Fasten your seat-belts and brace yourselves as I am about to pilot

Fasten your seat-belts and brace yourselves as I am about to pilot you through the storm of the story of the last few years of my life.

It is about a journey I undertook from June 2013, when was a fresh MBBS graduate in pursuit of a nice rank in the Post Graduate Medical Entrance Exam. A journey that took all these years to complete.

Let’s cut straight to January 31st, 2019. Because narrating everything will make this post agonizingly long.

Just imagine an average student, preparing to get a good post graduate residency seat, and failing, continuously,

in 2014,

in 2015,

in 2016,

in 2017,

in 2018,

and now waiting for the results of the NEET PG 2019 exam.

94 %-ile. Rank 10,000, among 1,40,000 candidates.

Good, but not good enough for what I wanted.

Especially after all these years. Especially after a grueling 2017 and 2018.

There was another exam coming up, the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) exam, on March 31, 2019. For which I decided I’ll give my everything.

And I did. Clocking an average of 13.5 hours of study, I prepared like a fanatic for 2 months.

But exams don’t give a damn about all that. They only care about how you performed in those few hours in the exam hall.

And the NIMHANS exam is unique in that it gives your score as soon as the exam is submitted.

Looking at the score, as I came out of the hall, I knew I had lost.

I called my parents, and lied to them saying I did great. Then, I called the one person who had been my support for the last few years, and broke down.

Travelling in that city bus in Chennai, thinking of all the time I spent to ace this test, and realising that it all meant nothing now, I cried like a kid.

People, including kids, were staring at me, with confused and pitiful looks. I am thankful no one tried to enquire anything. What would I have told them? How would I describe a series of consecutive failures in just a short bus ride…

Before this exam itself, I had decided to vacate the hostel I had been staying in for so long. Therefore, in anticipation of the start of a new life, and brimming with extreme confidence, I had, in February 2019 itself, booked a flight to Goa from Chennai on April 1, immediately after the exam. The plan was to sit on the beach looking at the sunset and bask in the glory of my success. Oh, and to watch Captain Marvel before the departure.

There I was, sitting alone in front of the Luxe IMAX screen in a 10:45 PM show at Phoenix Mall, Chennai, watching the movie with teary eyes. When in the beginning of the movie, the obituary to the creator Stan Lee suddenly began, I wept bitterly. Everything felt that depressing.

I checked-in at the airport. And then had a thought of going back to my room and keep crying. Then I decided to proceed with what I had decided. I went ahead with the 2 day trip, sat alone on the beaches of Calangute and Baga, in the midst of so many unknown happily partying faces, and kept crying.

After 2 days, I returned, with a horrible burnt skin and soul, packed my stuff, and on the 4th of April 2019, left for my home.

Now, I had 2 options,

1, to take up a seat available for my rank, somewhere in India,

or,

2, to give one final attempt, to get what I wanted.

I had been telling my parents, since January 2019, that this was going to be my last exam, and that I’ll take a seat now for sure.

So imagine how the discussion went, when I asked them if they can give me a year more. I said I will stay with them at home, and prepare.

Mom cried, Dad looked crestfallen, and I kept silent.

They had seen me fail, all these years, have had sleepless nights thinking of me, had done everything to share my grief,

and still, with a heavy heart, they decided to support me.

I promised them, and also myself, that come what may, the coming November 2019 AIIMS PGI JIPMER NIMHANS exams would be my last.

And so, I sat, again, from May 2019, having my sight on the October and November 2019 exams.

I made the best schedule, devised the best strategy I ever could,

and put myself to work.

Weeks and months passed.

And then, in the October 2019 NIMHANS exam, on the night of Diwali, I got a rank of 49.

Not of any use to an unreserved candidate, but still, getting a double digit rank, though only few people took the exam, felt nice.

With renewed vigour, I prepared the next few weeks and in 2019 November Aiims, I got a rank of 1002.

For a guy who had been performing well in grand tests for the past few months, 98 %-ile wasn’t acceptable.

Feeling low for a while, I slowly came to terms with acceptance, and, breaking my promise again, resumed focus on the final frontier- NEET.

Then came the 5th of January, 2020.

I had already planned even the minutest of details as to how to proceed with the exam, including how many questions to finish by what time. And the protocols for possible worst-case scenarios if the exam isn’t proceeding as planned.

Sitting in my pyjamas in the exam hall (Yes, comfort first), as I went about finishing the first 50 questions of part A in 20 minutes, and then parts B and C in 40 and 90 minutes, and checking the marked-for-review and unmarked for the next 60 minutes,

as I finished the exam, with 288 out of 300 questions marked, I thought, okay this went well. Even though I never ever have I gone below 295 before.

When I came home and checked a few questions, I was shocked to know the number of silly blunders I had made. I decided to not check for more answers.

But there still was a sense of peace of mind, that the worst has ended, the storm has passed, and the result won’t matter anymore, and even if it doesn’t improve from last year, in my eyes, whatever rank I get will still be great.

And yes, it did.

On the 30th of January 2020, standing in front of the lawn of our newly constructed house, I tremblingly downloaded the huge PDF from WhatsApp.

With rising adrenaline, and a determined sense of purpose of a man ready to accept his fate whatever it turns out to be, I entered my roll number, clicked on the magnifying glass, and waited, for a few seconds.

Seconds that felt like eons.

And there it was.

My rank.

My beautiful rank.

Imagine holding your child for the first time. The child and you, both looking into each other’s wide eyes. She, with curious innocence. You, with a sense of having created something beautiful of your own. Something that will last your life with you. And even beyond.

This is how I felt.

And with this feeling, I went like a child and hugged the person standing nearby who gave birth to me- Mom.

When Dad came home that evening, with a box of sweets, and put his hand on my shoulders saying he is proud of what I did all these years,

when I could see the happiness in my brother’s voice, and my little gang of childhood friends, who were with me all these years,

when the one person whom I truly loved, told me, from a land so distant, that she was happy for me,

that night,

I would have created the World’s best Patronus.

But was that a fully peaceful night?

Now there’s a twist here. I haven’t told you all this time what I actually wanted. Look, my first preference has always been Internal Medicine, and now my rank allowed me to get an MD.

Still, as life is full of compromise, even now I could not get the college I wanted. I was 4044 out of 1,63,000. I needed to get within a rank of 1000 for me to get both the college and branch of my choice.

From that morning post results, after months of deliberation with myself, and with people close to me, I have finally decided to give up Internal Medicine, and to take up a different branch- Anaesthesiology.

And for my rank, I can get an MD in Anaesthesiology in any college in India. I ll just have to pick one and my seat is confirmed there.

Considering all factors, and thinking about every aspect of life, I decided to join the in the ***** Medical College. (Will reveal soon)

How does it feel, now?

I have virtually no connect with my past now. It is a very small circle apart from my parents and brother.

I had deactivated my Facebook account long back and had stopped writing here on Quora too.

It’s a little island I live in, and all that I possess are thoughts.

Oh, the thoughts.

That dreadful lying awake past midnight a few hours after results, staring at the ceiling, and the uncertain future.

Those lonely journeys in heat, rain, and cold, as trees and people pass by at 2x speed outside, heading from one place to other to make a career.

Those moments of sadness when you like to buy something for yourself or your loved ones, and the next moment you realise you can’t,

The mutual silence you share with your family, after breaking the news of your latest failure to get a good rank.

“So, was all of this worth it? Wouldn’t life have gone on without my sacrificing money, luxury, and most importantly, time and peace of mind?”

Yes. It might have.

“And did it turn out to be a complete success at the end? Did you atleast get what you wanted?”

No. I didn’t get everything that I wanted.

I wanted Medicine, in a good college, and I am now settling for anaesthesiology. In a great college, ofcourse. Still…

this definitely didn’t turn out to be a full success story.

Like the Apollo 13 incident of 1970, where astronauts Jim Lovell and Co. had to abandon their Moon landing after a technical emergency, and focus solely on coming back safe to Earth, this story of mine can also be termed what NASA had termed it then,

a “successful failure.”

And do I feel bad for it?

A bit.

But not so much that it bothers me.

I have been reading and knowing more about the field I am entering. It sure sounds and looks amazing.

I am finally becoming financially independent. Can care for my family better. And because I got a government college, I won’t have to worry about any huge student loans. And Anaesthesiology is a very rewarding branch, intellectually and financially.

I can focus on my fitness now. I was 76 kgs and very athletic when I began my preparation, and now I am 110 kgs. Or was, actually. It’s 98 now, thanks to lockdown workout and intermittent fasting. I wish to write a fitness story soon. Atleast that will be a fully successful one, hopefully.

I lost the person I loved, but I am hopeful of finding love again. Till then, self-love.

So yes, life is full of possibilities.

And what I did is no great achievement, either. After all these years, I should have been in the 99 %-ile atleast, or well within a rank of 500 or so.

People say that as years go by, we tend to get slower mentally, and fatigue sets in that pulls our rank down. I never felt so. Therefore, I don’t consider my rank as something great.

In the words of Oskar Schindler, I could have gotten more.

But, I fight. I never give up.

When life was putting a knee on my neck and choking me, when giving in to the comfortable way out was the easiest act to perform, I am glad that I never gave in to those urges.

Those empty chairs past midnight when I was sitting all alone in the reading room, and the cold winds outside, could never break my resolve to win against the greatest opponent I could ever face: my own mind.

And also, to put it into a different perspective, 15 more correct questions would have given me r my dream branch and college. Just 15 questions. If we consider a margin of 5 wrong questions as acceptable, does it mean that I now keep thinking of those 10 questions for life? No.

To those who have been preparing for the 3rd time and beyond, I only say this:

It is definitely a rat race that is getting tougher by the year. But don’t ever give up on the whole big picture. For us doctors, this is the only time we can struggle mentally, and once you get what you want, the satisfaction you get will easily drive you for the rest of your lives. You are embarking on a quest that is going to leave a great legacy, irrespective of the time it takes.

Like the little girl Daenerys Targaryen keeps telling herself in the books:

“Keep walking. If I look back, I am lost.”

Fight, people. Fight like your life depends on it. Remember that it is not other people, but only your own inner demons you are fighting against.

Keep barging on that door with all your might. With everything you have got.

One fine day, you will definitely break the door.

And now, my watch has ended.

I’ll end this post with these lines from La La Land:

Here’s to the ones who dream

Foolish as they may seem

Here’s to the hearts that ache

Here’s to the mess we make

A success story, and a failure story. This is my life story. Till now.

The sequel will hopefully be better.

But, did the sequel really get better?

Well, there are not many happy endings in a pandemic.

More about it all in the next post tomorrow.

Part 1/2

Very well written! Reminds me of my daughter’s flair of writing. And Yesss… Life does reward those who hang in there and fight it out. Looking forward to Part 2… I hope its happy. Fingers crossed!