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.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Musings on Scratch Paper

A beautiful Sunday morning. I just came from a medical mission in Plaridel, Quezon Province with the Pahinungod group. Because I had a long list of tasks to do, I had to cut short my participation and take the evening trip back to Manila. The benevolent Mrs. Tanada, who organized the mission, offered to take me home. It has always amazed me how drivers of politicians can reduce estimated travel time by half and get away with it. I made it to Manila by midnight on board a license plate number 8 vehicle. My friend VicVic will kill me for this, but I still think a #8 license plate is a very big deal and I'm not worthy to be in one. =)

This morning I didn't want to get out of bed. I have always found great solace in sleep. Just like food, sleep is a barometer of my depression level. Sleeping time is directly proportional to my depression. Hence it follows that my length of sleep is inversely proportional to my degree of self-satisfaction at the moment.

Despite my claim of being the greatest sloth in the world, I find comfort in work during Sundays. If anything, it keeps my mind off certain things I shouldn't be thinking about. A bit escapist, but I'm one of those who feel that working is therapeutic in a lovely, albeit painful way. So this morning, I decided to kick off my lethargy with two cups of San Miguel Extra Strong coffee and work the day away.

Dusk and still waiting... (Plaridel, Quezon Province, October 2008)

While I was midway through my second cup, I managed to unearth several old notes from way back. Something caught my eye and made me a bit more contemplative than I should be. It was an old poem I made when I still dabbled in poetry, back when I was still too naive to think I could write and create decent ones. I guess these musings on scratch paper very aptly describes the root of the melancholy I very badly want to erase today. Here goes...
Ang tagal mo naman!
kung hihintayin kita, anong oras?
Saan? Kailan?
Wala naman tayong usapan.
Walang appointment na pwede kong asahan.
Wala kang iniwang beeper o cellphone
na pwede kong tawagan.
Hindi kaya ako nagmumukhang tanga?
Nagbibilang ng oras, umaasa sa wala?
O baka naman, may katagpo ka nang iba?
Diyos ko naman, sana wala pa!
At sana di tayo nagkasalisihan!
Papunta ako dun, naghahanap sa 'yo,
habang ikaw naman ay papunta na rito.

O, ano? Libre ka kaya?
Kung hindi mamaya, bukas?
Sa isang linggo? Sa isang taon?
Ah, ewan. Bahala ka.
Kahit kelan, bahala na.
Basta, hihintayin kita.
Mamuti man ang mata,
lulunukin ang inip, ang pagod.
Ang pagtiktak ng relo,
sa kabilang tenga palalabasin ko.
Ipipikit ang mga mata, at baka sa pagdilat,
Naririyan ka na.

Darating ka kaya?
Bahala na.
At kung sa kahihintay, ako'y tumanda,
hindi ko iyon alintana.
Basta't darating ka,
sulit naman, 'di ba?

Ngunit ang hirap naman nito.
Mabuti sana, kung di ko alam
Ang pangalan mo.

I've written that piece of junk a long time ago. But some things just don't change no matter how we fight them off. Sometimes it's just best to get carried away. So I got out of bed. With two cups of extra strong coffee in my system and an old poem in my shaking hands, I proceeded to my office and went straight to my computer.

If posting this is a bit too bold and too honest, and the combination of boldness and honesty is a crime, then, I'm guilty as charged.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Serendipitous Lines

"Plan your life, but make allowances for serendipity."

This was how the great Dr. Ernesto Domingo ended his talk during our Adult Medicine Conference (aka Tuesday's with Tony) two weeks ago, when he was asked to shed some light on the many career dilemmas an internal medicine resident has at the end of his or her training.

I have always been fond of the word "serendipity", and although I had quite a good idea what it means, I have never really pondered its entirety. I can enumerate many serendipitous scientific discoveries that have changed the course of the world: penicillin, nitric oxide and recently, Viagra. So after Dr. Domingo's talk, I didn't wholeheartedly pursue the meaning of this word. Until today.

According to the trusty Wikipedia (degree of reliability unknown), serendipity is the effect by which one accidentally discovers something fortunate, especially while looking for something else entirely. Interestingly enough, the word has been voted as one of the top 10 English words that are hardest to translate. I looked up the thesaurus but there's no appropriate synonym, not even one that comes close. In Wikipedia, I also found several quotes about it:

"Serendipity. Look for something, find something else, and realize that what you've found is more suited to your needs than what you thought you were looking for." - Laurence Block

"Serendipity is the faculty of finding things we did not know we were looking for." - Glauco Ortolano

"Serendipity is when you find things you weren't looking for because finding what you are looking for is so damned difficult." - Erin McKean

Why the sudden fascination for this word? Today, I think I stumbled upon serendipitous lines.

Let me walk you through the crossroads of my vocation.

April 1997. Scenario: Jean not wanting to go to UP College of Medicine but preparing for admissions interview. Wanted to go to UP Diliman with her high school friends instead.
Papa: Why do you want to be a doctor?
Jean: (Just to piss him off) I want to be rich.
Papa: (Disappointed) I didn't bring you up to think that way. Remember, you are what you are now because of the people who need you. You're supposed to do something good, make yourself better so you can help people.

I went to medical school.

August 2003. Scenario: IM rotation. Jean, who has decided to go to Surgery or Ortho, is JAPOD. Very toxic service. Service senior getting married and going on leave.
Junior resident: Our senior has gone on leave and our other junior resident has decided to quit.
Jean: Now sir?!? How can she quit when we have 16 patients and we are admitting today!
Junior resident: That's why you have to help me. I need you to do more than the usual JAPOD. I'm giving you 3 patients to co-manage.
Jean: (silently) Whaaattthe?!?! Uhhmm, okay sir, I will.

I fell in love with Internal Medicine and went into residency.

August 2007. Scenario: Time to choose the new chief resident. Nobody else wanted to get the job. Batchmates badgering Jean to get it.
Non-IM friend: I heard they're making you chief resident. So, are you taking it?
Jean: Me?! No way! I can't even talk to people, I'm so scared and disorganized, and the outgoing chief is just so good!
Non-IM friend: Oh, that's hard. But, hmm, I just never thought you're the type who'd say "no" to a chance to do something good.

I took the job and became chief resident.

Based on my brief career history, short, seemingly insignificant remarks have created tremendous impacts on my life. Words of wisdom that were unsought for, made by the most unlikely people unexpectedly altered my course. All in a good way. Today, I've again been blessed by those serendipitous lines.

Today. October 16, 2008. Scenario: Sixty days before ending chief residency. Jean doesn't know what to do next, contemplates going home, but is very scared. Talks to favorite consultant (big time, huge name in the field).
Dr D: I'm so excited for you. You can do so much there.
Jean: But knowing me sir, I'd probably just go back. I will miss PGH after some time. I will need to be with UP. So expect me to be back again in utmost a year.
Dr D: I'd bet against that. The way I know you, you will stay there. And you will start something new - something good, that UP will look for you because it will need you.
Jean: But what if I become just another shark in the ocean sir?
Dr D: Haha! I'm sure that will never happen.


Let's see how this one will turn out. Yesterday, I had one foot in the door and the other one out, and I was so scared. Today, I'm bringing my other foot in as well. Instead of being terrified, I am now more excited for new possibilities.

It's a fantastic feeling. Somehow, during our life's crossroads, God has a way of speaking out loud through these "serendipitous" lines. Indeed, I am very grateful. Because all the time, He has more faith in us than we have in ourselves.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

15th of the Month

Since three months ago, I have declared the 15th of every month as my Day of Contemplation. It is the day in every month that I specially allot for counting my blessings and reevaluating my prayers. Somehow, perhaps by sheer coincidence or by some predestined design, pivotal events in my life have fallen on the 15th day of certain months during the past few years. So I figured I should probably mark this day to remember them.

Perhaps my biological clock has already acclimatized itself to this habit. This morning I was prematurely awakened by a strange dream. And I very seldom dream. I started my day a bit disturbed, although I couldn't particularly identify the issue. There was only a certain emptiness that was almost palpable, a void that was slowly sucking me in. I didn't want to get out of bed.

But I had to.

Hospital work was the same. Morning endorsement conferences, meetings to attend and organize, residents to talk to, grades to compute, endless reminders to be given out to students, residents, fellows and consultants. By mid-day, somebody remarked, "Jean, you're already at your crossroads."

Ah, a blinding light was immediately switched on in my consciousness. The unknown but disquieting stimulus that was bothering me was this: in the next 2 months will be a potential pivotal moment. Today, I am quite sure I will be saying goodbye to the institution that gently yet sometimes painfully cradled me in the past 11 years. I will be leaving behind not only a system I have grown accustomed to, but also people I may never see anymore, and a way of life I may never return to. Separation anxiety - this is it. I'm a child learning to ride a bike. I'm someone about to step off the edge of a cliff, with one foot already off the ground. I'm someone who has to make a choice. And the choice must come before the next 15th day of the month comes.

I managed to get through the day in a daze. This 15th day of the month thing is making me sick. I couldn't help but pray for old times. Those old times.

On second thought, perhaps it's time for me to stop remembering.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Home for the Weekend

With papa and his vision.
No wonder he's still the one man I measure everyone else against.
This weekend, I opted to be negligent for a good while and spend some days in Digos, Davao del Sur. Since weekends are the only days when I can catch up on backlog paperwork and other office responsibilities, it took a great deal of convincing on the part of my dear father (and a promise of an airfare refund) that made me decide to visit home.

(Uh-oh, I think there's a bit of an oxymoron here. How can one be a visitor to one's own home?)

"Home" has become a relative word now. Perhaps I'm one of those people who no longer know what that means. I've spent the past 15 years living in dorms and I relish this freedom. Home has been PSHS-MC, UP College of Medicine, CWL Dorm, Cuevas Apartment, Paz Street in Paco, Apartment in Nakpil Street, Residents' Callroom and now, Medicine Chairman's Office.

Different degrees of solitude. Weekend at the local beach (Aplaya, Digos, Davao del Sur. Oct 2008)

It's been 6 months since I last went home. With my recent jam packed schedule, getting to spend 3 days there is already a treat. There's always something soothing about the Southern sunshine even if it's several degrees warmer down there. Even the dry and dusty Digos breeze seems more refreshing. After spending a few days at home, I come back to Manila invariably recharged, with a stronger resolve to someday return and finally allow my roots to sink in.

This little boy might as well be me...

There is an area outside our house that I particularly love. It's that junction where the concrete ledge of our little terrace meets our front wall just adjacent our front door. I fondly call that Jean's Corner - where I have always enjoyed basking in the afternoon sun, waiting for dusk while lazily strumming my green guitar, or simply watching the dust settle . Even during mid-afternoons, that spot remains cool, being shaded by the tall talisay trees Papa planted soon after we moved to that place. Sometimes I just watch birds tend their nests on the nearby kawayan bush, listening to the rustling of the leaves of the mango, balite and talisay trees around me. Sometimes I just sit there, legs curled, my back on the wall, hunting fleas off one of our dogs until daylight makes way for the pale light of the moon. Other times I just while away time, doing nothing, thinking of everything unimportant.

I spent some time in that nook last weekend.

The shade from the talisay tree was gone. The late afternoon sun was no longer soothing, the rays that seep through the trees were just too bright I had to close my eyes for a while. I tried to listen to the rustling of the leaves but I can't hear them anymore. There was something unsettling about that corner. A certain loneliness, and with it, a sense of being out of place, a music that haunts me that I know isn't mine.

I couldn't stay in that place long. Somehow, it's not my corner anymore.

Four cats plus 3 new-born kittens and 12 dogs, all living together in chaos and harmony.
All lovely just the same. (Digos, October 2008)

His family got me through college and medical school. (Soong, Digos, Davao del Sur)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Weight Watching

photo from

I’m gaining weight. I can feel my pants getting tighter and I feel heavier. This can’t be blamed on the increased water retention brought about by pre-menstrual syndrome. This is supposed to be the diuretic stage of my menstrual cycle, the time of the month when I’m supposed to weigh the least. But today, I’m doomed. My tummy is sticking out a mile. This is real and I’m panicking.

It’s not that I’m not used to this. I’ve always been big for as long as I can remember. Not the pear-shaped type obese, but just big: big arms, big legs, big hands, big feet. While other obese women can still be called voluptuous, that’s impossible for my case. Nature deliberately missed out on compensatory mechanisms – my boobs and my ass are as flat as the board your keyboard is resting on. This is the curse of the XL, my type of XL – a BMI of 25+ with an A cup size.

It seems that my weight is the greatest indicator of my happiness level - it is inversely proportional to my degree of self-satisfaction. I don’t eat when I’m excited. I don’t eat when I go to lovely places, when something exciting is happening, or when I’m with people whose company I’m enjoying so much. These past few weeks, I’m rapidly regaining all the inches I lost during my Visayas stint. Something terrible is going on. Something wonderful is missing.

The scales don’t lie. And the inches are corroborating evidence. It’s time for me to cut down on junk food and do some exercise. I have to go on a strict diet and adhere to a regular fitness regimen.

Something tells me all this self-encouragement will never work anyway. It’s not the chocolates. It’s the reason why I keep craving for those chocolates. That’s the more difficult part.

I have to be on top of this. I have to bring my groove back. Tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Afternoon Blues

It's five o'clock in the afternoon. One by one, my trusty people said their goodbyes. Most of the lights are down and I have turned the aircon off to keep the air warm. After a barrage of text messages, my phone suddenly stopped beeping. It's quiet. I can hear myself breathe.

Today I had to make choices. Out of 46 hopeful individuals who completed pre-residency, I had to select the Top 30 who will be interviewed. From this 30, the next batch of residents of the UP-PGH Department of Medicine, only 21 of them, will be selected. This means I closed the door to 16 aspirants, perhaps shattered some of their greatest hopes. Perhaps at least one of them is in a corner now, silently weeping for lost chances, wondering why his or her best was not good enough. I just prolonged the agony and encouraged futile hopes of 9 people too.

May God bless these decisions and me, the unworthy person commissioned to make them.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


I love my older patients. Here's a shot with Lolo Carding, a 2nd World Ward veteran I met in Quezon.

I learned a new word today: Homeostenosis
Homoios = like
Stenosis = narrowing

Homeostenosis is just a geriatric concept that refers to the characteristic, progressive constriction of homeostatic reserve that occurs with aging in every organ system. This is the impaired ability to compensate to physiologic challenges, such that what used to be normal is no longer normal. A diminution, a decline, a deterioration, a limiting of your world brought about by time.

Hearing the word struck a chord in me and I do not understand why. There is something profound about the idea but I do not even know how to start thinking about it. Perhaps one day I'll find out. Hopefully, before homeostenosis hits me.

Travel Buddies Part 2

Year 2008 was different. We've been kicked out of the callroom and the members of the good old Five O'clock Club had to find novel ways of getting together.

Nevertheless, it's been a good year for my wonderings and wanderings. I have weekends off! (At least on paper. Weekends-off-to-catch-up-on-backlogs is more like it.) Those undergoing fellowship training in PGH can now haggle for at least one weekend off in a month (if they had the gumption). So despite the busy schedules and the heavier responsibilities, the Fellowship of the Itching Feet has had several conventions in several of the loveliest areas of the country.

The Rainmakers - with Haydee, Gerome and Vicvic (Claire taking the pic).

(Daet, Camarines Norte, Feb 2008)

Time out with the residents: Karla, Donny and bro, Day and hubby (Cagayan de Oro and Camiguin, April 2008)

With Queenie, Omar, VicVic, Claire, and Jojit before the ordeal (Caramoan, Camarines Sur, April 2008)

Invading Roy's peace with the usual suspects. "Kala ko joke lang..." (Iloilo/Guimaras, August 2008)

I've read somewhere that we should "travel only with thy equals or thy betters; if there are none, travel alone." I have never blurted this out loud to my reliable and endearingly quirky travel buddies, so I might as well put it on record while I can: From the depths of my being, I am grateful for your company.

Until the next adventures...

Some photos courtesy of: Pau, Claire, VicVic, Fe, Queenie, etc. Thanks!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Tribute to My Travel Buddies (in pictures)

It's a busy Monday like any other. Almost midnight and I'm still in the office finishing a long list of things-to-do. Predictably, my fickle mind again began to toggle with my computer.

Still recovering from my post-travel high (or post-travel depression?), I browsed through my 'My Pictures' folder and well, I realized, I may be an almost-pro in the solo-flight department, but I'm greatly in debt to these people for the wonderful adventures this 2007 - 2008.

I'm too tired to write about them tonight so I'd better post the pictures.

With Lims, Gerry, Omar and the rest of the Pahinungod people
(Mountain Province, Feb 2007)

A nice shot with Carlo and Jill (Puerto Galera, March 2007)

With one of my most missed - Claire (Almost Kapatagan, Davao del Sur, August 2007).

Callroom meets home. With Paulo, Ate Fe, Claire and Jojit. (Davao del Sur, August 2007)

Breaking away from the pack with Claire and Vicvic (Hidden Valley, Oct 2007).

To be continued in next post...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Blown Away

View of Puraran from the hills leading towards this fantastic, hidden paradise.

A soothing scene at dusk.

Rainclouds and sunshine. Puraran, Baras, Catanduanes.

I just came from my short adventure in the Land of the Howling Winds - Catanduanes. I've always wanted to go there. It's the westernmost island in the country and there's something about its winds that made me want to be caught right smack in the middle of it. An indeed, my recent tryst with that island got me captivated and literally blown away.

I read that it rains everyday in that land. When I found out about it, I knew it was an added charm, another reason to visit the place. I've always loved the rain. As a child, I was scared of oceans and all kinds of bodies of water, but I've always welcomed the rain. If all of the raindrops are lemondrops and gumdrops...

The place did not disappoint me. I ended up in Barangay Puraran in Baras town, said to be one of the best surfing areas in the country. October is supposed to be the beginning of the surfing months. I was thankful I found the ocean tranquil. Despite my love for the ocean, I never really learned how to swim. Whenever I find myself by the ocean, my closest contact with it is a quick dip, more as a gesture of veneration for Mother Nature than an act of great pleasure in itself.

Balancing on driftwood. Amenia Beach, San Andres, Catanduanes.

Puraran is a paradise well-hidden by the mountains. It took me almost 2 hours to get there by tricycle. The road leading to the place was rough. The only jeep that goes through it, plying the Virac-Gigmoto route, has only one trip a day. I was at the mercy and the kindness of the locals. The way they treated me only reaffirmed my faith in the Filipino people. Yes, there is hope for this country.

After the long journey to Puraran, I was not surprised when I was greeted by an almost deserted place. There were only two other guests in that rustic resort: a foreigner who never spoke a word and a poet invoking his muses. The poet I was able to have a great conversation with. Looking back, I realize finding Puraran on my own was a great adventure. Getting a glimpse of a poet's solitude was another.

As always, being in a strange place renews me. It heals me in a way that I cannot define. What is it about the strangeness? Why do I have this urge to get away from it all, to momentarily disappear from the rest of the world as I know it? Why am I so drawn to being alone? What is it about new faces in new places? Why do I yearn for new things so much?

I love my solitude. Yet I keep on praying for that day when I can finally share it.

Shell, pebble and seaweed. Puraran, Catanduanes.

There is something sublime about being alone, with only the entire world around you as your company. I relished my moments with the stars. The night sky was like black velvet, studded with sparkling jewels of varying sizes and shapes. Laid before me was the howling sea, unseen in the night, but magnificent in its unpredictable but certain existence. The fireflies, though few, brought light almost as beautiful as the ones above me. Sleep, under the heavens, can never be more restful.

The time I spent journeying to Catanduanes was much longer than my actual stay in the island. But as the cliche goes, it's the journey, not the destination. My few hours in that place prepared me for yet more arduous battles in the city. The soldier has rested well.

Next destinations: Masbate, Siquijor, Palawan. And then... Batanes. Sigh...

Unscheduled Diarrhea

I'm back in Manila too soon. Karma is ruthless when it demands its payback. She acknowledges no friends or previous sufferings. She simply claims what belongs to her.

Last Thursday night, I was already heady with freedom, wallowing in this unique pleasure I get whenever I embark on a long journey towards some place I've never been to before. A smile was already plastered on my face when, aboard the Philtranco shuttle for the 12-hour trip to Tabaco, Albay, I received a text message from my boss "Fix the aircon situation of the clerks. Update me tomorrow."


I was torn between getting off the bus which was already plying the road between calamba and sto.tomas by that time, or just staying on the bus and sending the boss a text message feigning diarrhea early in the morning. I chose the latter. I was so guilty. I've never done this before. I had hoped that no one would ask, so I could be saved from a lie. But my boss seemed to have this radar. She seemed to catch me all the time. My mind enumerated justifications for my escape and I was convinced to text her in the morning. Even if I knew escaping was wrong, I wanted this getaway so much I believed I was doing right thing.

Early in the morning, while I was aready in Legazpi City welcomed by the marvelous view of Mayon, I got another message, "Text me when you're in the office." Uh-oh...

I had to wrack my brains for the best, least-obvious lie I could muster. I texted back, "Ma'am I don't think I can make it today. Been having LBM, abdominal cramps and fever since 4AM." And my boss said, "Take care." Whew! That was a close call!

My troubles didn't stop there though. The whole day, endless streams of text messages haunted my Catanduanes trip. There were so many problems that came up. Ugh, my day of all days! Two of my staff also didn't report to work and this time, I had no moral ascendancy to reprimand them (Lesson: never trust your staff enough that you make a conspiracy with them).

There was no way they can spoil the fun of my Catanduanes adventure. However, I decided to cut my vacation short, take the bus home on Saturday night and be in the hospital by Sunday morning.

Saturday night - I was aboard a non-aircon bus on the way to Manila. I figured, heck, I have time to spare. I'll still get to Manila by 4AM anyway. The ordinary bus will give me a chance to mingle with the common crowd, to listen to their travel gossip, to drown my own woes in the wailings of the children, the cackling of chickens. And I've always loved the wind on my face.

It was 1AM. The bus was inching its way across Gumaca, Quezon when a sudden spasm, complete with the fierce growling of borborygmi, of my insides woke me up in a jolt. I broke into a cold sweat. My hands clenched the metal rails in front of me. My mind was screaming "Bathroom!".

Thankfully, the ordeal lasted only for 30 minutes. The bus stopped in a gas station. I implored the driver to allow me to use the bathroom and he obliged me the favor, to the reproach of the rest of the passengers. I hurried to the 24-hour grocery shop, bought tissue paper, and hastily did my thing. Ahhh, relief! There was no water in the toilets but who cares! Whoever is using the cubicle next doesn't know my name anyway. Thank goodness I had the sense to bring alcogel for my hands.

The bus plodded along the Quezon road and I fell asleep. After 30 minutes, my insides catapulted and did that revolting thing again. The air was cold but I was sweating. I was shivering while grasping that roll of tissue paper I was still holding. There was no hope of getting a toilet break in the next few hours. Mind over matters, mind over matters. That was my mantra. With the urge to defecate, the brain sends an apalling impulse to your diaphram and abdominal muscles instructing them to bear down, and bear down you will.

So their I was, sweating, pale, instinctively bearing down, with my entire existence and every ounce of my human decency at the mercy of several tiny muscles struggling to keep that aperture close. Thank God the external anal sphincter is voluntary. Never before have I said a prayer of gratitude for that little miracle of nature. The torment came in waves. For three minutes I was relaxed, and then comes a minute of exquisite suffering. Bathroom, bathroom, I'd even do it at the roadside if I had to.

After almost 2 hours of torture, the bus stopped at a Calamba roadside. Several passengers got off. It took several minutes for them to remove their cargo. And there it was again. Far ahead I saw a gas station. I didn't even think about it. I got my backpack from the overhead bin and almost jumped off the bus. The bus conductor was suprised, "Di ba Pasay kayo ma'am?" I just told him, "Dito na po ako. Salamat!" And to the gas station I ran.

I made it to the restrooms on time. Thank God I was alone. No one heard that gush of air and that explosive sound made by whatever poison my insides spewed out. And thank God there was water.

Ahhh, catharsis. I never knew what that word really meant until today. I had to mark this day, this insignificant moment in the annals of time, when I, Dr. Jean Alcover, a wannabe-traveller/adventurer, experienced nirvana in a dimly-lit gas station in Calamba. And while I was at it, I could see Karma with a sly grin on her face. I wanted to give her the dirty finger or slap her mocking face. But I ended up laughing too.

The joke was on me. I wouldn't dare mess with Karma again.

I managed to get on another bus home. My bowels behaved until I got to my apartment, when I could sleep in the toilet if I had to. Where there was water and soap and no one to hear the disgusting sounds I made.

Early this morning, my boss texted (God bless her. She has a mother's intuition!), "Jean are you ok now?" And with a straight face, I texted back, "Still having diarrhea ma'am, but already feeling a lot better."

This time, I was telling the truth.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Scheduled Diarrhea

It's 4:30PM. I'll be off to Catanduanes in a few hours!

Tomorrow is my scheduled diarrhea. For the first time in my residency life, I'll be faking the bowels. Not that the staff in the office are not aware. They're part of the conspiracy. Only the bosses don't know. Sigh... I hope karma will not demand its share.

I mean, I deserve this, right? After weeks and weeks of being a slave, sleeping in the office, not reading my novels, not listening to music, not enjoying my coffee in Harbour Square by the bay, not talking to my friends for hours on end, I deserve to at least have one bloody weekend off!

Ahhh, I can almost feel the breeze on my face. I can hear the surf, smell the brine.

I will be alone this time. Like, duh! As if I'm not used to this loneliness, uh-oh, solitude. What's the difference between the two anyway? Oh yeah, solitude is the remedy of loneliness. Solitude is my friend, loneliness the enemy. I'll be relishing my solitude in a few hours.

I wish I have someone to enjoy the quiet with, though. Someone who will find my solitude as interesting and as lovely as his own...

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Wanted: Idealist

After doing an inventory of all the men I've been crazy about (loosely defined as "look up to", "emulate", "addicted to", "swoon for", "live for", "die for"), I realize that they have one thing in common. Weirdness? Oh yes, if you know me you'd immediately conclude that I have this strange attraction for weird people. Eccentrics, unpredictables, odd ones, outliers of the bell-shaped curve. But that's not my point. I think what really draws me to someone is what makes them weird. I finally figured it out. I think it's this: idealism.

Idealism comes in different forms and degrees. Some call it conviction, some call it passion, some are strict enough to limit it to nationalism, some would even define it as apathy (because they don't care about the world as long as they know they're doing the right thing), some would simply define their state as solitude. I have developed the habit of classifying my idealist fancies into three: the Radical Idealist, the Practical Idealist, and the Resigned Idealist. Regardless of classification, I love all of them.

My list of suspects is not too long. Being an idealist myself, I have selected my subjects very carefully using really stringent inclusion criteria. Besides, there are not too many of them around these days.

I know that looking for idealism these days is mission impossible. I've crossed out many of the names in my list: my own dad, those who are already too old, the ones who are already happily married and are too old too. There are still very few available prospects. But I can only moon about them. The reason why I have them on my list is the very same reason why I can't keep them for myself.

I will still maintain the list. Some days I'll add some names, and cross out some, and add some more. Some days I'll just moon around and pray. There's another classification of the idealist that I deliberately missed out - the most dangerous almost fanatical type. And this is where I belong: the Hoping Idealist. Idealism and Hope, that's a hopeless combination.

Which is probably why I'm still a quirky alone, and will happily remain this way until my idealist finds me ideal enough for himself.