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The Pressure Cooker: Fiction by Deleteh Bank

“What would you like to be when you grow up?”

“I want to be a doctor.”

“I would like to be an engineer.”

“I want to be a lawyer.”

These were the answers little Jude, George and Queen always gave, respectively, to this legendary question. No thanks to their parents (none of them doctors, engineers or lawyers) for stereotyping their mindsets to a limited option. They – like most of their other friends in school – had to want to become doctors, lawyers and engineers simply because their daddies and mummies, who always had their best interest in mind, said so. They dared not think of becoming comedians, actors, or ballet dancers, etc. It was forbidden. These children became saddled with the cumbrous task of fulfilling their parents’ dreams, rather than their own and it was unsettling the efforts their parents put in trying to transform the innate Creative Artist into a Doctor; the youngster with a penchant for Linguistics into a Lawyer; and the fine Economist into an Engineer.

Thank God for Ken’s Dad. He used to say: “I’ll guide you as a parent, and you’ll have my support in any career path you choose”. While Ken was happy his father gave him some stakes in the matter, he knew areas like Rap music, Boxing, or even Football, would give his Dad’s assertion a tough test but he wasn’t ready to put him on trial. Mr. Duson once told Ken the story of a young boy who had always wanted to become a Metaphysician in future without even having a correct idea of the meaning of the word “Metaphysics”. This boy would later grow up rather disappointed a few years later, knowing that Metaphysics is a branch of Philosophy, not Physics. Ken’s father had a way of making his points with stories. “As a young man, it is not strange you may fall in love with terms without understanding the concepts. I’ll be here to counsel”, he concluded.

For Ken, he had always wanted to become a billionaire when he grew up and that was the answer he promptly gave when the frequently asked question on career choice popped up. He later learnt from elementary school, “Billionaire” wasn’t a profession. Imagine his disappointment if his ever-reassuring mum never had told him he could still become a billionaire and a pilot or an aeronautic engineer all together (he had a thing for aeroplanes then).

In high-school, he once considered a career in Law. Other options were Medicine, English, Psychology and Philosophy. Biology fed his hunger for adventures like a newly found lover, so much so that before penultimate year he had already decided in favour of the sciences.


Ken gained admission into the prestigious University of Luutem to study Medicine, a year after finishing from high school – thanks to a one year Pre-degree program in the university but no thanks to the Post-University Tertiary Matriculation Examination (Post-UTME). His mum was so happy she let him skip chores for a day or two and his dad was equally proud. It didn’t take long before people gave him sobriquets like “Doctor”, “Young Doctor” and the diminutives.

“Out of over 1000 of you, only the best 100 would gain admission into the university’s medical school. Partying, clubbing and what you young people call ‘a good time’ are all frivolities that would only enhance your chances of been deselected”. Such forewarnings and admonitions from the Basic Program Director himself that could make someone cancel all good weekend plans for a whole semester were characteristics of the Pre-degree orientation series. It wasn’t absurd therefore that a handsome number of them were stuck in a daily routine of schoolwork and more schoolwork. You either met them in class, at the library, or by luck at the hostel. “The triangular lifestyle”, it was called. It was like a 100-metre dash. Everyone was in it to win. Well, the assertion of admitting the best 100 out of their whooping “over 1000” did not materialise – only 89 of them were absorbed through the basic program (a sign of things to come maybe).

Medical school proper, like pre-degree, turned out a crash program where time was a commodity for which there was no luxury. They started with a population of about 300 all together from the Basic Program and the Post-UTME, and about 250 survived to second year. The Part I Professional MBBS Examinations in third year later did the magic of downsizing them drastically and dramatically to a little over half of the latter figure. The pressure was real and palpable and every one of them felt it one way or the other. From queuing up with their biology practical manuals behind Jude, the classmate who added a diagrammatic touch with finesse to most of their individual practical reports, in year one; the repeated memorisation of the origin and insertion of individual muscles of the upper and lower limbs and their grandeur sounding names in sophomore year; understanding the nitty-gritty of Neurosciences that killed many childhood dreams of becoming the next Ben Carson in third year. There was always something to keep them unsettled, a hurdle ahead to jump that left a permanent impression of an impending doom. The fear ranged from that of flunking the next test, re-sitting the professional exams, repeating the class and ultimately getting withdrawn from the program.

“A medical student does not have time for frivolities,” the erudite Doctor James would tell them. It seemed the plan was to build an “ideal” medical student who would be so unconnected to the outside world that he never knows Nelson Mandela died, over 200 Chibok girls were abducted by Boko Haram, Mavins is a record label managed by Don Jazzy, and Lil Kesh is a Nigerian musician. The word “Action” should remind him of action potentials in Physiology; the scintillating and reverberating behind of a young lady ought to spark up thoughts on the anatomy of the Gluteus Maximus in his mind, while ample bosoms merely jog his memory on modified sweat glands of the apocrine variety.

It worked.

In fourth year, while analysing English Premier League football, Ken’s neighbour, a non-medic, passively mentioned that Daniel Sturridge had once been treated for meningitis and then Simon (a medic) who had been non-contributory all along, almost changed the discussion line to a full-fledged lecture on meningitis had Ken not subtly weighed in seeing that his other friends were disinterested in the narrative. Every opportunity for them was a chance to recall and educate even though it meant derailing conversations and displaying insensitivity.

They got into the clinical classes expecting soft landings, finally gaining immunity from failing out of the medical program.  “Paediatrics is child’s play”, “Obstetrics and Gynaecology is bread and butter” they thought. They later understood that in the clinical classes no one gave a damn if you failed or even failed again. You either learned or learned the hard way. Those were the options.

“One year lost in the life of a medical student to his training can never be compared to the sanctity of one second in the life of a child,” the grizzled Professor Deebom of Paediatrics would say. Combining compulsory night calls, ward rounds, long theatre hours, clinics and a bulk of lecture notes and textbooks to cover almost made them reconsider if the medical profession was really worth the stress. “Gold has to be tested through fire,” Ken’s Dad said when Ken kinked under the pressure.

Ward-rounds nearly always made them feel like idiots who didn’t know that “maggot” is spelt with a double “g”, and it was either the consultant was calling someone a dunce for not comprehensively remembering the physiology of cough from year two, or the other doctors were scolding or even driving somebody away for not saying “thank you” to a patient after performing a thorough by-the-book clinical examination on them. It almost always looked like a conspiracy. They were at the receiving end of the chain of affronts and on their list of priorities, remembering the date for the next Super Eagles versus Brazil game was soon no longer as important as committing their Review of Systems to memory, and watching the new Star Wars series as watching their Macleod and USMLE videos. Pounding the rock remained the only available option for progress.

While they were caught up in the entrapment where fun seemed like taboo, the motivation to keep at it and not go bonkers for them had remained that beaming infectious smile of the young child who was cured of a Brochopneumonia complicated with heart failure; that look of eternal gratitude on the face of the young woman with her baby who survived a caesarean section amidst the troubles of an Antepartum haemorrhage; the inexplicable feeling of being in the team that saved the day at the emergency room, and so on. These were worth more than billions (well, not exactly the kind of billions Ken thought of as a kid) and it seemed there were no regrets.

Sometimes the conflict in their minds never fully resolved until they watched that football game, had a good “chill time” with that friend, caught up on that news and trend, and in the end passed that examination. Experience had taught them that your grade for an examination may not only depend on your knowledge or skills but also on your professor’s mood – his wife’s mood to be precise.

But with Jude the story had been different all along. The conflict in his mind never resolved at all no matter how hard he tried and while all of them hoped to pass examinations, he had been disappointed he did not get the axe. Anger and resentment had dominated his mind. He told them in class that he was quitting, just one month to final exams. It all seemed like a joke but Jude was no joker. He stopped showing up. His reason was that he was going to give his Creative Arts dream a shot. Although his colleagues all knew he was good with water colours, it still sounded outlandish. People ascribed it to a spiritual attack from his village where he was set to become the first medical doctor while his classmates felt it must be a psychiatric problem of some sorts. Just about to breast the tape and you quit?

Of course no one of them thought the story of his parents coercing him to study Medicine while threatening fire and brimstone if he considered any other career was a good enough reason to quit after reaching the last stage. Although it was an extra struggle for him, somehow he had managed to survive till the final year and was almost getting out. “Just cap this up and then venture into whatever you wish for yourself after induction later in the year” Sandra, their Course Rep, had told him. That made sense to all of them except Jude who wasn’t looking for sense but to fulfil his own dream urgently. It must have been a hard decision to reach considering how long it took him to finally summon courage.

Like a twist of fate, the same pressure cooker that had refined Ken and the rest of his colleagues, and was bringing their dreams to fruition had proved detrimental to Jude, by reinforcing his pristine ambitions in his mind.

And it was unbelievable knowing that while the thought of becoming doctors excited others, Jude had never given two hoots about that all along. All his life, he had lived to satisfy his parents’ quest to gain bragging rights, especially in the village.

There was no iota of bragging left for his parents as he was later admitted into the Psych ward. He had locked himself in his hostel room for days, ripped-off all the pages of his medical textbooks and drawn several pictures from them all over his wall and ceilings.

The psychiatrists, after doing a clinical assessment of Jude’s condition, ascribed it to a combination of “biopsychosocial factors”. They called it Schizophrenia.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Not psychotic.


DISCLAIMER!!! This is purely a work of fiction and any semblance to actual persons or events is purely coincidental.

Deleteh Bank
Deleteh Bank
Deleteh Bank, a medical student at the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, combines attention to the grasping and perfection of clinical skills and his love for creative writing with a perfect blend of hard play and fun. He has received a prize for short story writing from The Association of Nigerian Authors, Rivers State Branch.


  1. This is an exquisite write up that tells a true story about the struggle of choosing a career in today’s society. At the end of the day choose a career path you can look back on and be proud of.

  2. When the Doc writes about “The scintillating and reverberating behind of a young lady…”, it’s incredibly fascinating.

  3. One of de finest erudite write-ups I’ve read in a long while…creative writing one of my many flairs I’ll chase after a gruelling med school….!!!!

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