I was once told that good writing is all about the narrative. When I started writing up my doctoral dissertation I soon learned that I was collating, and weaving together, a series of narratives into a cohesive story with some scientific value.
I also learned that the key to good research is having useful and relevant research questions. In my thesis some of the most important questions only came clear to me whilst I was already on the ground doing research in a rural hospital in Sri Lanka. Here, I remember vividly observing many critically ill patients who had intentionally consumed deadly pesticides, and wondering what their fate would be given and how we could improve the medical management in order to save lives. Thus, for me it made sense to try and provide a story about the “context” where I embodied the research questions that would culminate into the ensuing scientific narrative.
Below is a poem that never made it into the final thesis, but in perhaps captures the passion of enquiry that sustained me through the long journey of formulating hypothesises, collecting data, and publishing my final findings.
Too young to die
Side by side in the intensive care they lie,
Multiple family members hoping they won’t die,
I can’t help but ask myself why,
Surely this lady is too young to die?
Was this the result of frustration in the home,
Did she really want to leave this world for good?
Would her family and kids not worry and feel pain,
Everything seemed like it was all in vain,
Back to the room with the lights and the constant beeping,
Things are getting tense, she is more than sleeping,
Deep down I feel strongly that this lady should not go now,
I want to help, but the real question was “how”?
14/2/07 (21:24hrs) The above poem was written whilst observing a 36 year old woman, from a rural town in the north central province of Sri Lanka, fight for her life whilst on an intensive care ventilator. She was the mother of 3 children, and took an organophosphorus pesticide poison following an argument with her husband. She died within 2 days of presentation to hospital.
My PhD research was dedicated to the countless patients, like this lady, and to the numerous health staff and researchers who who were all a part of the effort to save and improve these patients lives.
The following two PDF excerpts show the contextual story which lead to the eventual scientific document that comprised the final thesis.
A strategy for hope in the face of death…
Download here (phd-thesis-preface )
The table of contents
The entire thesis can be downloaded from ANU digital thesis at this link – however, I’m happy to be emailed (firstname.lastname@example.org) and send you a pdf copy if you would like to read it. I would also be delighted to hear any reflections or comments on this work that occupied my attention for the better part of a decade.