Chapter 1 : “Wanting to quit”
Life had taken a crazy turn in January 2020 when I realised that I could not go on like before, leaving me with the sense of resignation and on the verge of quitting. Quitting that what I stood for, what I believed in, what I had been passionate about for all my working life and that too at the age of 53!
I am a neurosurgeon specializing in treating moyamoya children by performing revascularisation/bypass surgeries in cases where where the brain arteries get narrowed or occluded with an ever increasing risk of stroke, so the surgeries I perform are life-changing, they prevent strokes! This journey took me a good 30 years from the time of finishing medical school, neurosurgical residency, specialisation and then super- specialisation.
Why was there so much frustration this time around and why was it robbing me of all my positive energy, my innate optimism? I thought I had seen it all? After all it had always been a man’s world, a boy’s club in this field of medicine. This time around it was different. Different because the political games played in our daily clinical practice were affecting management of “my” children. It was unfair, unethical in fact! My active protest was ignored and there were no consequences. The system run by the few mighty and powerful was rigid and definitely not made for a woman neurosurgeon!
Chapter 2: “Twist of fate”
I never chose to become one of the very few specialists in the world for this rare brain disease called “moyamoya”. It was kismet, a master plan, my life’s calling.
Little did I know that the master plan was unravelling in the face of wanting to quit as I was hit by another surprise early March of this year. I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. I remember the first thought that crossed my mind when my gynaecologist broke the news to me. “What will happen to my children, what if it’s late stage cancer, who will carry out the pioneering work in the future?”. I didn’t sleep for a week, was a mess with a feeling of confusion and hopelessness. To my surprise, the thought of dying or ending up being non-functional mobilised this internal energy within me, i.e. my true self so that every second I spent treating my patients before my own tumour surgery I felt more alive and passionate than ever. My assessment in the face of this second disaster was: this was and had always been my calling.
Chapter 3: “My best friend”
Just as I got my diagnosis on the 9th of March, little did I know that in the face of the second disaster, the universe was planning the third surprise. Corona happened! After a week of feeling helpless we were forced into lockdown. While Switzerland had joined the collective uncertainty that Covid-19 brought with it, I was miraculously given all the solutions to my then current personal problems: without exhausting myself I got a date for surgery, was successfully treated for Grade 1 endometrial CA and was forced to recover for the next 4 weeks without having to give any explanations, rescheduling work, getting plenty of time to recover, energise and get back on track. Corona was my best friend.
Chapter 4: “Lessons of certainty in uncertainty”
The chaos that led to inner restlessness, unease and frustration in the early part of this year was replaced by an inner calm and strength. The universe was watching out for me. On one hand my “urvertrauen” or “primordial trust” was rekindled, something I had lost on my way by being busy, consumed by my duties and fighting the systemic monsters. The hat trick of uncertainties thrown my way forced me to reassess, acknowledge the glass half full rather than dwell on what I didn’t have. It taught me to give up the misconception that I am in control and most of all to be aware of all that was of value to me, in the present, in the now. Up till now I had always known what I wanted and now for the first time in my life I was awakened to understand what I did not want in my life anymore.
Chapter 5: „Living with unvertainty“
We humans are vulnerable creatures craving for happy endings. We force ourselves to believe the stories going on in our mind. We become fearful when faced with insecurities. We react with our basic instincts of either fight or flight. Only few of us gain enlightenment in this life!
Yet we are also wired for change and growth.
What I was made to realise is that when things are falling apart we must detach ourselves from the false sense of security we carry around with us day in, day out. To focus on the present moment by pressing the pause button. To accept the situation by reassessing it in relation to ourselves and those around us. To grow from it by finding the few simple practices that make us happy.
We should not let our fears guide us but make our hopes carry us.
My children are my hope, the fact that I can make a positive difference in and for their lives keeps me going, gives me hope. We are sometimes forced to be who we really are in the light of uncertainties. So stay real, stay true to yourself and continue with optimism. Uncertainties will pass, too.
First Name, Name: Dr. Nadia Khan
Company & Role: Professor Dr. med. and Consultant Neurosurgeon
Head of Moyamoya Centre University Children’s Hospital Zurich
Do you have a single word, colour or image that represents the way you deal with uncertainty?
The image of the prop I brought with me:
“This is my hope”. It was a cube gifted to me by my children. They built it by putting together several small wooden cubes, each with a part of a picture of a child I treated pasted on it. Putting the cubes together then gives a complete picture of the child, now happy and healthy. The cubes come together and give the picture of pure HOPE!