important to the people we serve.’
But then I started writing again. I didn’t actually realise at first that that was what I was doing – a letter to an executive sharing a job well done by our staff; an email to the CEO encouraging him to consider a certain employment issue; an offering of commentary for a workplace newsletter. But then, something I wrote was publicised by our hospital media, and the response to the piece was powerful. I realised that my writing had allowed a connection between what we do in healthcare with what is important to the people we serve – and the tone of the story resonated with the reader.
I wrote that story the morning after the tragic episode had occurred. I woke up with the events – and all the layers surrounding it – swirling and percolating in my mind: the actions, the dialogues, the expressions. I was consumed by them. I wondered if it may help to write them down. I sat at the kitchen counter alone, working on my laptop for 30 mins, allowing the thoughts, memories and emotion to spill – raw and unfettered – onto the screen. When the story was complete, I finally sat back. It dawned upon me that I felt less burdened – like I could take what had happened, and gently and respectfully transfer it into words, where it could be contained and then slowly digested over time. That along with the pain, there might be some beauty to be found.
Since then, I have experienced this again. I’ll return from an eventful shift, or I’ll have an interaction that disrupts my state of mind (positively or negatively), or I’ll have a dialogue with someone who raises themes I think are worthy of reflection or commentary – or I’ll simply start to feel overwhelmed by demands and deadlines. When this happens, I’ll attempt to make time to write.
Writing allows me to declutter my mind, to sort its contents into tidy folders (or To Do lists) – to convert the chaos into some semblance of order – so that between these folders I can create space to simply be, even if just for a few moments.
For any doctors, former doctors or doctors-in-training who are also writers, please consider joining our Facebook group, Doctors Who Write. It’s a very informal group with no aim other than to unite doctors who share a love of the written word, although we do discuss writing and share our writerly knowledge and literary successes.
There’s another giveaway of The Sisters’ Song on over at Goodreads, with 20 more copies of my book available to win!