Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Busy-ness of Being Lazy

I have assumed the role of the workaholic for a dangerously long time. From grade school, to med school, to residency, I wore the mask of the busy. But a sloth, by any other name, is still a sloth. Put a sloth in the fast lane and it will cause considerable traffic and subequently fatal mishaps.

Last week, after ten days of sleeping a maximum of 3 hours/day while cramming for the residents' oral exams that I had to make and organize, I was trying to get a bit of sympathy or at least some encouragement from anyone, so I complained to a friend, "I'm too toxic I'm getting crazy." It's either I was too distraught to be real or perhaps I sought sympathy from the wrong person. He may be insensitive but my well-meaning friend probably thought it was a compliment. His response: "It's just the way you like it, doctor."

That was the final blow. It's time for me to haul my bulk out of the fast lane and settle down in sloth-utopia where I really belong.

In order to dismiss some misconceptions about my apparent passion for work and sincerity in the pursuit of good, let me tell you some of my secrets:

1. The reason why I'm so busy doing menial tasks is because I'm too lazy to do anything else. No way, especially not the big ones.

2. The reason why I'm too nice and almost incapable of anger is because I'm too lazy to bother being angry. It takes more muscles to frown, and anger causes tachycardia.

3. The reason why I'm so patient is because I'm too lazy to demand for my fair share. It takes less energy to wait than to stand up and ask for something.

4. The reason why I sometimes come to work at 3AM is because I sleep at 6PM.

5. The reason why I sometimes leave the office at 3AM is because I fell asleep on Dr. Mejia's couch until 11 PM, with an article or a book, still on the first page.

6. The reason why I stay in the office even during weekends is because I'm too lazy to clean my apartment and my room is already too dirty to sleep in.

7. The reason why I gave easy and fair exams to my residents and students is because I'm too lazy to make a remedial exam for those who fail.

8. The reason why I passed almost all of the clerks and interns who were under me was because I was too tired to defend their failing grades or argue with parents and concerned consultants.

9. The reason why I'm taking a year-off "to see the need" is because I can't bear the thought of working on weekends anymore.

10. The reason why I'm writing this blog is because I'm too lazy to start complying with the ISO requirements I have to do. And rebellion is the mark of a thinking mind.

These are just 10 insights into my secret life. A pig that runs races gets roasted too soon. From now on, I'll stay in my mud puddle and enjoy the mud. Hate me, if you like, and be envious.

Next time you see me, remember, I'm not nice. Only lazy.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Travel Dreaming

Having recently discovered the sublime joys of traveling around our country's beautiful islands, I have joined the ranks of those who are perennially restless, the elite society that I fondly call "The Fellowship of the Itching Feet". However, for some reason, perhaps because of their innate restlessness ironically combined with a fierce dedication to their vocations, I can't seem to find anyone from this group these days. Nevertheless, my itching feet call for some scratching, and all this work I've been slaving for this month should afford me some indulgence.
I've been dreaming about my next destination for the past weeks. In fact, the thought of going away on a weekend journey to somewhere quiet and unexplored excites me so much. It was what got me through these most toxic weeks of chief residency. Now that the annual residents' oral exams are over, I can finally indulge in long hours of planning for my next adventure. I call this travel-dreaming.

Not having much resources and being a good student all my life, traveling wasn't really something I've aspired to do. I used to be content with books and the hospital and staring at stars and empty spaces. The awakening of my travel instincts only began when a then stranger discussed with me the joys of his "journey to the edge of civilization". At that time, I did not understand it. Traveling was just moving from place to place and nothing else. This time I know better.
Perhaps it's a sign of growing older. The busier I got, the more I wanted to move out of my usual circles. To see the world and just blend with it as it moves along. There is so much to see and there seems to be too little time. Every time I find myself in a strange place, or stuck in a crowd in a flurry of dialects I do not understand, I feel strangely at home.

I believe half the fun of traveling is during travel-dreaming. The other half is with the company you keep when you travel. I've had a bunch of excellent travel buddies. Friends who can fill my idle time with so much laughter it's almost sinful to brood even if I wanted to. A few friends to just enjoy the quiet with. This time, however, I will be with my favorite company - myself.

I've chosen my destination. I already know which bus to take but that's all. My amateur experience has taught me that it's best not to plan. I will know my next step after I've taken my first.

Should anyone come looking for me, i'll be somewhere in Catanduanes. Or in some bus heading south, cradled to sleep by the gentle rocking motions of the wheels as they hit the road.

And don't you worry about me. I'll get home in time for work. And another round of travel-dreaming.

Somebody's Birthday

Today is the birthday of my favorite teacher. He is already 51 years old and yet he's as youthful as ever. As most great men do, he is getting more handsome, wiser, smarter, and full of depth now that he's older.

To surprise him, the residents are preparing a video tribute. I was able to review the pictures. There he was, grinning in his high school uniform, with that George Harrison hair. There he was in short shorts and knee-length socks that used to be in during the 1970s. There he was looking like a stick in his wedding barong. There he was lugging around three very cute and happy-looking kids. There he was dancing with his wife, still looking smitten despite more than 20 years of marriage. I wonder if during his early years of cowlicks and pimples, did he ever have any idea he was going to be great? Did he ever have any idea that his circle of influence would someday extend so far to even include someone like me?

A man of few words but excellent straight-to-the-point remarks, he is also a fellow eccentric, an advocate for weirdness, someone who gives more importance to creativity and curiosity over knowledge. Tall, sporty, eccentric, really smart, idealistic, musical, artistic, adventurous, with a soft spot for plants and all living creatures, and a fellow Beatles fan (which is the most important part), the mere existence of someone like him is amazing. Sometimes I wonder if I was born too late (ang swerte ni ma'am inday). Sigh... Getting a chance to work with him is blessing enough.

When I was in Leyte in August, I found myself quoting him rather often. "The worst thing we can do to our patients is to prescribe a drug that does not work." "Evidence does not widen the gap in health care; between those who know and do not know. Instead, it attempts to bridge the inequity between the rich and the poor." "Normal is just an arbitrarily derived population-based mean, so there will always be a certain segment of the population who will be considered abnormal." "The challenge is to find the middle ground between excellence and relevance." That's why I want to be a teacher myself. If someone can influence me this way, I would want to do the same thing one day.

With the great Dr. Tony Dans. PGH Graduation, December 2008.

He may not be able to read this. But I'd like to put it in writing that I was sorry for hiding from him during his rounds back in 2005 when he was my buddy consultant. I was sorry I didn't attend his lectures and evidence-based-medicine sessions. I was sorry I never even did my meta-analysis (and got away with it). I still hate research and will probably resist it even when I'm cranky and old. But I am certain that my next years of practice as a physician will definitely be stamped by his influence.

Happy birthday sir!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday SHO Sucks!

In a time of blog-mania, I chose to get carried away a bit too late.

I hated blogs (Except that of my friend Claire, who's a superb writer, blog or no blog!). They spoil the nice places that are supposed to be discovered only by those who are adventurous enough to go off the beaten path. I never said I don't read them though. Thanks to those travel blogs, I found out where Caramoan is, or how beautiful Anawangin is during sunsets. And I was finally able to go somewhere on my own. But let me get to those travel stories next time. Today, I am just bored. Being SHO on a beautiful Sunday evening is a punishment. Now I realize blogging is modern technology's answer to today's dilemma of human isolation, a pervading loneliness that was perhaps brought about by technology itself.

I'm down to my last several weekend duties as Senior House Officer and despite the piling up of tasks to accomplish, I had to succumb to this temptation to tell the world what I now think and feel. Blame it on my alone-ness. I just need to get this discourse out of my head or I'll scream.
It's my last few months as chief resident of the country's biggest and undoubtedly the best training institution for upcoming internists. And until now, I am convinced that I was never cut out for the job even at the beginning. I only took this job because of a remark from a good friend that challenged me, "I never thought you were the type of person who would say 'no' to a chance to do something good."
It's less than eighty days before I'll finally step down from my job, and everyday, I've never stopped wondering, have I done something good?

I have never stopped calling this a "job" either.

This has been entirely new for me. This task of handling people. Not just ordinary people, but individuals with hopes to someday become great in their fields. These are the ones who chose to stay, the idealists who still believe in making a difference in a time where idealism is a farce and almost a fallacy. I, who can't even use the phone, who can't even talk to people, much less face a crowd, much less handle a responsibility that would involve the lives of people who hope, would have to face my fear and do all these, and a lot more.
And then what's next? (photo stolen from flickr)

For the past 9 months, I had to raise my head up so I would appear confident. I had to walk on tiptoe so I could at least be at par with the giants, or at least appear to be. But inside me, I was humbled, I was a child curled up in a corner, so unconfident, so afraid of making a mistake. But even so, life went on. I was required to create, to lead, to speak out, to surrender, to protect, to fight, to move, to move on.

And I did. After 9 months, the people who hoped are still hoping, their dreams of someday becoming great doctors are still there. Though there are some passions that may have been stifled by reality, something tells me they too have been just like me - appearing to walk tall and proud, but their inner selves curled up in a corner, scared.

Nine months and I realize confidence and fear are both illusions. But hope and idealism are not.

I took this job to accept the challenge to do something good. It's too soon to tell if I was able to accomplish the good I had to do. Perhaps an entire lifetime will never be enough to tell. Perhaps the knowledge of doing good is also an illusion, but the good itself is not. All I know is that I did something. And it was not easy.

I still hate myself for calling this chief residency a "job". I can't help it, it just seems automatic. I wonder how it would be when I will finally be without it. Now that's another thing to blog about soon.