My Edinburgh at dusk // Calton Hill

23 February 2014

Dear Edinburgh,

You do sunsets very well. Especially on cold days. Your skies can turn all shades of pink and dusky purple. Last Sunday at 16.38 we decided to go to Calton Hill to capture the light and silhouettes of your skyline. We had 30 minutes and parking in the city centre is not great, you don't do parking very well, that has to be said. It turned out that about 50 other people had the exact same idea and we were surrounded by tripods, people with much bigger lenses than ours and a loud chatter in at least 5 different languages. I didn't mind. I could just spot the Forth Road Bridge on the distant horizon, little ants of people on the summit of the Arthur's Seat, countless chimneys of New Town and toy-sized double-deckers on the South Bridge.

You didn't disappoint. I almost forgot about your never-ending road works, horizontal rain and how far we were from our families and friends. On evenings like this one, I count myself lucky to not be a tourist but a part of you. Even if I feel like a spare part sometimes, this year will mark 7 years since I started living here and probably one of the first few years when I started to call you home.

With a distant sound of an ambulance, we walked down the Calton Hill and went home.

A rare piece of luxury // Portugal

19 February 2014

I have a confession to make: I don't do luxury. I'm one of those people who will only splurge if something is really worth it, or when I'm going to use the item for the rest of my life (I've wanted a Stutterheim raincoat since they started producing them but still can't get myself to buy one). When it comes to travelling, luxury is simply not justifiable.

When we got married, I had a stupid job in a cafe in a multinational corporation which shall not be named (which I hated, even though I love making coffee). I was getting married in a different country (back home) and they wouldn't give me time off for long enough to go for a honeymoon. So we got married on Saturday and on Tuesday I was back to making soy cappuccinos and grilling overpriced panninis. It was fine at a time as I was in the post-wedding haze-happiness.

The other day I was browsing through deal websites and found a pretty amazing offer for a short break in a beautiful hotel in Portugal, in Praia de Rocha region. We only had about 5 days of annual leave so a long trip was out of a question. Portugal is one of the most affordable Mediterranean destinations so we booked flights, packed suitcases and tried to figure out how to behave to not give away that we're staying in a fancy hotel for the first time in our lives.

We flew to Faro and took a bus to Portimao, a small very touristic town, full of massive concrete hotels, shops selling souvenirs and one of the most stunning sandy beaches I've seen in my life.

Our hotel was a beautiful oasis among the chaos of the busy resort. It used to be a summer residence, built in 1918 and converted into a modern hotel, named one of the world's best new hotels of 2012 by CondéNast and described as A Miami-meets-the-Mediterranean decor inspired by South Beach, North Africa, and, above all, the Moorish-inflected traditions of the Algarve. To be be fair, it was an incredibly well designed place, but it made me feel slightly uncomfortable, especially having our room cleaned every day (including ironing of the bed sheets).

We spent 5 days walking along the endless golden-sand beach, reading books by the pool and sitting on the deck of our room overlooking the sea. Is it a good place for a honeymoon? Yes and no. While the hotel has everything you could wish for, the location is almost unpleasant and impossible to avoid even if you were to stay in the hotel. Would I go back? To Portimao - probably not. But I'd love to explore Portugal, especially Lisbon with its delicious food, vinho verde, idyllic scenery and nostalgic fado music

In the meantime, I made a play list which takes me straight back to Portugal  

Spotify | Youtube



Have you been to Portugal? 
Do you like splurging on holidays?

Here are my Porgugese playlists again, hope you enjoy.

Spotify | Youtube

Medic diaries // 1

18 February 2014


Even if I try to pretend otherwise, being a medical student is a huge part of my life. I never planned on writing about my experience of med school here, but I guess it would make for an entertaining read in 10 years time when I'm hopefully qualified.

The truth is, I sway between loving being a medic, and hating the fact that medicine has taken my life. I'll try to focus on the positives here and make it vaguely interesting for non-medics. I also have to add a disclaimer that due to the patient confidentiality all clinical encounters described here will be either inventions of my imagination or completely anonymous.

I'm now in 4th and penultimate year of my training, which means my life evolves around hospital placements and taking selfies in scrubs in the changing rooms. Since the middle of the 3rd year until last Friday I spent 15 weeks in general medical ward, 15 weeks in surgical wards, and 16 weeks on placements of my choice (in my case 12 weeks in neonatology, i.e. medicine of tiny humans, and 4 in gynaecological oncology). The final phase is all about exploring all the different specialities, and making sure that if I'm placed in a speciality ward such as obstetrics & gynaecology as a junior doctor, I'll be able to take care of my patients and will at least recognise their diagnoses written in the clinical notes. 

I thought as an introduction to I would post something I wrote on the train on my first day of med school (as cliche as this may sound, this actually happened, including the title). I apologise for the lofty tone and pretentiousness.

       I'm finally there

Having spent so many years dreaming about being a medical student and asking myself a question: “what am I lacking that they have?”, I'm finally there - on a train to my first day in medical school.

It's reassuring to have a perspective of a graduate student. I know what the university life is like, I know how to avoid plagiarism, structure and edit my essays and reference properly. What I do not know is if I will fit in. One would think that ' fitting in' is a major worry of teenagers. They are the ones who are growing up, rebel against their parents, wear black T-shirts and wear wooden necklaces and refuse to shower. All of that to fit into the group of their equally lost peers. And I can't help but wonder, what are the new medical students prepared to do in order to fit in.

First of all, from a perspective of someone who spent 3 years looking at med students with jealousy, I can assume that my idea of them is somehow skewed. They always dress more smartly than other students, have their sleeves rolled up, are never late, excel in sports and music, are involved in charity work and occupy the best spots in the library with piles of cool looking textbooks. Is it only me who's got this image stuck in my head? Now that I realised I'm going to be one of them, I need to decide for myself, do I want to become this seemingly stuck-up person, who whenever gets asked 'what do you do' replies with pride - Medicine and invariably gets an eyebrow rise from the person who has asked?

My answer would be no. I do not want to give this impression of medicine being superior to any other subject. But what if it becomes second nature? What if it turns out, that if you don't do this, you'll no longer fit in? For now, I'm going to focus on the curriculum, try and enjoy my learning experience as much as possible, knowing that this will get me a degree I have always dreamt of. And if anyone asks me, what do you do, I'm going to reply : Medicine, but try and keep my voice down and a humble expression on my face.
As painful to read as it is now, I'm glad I saved this file. At the time it was really a dream come true, now I sometimes struggle to remember why I've gotten myslef into all this. 

Currently, I'm on ENT (ear nose and throat aka otolaryngology) placement, which has been fun so far. I saw some cool surgeries already, including myringoplasty which is basically a reconstruction of the ear drum using a part of the patient's own skull connective tissue.

At least I don't faint in surgery anymore. Not having to be escorted out of the operating theatre is always a bonus, especially when you got a chance to scrub in and assist during the surgery... 

 So, are there any medics reading along? Reveal yourself.

PS.  (Polish title of this post is: Z pamietnika mlodej lekarki)

Lochs and sheep // Perthshire

17 February 2014

I went to Firbush twice when I was still a student at the University of Edinburgh. It's a tiny settlement (not even a town or a village really) perched on the banks of Loch Tay in the Perthshire, about 3h away from Edinburgh and just a short walk from village Killin. Not only does it make a beautiful spot for camping, but also for kayaking, mountain biking or wind surfing, if that's your thing. I chose kayaking but sadly didn't take my camera with me; perhaps a wise choice as two people in our group capsized. We're planning to buy a tent and make a few camping trips to the Highlands on weekends as I don't get any time off from university until July.

 The first day the weather was rather bleak. We still went kayaking after practicing in the little bay pictured above.

 In the evening we made a trip to Killin to a pub.

 yep, picutures of branches and droplets.
 one more.
 next day was sunnier.

 this looked like a pretty idyllic place to pitch a tent. If it wasn't fenced. I'm sure there are plenty of great wild camping spots around Loch Tay, we must explore more.

In the meantime, any recommendations for a good (and affordable) tent for two?

Sunday links // no.3

16 February 2014

^^ Jarlsberg, brie and red onion chutney sandwich. 
Hi, long time no see!

How was your weekend? I'm finally done with my finals, which in theory means that by now I should know all of the surgery and general medicine to work as a junior doctor... Seeing the title of my exam "Professional Examination" gave me chills. I won't get my exam results for a couple of weeks at least so I'm going to put it behind me and hope I passed. Tomorrow I'm starting a new placement (ENT) and I'm excited mainly because it's a surgical speciality so I get to wear scrubs (i.e. PJs) all day.

My weekend consisted of sleeping and watching the Olympics (3 gold medals to team PL this week!). Anyway, hope you had a good one and here are some links from me and the world wide web.

Coffee at the urinal, hmmm interesting.

Flappy bird might be dead, but we have flappy Bert instead!

Not for the faint hearted. 

Living on a remote island above the Arctic circle, in pictures.

Next time a fellow train passenger raises a napkin, it may well be that they're doing this.

Generation of interns. This makes my blood boil a little bit, I think no one, ever, should work for free.

And 5 posts from me:

Sunday links + weekend photos // no.2

9 February 2014

 My favourite breakfast these days. J started baking bread.
 not sure how I feel about the colours of this blanket, but at least it keeps me warm.
 car-boot sale find. £2.
 my very imperfect RAST hack and the essential accessory for norwegian hiking.
favourite reads

How was your weekend?  I'm counting days until exams (4 days left) and procrastinate by over-thinking travel plans for next summer. I love watching the Olympics, have you been following the games? (Kamil Stoch has jumped 105.5 m right this minute).  I googled: "how many medals can Poland count on in Sochi"  and guess what number came up? 120. A bit optimistic I guess.

Anyway, here are some things I've enjoyed reading this week:

My friend's travelling in South America. He's now in Cuba. (in Polish)

The silent drama of photography.

Three amazing pictures of animals: 1, 2 and 3

Picture I wish I took.

Finally found the solution to my life long problem. It works!

What I want to build in Poland.

Awesome people reading.

A peek into living over the Arctic circle.

And a couple of posts you might have missed:

Ethical travelling

8 February 2014

Just because you can go somewhere, does it mean it's ok to do so? Let me elaborate.

Most medical students in the UK around this time of year will be busy booking flights to exotic places for their electives, and I'm stuck. It's not that I don't want to go. I dream of travelling and seeing new countries, but just because I can go, doesn't mean that I should. Or, that it would be the right thing to do.

I've been reading a lot of stories recently about people who abandon their daily lives, quit their jobs and go travelling. That's usually seen as commendable and a very positive thing to do. Travels broaden one's horizons, teach you about yourself, about other people. Similarly, medical students who go to Nepal or Ghana for their elective will leave their placements enriched, more appreciating of the good health care in their home countries. They will have seen clinical signs and met patients with conditions, which so far were only reachable in textbooks. While in medical school, we are encouraged to approach all ethical dilemmas by considering 4 ethical principles: beneficence, non-maleficence, justice and  autonomy. Is considering those when making a decision to travel a bit of an overkill? Surely travelling is always a good thing. Or is it?

Going to Nepal, to a country whose language and culture is very foreign to me, is hardly going to be beneficial for the local community. The only positive aspect is that I'm going to leave some of my western money there and contribute to the economy (apologies for being so crude). Possibly I will have more opportunities to do harm than good due to my ignorance of the local customs and culture. Is it fair that I will join a group of doctors as an observer, will be present during intimate examinations, surgeries, perhaps will be expected to perform procedures, which go beyond my competencies because I come from a reputable university? Finally, not understanding the language, how can I make sure that patients will make autonomous and not coerced decisions as to whether they are willing to have a student present during their consultations with doctors or other medical professionals. Medical electives is a huge business. As is travelling. Countless tweets and ads on facebook encourage students to join in and discover the developing world's medicine. Reading tweets saying: "Stunning scenery, renowned wine & great hospital placements"  (note the order and the wording of the ad) makes me cringe. Currently I don't feel that unless I can truly contribute something at the local hospital, my placement would be anything else than a medical student tourism. Yes, once I'm fully qualified I can volunteer my time and skills and join a project such as Sama Hope for a year or two. For now I'd rather visit a place where my language will be understood and I will have a chance to do more good than harm.

How about travelling just for pleasure?  With the introduction of the low fare airlines, suddenly travelling became more accessible for many. People are able to hop on the plane even for a one day long city break for a cost of a cinema ticket. But just because we can, does it mean we shouldn't consider whether it's ethical to travel? By ethical travel I mean travelling, which is more beneficial than maleficent, this could be in terms of the economical growth of the destination country, but also of personal growth, experience and pleasure. I guess the latter is the most difficult, if not impossible to quantify.

For example, a return fight from Edinburgh to Kuala Lumpur, emits the equivalent of CO2 volume as an annual use of natural gas for our one bedroom flat. Does a longer holiday justify such a massive carbon footprint? Or the fact that it's one's lifetime dream to travel to Indonesia? What if the person planning the trip was dying of cancer? Does it make it more ethical?  Or is it just another part of the culture which makes us believe that we deserve to have a life rich in such experiences?

When my dream to visit Antarctica comes true, does it make it more likely that my great grandchildren will only read about the ice cap in the textbooks?

All photographs are by Sebastião Salgado a Brazilian photographer famous for his nature photographs which he calls his  "Love letter to Planet Earth", also available as a Taschen publication "Genesis". 


2 February 2014

January has flown by. Coming back from Poland is never easy, especially after Christmas. Back to the greyness of everyday life, commute, work, studying, cold flat and empty fridge. No New Year resolutions, just being sometimes takes too much energy.

The most important exams in my life (to date) are in two weeks time and all I can think of is when can I quit being a student and start my life properly. I guess life works like that a lot of the time. Everybody (and by everybody I mean me) is waiting for something constantly.

Two weekends ago my parents and uncle came for a short visit to Edinburgh. We walked around New Town, went for the best Italian in the city (it's Nona's Kitchen) and visited Roslin and South Queensferry. 3 days filled with laughter, long walks and good coffee. My dad makes awesome coffee. Even when he's reading a paper, when asked to make me a coffee he will do it right that minute. With latte art and all. As we said goodbye at Edinburgh airport, I couldn't wait until I see them again.

Then I got sick, my body telling me to stop and breathe, as it usually does. 3 packets of oat and raisin cookies plus orange juice (and a visit to my GP) later I am going back to classes tomorrow.

We started a book club with my friend Kristina and a bunch of her friends from uni. Since they're all studying Spanish literature we chose Allende's book for our pilot meeting. It lasted 7 hours and was the best thing that happened this year.

February will be a good month. My sister is coming to visit us for a week and we're all going to Bastille concert (!).  I'm also teaching J how to make bread and curry, the two things that make winter more bearable.

Here are some pictures from our January, from Garwolin (my hometown), Edinburgh, Roslin and South Queensferry.


 Sunset in Garwolin

 Our first book club choice: Of love and Shadows by I. Allende - a lot of good discussion points.

My parents and the Forth Bridge

PS. Most of those pictures were taken by J.