Friday, 27 January 2017

Trump vs Refugees


I don't know about you, but it's only been 6 days, and I'm exhausted. Keeping up with the chilling actions of the new US administration is both tiring and frightening. Journalists in jail, finding cut for womens health, cuts to the violence against women program, contraception defunded, banning immigrants from muslim countries, scientific researches banned from publishing anything that doesn't fit the governments agenda [read: climate change, effects of marijuhana, effects of guns on violence....], recommencing of building oil pipelines through sacred native american land, cuts to the civil rights division, and the list goes on and on......

As well as every possible civil liberty being threatened, here, one thing really struck a chord with me, and that was the complete suspension of the taking in of refugees. Those of you who've been following me for a while will know that when I first started singing for money in 2011, I nominated the UNHCR, United Nations Humanitarian Commission for Refugees as my official charity, and that any money I made from music, I'd give to them, as I was moved by the work that they do particularly in Rwanda, but also worldwide.

 In the lead-up to the US election last year, I heard a republican senator say that the USA shouldn't take refugees from Syria because of what they 'might be scared of'. "WHAT?????" I thought to myself. 200,000 people have died, and he said that they 'might be scared'.  This inhumanity absolutely made my blood boil. In response, I made this:  
I'm sure you're outraged by Trump, not only for being the person that he is, but also that these regressive policies are certain to harm so many people, including refugees. However, refugees aren't fed or sheltered by outrage. Only aid can do that. And aid can only be brought to them by people who are prepared to take action. As stated in the video, the action I'm asking you to take is to buy this CD, as the proceeds will be going to help those same refugees that Trump and his cronies are abandoning.

For us, it's not a lot of money, but each CD sale can give a weeks food for one person, or vaccinate an entire class of children. You can get yours here: www.victorsteele.com/v-factor I don't usually mention this charity when I talk about my music, as I don't want to seem too coercive in trying to get people to buy it. However, I don't think our generation has seen times like this before, and so I think it vital that I make it an issue and ask you to take some action for the benefit of those less fortunate than ourselves, while getting 6 great songs for your own enjoyment.  

As a great man once said: you may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say that you didn't know.  

Thanks,  

Victor.  


The link, again, is here: www.victorsteele.com/v-factor

Melbourne

Melbourne

India

India

Monday, 29 February 2016

Exams

Fourth year med school.
OSCE [objective structured  clinical examination].

Max and I were practising one of the many role play scenarios that could come up in the exam. This one was post-natal depression. He was playing the doctor. I was playing the patient.

Him: do you ever worry that you might harm your child?

Me: I don't know.... it just won't stop crying, and sometimes I just don't know what to do...

Him: do you have any hobbies or interests that can take your mind off it for a while?

Me: well.... I used to love playing tennis, but I just don't feel like it anymore....

Him: what about your intimate relationship with your partner? Is that OK?

Me: well... My husband and I used to be quite active, but I just don't feel the desire anymore. And besides- I've just given birth. I probably shouldn't be having sex, anyway....

Him:

[looks at me quizzically]

[shrugs his shoulders]





He suggested an alternative.



Now, I won't say what that alternative was, but I'm pretty sure you can guess. Needless to say, I was laughing so much I could no longer continue with the study session.

To be fair to Max, we had done so many practise sessions that we were both starting to get a bit delirious. But even so, I wasn't ready for that.

Max, man- you kill me. You take out a knife and kill me.

That was a tough year for the two of us, but through our extensive preparation, we actually bonded very strongly, and it's one of the main reasons we're as good friends as we are today. My approach to exams has always been very structured and methodical. I really don't like taking risks with exams. My ethos has always been: there's a syllabus. So learn the syllabus. At age 15 for my GCSEs, I came up with a revision timetable for myself. It took 2 weeks to make, and detailed my intended subject matter every day for the 4 months leading upto the exams. My good friend and bandmate, Munawar did something similar, and we collaborated to make timetables for the other boys in the year, selling them for 5pounds each. Almost none of them actually used them. But we did. And we got straight As.

Max was more than happy to come with me on my journey, and to the table, he brought a wealth of exam experience, having already qualified as a dentist, and then doing a medical degree en route to becoming a maxillo-facial surgeon. The symbiosis worked very well. We passed the exam with ease.

Within the constraints of getting the work done, I'm very serious. But when there's room, my inner child comes shining through, and to be honest, my inner child isn't very inner. He runs very close to the surface, and sometimes it takes a lot of conscious effort to keep him under control. However, it's because of that that during the lead up to those exams, Max and I laughed more than we'd laughed in a long time. It's something I've noticed repeatedly among a lot of my close friends. Max knows that around me, he can act like a child and still look like an adult in comparison. He knows I won't judge him. Which is why he can make jokes like the one above. Nobody else believes me when I tell them, though.

Being a kid is important. No matter how old you get, or how serious life becomes, don't ever stop being a kid.



How is everyone?



A few editions ago, I made reference to a written exam I had just done, and was waiting for results for. This was the written component of the fellowship of emergency medicine, which entitles you to become a consultant. I actually took 6 months off full time work, and was doing brief contracts to stay afloat financially, as well as keep in touch with clinical medicine while studying. It was a tough time leading up to it, as in emergency medicine, you see literally everything, and there's no limit to how much detail you can go into any one particular area. It took a lot of self discipline to study each subspecialty to a depth that I thought was reasonable before moving on to the next one.

There was a pre-set timetable of mock exams organised by the college in the build-up [NSW Fellowship Course], which I attended, and actually caught up with some former colleagues from a previous hospital. Most peoples performance was highly variable, with emotions soaring and plummeting at high frequency. Some of my former colleagues had been doing that same exam twice a year since I started advanced training four years before. And they still hadn't passed it. These are smart people. I looked at them and thought "Victor- people smarter than you fail this exam. What hope do you have?". Which didn't do anything for my confidence at all. However, by the same logic, I could reasonably argue that people less smart than me pass the exam. Clearly there's more to this than being good at medicine.

I just kept plugging away, trying not to get too phased if any one particular exam or question didn't go too well. The strange thing was, though, that the study wasn't the hardest thing about it all. This was the first exam since the age of 22 that I've done while being single. The loneliness was crippling. I hated it. I really hated it. I went to Wellington in NZ for a couple of days for the salsa congress where I saw a lot of my old friends. They're like a family to me. On the final night I was almost tearful, as I knew I'd have to get back to studying again.

The thing I tell myself to keep myself going during prolonged study periods is 'It's not forever, and it's not for nothing'. If either of those were to change, then I simply wouldn't do it.

Exam day came, and I wasn't actually that nervous. I'd done all I could reasonably do. It was just a case of getting through the day. Two 3-hour papers with lunch break in between. The morning paper was free response, and the afternoon paper was MCQs. The first was incredibly pressured, with a great need to answer as quickly as possible, as running out of time was a very real danger. Maintaining that level of concentration for 3 hours straight was really draining, and it took all the endurance I had.
There were thirty questions in total, and for 3 of them, I specifically remember turning the page and thinking

"What....

the....

[expletive]????"

I have never heard of this thing in my entire life.

OK.

Keep it together. Think logically, act sensibly. Do what a reasonable person would do in this scenario and move on to the next question. Don't let it affect the rest of the exam.

Afterwards, I spoke to the other candidates and asked them "Had you even heard of that????" Thankfully almost none of them had, which made me feel a lot less like a sheep. Retrospectively, though, work life in emergency is like that: you can get presented with the most random things. You can't know everything, and you definitely can't have experienced everything. You need to be dynamic and flexible, and handle unfamiliar situations with a sensible approach. I guess this is what they were testing here. Not so much the medical science. They wanted to see who would keep it together, and who would crumble. Some people do crumble. Thankfully, I didn't. But whether or not that would affect the outcome, I would have no idea.

The afternoon MCQs were much less pressured time wise, and even if they weren't I've done so many for my US exams and MRCP [UK] that I think I would have handled them reasonably well, anyway. The questions were very broad, and I found myself thinking right back to medical school to answer some of them. I came out of that one feeling nothing like as traumatised as the morning exam.

My brain was fried by the end of the day. I took the ferry back to Manly and took a friend out to dinner to have a very quiet celebration of  it all being over.

It was a 6 week wait for the results, but I wasn't going to stress about it. It wouldn't make any difference. It takes a couple of weeks at least to recover from these exams, so I was just focussing on getting as much rest as possible.

The announcement would come  via an emailed link to the colleges website with a list of candidate numbers. They were 2 days late with it, which made everyone quite anxious. It was a Wednesday morning. I was on duty in the intensive care unit in Wollongong [the greatest job in medicine, by the way], but got permission to sneak back to the doctors residence to check on my computer, as the site is not mobile friendly.

I clicked the link. It took me to a page titled "The following candidates have successfully completed the written component of the fellowship examination 2015.2:".

Then there was a list of numbers in single file.

I scrolled down.

My heart was pounding.

They appeared to be in numerical order [which was nice of them].

My eyes started watering, which didn't help.

I saw my number.


I lost it.

I was literally out of control. I completely lost it- I was jumping up and down and screaming and shouting. I made that scene from When Harry Met Sally look like a minor disturbance. I just went mental.

I couldn't believe it.

I cried.

You may have seen the Facebook status:


I ran into the intensive care unit with my arms in the air, and my colleagues gave me very warm congratulations- they all expected me to pass, although I wasn't quite so sure. 

Anyway- that ugliness is behind me forever. I will never do another written exam as long as I live. However, it's not quite over yet. There's still the matter of the practical exam [OSCE] this May. I can't prepare for this by myself, though- I need a practise partner. 

Now, where's Max...?



Victor.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Lesbians

I was home visiting family during the Olympics in London, and had an incredible time doing so. My parents were up in Cambridge at the time, and all my siblings and I were there with them on Super Saturday. My sister, Hilda, brought along her 2 kids. After the athletics, there was the commentary on the womens football. The 2 commentators were clearly 2 women in a same-sex relationship.

My 4 year old nephew, Nathan, pointed to one of them and asked "Mummy- why does that woman have hair like a man?"

I smiled, and patted him on the head and said "That's because she's a lesbia-"

"VICTOR!!!!!!" my sister screamed.

"What?? He's 4 years old! He'll have to learn at some point!"

In truth, I knew it was completely inappropriate [but not altogether harmful], which is why I said it. My sister shouldn't have been that surprised. I did tell him when he was 2 that his daycare teacher were bastards....
Later that night I was playing him some songs on my guitar. My sister poked her head through the door and asked "You're not telling him about lesbians or anything, are you??!!??"
"No- just playing him some of my music..."
"Good!" She said. She turned away, and as she was walking, I heard her mutter "Bloody clueless...!!"

How is everyone?

I remember as a teenager being really scared of lesbians because I thought that all lesbians hated men. I'm really not sure where this belief came from. Part of it must have been my single sex education, and being a relative academic recluse, meaning that I didn't know many girls at all, let alone girls who were gay. The weird thing is, with life and experience, and subsequently growing a brain, I actually found that, far from having anything to fear, if anything, I actually tend to get on better with gay women than straight ones. Particularly when you talk about relationships. They have an insight into aspects of life as a straight male that straight women don't, and a very vocal minority refuse to even try to understand, or even acknowledge. They get it.

If you remember one of my entries from a few years ago, I was on a date with 'Gillian', when she told me that a man who was afraid to approach a woman was probably really weak, and a poor partner, and that she'd have no problem approaching a man she was interested in, despite never having done it.  I asked her to approach a man at a nearby table. She nearly cried. I didn't mean to crush her like that, but her ignorance and lack of insight were really getting to me. I've never had such crazy logic come from a lesbian. Lesbians know, from first hand experience, that if everyone sits around doing nothing, nothing happens. And that if you want to have relationships with women, you'll generally have to do something.

They get it.

They know that the process of getting a woman to go out with you isn't the social equivalent of taking a can of beans off the shelf at the supermarket. One of my capoeira teammates came into my ED one day having hurt her elbow. She's a very attractive girl. I had previously asked her out, but she politely declined. One of the nurses said to me "She's hot- why don't you go out with her?" I looked at her and replied "Um.... because she has free will....?".
Lesbians know that the process of taking a woman from being a complete stranger to someone willing to give up several hours of their free time to spend with you in a romantic context is horrendously complex and fraught with obstacles, because they have to do it.

They get it.

Remember my story and song 'Beautiful Thing'? It's about meeting 'Freda' in Melbourne, and finding that we both lived near each other in Sydney. As well as one of the most beautiful women I've ever met, she was also one of the smartest, and nicest, and most suited to me. If she didn't have to leave the country for study, I'm pretty sure we'd be married by now. I got a phone call recently from a senior female doctor near me who found the story and proceeded to lecture me on how badly I treated that woman, and that my mother would be ashamed of me, and that this was exactly the kind of sexist behaviour that she wants to eradicate from the country, and that no woman in the world would employ me if they read it.

I saw a woman I admired. I said hello. We got on well. We formed a relationship. That makes me sexist.

Wow.

It's not the first time I've had a straight woman tell me that admiring a woman constitutes a form of disrespect, but it was the fiercest and most involved. I simply couldn't believe what I was hearing.
I've never had such craziness come from a lesbian. Lesbians know that admiration between individuals [whoever you happen to be attracted to] is normal. It's natural. It's part of who we are as human beings. Lesbians admire women- it's not disrespectful. How you act towards that woman may be disrespectful if you choose it to be, but if you're a socially balanced person, and treat people the way you would like to be treated, then it usually won't be.

They get it.

I have 2 good lesbian friends. One come over with her girlfriend for dinner recently, and we shared stories about online dating, and had a raucous time- they loved my stories. Including the Tinder story that I won't publish.

Ever.

Ever.

At the end of our story-sharing, she looked at me and said "Women are crazy". As a blanket statement, I don't think she meant it absolutely, - she and her girlfriend are very much in love, and we both have wonderful straight female friends who are far from crazy. However, experience shows that you never have to look for crazy women. They will find you. And with no undue delay. Lesbians get that.

Go lesbians.

You rock.


On a complete tangent, I'm sad to say that  friend of mine died recently. She is one of my salsa friends from Wellington in NZ, and it was so saddening to hear that she's gone now. She had complications from surgery. It might surprise you to know that, as one of my regular dance partners, she's actually in her late 70s. Rae was the first person I danced with in Wellington. I met her the same night that I met Rachel at Latinos when my rugby team went to play a 7s tournament in Wellington. It was February 4th 2005. My team mates went out drinking, and I went out to dance. Latinos Bar was pretty quiet early in the night. They had DJ music playing before the band came on later on. I noticed an older lady doing the basic step by herself, and thought 'hang on- she looks like she can dance...'. I asked her to dance, and she gladly accepted, and despite being 45 years older than me, she moved really well, and I didn't have to tone it down at all. We were the only people dancing at the time, so we had several dances. However, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a table of younger people [I assume just at the venue to drink] looking at me and laughing, presumably because I was dancing with a woman 3 times my age. I didn't say anything to them, but I pitied them greatly for their ignorance and thought to myself "You sad, sad idiots. You clearly don't get this."

Myself, Adrian, Sonia and Rae at NZ Salsa Congress 2015


I've lost count of the number of times I've had to explain to people that salsa isn't about getting your rocks off with the person you're dancing with. Like all dances, it's about musical interpretation and expression, and connecting socially through that. I dance with my sister and my mother the same way I would dance with any other woman. The current world champions are brother and sister. I'm pretty sure they're not getting their rocks off together behind the scenes...

There's a lot of physical contact involved in salsa, but it's through that that you learn a lot of social skills that you cannot learn from solo dances. Or drinking. Firstly, touch need not, and usually is not sexual in its intention. As a male, you learn how and where to touch a woman in a respectful fashion that doesn't overstep boundaries or creep her out. As a female, you learn how to set boundaries as to the kind of physical contact you are prepared to accept, and know that you always have the option to walk away from a situation that you are not comfortable with. Also, as a male, you learn how to lead an interaction with a woman without controlling her or being domineering. You propose a step, and it's her choice as to whether or not she accepts. But if you're nice about it, she usually will. I think these are very valuable life skills, and when I go out in non-salsa environments, I frequently see that a lot of people don't have these.

In the 11 years since we met, I've seen Rae at every salsa congress in Australia and New Zealand that I've been to. We dance every single time, and she puts a lot of younger women to shame. Next year will be the first time I'll be at a congress without her, and I'll miss her terribly, as will the rest of our salsa family.

Salsa kept Rae smiling right to the end. There's an energy and positivity about it, to the point where, in a salsa club, it's often very difficult to tell how old people are because we're all so joyful.

When I was working at the trauma hospital, about 3 weeks into my time there, one of the domestic staff came upto me and said "You're not like the other doctors here."
"What do you mean...?" I asked.
"You smile a lot" He replied.

I do. No matter what happens in medicine. I will always have this, and I will always do this. It's just in my blood now. The title song on my new CD is a salsa track. The video tells the story.



Until the next time.

Victor.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Don't Ever Go


I met Rachel in February 2005. I was working in Invercargill, and playing rugby for Marist. We went up to Wellington to play in a 7s tournament and watch the international 7s as well. On the Saturday night, my team-mates went out drinking, but that's not really my thing, so I went out to dance salsa instead.
Latinos was the venue, but there weren't that many people there when I arrived, but I have no problem dancing by myself. In the second half of the evening, a live band played, which was awesome. Rachel was the saxophone player, and during their interval, I asked her to dance, as I would ask anyone in salsa to dance. We seemed to get on pretty well, and swapped numbers.

I was flying back to Invercargill on Monday, and asked her if I could see her on Sunday. I offered not to go to the rugby, but even with that, the logistics didn't work out.

We messaged with increasing frequency for the next few days, and she knew that I went to Christchurch roughly every 2 weeks to visit my salsa friends, as there was no salsa in Invercargill. She messaged me saying that she would be visiting her family in Christchurch the next weekend, and wanted to know if I would be there. As luck would have it, I was. We went to 'Sams'-  a jazz restaurant, and got to know each other a bit better, and just seemed to click.

The following fortnight, we met at Jambalaya- a world music and dance festival, focussing on salsa, and she and her band were playing. We spent the entire long weekend together, and everything just seemed to flow.

From then on, every other weekend, I'd usually fly to either Wellington or Christchurch to see her, and it was quite clear that we were becoming more and more enamoured with each other, as leaving was getting harder and harder each time.

About 3 months in, we were at the departure gate at Christchurch airport. Everyone else had boarded the plane to Invercargill, but I stayed and hugged her until the very last moment possible.

"Final call for the flight to Invercargill."

I hugged her.

"This is the last call for the flight to Invercargill"

I kept hugging her.

The ground staff looked on.

"FINAL CALL FOR THE LAST FLIGHT TO INVERCARGILL!!!!"

OK- I had to go. I was the last person on the plane by about 5 minutes, and the crew gave me a knowing smile as I boarded. I smiled back. I imagine they see couples saying difficult goodbyes on a daily, if not hourly basis.

The flight is only 1hr 15, but that's more than long enough for me to remember how happy I was with Rachel and how desperately unhappy I was at work in comparison. I really wasn't enjoying the rotation I was doing, and felt like I was just living for my weekends with her.

I got back to the my room and messaged her:

[Me] Being with you eases the pain. Thank you for being who you are.

[Her] I think I'm falling in love with you.

[Me] I think I love you, too.

The song: https://youtu.be/qPQeFA3Fhe4

The words: http://victor-thediary.blogspot.com.au/2015/10/dont-ever-go-lyrics.html


Don't Ever Go Lyrics

You know the time will come when we will set the sun and we will have to go our separate ways.
But in the time we had, you made me feel so glad I  get to be with you another day.

But we know that we show we can't be held apart.

You know I always want you to stay.
Don't ever go away.

And when you held me so, I couldn't let you go until they called me for the final time.
And when I hit the ground, I looked and I had found that you had told me that your heart was mine.

But we know that we show we can't be held apart.
And you know that I hold you right here in my heart.

You know I always want you to stay.
Don't ever go away.
You know I always want you to stay.
Don't ever go away. Ay-ay-ay-ay…………….

But we know that we show we can't be held apart.
And you know that I hold you right here in my heart.

You know I always want you to stay.
Don't ever go away.
You know I always want you to stay.
Don't ever go away.
[ay-ay….]

You know I always want you to stay.
Don't ever go away.
You know I always want you to stay.
Don't ever go away.
[ay-ay…..]
[But we know that we show we can't be held apart.
And you know that I hold you right here in my heart.]

You know I always want you to stay.
Don't ever go away.
You know I always want you to stay.
Don't ever go away.

But we know that we show we can't be held apart.
And I know that you hold me right there in your heart.