Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Get That Shotgun Off My Face, Please!

Yesterday, after meeting several friends I haven’t seen in a very long time, I did the unthinkable and brought a man home.

Before there’s any reaction from my readers, I would like to clarify the idea. I did not do anything dirty, and I had no intention to. It was just the literal meaning of the phrase “brought a man home” and nothing else. This isn’t a big deal for most families but for mine, it is. No matter how I try to assert an inconspicuous existence in this house, I am still my parents’ only child, about to turn 30, and a doctor at that, and apparently it’s a very big deal for them that I am still single and have always stayed single ever since I breathed my first breath in this world. And so no matter how I try to convince them otherwise, they have always made it known in their quiet and sometimes-not-so-subtle ways that they’re getting on in their years and I, in my pathetic solitary state, should already come to my senses because I owe them an apo.

And so, that being the state of my household, I refused to face the facts and still decided to bring my man home. And by “my man”, I mean someone I’ve grown up with, known to the core for the past 15 years, cried with, argued with, vomited with (or even vomited at), everything you can imagine good old childhood friends have shared, plus everything they will probably share (heartbreaks, weddings, christenings, strollers, glucometers, arthritis medications, Viagra prescriptions, funeral homes). It was a great thing that “my man” is a tall, great-looking, smart, funny, thoughtful and sweet guy who happens to be interested in farming and who happens to be straight. Although it was also an absurd coincidence that he was single.

That being the state of “my man”, I forewarned him. The last time I brought a man home, the household was in an uproar and my dad gave him the interview and there was a shotgun displayed in the bathroom for him to gaze at. A not-so-subtle way of pointing a shotgun at someone, huh?

My good friend said he wouldn’t mind. And so the visit went on. The evening and the conversations were excellent, light, humorous, and natural. We visited the farm, talked about future ventures. There was no grand interview, no bottle of brandy, no shotgun, not even until I hugged my friend goodbye. We looked at each other, “No shotgun.” And we laughed. Boy, I was relieved.

When my friend was gone, my mother came to me. And she said, “OK sya.” I just glared back. She then proceeded to lecture me on marriage and family life.

I just kept quiet. There was no grand interview, no bottle of brandy, no shotgun in the bathroom. But this was worse. The shotgun was being pointed right at me.

Next time, it's going to be a cannon, or an armalite, I'd bet. Plus a knife at my throat. Waaah!

Musings From Home

Rediscovering the ones I got to keep. Old friends from the eventful years of adolescence and early adulthood. Evolution is good.

I’m in a pensive mood lately. The mental and physical lull that the holidays have afforded me created a void in my brain that I initially resisted but eventually learned to appreciate. This time, I’m getting used to the slow and steady pace of country life, the long hours of idling around with a cup of tea in my hand, enjoying the cold breeze under mango trees, with the occasional droning of tricycles on the background. After the initial stage of resistance, I came to realize that despite my identity crisis and acquired taste for the city life, in the end, I still love it here.

I still believe that the reason why I suddenly changed my mind and chose to spend the next three years staying in the big city is valid. I called that reason “unfinished business”. That general term encompasses both its literal and metaphorical implications, including the rational and the staid, the banal and the sappy, the vital and the comical.

These days, however, after retracing back a few steps into where I came from, and discovering that some old prayers are still unfolding, and that some treasured people from the old days are still around and have even evolved to become much better, I can’t help but wonder about the real nature of my unfinished business.

What if my unfinished business is not in the big city, but right here? After all, I’m always a small town girl who still dreams to live in a farm. Years of living in the city have never and will never change that. Why do I have this strange feeling that whatever I’m looking for is just waiting for me all the while? Whatever this means, I hope it will still be around when I come back. Someday I will come back, to complete that unfinished business that I have postponed far too long. I hope it will still be around until then, when I will finally be brave enough to stay home.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Certain Patterns

It feels extremely weird to be blogging from home. For one, internet access is terrible. It seems to have understood the general theme and decided to go along – it’s as slow as life itself. My brain has also atrophied. Whatever little vocabulary I had left was eaten up by long, brainless hours in front of the television, just surfing channels. I also discovered a fascination for the TV series, Dexter. These days, I spend hours watching one episode after another. (Yeah, I’m too predictable. I’m in love with the laconic, eccentric, serial-killing dude with severe intimacy issues. Sigh, some patterns never change. If he exists in real life, I’d be smiling even as he chops me up.) My sleeping pattern has also changed. I get 8-hour sleep during evenings plus a 2-4 hour nap during the afternoons. Oh boy, if this must go on, I can never survive in Manila again.

My friends used to speculate on how long I’ll manage to stay sane at home. My great mentor, in his usual trusting manner, said I’d find a way to love being here. Some of my friends gave me 2 months, some 1 month, or 2 weeks, or 1 week. Whoever gave me one week was right. One week of rest and I’m dying to go back to work. Work in dirty, noisy, overcrowded Manila.

But, heck. This is reality. I’m down to my last paycheck. And nobody in this godforsaken town accepts me for moonlighting jobs. Ugh! I guess I have to be practical. There are piles of backlog work I brought from Manila, still left untouched. These, I have yet to deal with.

So for the next few days, my love affair with the serial killing weirdo named Dexter would have to unfold. At least until the new year comes, I can’t break off certain patterns yet. Or hmmm, will I ever?

Hey, I'm trying here.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Finally, it's over. All that's left in my cubicle are the piles of papers that this little corner has accumulated for the past years, handed down from one chief resident to another. And tomorrow morning, it's my turn to go. The last of my endorsements have been completed. All that's left is for me to vacate this place. For the first time tomorrow morning, I will wake up no longer part of UP-PGH. After 4 years, it's over.

There's noise coming from the nearby AVR. The 1st years and the 3rd years have decided to merge their batch parties while they were already all half-drunk. There's screaming and shouting. Sounds of happy people taking their time, as if they're aware that their days are limited, that they have to make the most out of it. Life in this hospital, though often hard, is worth every minute of it.

The kids are already drunk. If someone from the hospital administration walks in and finds all those beer cans and wine, tequila and vodka bottles scattered around, we'd all be kicked out. I watch them for awhile. I remember my batch. I miss those days. I walk away. For the first time since I stepped in as chief resident, I'm not getting drunk with them. I'm staying sober tonight. I'll let them be. Walk away. Let them be. Finally.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Gone in 24 Hours

Evicted in 24 hours

Tomorrow will be my last day as a resident in the Department of Medicine. It's just another day, I know. There's no sense trying to be sentimental and emotional about it. It's no big deal, really. It's not like I'm going to die. But why does it seem to feel like it? Here I am, on a Sunday afternoon, sitting around in my messy cubicle that has served as my office for the past 365 days (++ because I started too soon), immobilized, terrified of what would come next.

I have removed the framed pictures of my batchmates from my walls, brought home my poetry books and my Harrison's. All that remain now are the documents Dexter would have to organize (because I can't) and some office property that I am obliged to leave behind. I have also finished showing Dexter around, how to do things, where to find things, what to expect. In a little more than 24 hours, I have every right to leave, and every right to jump around and scream all my bottled up exhilaration, all my frustrations, my anger, my excitement, my angsts. Finally, it's over.

In less than 24 hours, someone more fit to be called chief will sit on my chair. I will no longer be known as Ma'am Jean, the IM chief resident. Dr. Mejia will stop bugging me for additional tasks. Dr. Tangco will be texting someone else for his cath lab patients. The fellows will have to complain to someone else. I'll stop listening to disputes with other departments. I will no longer be relentlessly calling deliquent residents to attend conferences. I will just be an ordinary internist who had the honor and the privilege to be trained and to have served in the country's premier medical institution.

Up to this very day, I still can't believe I did this. Sometimes I wonder if that person known as Jean during the past year is an entirely different individual. Or how much of that new person would I be carrying with me through this life. There are several unresolved issues and unfinished business I'll be leaving behind, but perhaps today is not the time to think about them. I have to remind myself again and again that tomorrow is just another day.

I'm allowing myself a little indulgence though. I'm giving myself every chance to be grateful.

To everyone who helped, to everyone who shared, to everyone who stood by, to everyone who caught me when I slipped, to everyone who endured, to everyone I neglected, to everyone who became part of this amazing year, thank you. It has truly been an awesome time for me.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Three things about this word.

Crazy. Baliw. This has been my favorite expression for the past year. Something pisses me off. "Baliw!" Something is so amusing. "Baliw!" Something unbelievable happens. "Baliw!"

Crazy. This sums up the entire year. Ups and downs, good and bad, planned and unexpected. The year has been crazy, all in a good way.

Crazy. This is the greatest compliment anyone ever gave me this year. "I have an admiration for crazy people, and you are one of them." Spoken by none other than my greatest teacher. Wow!

This year has been crazy. I have become crazy. I will continue being crazy. This world is really crazy. And crazy people like me happen to love everything about it.


I’m down to my last 3 days as a resident in the Department of Medicine. After a very busy week due to the series of Christmas parties, lectures, preparations for the graduation ceremonies, and endless meetings I had to attend and facilitate, I was finally down to my most reliable company: myself. Last night, I was finally back to my much appreciated and usual state of solitude.

I closed down the office, dragged along two bags of stuff I had accumulated in my little cubicle during the past year, and went home to my cluttered and messy apartment. I was a bit fulfilled but a bit depressed, a bit angry but still a bit optimistic, my brain was a battlefield of my warring selves. I had too much in my mind. Imagine a computer with too many programs running all at the same time. My mind was that way last night. No wonder it just conked out. “The computer is not responding”, the screen said. “Do you want to shut down?”

Yes, I needed to turn this computer off! So without even brushing my teeth or washing my face, I jumped into bed still dressed, stared for a few minutes at the ceiling and then fell asleep.

I woke up 14 hours later, in a rush of energy and panic. Too much to do, too little time. Too much done, too much left out. Too much left unsaid, and too many words uttered. So many people to thank, but a number of people lost with too great a value. Too much, too little, too fast, too soon, too short, too quiet, too timid, too cold, too attached, too far, too intense, too apathetic, too loose, too drastic, too hopeful, too… stop it!

I forced myself out of bed, took a quick bath and got dressed. I got myself two cups of coffee. Played “Tuloy Pa Rin” on my iPod. Tuloy pa rin ang awit ng buhay ko… Too jologs. Too sentimental. But I had to convince myself, anyway. So I turned the repeat mode on and the song just kept on playing, over and over again. Handa na akong hamunin ang aking mundo pagkat tuloy pa rin, tuloy pa rin ang awit ng buhay ko…

Perhaps I’m convincing myself a little too hard.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Like Eternity

One of my most eccentric and adorable consultants, Dr. Alonso, recently gave a short pep talk to my incoming first year residents. He gave his usual warnings ("back off my IVF, kids!" "stay away from my cocktails!") and ended with this anecdote.

"If you know you have six months left to live, how should you spend it?"


"Be a resident in the PGH Department of Medicine."

The residents wondered, "Why, sir?"

"Because if you're a resident in this department, every minute would seem like eternity."

Today, I have 6 days left in the department. And here I am, stretching every minute. When your minutes are running out, even eternity is finite.

But yes, the memories do last. And eternity, though unfathomable, just might be possible.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Unfinished Business

In making crucial life decisions, I don't think it's necessary for you to be absolutely sure that you're doing what you really want. You just have to be sure that you would stand by your choice no matter what the outcome, and you will not end up quitting in the middle of everything.

It's like falling in love. Before the fall, there's always the choice to take the plunge. Gravity takes charge thereafter. You don't know where you'll end up and there's no looking back or moving backward, but you take the crucial step anyway. So ultimately, it was still a choice. A choice to fall, a choice to embrace the unknown and the unstoppable.

In Medicine, we find ways to calculate risks, to estimate probabilities, to quantify prognosis. But in life, we take our chances. Damn if we do, damn if we don't. There's no such thing as Evidence-Based Living, no such thing as Logic-Based Living either. Sometimes, we just wait, let things unfold, and then take it from there.

I had my interviews for Cardiology fellowship this morning. Some people who knew I was a serious advocate for the generalist, all ready to go home to the province immediately after my residency, were surprised to see me there. Well, I also can't figure out why I chose this too!

The inevitable question came. "Why CVS?"

Still baffled, I simply replied, "Unfinished business."

(yeah, go figure. i insist the business is research. yikes!)

Sunday, December 7, 2008


It's late in the evening of a chilly Sunday. I'm still in the office. This time, I'm really busy with authentic work. Blogging and Limewire were effectively kept to the minimum. My head is throbbing. Coffee does not seem to work anymore. There's so much to do. I have to organize myself so Dexter can start with a clean slate. I know what I need. Hmmm, I need a cigarette.

I can still remember my last stick. Marlboro Lights. June 15, 2008, at 3AM, Valle Verde, during the despidida party of a very good friend leaving for Australia. I got so drunk, and I was sad she was leaving. Alcohol is never complete without cigarettes. So I drank and I smoked until my lungs gave out. I was never a tobacco addict. But I didn't plan on quitting the occasional stick either.

Later during that day, I had the good fortune of stumbling into my favorite and most stubborn patient. I was convincing him to start taking his medications for his chronic hypertension since he was already showing signs of end-organ damage. After a long discussion, peppered with intelligent arguments, he just said, "But you smoke. How can you convince me to take my medications?" And he laughed an evil laugh. I was dumb and red all over.

I never touched a cigarette since then.

Hmmm, six months and counting. My lungs have not tasted a single whiff of smoke. I survived a month in Leyte, a handful of ER rounds with my old yosi-buddies taunting me with their Marlboros, really stressful months of chief residency, even the department teambuilding where I usually head the yosi group for bonding purposes (hehehe). I even survived my first intro dive (compressed air dries up the gullet so much that I was panting for tobacco after that dive)without smoking a single puff!

And boy, I feel good.

Tonight, I was again so tempted. I need that smoke. I have every reason to break my abstinence. I am stressed out. My things-to-do list is two pages long. I'm ending chief residency in a week and I deserve a yosi break. I'm down to my last three paychecks and it's Christmas and I still have my Batanes trip to spend for. It's my interview for CVS tomorrow and I'm still undecided if I should take it. And besides, I've lost that patient so he will never know anyway.

I went outside PGH to get some fresh air. I headed straight to that cellcard stand across Taft where I used to get my occasional stick before I head home. I looked at the Marlboro lights. There they were, so tempting, offering a promise of heaven within my reach. I'm getting a smoke. To hell with those 6 months, to hell with what I've been through trying to avoid it, to hell with my profession. To hell with that patient. I'm getting that stick of Marlboro lights!

I reached into my pocket for my wallet. But there was no wallet. My ailing hippocampus deliberately left it behind at the office.

For the nth time in my life, I was saved. I went back to the office relieved. I had to write this story down before I start working again. So I did.

And up to this very minute, I am proud and happy to say that I am still smoke-free.

Can you say that again?

It was past midnight when I left the office last night. I was still in a good mood despite the massive amount of work I left behind for the following day. I had to start vacating my little cubicle, so on a Saturday night, I cleaned up some of the junk I accumulated over the year and decided to bring home a few of my personal stuff in my backpack. The evening was wonderful, with the chilly December Amihan already brewing. I put on my jacket, played the Happiness playlist on my iPod (which mainly consisted of hip-hop dance tunes by Rhianna, Fergie, etc., which are so out of my character and taste but I listen to them anyway because they make me happy), and commenced my 15-walk towards my apartment in Nakpil.

I felt fabulous. Single, unattached, independent, smart. Even beautiful and sexy. I walked on, feeling the cold December breeze on my face. Fergie was crooning G-L-A-M-O-R-O-U-S on my iPod. All the men in the world can get lost. I was happy.

I was standing outside PGH, by the gate, waiting for the light to turn red. There were a couple of empty cabs parked on the side of Taft. A thirty-something man, apparently the driver of one of the cabs approached me, "Taxi po." I nodded. He was persistent. "Sige na po. Saan po kayo, nay?"

Did someone just call me "nanay"? I stared at him. I could kill a man.

The light turned red. I hurriedly crossed the street.

Some men are just so stupid.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Happy Birthday, Papa!

Today is my dad's 59th birthday!

At his age, he can still win a tennis match with a twenty-something. He can carry a sack of rice. He can dig a hole 6-feet deep or even deeper. My dad is indeed a strong man, physically, mentally, spiritually. He may not be computer literate, nor widely read like most dads, or someone who wears a coat and tie, looking suave and debonair. He doesn't eat in fancy restaurants, he doesn't know a thing about wine or fine dining. He doesn't care about the newest phone, he can't even use a digital camera, and he doesn't have any idea what an iPod is. He doesn't know a thing about Barack Obama or the latest news on JokJok. He can't speak straight and impeccable English and his Tagalog sounds so ridiculous. Make him speak in front of people and he'll turn red and his hands will shake.

But he can sing Beatles songs with me. We can spend hours in front the video karaoke together, whether at home or in a secluded beach. He can get drunk over brandy just so he can gather enough guts to interrogate a male friend I brought home (waaah! wrongly and most embarassingly). But he knows when to stop asking his questions. He trusts who I trust and appreciates what I appreciate. He understands how I feel even if I never have to say anything. He knows how to make me change my mind, and he never asks why I always do. He knows the Holy Bible by heart and his faith in God is unbelievable. He lets me alone when I want to be alone. He knows I talk to myself and to invisible creatures but he never stopped me. He lets me travel the country on my own and he promised he will climb Mt. Apo with me again someday, even if he will be much older then. And he will.
One of my fondest memories: singing old songs with Papa.
I bless the day I found you...
His hands are gnarled. His skin is coarse and burnt like that of an ordinary farmer. He adores the land. He respects his people. He enjoys the simplest things and does not try anything expensive because he knows he will never enjoy the cheap just as much again. He never stops dreaming. He never stops working. But he dreams and works not for himself, not even for me or his family. He's working to make other people's lives better.

He said he has already done everything he had planned for himself way ahead of schedule. So he is grateful for what has been and what will be. And this is payback time.
My father is a great man. And I am proud to be his little girl. The man I love would have to look him in the eye and win him over. (haha, kaya pala old maid...)

To the one man I measure everyone else against, happy birthday!=)

Single Old Ladies Admitted In Ward 1

If I succeed in my career as an internist someday, I already have one advocacy in mind. I will be regularly donating to the Department of Medicine's Sagip Buhay Foundation and I will put up a trust fund called the Jean Alcover Fund. It will be an assistance program for indigent patients. The fund will help provide medications, laboratory expenses, mechanical ventilator fees, even long-term-care facility fees. To avail of this fund, there will only be one requirement: the recipient should be a single, unmarried, unattached woman admitted in PGH. That simple. Once there are already men involved, the patient would have to avail of other fund sources.

Last night, my good friend Vicvic had a craving for dark chocolate ice cream. So I took a break from TRP practice and together with another good friend, Bevy, we went to Robinson's and got a scoop each of sinful chocolate ice cream from Theobroma. On our way to the mall, we were talking about couples. Each of us has 3 or 4 friends or acquaintances who recently got engaged, tied the knot, or are about to. While we were enjoying our ice cream, we were all disturbed by a supposedly regular sight. Every direction we looked there was always a twenty or thirty-something obviously pregnant woman, or someone brimming with maternal bliss with a kid or several kids in hand.

The three of us looked at each other. "The world's getting crazy these days." "Yeah, it is." "People are crazy getting hitched during hard times." "Uhmm, yeah." "I'm getting myself a kid in the next few years, I'm doing it the natural way. But the man can get lost once I get knocked up." Laughter. "Why would anyone even want to hook up with someone for life?"

Silence. We devoured our ice creams. Silence still.

And as if on cue, each heaved out a sigh.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Tonight, I'm Dancing

Pre-performance pictorials with my beloved kids.

I have an aversion for dancing. I've always been enthralled by graceful bodies doing those awesome moves, but my own body just can't imitate them. Even if I force myself to like dancing, I just can't. I can undulate like mad, even dance around a pole when I'm drunk, but I can never dance an organized dance. Not even the simplest folk dance. Not even the simplest childhood field demonstration calisthenics. No way can I memorize the steps, the movement of the arms and the head, and when you have to do them all together, I just go crazy.

Among all medical doctors, I probably have the poorest memory. It was such a wonder I even made it through medical school. My head just can't figure out all those little details about biochemistry, physiology, all those memory work we had to get over with. I can't remember stuff, especially the important ones. For me, remembering all these academic nitty-gritty was the hardest thing a medical student had to go through. Eventually, I found out that body memory is worse. My body refuses to remember patterns of steps, arm movements, head twists and hip thrusts and arm jerks and all those supposedly graceful movements. When I do them, the grace disappears and all that remains is a ridiculous set of uncoordinated movements.

Masks off. With incoming chief resident, Dexter.

But tonight, I'm dancing. For the last time as a member of the UP College of Medicine, I'm going to go on stage for my one minute of ridiculous moves. I really don't care how I would appear. I'm doing one of the things that I hate the most in order to make a statement: sometimes we are able to do the unthinkable, simply because we have to. The year 2008 was all about that. So I guess I deserve this one minute of absurdity under the lights. I'll savor it. And I will be the first one to laugh at myself. After all, the evening is called Tao Rin Pala. Humans as we are, we laugh, we cry, we make fools of ourselves in life and in love. But somehow, we still end up dancing.

Over a Bottle of Wine

I was in a fairly good mood last night so after closing down the office and finishing some paperwork (that I so absolutely hate), I went to the mall and treated myself to a nice dinner. Because of the Christmas rush, my natural aversion for crowds was immediately triggered so I decided to finish my little date with myself in the comforts and solitude of my own apartment. I figured a bottle of wine would be perfect to cap the day so I went to the supermarket and got myself a bottle of 2006 Shiraz.

When I arrived home, I proceeded to get busy with my bottle. Corkscrew in hand, I paid close attention to my Shiraz. Excitement building, I ripped off the plastic seal and suddenly… Uh-oh… I had this awfully horrifying realization that after 7 years of medical school and 4 years of residency training, I do not know how to open a bottle of wine!

I found this to be such a disgraceful and appalling thought. I have quite prided myself with the fact that I probably have acquired more alcohol dehydrogenase in my liver than usual females my age. I can drink beer like water. I have mastered the art of opening a beer bottle using a spoon. My dad has taught me how to open a bottle using another bottle (but I never learned it, and no, I will never open one with my teeth!). I have joined rowdy old men over shots of Tanduay, Ginebra, Emperador, Gran Matador, lambanog, tuba, whatever spirit is around.

But I can’t open a bottle of wine! Well, my taste for alcohol is probably a valid excuse. I’ve always been a beer drinker and all the rest that I really ever drank was simple: turn the cap, pour, gulp, and burp. I enjoy wine, but it has always been served in a wineglass, ready for the taking. That I can’t open a bottle of wine, it’s a humbling idea.

I took my corkscrew, turned it around the cork, and pulled and pulled. The cork didn’t even budge. Is there a right way of pulling, of turning, of holding the bottle? I did it all over again: turn, pull, push. My fingers were already warm and red. The cork budged a little, about half an inch. I turned the corkscrew around again and again, and pulled and pulled while pushing the bottle down. I even intensely analyzed the mechanisms and the dynamics of a cork and a corkscrew. I twisted and turned, pulled and pulled until I was flushed and sweating. My right hand finally gave up.

The bottle of wine remained unopened.

I brought up the white flag and laid the bottle down. I went outside to the nearby store to get a couple of good old reliable beers. I stared at the beer bottles with their crowns that I can easily jerk open with a spoon. I looked at the beer cans with their easy flip-pull-and-open lids. Hmmm, too easy for me.

I changed my mind about the beer and went home. I laid down on my bed, tired. Then my eyes strayed over to the still unopened bottle of wine on my bureau, corkscrew still stuck in the cork, cork already mangled but still very much stuck in the bottle. The full, unopened bottle of 2006 Shiraz stared back at me in all its vain and obstinate glory.

I smiled at the bottle. “You got me this time kid.”

I went to the kitchen to get myself a cup of tea.

If anyone can show me how to open a bottle of wine, please do share this bottle with me. A bottle of wine this hardy is too grand to enjoy on my own.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Word of Caution for My Readers

I was pleasantly surprised this afternoon when I found out that this blog already has its steady group of followers. Sometimes I get text messages from nice people asking how I am or if I'm okay. I even have some residents and students asking me about previous entries. Well, honestly, the sole purpose of this blog is to be a venue for catharsis. I never really cared about the grammar or the syntax or the content. This is a very self-serving, childish, almost histrionic attempt to organize my thoughts, so at least I could have a semblance of order in my very disorganized life.

I admit I have a severe form of neurosis which is akin to paranoia, but which I'd rather call, for simplicity's sake, Trust Issues. It's hard to believe that someone like me can actually write a rather intimate and honest online journal. I am Ms. Solitude who can't sleep in a bed with someone else, who can't endure a relaxing massage or spa which most people find comforting, who gets irritated when someone joins me in my morning walks along the boulevard, who can't go to church with other people (because that's my most intimate hour of the week), who'd rather sleep under the stars than in a tent with someone because of claustrophobia. I have this bothersome, almost alarming need to keep a safe distance all the time. I don't think I can endure anything intimate for long. But here I am, pouring out my entire life and wearing my whole heart out in...(WTF!#$#%) a crazy blog!

On second thought, however, I think this is a manifestation of Trust Issues in its most severe form. It's really easier to share your life's story to strangers. It's easy to show a part of your heart to people you barely know, to people who are distant, almost inanimate, than to people you most hold dear. I don't know if this is also how it goes with most people. But when I'm talking to someone I truly trust, I just can't say anything. Words become immaterial. And somehow, silence becomes more soothing.

I think this is why blogs are effective. They tell a story, but never the entire story. They tell the truth, but never the entire truth. That way, reality becomes masked. The blog becomes a story, and the blogger a storyteller.

So for my friends who are reading my blog, thank you for your patronage. Your interest honors me. If you were to give me a diagnosis, what would it be? I'll help you with some differentials: histrionic (as in OA), lonely (as in walang makausap), bored (as in walang magawa), schizophrenic (as in nagpapanggap), the list could go on and on. But let me give you a word of caution: I have Trust Issues in its most severe form. And this blog is nothing but a story. And in my vocabulary, fantasy happens to be stronger than fact.

What is most important is what the reader gets out of all these. What you make out of your own reality, regardless of how other people perceive and describe theirs, that's what matters most. After all, stories unfold, whether they are written or not. I am indeed grateful and honored that you have become a witness to the written part of my story.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Finding My Miracles

I’m surprised with my mood these days. My responses are not quite consistent with the real-life scenarios, because now, I am relatively happy and oozing with optimism. I don’t think I’m accomplishing anything important. I’m just going through everyday at snail’s pace. At this point, I don’t believe I have the authority to use the gift of hindsight to reassure me that everything went well as far as I’m concerned. That would be indulging my ego too much. My confidence is still suffering and I still feel that all I’ve done during the past year was to plug a hole, be in the position so that somebody is there nominally, albeit being dispensable anytime. If this was the old, predictable me, I would have been depressed for the past two weeks. I mean, I have the right to be depressed. But oddly enough, sometimes I do surprise myself. Because at this very moment when my brain is telling me I should be sad, why, I’m simply not miserable at all!

I can’t attribute this to my hormones either. This is supposed to be the time of the month when I should be feeling most bloated and cranky. But here I am, enjoying a fairly decent length of sleep and going for hours without munching a bar of chocolate. My coffee intake is at its lowest. All I need to bring a day to a close is a cup of tea, a few pages of non-medical reading, and a prayer. I still don’t exercise and I still spend too many hours in the office twirling around my chair and staring at nothing. My elation may not last for a long time, and I’m already anticipating another big time slump. But for starters, it looks like Depression is not going to get the best of me yet.

These days I find myself actively searching for my everyday miracles. Those tiny details in my life that do not follow a pattern: certain events, images, words, or people that may seem simple but are actually redeeming. A folded bill in my old wallet when I’m broke, a gift of galunggong with sukang pinakurat from my staff during a toxic day, a post-duty day with no consult at my continuity clinic, a report that my kids earned more than P100,000 from our 3-day rummage sale, a free movie with good friends after a bad day, a statement from a revered mentor, a ‘thank you’ from an old intern, excellent endorsements of a shy clerk, a discovery that my old journals still exist, an old poem I wrote on a page of an obsolete medicine textbook, a whiff of a familiar scent, a familiar song playing on a patient's transistor radio, an appaluse from a crowd, a smile from a stranger, an unexpected text message from an old friend.

Interestingly, I find that a blighted spirit has a heightened sensitivity to details. Perhaps this is the body’s way of compensating. It’s like in Endocrinology. Our body’s organs send out some sort of signals to the brain, and there exists a form of positive or negative feedback mechanism where the ultimate goal is this: to cope.

(Ahh, the perfect explanation. And I was vehement when I was told I was left-brain dominant. haha!)

I’m suddenly finding myself smiling more often. There’s a lightness, a certain freedom in my heart that I would like to share to everyone I meet. Recently, I realized how easy it is, how absolutely natural it is, to forgive. And then I knew what happiness is: it’s when you believe even before you understand, when you trust even before you judge, when you forgive even before you are wronged. And then everything just follows. Everyday you find miracles. And you're just so sure that despite of, inspite of, and because of all this crazy crap you have to live with, life is indeed worth all the trouble.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

On Telenovelas and In Between Episodes

I never watch telenovelas but I have some friends who do. These Mexican soap opera fanatics spend evenings in front of the television waiting for their Hispanic heroes. Who could blame them? The men are really handsome and sexy (yeah right, to me they look very gay, screaming almost). But name these leading men Sergio, Jose Luis, or Fernando Jose and I can almost forgive their too obvious crotches and too artificially sculpted bodies. (Sorry but I do have a crazy fascination for Hispanic names, haha! My first born, if I’ll ever have one will be named… ooops, oversharing…)

And the women, oohlahlah! Sultry blonde hair, 23-inch waistlines, stupid-looking faces who appear to be ready to jump into bed any minute of the day. I guess every imperfect Filipina wants to be like them. And sometimes I do look at myself in the mirror and say ugh! I want that Thalia body too! But of course, that’s ridiculous. A rather too predictable and juvenile self-esteem problem that I’ve managed to kick off as I grew older.

I’ve watched several episodes of the original Marimar before and it wasn’t difficult understanding why Filipinos have a fascination for them. Except for the very irritating discordance of the shape of the character’s mouths and the words that come out, I do find these TV shows intriguing though somewhat too tacky for my taste. Nevertheless, because I enjoy testing the limits of my own disgust, I would have watched these telenovelas if I had regular access to television and the patience to wait as each episode unravels.

Perhaps all of us subconsciously dream to be a leading lady in a telenovela. In these stories, there’s always the long-suffering woman, the unfairly accused wife, the deviously schemed seduction that miraculously leads to a failed pregnancy, the rich husband who unfairly and prematurely judges a staged scene, the poor girl who falls in love with the rich haciendero and then the haciendero turns out to be the pauper and the poor girl is a heiress who rescues him in the end. And here’s the catch. Most of the time, the popular telenovelas always has someone who develops amnesia. There's always someone who forgets and the loss of memory redeems everyone. And of course, the best part that everybody loves is this: there’s always a happily ever after.

Very Filipino. Perhaps that’s why Filipinos dig them. We love them. We hope our lives can be like a Mexican telenovela. We hope that despite the twists and turns of our boring everyday existence, we get a load of drama, good or bad that leaves us stunned at the end of the day.

I hate telenovelas. I hate waiting for the next part of the story. I hate surprises that almost always end up breaking my heart. I never had the patience to stay calm, sit through the lull of a long commercial break, and wait for the next episode to unravel. The part that I hate the most is when I cry. Even these darn cheesy, tasteless telenovelas bring rivers to my eyes. Too predictable. But it makes me cry just the same.

All of sudden, here I am. Ironically, Jean who absolutely hates telenovelas got dragged to a telenovela that is my own life. I don’t know the title, I don’t know the characters, I don’t know the plot. But it absolutely has all the elements of a classic Mexican telenovela that I enumerated above. All except the amnesia part.

Again, I hate waiting for the next episode. I’m fidgeting in my seat, my heart is in atrial fibrillation in rapid ventricular response, my mouth is dry. What’s going on? Who are the characters? Where is everyone? What happened? What happens next?

I hate this telenovela. I hate all these commercial breaks. I most especially hate the fact that a happy ending will most likely not happen at all. I also hate it that while waiting for that happy ending that will never come, I can't even cry, which is so unlikely because I usually cry over the most tacky stories.

I hate this telenovela. But there is something I am absolutely sure of: the part of the girl who gets amnesia belongs to me. And I will be willing, far too willing, to play it.

When the Caged Bird Refuses to Fly

Last day of November. This is also my last duty as senior house officer. Tomorrow starts a new month. Tomorrow, starts my countdown to a different life, the life that I've forgotten about - the life outside PGH. Put a bird in a cage for so long. It will not fly out of the cage even if you leave the door open. The door of my cage is open now. I'm afraid to fly out. The world out there is so big, so unfamiliar. It's terrifying to be out of the cage and I don't know if I can still fly.

Starting December 16, I'll practically be a bum. And as of today, 15 days before that fated morning, I still don't have the slightest idea what choice I'll end up making. I have submitted my application for Cardiology fellowship, but I have to admit it was more of a second choice, a comfortable safety net just in case the best choice fails to work out. The greatest problem is this: I don't know my best choice.

I had thought one year of administrative work that is chief residency would buy me time to make up my mind and know my exact place in the world. I didn't know chief residency would actually muddle up things. Now, there are so many wonderful options all laid out on a silver platter, very well arranged, each offering a promise of an exotic out-of-this world experience. The chance to do something and change the world is right there. The only difference is how, and as what.

Being a believer of process instead of product, I'm having a very difficult time making up my mind. Throughout my term as chief resident, I only have one guiding principle: whatever is right. My residents can attest to this. Whenever there are disposition problems or conflicts with other departments, I've always asked them, "What do you think is the right thing to do?" And so far, that principle has guided me well.

This time, everything seems right. It's time to choose what's best. And oh boy, choosing what's best is far more difficult.

I've been obsessively probing my Subconscious lately. I realized that I'm afraid of that big, terrifying, unknown world that is so full of adventures and surprises both good and bad. I've lived in the comforts of my cage for so long. I don't think I'm ready to spread my wings and explore the world yet. But what if it's not the big wild world outside that is freaking me out? What if it's actually the thought that if I fly away and Destiny finally comes looking for me in my cage, I'm no longer there?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Inspite of, despite of, because of...

This blog has become so somber lately. Too serious. Too drab. Let me just post a few happy pictures. Finally, I've reached my last 20 days in the chairman's office. Woohoo!

Chief residency was so out-of-character. It was a crazy choice to even take the challenge. But so far, this has been the greatest decision I've made in my young life. It has been a fantastic year. There are so many people to thank. So many joys to share.

Rummage Sale 2008. Can anyone guess who owned this shirt? Wahaha! Anyone willing to bid against me? To the first year residents, thank you for all the efforts. With residents like you, who needs a chief resident? I'm so proud of you guys!=)

With my incoming kids. Uhmm, no, you will be Dexter's na. But I know we chose you well. Walang iwanan ha! Thank you for making me part of your own journey to be great internists! It's an honor. Sigh! I miss my batch. Can't believe it's been 4 years since my 1st teambuilding...

With my super gwapo kids. I had to make this crazy request to have this picture taken with them. Feeling showbiz. Thank you again.=)

My beloved staff who endured my disorganized behaviour and lavished me with galunggong and sukang pinakurat. I am grateful for everyday in the office.=)

Lately I just sit around the office and breathe. Wow. This life is good. And it certainly is getting better.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

when heroes fall

Despite my relatively advanced age and my not-so-sweet encounters with reality, I still insist that superheroes exist. I believe that some people have certain special gifts - they can fly, do magic, unleash the powers of the mind, make a tremendous difference in the world. I think everyone, in one way or another, has his own super hero. He may not exactly be someone wearing a mask or a cape, or a sword-wielding chap who recites strange magic spells and instantly levitates, or a knight-in-shining armor on a shining white horse ready to save the day. Our own heroes wear ordinary clothes: slippers, shorts, an old shirt, a backpack, jeans, Chuck Taylors, geeky glasses, a stethoscope, a pen. But to us adoring fans, they are heroes more glamorous than those we see on TV. We simply look up to them and we are amazed at every move they make.

I've been a believer of heroes since I was a child. So far, I've never been disappointed. They may be unaware of it but my heroes have made me do wonderful things. They've influenced me to make important choices, guided me through the crossroads of my life. Their own lives, their simple presence, some seemingly insignificant lines that they've spoken (see entry on Serendipitous Lines) have made me do things in my life that I never thought I would be able to accomplish in my lifetime. My heroes are heroes because they made me better.

What happens when a super hero falls from grace? And you witness the fall with your own two eyes. What happens if SuperMan falters in the sky and just helplessly plummets to the ground? What if you took off SpiderMan's mask and realize he's just your geeky neighbor, Peter Parker? What if, just what if, you find out that Batman, in all his mystery and glamour, suffers from substance abuse and chronic depression? What if the great Hulk, in all his bulk and strength, snores and frequently farts in his sleep?

What if your superhero falls from the sky during your most optimistic moment? What if he drops to the ground right there in front of you, with a tattered cape and spirit, helpless?

You can do two things. The easiest option is to simply walk away, fuming mad and disappointed. The second is to help him up, even if it breaks your heart.

My choice is easy. I choose to stick around. After all, heroes do fall. And I like my Achilles better with his vulnerable heels.

This weekend, one of my favorite superheroes stooped down to give me this heart-wrenching message, "Jean, nothing you do will ever disappoint me." Coming from someone I truly look up to, those words practically saved me.

So today, I'm paying these same words forward.

To my beloved caped crusaders who have fallen or who might fall, don't worry. Nothing you do or fail to do will ever disappoint me.

Monday, November 24, 2008


This part of my life is called "Awwww!"

I've been a believer of persistence, the power of the steady, insistent prayer. I was told in the past that God could actually change His mind. Remember that line in the Bible when you just have to ask and ask until He gives you what you asked for? Because the Bible said that when His children asks Him for bread, He never gives them a serpent.

Recently I was made to realize several hard truths. Yes, God will not give you a serpent. But sometimes, He won't give you bread either. He simply says "No". Not only that. Sometimes, God even slams the door right in your face. And oh boy, your face gets so swollen you can't even cry. He could have said "No" and I could have taken it with grace and just walk away. A black and white, all bold, "No" would have been enough. Or a gentle closing of the door. But He slams the door real hard. He can be rude sometimes. And He leaves you right there in the middle of the street, dazed.

Whew! Wow!


I need to get that faith back.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Learning from Emily

It's 5PM. The office is quiet. Everyone has gone home. Everyone, except me - always the first to arrive, the last to leave. I hear shuffling of feet from the Senior Residents' Office above me, a murmur of voices, then raucous laughter. Reminds me of who we were one year ago. Now, I do not know. There is no callroom to go home to. No one to gripe with. One must learn to keep one's thoughts bottled in. One must cry alone if it's necessary to do so. These days, tears are not a sign of weakness, but more of an offering, a gift of honesty toward one's self.

I find myself in the office rather often these days. At 10 PM, sometimes I'm still here, toying with my computer, twirling around my swivel chair like a little child. I just gaze and stare at the piles of paper on my desk. I never even attempt to gather the courage and energy to discard whatever is useless. I just stare and stare until my stomach tells me it's time for my evening tea.

Today, while going through my usual habit of staring, my eyes were suddenly fixed on a certain book. It was a hard-bound copy of a collection of poems by Emily Dickinson. I've loved this book. I adore this poet and her works. I opened the book and was surprised I've actually made some notes on some poems. I had several post-its stuck on the pages, with my comments (evidence of my somewhat geeky personality).

Emily Dickinson was a recluse. She spent most of her life in a room on the second floor of her father's house. She wrote almost two thousand poems. She rarely descended from her little room, because she claimed, "To live is so startling". She lived until the young age of fifty-five.

This short and secluded life, however, is not mirrored by her writings. Her poems are full of feeling, full of life, as if she has lived and relished every emotion that a human being can be capable of feeling in a huge and exciting universe. Emily lived and died a recluse. But I could not help but wonder: Before she decided to renounce life as ordinary people knew it, did anything happen to Emily?

Here are some of my theories that I derived from a few of my favorite lines:

1. Did she hope, then suddenly lost everything she hoped for?
Except the heaven had come so near,
So seemed to choose my door,
The distance would not haunt me so;
I had not hoped before.

But just to hear the grace depart
I never thought to see,
Afflicts me with a double loss;
'T is lost, and lost to me.

2. Did she suffer unspoken affection?
I hide myself within my flower,
That wearing on your breast,
You, unsuspecting, wear me too -
And angels know the rest.

I hide myself within my flower,
That, fading from your vase,
You, unsuspecting, feel for me
Almost a loneliness.

3. The agony of unrequited love?
Proud of my broken heart since thou didst break it,
Proud of the pain I did not feel till thee,
Proud of my night since thou with moons dost slake it,
Not to partake thy passion, my humility.

I'm also a spinster who has virtually exiled herself in a room, not a physical one, but a psychological room I rarely come down from. What now? Hey, Emily? Why?

I realize I don't want to be Emily Dickinson. I can borrow her lines but not her life. "To live is so startling." Yes, I agree with her. But that's exactly the same reason why it is glorious to be alive!

I closed the book, placed it back on the shelf. Then, something fell. It was a folded piece of paper from long ago. Lines from another poet. From a guy named AE Houseman. I don't remember writing them down. The lines may have stirred my soul then. Perhaps, long ago, during my teenage years. Here goes:

He would not stay for me, and who can wonder?
He would not stay for me to stand and gaze.
I shook his hand and tore my heart in sunder
And went with half my life about my ways.

Oh yeah. I understand. Emily, perhaps you went about your ways with half your life. The world will remember your pain and will always end up applauding your story. But as for me, I'm getting my full measure of life, even if I have to go on limping.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

One last word on post-travel blues...

It's been exactly one week since that warm, windless night in Apo Island. I can still remember the sound silence made, that steady, eerie droning at my eardrums. The droning that had a strange rhythmic quality, much like a heart beating, that it was difficult to tell if the sound was merely silence or the systoles and diastoles of my own heart. The moon was round and bright, but not full. It had a pale yellow hue, casting a faint silvery light on the still Dumaguete waters. The sky was cloudy, shyly revealing telltale traces of a brewing storm. The gentle timidity of darkness only afforded us a few stars, but they were enough to make the night beautiful.

The light the moon cast over the waters was breathtaking. Right in front of us was a company of dancers all dressed in silver, partying on the water, dazzling us with an enchanting number. A performance that was magical, made more charming because of its evanescence. Much like the flickering lights in the city, but with an added beauty from the harmony of the moon, the water, the breeze, the stars and everything that was there and that was not. By midnight, the ocean in front of us became a gigantic stage lit up by a huge spotlight from heaven. That was my moment. That singular point in time when everything in the universe just seemed to conspire to please me. At that time, I would have jumped off the porch, ran into the ocean, kicked off my shoes and walked on water.

I should have.

But I'm still here. I'm back in the office. After exactly one week, I am thinking back on that evening wondering why life goes on this way. It's an exhausting, endless journey of disappointments and joys, beauty and ugliness, passion and emptiness. I think that if all of us will scrutinize our lives closely, examining every tiny detail, we will realize that the most part of it is dull, empty, useless, even painful, worthy of forgetting. Life, after all, becomes a long, sad, chore that we should perhaps get over with as soon as we can.

But then there are moments. Moments when we become most hopeful, when we suddenly rediscover that the world is beautiful. Sometimes these moments last for hours. Sometimes, they last long enough for us to say a prayer of thanksgiving. But sometimes, like many of mine, they are transient, lasting only for one single breath. One breath when you become a witness of a miracle, a revelation of time itself. That one breath when the ephemeral greets the eternal, when the surreal meets reality, when the present crosses over to become a memory.

Those moments make life worth all the trouble. Those moments make every journey worth the nastiest post-travel depression ever imaginable. This evening, I pace around my office, stroll around Ward 1 and Ward 3, walk around PGH. The moon is round and full and orange now. There are no stars. All I hear is the loud droning of vehicles and the occasional rattlings of the LRT. I'm far away from that moment in Apo Island. But I know this life that I have now is all worth it. Soon, I will be traveling once more. And until then, I know moments will come. I pray I'll be blessed enough to find them.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Song of the Wanderer

I'm still depressed. Despite my resolve to get out of the dumps and build a refreshed outlook on the world out there, I am still in the gloom. My shoulders feel heavy and I look terrible, disheveled, unkempt. I move around dazed even if I spent the rest of the night sleeping. I barely manage to get through the day. In an attempt to organize my life, I made a checklist of things-to-do this morning and I painstakingly attempted to accomplish all of them. I still smile, make small talk, do my regular chief resident duties. I can still successfully dodge the urge to lose my temper on the most petty of concerns. In general, I think I'm still all right. I hope I'm still all right.

Yesterday, I went to my psychiatrist friend. I asked for a remedy for big-time post-travel depression. She told me there's no such clinical entity. It's just adjustment disorder. All I need is reassurance. No medications needed. Like a viral infection, it will spontaneously resolve. I hope she's right. After all, I'm just in Day 3. Things will get better soon.

Still deep into my illness, I did the unthinkable this morning: I left the hospital in the middle of a hectic day. Despite the mountains of paperwork to finish, I got out of the PGH compound and took a walk around Padre Faura and its neighboring streets.

Being a doctor who's guilty of self-medication, I got the best remedy for a crash-phase addict: another fix, or whatever is closest to it. I went to the nearest SEA Air office and got my roundtrip ticket to my ultimate destination: Basco. Sigh... Two months to go and I'll be flying again. And not only that, it's going to be another heaped-up, double-serving of my greatest addictions. Hehe. At least I have something to look forward to. Hmmm, I can almost breathe the Batanes breeze. Another set of moments to savor.

On my way back to the hospital, I was lured by this cozy bookstore in Padre Faura, La Solidaridad. I reminded myself to secure an adequate stash of books for my 18-day Ivatan sojourn so I ventured in. I got interested in a book by F. Sionil Jose (perhaps because of the title). It's called "Viajero". Hmmm, viajero. Wanderer. Drifter. That's me.

The opening poem caught my attention. It is something by Dr. Jose Rizal, translated by the great Nick Joaquin. Here goes...

Song of the Wanderer

Dry leaf flies at random
till it's seized by a wind from above:
so lives on earth the wanderer,
without north, without soul, without country or love!

Anxious, he seeks joy everywhere
and joy eludes him and flees,
a vain shadow that mocks his yearning
and for which he sails the seas.

Impelled by a hand invisible,
he shall wander from place to place;
memories shall keep him company -
of loved ones, of happier days.

A tomb perhaps in the desert,
a sweet refuge, he shall discover,
by his country and the world forgotten...
Rest quiet: the torment is over.

And they envy the hapless wanderer
as across the earth he persists!
Ah, they know not of the emptiness
in his soul, where no love exists.

I was never a Jose Rizal fan. Today, I am.

Waaahh!! I need a lobotomy!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Shaking Off the Blues

I realized that the best way to shake off the ultimate post-travel gloom and all its attendant difficulties is to find something that will occupy the better part of your time, something more important than your thoughts and all the false realities it deludes you to believe. Last night, I woke up with that Jerry-Maguire type of frenzy - cold sweat, words that flowed out ceaselessly, epiphanies you might call them. I shivered, I had alarming palpitations, I paced around my office like a mad man, I relentlessly argued with myself. Then I made up my mind.

I am not going home. Not yet. I am not turning my back on perfect opportunities to learn. I am not putting my backpack aside this early in my life. I am using my Lonely Planet as soon as another chance to wander comes along. I am not putting my life on hold because I'm scared I wouldn't like what it would offer me. I am not putting a ceiling on my growth just because I think I've already been given too much. I am not saying 'no' to more chances to be better.

I love to teach so I am teaching. I love my patients so I am making rounds. I love this hospital so I am going on duty again. I am going to hit my books and read and memorize and analyze again. I will learn, I will teach, I will suffer sleepless nights, I will endure humiliation. I am willing to go through it all over again.

The load on my neck is heavy. But I will not go home to sulk and forget. I will face every scary situation waiting for me, head on.

This was a surprise decision. It was a Jerry-Maguire thing. A manifesto that came in the middle of the night. Unnerving. Explosive. But with it came a sense of peace. Early this morning I talked to people, my mentors: Homer, Dr. Dans, Papa. Then the next move was all mine.

This morning I fixed all my documents. Then I submitted my application for post-residency fellowship. I am now all set and psyched up for three more years, if they take me in. Adult Cardiology.

It's time to fix some hearts. Literally this time.=)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Post-travel Blues

I'm supposed to write about Dumaguete.

But, sorry. I'm having a really bad case of post-travel blues. It's a literal post-travel depression plus another heaping of "post-travel depression", with allusion to a figure of speech that I sort of used before, so that makes it really really terrible. This is the worst case I've ever had.

Like a moth to a flame, why do I come back to this again and again? Why do we always go back to something even if we know it can hurt us? My papa used to say, "Jean, don't bother trying out a good thing if you know you can't have it for long." We used to argue about it a lot. Now, I couldn't agree more.

It's like a narcotic. You get a high then you crash. And every next shot would just be a futile attempt to mimic your first high. A useless attempt to regain that "thousand orgasms" (even the use of the phrase makes me weep! ugh!).

I'm supposed to write about Dumaguete. But I'm sorry. I just can't. Not yet. I'm having a terrible case of post-travel blues. And I don't even miss Apo Island. No, not one bit.

I'm giving my weary feet a rest this time. My back pack and my Lonely Planet would have to be shelved until I'm ready to travel again. For sure, it would take some time. A very long time perhaps.

Long ago, I found an oyster. In Apo Island, it opened up a bit. I got a peep. It's empty. No pearl. I left the island with an empty shell around my neck. Good enough souvenir. One day I'll have to throw it away. It's getting so heavy.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Pathologic Planning

I am a doctor - an internist to be exact. The thing with us doctors, internists in particular, is that we are naturally obsessive-compulsive. We love to make well-defined plans. Every course of action has to be carefully calculated, accurate, precise, with a vivid outcome already foreseen, and every possible problem taken into account. Being a recent convert to the preachings of evidence-based medicine, it's almost second nature for me to calculate risks, analyze cost versus benefit, quantify opportunity costs. In my mind are algorithms, practice guidelines, ready solutions to the possibilities of the occurence of the dreaded what-ifs.

I am also a traveller, albeit a new one, just taking her first few steps towards the realm of the unknown. I enjoy going around the most remote of places, talking to people I've never met, watching foreign lives unravel in front of me while I remain unnoticed, silently being part of conversations spoken in strange tongues I do not even understand. I read somewhere that while a tourist sees what he has come to see, the traveller sees what he sees. The way I understand this, one must completely erase all expectations, all preconceived notions, in order to see what is to be seen.

I am a doctor, an internist to be exact. And I, with all sincerity and dedication, intend to be a traveller. I struggle to find the middle ground between these two opposing natures - the internist who plans, and the traveller who absorbs every moment.

This struggle hasn't been an easy one. It was even hilarious. I remember last year, I brought some of my friends to my hometown in Digos. I had my plans ready one month before the trip. The itinerary was perfectly laid out. It was even on powerpoint, complete with pictures (yikes!). On the day of their arrival, too many misfortunes just seemed to happen. The car's windshield was shattered by a stone that appeared out of nowhere on the way to the airport, my camera suddenly just wouldn't work, and on our way to the foot of Mt. Apo, a steel shaft of our vehicle broke rendering it dangerous and almost useless that we had to hitch a ride in the middle of a wilderness. We ended up riding an open truck in pitch dark and just when we thought we were almost home we had to head back to a few hundred meters away from where we broke down and go down the mountain road all over again.

Oh boy, that was fun! It was a chance to rediscover old friends and further strengthen old bonds. Until now, I still remember Claire and Fe with a certain fondness and a strange nostalgia for that moment - sitting on a spare tire at the back of a truck that's used to deliver hogs on a chilly Mt. Apo evening, hungry but laughing and counting stars. In fact, that was probably the birth of our now growing semi-travel-club. Perhaps subconsciously, we wanted more of those adventures. And something tells me we're bound to have more of them in the years to come.

Tonight I'm again trying to repress the pathologic planner in me. In less than 24 hours, I'll be flying to Dumaguete with two of my greatest and most reliable travel buddies. One of them has just recently reminded me to bring my Lonely Planet and my Dumaguete map (yes, OC-OC Jean bought a map!). Sigh. Some people are blessed enough to resist the urge to plan. How can they be comfortable with no schedule in mind? We'll plan when we get there. Ugh!

I'm writing this blog entry as an attempt to fight off the urge to make an itinerary. I am not making a detailed schedule tonight. I will not make hotel bookings and even make arrangements for possible extra beds. I will not be contacting boatmen and haggle for lower prices. I am not searching the internet to choose the best restaurants to eat in. I will not even attempt to find out the schedule of Sunday mass and memorize the local emergency numbers.

We'll plan when we get there. Yeah right. We'll see. In Dumaguete, I will just breathe and enjoy the moment.

(But yes, I do have my beta-blockers ready.)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


It’s an annoying preoccupation these days. I try to brush it off but it sticks to me like the base scent of an exotic perfume. There’s an endless ticking I hear in the clock of my mind. A bell is tolling somewhere, and my senses are heightened even if I refuse to listen to it. It’s almost numbing.

While every doctor at the end of residency training faces these dilemmas, I'm facing mine a year too late. Mine is a case of suspended animation. I had to spend an extra year within the comfortable embrace of this institution. And though I frequently complain of suffocation, now that I'm about to be set free, I'm having a terrible case of separation anxiety.

Cold feet. Intense trepidation. Pathologic apprehension about my next course of action. There will be a multitude of opportunities deliberately discarded for the pursuit of something uncertain . There will be bandits and robbers met along the way. There will be goodbyes to people I have travelled with for years. I leave them at the side of the road hoping that one day I find them again and things will be the same but I'm just sure things will change.

And the worst part is having to deal with all this alone. With no one else to ventilate to, no one to gripe with. Every one else has moved on.

I remember talking to a friend about another friend who had to move to another country on her own. I remember commenting about how brave she was, finding the guts to totally uproot herself and start a new life in a strange place. That time, I said "I can never do that." And my friend told me, "But you've been doing that all your life."

Perhaps this is just another one of those painful extirpations.

Yesterday I sent out letters to the sections of the department requesting for introductory lectures for my incoming first year residents. Last night I talked to Dexter, my successor, about the residents’ administrative posts. Today I spoke to Dr. Ernesto Domingo requesting him to be the commencement speaker during the coming PGH graduation. I also returned all my borrowed x-ray films to Radiology.

Few hours ago, Dr. Dans asked me, “When are you leaving?” Automatically, I answered, “In 43 days sir.”

I didn’t realize I had been counting.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Happy Birthday Judith!

Happy birthday Judith! Ice cream party with the Five-O-Clock Club PGH Cluster. Ena and Jill are out, VicVic just left, Haydee taking the pic. We have to do this again!

Last night, what remained of our old residency batch gathered together to celebrate the birthday of our great matriarch, Judith (hehe!). With the 70% attendance of the PGH cluster, we enjoyed a callroom-like conversation and a hearty dinner at KKK in Robinson's. An ice cream feast followed. Darn! I don't even recall the name of the place. We got a 12-giant-scoop ice cream bowl. The seven of us left devoured it in a jiffy.

I hope we do this more frequently.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Memory Lane

Last night, I took a walk down the proverbial memory lane with some of my closest friends from medical school. Since we were usually grouped together by our family names, I sort of gravitated towards the As and the Bs. They were not only my blockmates, my gripe buddies, my pig-out mates, they were also the my best friends then.

Last night, four of our friends came home from the US for a 2-week vacation. We took this chance to gather for a few hours and reminisce. Some things just don't change. Reggie is still our Baldy Daddy, almost forty with a mind of an 18 year old (hehe). Lims is still the butt of all jokes because of his Limwelisms. Meann has lost more than 50% of her original weight, but is still as tsismosa. Jen is still bading. And a lot more.
UPCM Class 2004. Block A. Circa 2008. Dinner at Robinson's Manila.

UPCM Class 2004. Block A. Circa 2003. Lounging at the Stone Tables.

Housemates. Cuevas Buena Familia sans Cinderella.

Cuevas Buena Familia. Circa 2004, at the apartment. With MeAnn.

I remember going all the way from Manila to UP Diliman just to have lunch at Mang Jimmy's then feast on dirty ice cream at the UP Sunken Garden even if our tummies were already sticking out a mile. Despite our toxic PGH duties, the 24-hour days were spent in laughter, gossip, cards, alcohol, whatever we could get our hands on. Oh, those were the days. Five years of great friendship in the most grueling of situations, where Charles Darwin's Survival of the Fittest is most manifest. We survived. And we made the most out of it.

Now, almost five years after we received our MD licenses, we are still very much the same. Same jokes, same stories, same people to talk about. Some of us gained weight, some lost weight, some already with receding hairlines, some still as curly as before (hehe, peace lims!). All of us still single. (ugh!)

I miss them.

But we have to fulfill our roles in the greater scheme of things. We still have a long way to go. There are so many things to change, so mo much good to do. Whether in the US or here in the country, we will make our alma mater proud. And we will remain Block 1 at heart.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Geriatric Alone

My oldest patient, Lola Leoncia. Still vibrant at 94 years old. Everytime she visits me, she brags about her great-grandchildren. Wow...

As chief resident, part of my job description, though unwritten, is to see patients from all the big guys in the business: my esteemed consultants, the PGH director and administrators, college deans, university officials, politicians from all over, even the secretary of DSWD. I take care of indigent patients who seek their help, the families of their drivers, household helpers, or special people who are not part of their immediate families. As long as these patients do not resort to name-dropping and subsequently mandating me to grant them special privileges (my pet peeve, grrr), I really don’t mind. This enhances my people-skills, I get to pretend I'm actually in private practice and I simply miss talking to patients.

This morning, the secretary of the Dean's Office called. The dean was sending someone - a retired professor of Pathology who was having bipedal edema. The secretary said they were having difficulty talking to the old lady, since she already had dementia, with severe memory problems, an annoying attention span deficit, and some tangentiality of speech. I readily accepted. I have such a soft spot for old people that I maintained all of my Continuity Clinic patients who were more than 70 years old.

Thirty minutes after the secretary's phone call, a diminutive, adorable old lady shuffled into my office. She had an air of dignity around her. She radiated an aura of wisdom and wealth of experience that can only come from a well-lived life. Very simply dressed, hunched back with age, her hair gray, her skin shrivelled, she immediately proceeded to look at the portraits of previous department chairs hanging on the walls. She was talking to herself. "Patay na yan. Ay, kaklase ko yan. Patay na rin yan."

I approached her and almost bowing, I greeted her like I would a UP professor emeritus. I knew I was not worthy to be treating this great woman, someone who has probably trained some of my most esteemed teachers. She warmly clasped my hands, looked at me with a joy and innocence of a child. Seeing her eyes, I knew it was the look of dementia - a huged amount of wisdom clouded by so much innocence creating an almost painful cocktail of sheer detachment from the rest of the world. I was touched. And she prudly said, "Doctor ako."

Wow. So much pride of our profession. She must have accomplished so much. She must have loved this profession so much that even in her demented state, it still preoccupies her. I proceeded to examine her. I took her blood pressure, examined her eyes, neck, abdomen. Took out my stethoscope to listen to her heart and lungs. Checked her swollen legs. I asked several questions to the young woman with her, someone obviously hired, who answered most of my questions with I-don't-know and I-don't-care shrugs.

It was insensitive of me but I had to ask, "Ilang taon na po kayo?" She said, "Seventy-eight. UPCM Class '56 ako iha, ikaw?" "Twenty-eight po, UPCM Class 2004. Nasaan po ang mga anak n'yo?"

And then the old lady said, "Single ako. Ikaw, may asawa ka ba?"


Her insensitive maid even added, "Kawawa sya 'no. Single kasi e." And just like that, my heart raced wildly. The old lady, in a bout of dementia, was repeating the statement over and over again, to the amusement of everyone in the office, "Single ako e. Doctor ako. Taga-UP. Single ako. Ikaw, single ka rin?"

With a straight face but a frightened heart, I proudly replied, "Opo. Single rin."

I finished looking at the old doctor-professor. I was proud to have served her. Because I didn't trust her maid (I doubt she understood any of my instructions), I had to write down a detailed history (whatever her fragmented thoughts told me), my physical examination and plan of management, hoping that she has a nice former student who would read it and assist her and carry out the plans, someone she previously helped who would take care of her.

I hugged her before she left my office, and she hugged me back. Then she started rattling the names of her dead medical school classmates, and the names of her former students who are now well-known clinicians. To me, she seemed happy.


I hugged her again.

When she was out the door, I wondered, did I just give the me 50 years from now a hug?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Another Round of Travel Dreaming

I got through another SHO duty alive. I had half-expected to end up as a Ward 7 inmate. But by some miracle, the insanity I had was sort of moderated into sub-clinical degrees, now almost unpalpable though never really extinguished. Somehow, something temporarily kicked off the blues towards the periphery of my psyche. And that something is predictably - another round of travel dreaming. Travel dreaming has inavriably enlivened my lethargic spirit. I am one of those who derive half the thrill of the journey from dreaming about it.

I had planned this trip since more than 2 months ago, immediately after my Leyte and Samar adventures alone, and after my fantastic escapades at Iloilo-Guimaras with my trusty travel buddies (see previous posts). Cebu Pacific had a promo last month so instinctively, without even contemplating the pros and cons, I bought a round trip ticket to Dumaguete. Two of the sort-of-eccentric people I've recently met have recommended Siquijor, claiming that a certain mystery about the place engulfs anyone bold enough to visit it. And I, being a fan of eccentrics and anything strange, immediately included Siquijor in my list of must-see-places for 2008. I had planned to bask in its mystery on my own.

As always, I'm not very good at keeping my plans secret. Some time last month, I blurted out my plans to Pats, one of my favorite senior residents, who was then recuperating from hypertensive spikes. Another wanderlust and alone-seeker, she managed to convince her dad to forget about her blood pressure and allow her to join me to the Central Visayas. So, there we were, two fun, smart, fabulous females, all set to go to the beautiful paradise of Siquijor on the weekend after Halloween.

Ahh, perfect. We haven't mapped out an itinerary. We didn't know where to stay. All we knew was we were going somewhere far away from PGH, some place where the wind is cool and the night is pitch black and where the fireflies thrive. Somewhere where magic can happen. Ahhh, magic. We desperately needed that.

(Pats is sooo kind to trust my amateur exploring skills. It's good she hasn't travelled with me yet. She still doesn't have any idea about the mishaps I always get into whenever I'm on the road. haha!)

And then there's VicVic, another of my favorite travel buddies. A diver and photographer at heart, she was dying to see Apo Island. November happened to be a relatively benign month for this Allergy fellow. In fact, she would be going Down-Under and the Lord-of-the-Rings paradise on that same month. Suddenly, last Friday, she decided to come along. I hadn't expected her to make it. It's her birthday on the day before we will be leaving. But when there's a will, there's a way. Having travelled with her several times, I'm sure she has also caught the disease: the Travel Bug that by experience, is certainly not easy to kick off. No wonder they call it lust. The need to travel simply consumes you until you obey it's becking and you allow your feet to take you where they want to go. (Please Vic, let's not be rainmakers this time...)

So, there we are. Three gorgeous (haha!) women, struggling in this huge hospital, with their sanity hanging on to that hope of a great adventure waiting for us at the end of two weeks. Three women who haven't stepped on the isle of Dumaguete in their entire lives. Three women would be enough to have a marvelous time. The practical side of me however reminded me that three women would be too much for a motorcycle habal-habal ride to handle, but too few for a hired jeepney, and too few for a hired banca. We need more people.

And so, I had to call on my trusty travel buddies again. Suspect number 1: Paulo, my med school and residency batchmate who is also a photography buff, snorkeling addict, and fellow lakwatsa enthusiast. I can't believe he actually went to Apo Island last month! (darn! we work in the same hospital and he didn't even get to tell me about it! this is how inhuman our working conditions are these days. tsk tsk). And so, both he and Joyce (his adorable girlfriend) are out. Sigh. Too bad. Suspect number 2: my ever elusive good friend Jojit who I consider my personal travel guru, the only lay person (aside from Joyce) who has sort of penetrated our little snobbish (yikes!) all-doctor travel group. By some miracle, he decided to take a break from his back-breaking hardwork and indulge his itching feet. He has been all over the area and so the man, though most of the time, almost nonexistent, will be very useful (terrible phrase? hehe peace!). Suspect number 3: Jill, my great outdoor buddy and cardiologist batchmate and a Dumaguete native (terrible word?). Always hating paper work, she still hasn't finished processing her appointment papers, which is equivalent to not receiving any salary at all for the past 7 months! Hence, the difficulty in making up her mind (oh, i hope she joins us. please, please). Suspects number 4 and 5: Two of my second year residents, Karla (who I did CDO and Camiguin with) and Omar (who also joined us in Caramoan) are still fixing their schedules. And I, their evil chief resident, is actually teaching them how to dodge work and travel instead (waaah! this is hilarious and really evil! remind me not to teach them to use the diarrhea excuse).

So for now, the group will just be me, VicVic, Pats, and Jojit. We would appreciate more takers.

So to anyone out there interested in joining, the final schedule is November 7. Destination: Dumaguete City. We ladies will leave Manila at around 2PM-something via Cebu Pacific. Our flight back to Manila will be around 4PM-something of November 9 via the same airline. (Jojit, an AirPhil guy, will probably say we have poor taste but I call this practicality and good sense. We'll keep on taking CebPac until all the other airlines lower their fares. hehe)

The itinerary? Don't ask me. That's exactly the point of this trip. We just know the destination: Dumaguete. Since I'm outnumbered by water enthusiasts, the trip might have to end in Apo Island (though I might break away from the pack to see my Siquijor shaman). Frankly, I'm tired of making plans. I've realized that the best travels are those that are unplanned. Just know your destination and the rest of the steps will come along the way. This way, there will always be more room for serendipity.

After all, this is what life is all about too, isn't it?

(Ahhh, serendipity again. Let me get a supranormal loading dose of it in 2 weeks time, please.)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Wasting Time

Being generally lazy, I have mastered the art of doing nothing. I can spend the entire day in bed, sleeping, scribbling, reading books I've already read before. This time, I guess I've raised my expertise to a higher level - I can spend the entire day, mindessly staring at nothing, my mind blank, with no thought at all.

This is a very surprising transformation, I believe. When I was in high school, I remember starting everyday with a fixed schedule, a list of things to do, with tick boxes to boot. And I would spend the entire day meticulously accomplishing what I had planned. Now, I'm the exact opposite. I spend days painstakingly avoiding the things that ought to be done. For some strange reasons, a planned task is more difficult to do than those that just spring up during the course of the day. Thankfully enough, bursts of passionate efforts at catching up save me, even fooling some people enough to believe that I'm actually a workaholic.
The only witnesses to my dazed state: portraits of the great men who went before me.
Chairman's Office, Department of Medicine, PGH.

Dismal. Squalid. This is where people survive some of the most inhuman of sufferings.
But oh, how I will miss it. Ward 3, PGH.

A perfect shot of the perennial problem. Anyone willing to adopt them?
(great photo c/o Dr. Mark Vicente)

Today is another slow day. And it's been a very long time since I've had a fit of passionate, workaholic rage.

This is my first duty in the last set of SHO duties before I finally step down from my job as chief resident. My office table is a mess. I have a feeling there is so much to do but I can't even identify those tasks. My schedule book is empty. Schedules are for the careful and the organized, not for us crazy people who move in bursts of passion.
So in between signing RIVs and MSS referrals, I sit and just stare. Sit and just stare. Hoping that somewhere, there must be one, a thing, a person, a vision, a purpose, whatever, that would be strong enough for this soul, to get it moving again.

Service Rounds

One of my residents delivered via an unexpected caesarian section this week. I had terribly missed directly handling patients, residents and students so I gladly took over her post as service senior. This meant making daily service rounds, doing ER rounds and again supervising residents and teaching interns and clerks. These additional responsibilities took away a huge chunk of my already limited time. But I don't mind. I'd rather spend sleepless nights doing the dirty work than staying an entire day in the office doing paper work.

This week, my old stethoscope was again put to use. I had once again taught students (outside of the usual morning endorsements) and seeing them gain more confidence enough to speak up and question my own diagnosis inspires me. These are the perks of this job. You get to see these brilliant minds develop and you become part of it. You look in their inquisitive eyes hungry for learning and see how you were 5 years ago.

Make sure the charts are ready before service rounds.

Still in my usual contemplative state, I derived several new insights from my recently revived direct contact with patients. Though tacky and sentimental they may be, I would like to share them in this entry:

1. Somebody has to wipe our own ass when we're sick. I have an intimacy problem. It's easy for me to take care of sick people. I can soak in other people's sweat, blood, pus, urine and feces without batting an eyelash. But I don't trust anyone enough to do the same for me. Perhaps this is one of the things I have to work on. Hence, this is my definition of love. Love is being able to wipe someone else's ass without feeling disgust or pity towards that person and having that someone wipe your own ass without you feeling guilty or sorry for yourself.

2. Something is wrong with the English language. The term "broken heart" is a misnomer. Patients with myocardial infarction or severe heart failure we just send home. They can still expect a long life as long as they maintain their medications. Somehow we can still offer some bit of hope. They can even undergo heart transplant and live healthy lives. Patients with gangrene from diabetes, well, they have to be sent home with one limb less. I think this is worse - having to live the rest of your life knowing that a part of you is missing and can never be recovered. Yes, healing can happen, but there will always be a part of you that will be lost forever. You may get prosthetic limbs, but you never walk the same way. You don't recover from a lost arm or a lost leg. You just have to learn to live your life without it. I have to say that those who would have to live with unrequited love do not deal with broken hearts. A broken heart is so easy to treat. I think the better term is an "amputated limb" - the stump may heal after some time but you would have to move around with a limp for the rest of your life.

These insights sound ridiculous. I'd have to shake off these blues and call my students for service rounds.

Should you be in wards 1 or wards 3 while I'm rounding this morning, find me. I do quite stand out. I'm that big girl with a huge smile on her face, teaching medical students and obviously loving it, but walking with a bit of a limp.

Then perhaps you can lend me a cane.