Saturday, April 25, 2009

Sabado Night

Staple for a struggling Cardiology fellow on a Hemody weekend: Braunwald, piles of journals to read, mountains of ECGs, a reliable computer with internet access, an endless supply of coffee, and lots and lots of patience.

It's a glorious Saturday evening. The air outside is crisp and refreshing. The moon is bright. A perfect evening to enjoy a cold glass of beer or a warm bottle of red wine, alone watching a favorite classic, or spiked with interesting conversations with a dear and trusted kindred. I gaze out the window and I see the world moving about. Tires screeching, people giggling, horns blowing, a barely audible curse from somewhere, a boisterous laugh nearby, traces of bar music from far away Malate. The world is alive. For heavens' sake, it's a Saturday night. Everybody has a reason to celebrate.

But the world is outside my window. And while the world celebrates beautiful Saturday evenings such as this, I'm locked in this tower, not by necessity but by an indirect choice, a choice made out of my own free will, an adult and sound decision that I am still firmly standing by even now. I chose this world and this world knows no Saturdays or weekends or holidays.

I'm not complaining. Who am I kidding? I love this. Work can be mighty therapeutic. Thinking, poring over difficult ECGs, anticipating the bosses' questions, solving difficult cases, learning something interesting every day - they all make this life exactly like beer. Beer is bitter, you complain and whine about it all the time, but you love it anyway, and gulp it all down, basking in immense satisfaction afterwards, missing it when it's all gone.

But during moments like these, alone in an empty conference room, I'd rather have real beer. And beer is always best drank with someone you can complain and whine to all the time and see through you anyway.

But I'm alone and there's no beer and there's no one.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But there are miles to go before I sleep, miles to go before I sleep...

Thursday, April 23, 2009


When one is endorphin-empty as I am today, one walks around with a glassy look in her eyes and an unsteady gait, with hair uncombed, wearing the most unsightly clothes and the ugliest of shoes. Indeed, this is my lowest point. Too low that several people, in a fit of sincere sympathy, asked me today "Jean, post-duty ka ba?" Grrrr, I went on duty 2 nights ago! And yes, I did change clothes! And I took a bath, OK?

What I need is a haircut! I need a whiff of genuine fresh provincial briny breeze. I need a 30-minute run along Roxas Boulevard. I need a full 24-hour fast to rid myself of all the poison I've eaten! I need a long in-depth conversation with a kindred soul. I need a bottle of beer drank by the beach. I need to sing a song with my dad. I need to lay on grass staring at the stars. I need something to bring the old me back.

Yesterday, a patient's daughter asked, "Doc, lagyan na natin ng pacemaker si nanay." And I said, "Sige, kayo bahala. Basta may P500,000 na kayo." Said without any emotion or empathy at all.

Today, an old classmate met me to discuss a business proposal. I didn't even allow him to finish. I cut him short, "Whatever this is all about, my answer is 'no'. I'm not going to have anything to do with this." Unsmiling, and with no grace or tact at all.

I guess I just snapped.

A sour mood is never an excuse for rudeness. I've been guilty again. Hopefully, tomorrow will be a better day.


I'm in a pensive mood today. The greatest barometer for my happiness level is my food intake. No matter how tired I am in my job, as long as I'm getting thinner, that means I'm happy. No matter how haggard I look, as long as I'm losing weight, that means I'm immensely satisfied. These past days however, I'm alarmed. I've been eating so much, even if I'm not hungry at all. Gone are the jean-you-look-tired looks from familiar people. Instead, most of the comments are "Wow, you seem happier now. You're gaining weight."

Uh-oh. This is an emergency.

Indeed, I feel horrible. Hideous. I feel like a slob of fat walking around PGH with legs as heavy as her heart. This is no longer right. I'm supposed to be loving this.

Somebody tell me what's wrong. It's probably the hormones. From a surge of happy hormones two weeks ago, to an acute depletion of whatever endorphin was around. This is transient. This is temporary. I have to get over this soon enough. This will come to pass.

For the meantime, I have to content myself with walking around like a lump of grease, looking like Hagar-the-Horrible, hair unkempt, face unmade, brain empty. When will the real me return?

Yesterday, I heard an admonition from a TCVS consultant during our pre-op conference. He said, "You have to be very careful with your next move. You can't teach an old dog new tricks. It's the same as the heart. If it's been failing for a long time, you try to fix it, but you really won't change much. You might even bring more harm."

He was talking about a patient, of course. And surgical procedures and all those nerdy stuff. But why did it feel as if he was looking right at me?

To end this depressing entry. I'd like to share a poem by Sara Teasdale. Yeah, her poems are too sappy, dangerously bordering on lame. But I like them anyway. Honesty always is a saving grace. Here goes...

  Oh, because you never tried
  To bow my will or break my pride,
  And nothing of the cave-man made
  You want to keep me half afraid,
  Nor ever with a conquering air
  You thought to draw me unaware--
  Take me, for I love you more
  Than I ever loved before.
  And since the body's maidenhood
  Alone were neither rare nor good
  Unless with it I gave to you
  A spirit still untrammeled, too,
  Take my dreams and take my mind
  That were masterless as wind;
  And "Master!" I shall say to you
  Since you never asked me to.

There's some tangentiality in the thought process of this entry. Forgive me, my writing is as messed up as my mood. I call on Honesty as my saving grace here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Rain Man

The rains are back!

Being a rain lover, the return of the drizzles has recharged my spirit during the past 2 days. Too bad I can't stay under it. Common sense and propriety kept me from running outside singing, the Mary Poppins way. Just to hear the splatter on the PGH rooftops is enough for now. At least the heat waves are over, albeit temporarily. At least there's a steady humming around me, breaking the monotony of PGH sounds and noise.

For some strange reason, the smell of water hitting the smoldering pavement evokes certain memories. Old childhood days, moments that were never there, de ja vus, home, adventures, strange people, home. The fresh smell of newly washed Manila brings me somewhere far away. I feel wind on my face even if there was none. I'm taken to a special place, my Wonderland, some place that is my own.

photo from

(I remember the last time I was under the rain. I was in the boat to Apo Island in Dumaguete. There was a storm brewing somewhere. We were battling the waves out in an angry ocean. I was freezing. But I was warm. It was a dangerous journey. But I was safe.)

I wish I could find a mud puddle and splash around in it, without any care at all. I wish I could sing and scream and laugh and giggle and be stupid and senseless. I wish I was in that boat to Dumaguete again. I wish I'm not alone staring at the rain now.

Too bad the rain stopped. For a moment I thought the Rain Man was right beside me again.

From Rain Man (1988)

Charlie: When I was a little kid and I got scared, the Rain Man would come and sing to me.
Susanna: Rain what?
Charlie: Oh you know, one of those imaginary childhood friends.
Susanna: What happened to him?
Charlie: Nothing, I just grew up.

well, it just so happens that I got my own Rain Man too. But this one comes with growing up, and will never entirely go away. perhaps...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Atypical Happiness

My resolve to keep away from blogging has finally crumbled. I have decided to again allow the histrionic in me some chance of emotional diarrhea. The almost 2 months of quiet is unnerving, like I'm a dormant volcano about to erupt, spewing out all pent-up heat and frustration and despair.

But surprisingly, I won't be writing about despair. I will be writing about its exact opposite - hope. I've been ill lately. And I call this illness "Atypical Happiness, Etiology Irrelevant". The doctor in me insists on probing any atypical symptom, or any abnormal reaction to stimuli. I feel abnormal now. Happiness, I realize, is a better cathartic than pain. Because this time, I'm writing again.

This happiness I have now is atypical. Anyone in my position will be lonely, tired or frustrated. I'm barely two months into my fellowship. Sometimes during duty days, at 2AM, I climb the stairs to the 6th floor CVS office from the furnace of the PGH emergency room where I inevitably end up smelling like a diabetic foot, with sweat and murky debris all over my face. And then the duty phone rings again and there's a patient arresting at the Cancer Institute and I have to run all the way there. Everytime the phone rings, my heart goes into atrial fibrillation. Every 3AM during duty days, my legs get cramps, sometime my entire body shivers from sheer exhaustion. And in the morning, life goes on, even if you want to stay in your room, sleeping soundly on your bed. Life goes on and there are hearts to save. You save other people's hearts so you forget your own.

But happiness is never defined by circumstances. I examine my life for aything to be happy about. I'm working like a dog, my brain is squeezed out of all information it has desperately clung to for the past years. I have no salary. I'm broke. I'm stressed out. I am reminded about how little I know and how much there is yet to know. Everyday I realize how futile everything is. Death is there awaiting everyone. Sometimes it even sneaks in unexpectedly and grabs us by the throat.

Atypical Happines. This is one disease I'd rather die of. On post-duty mornings, I stand outside the door of the CVS office and I gaze at the dying city lights. The early morning sky is always breath taking - the red and the orange and the purple and the black. The promise of a new day, another chance to explore the world, to do something, to love something. And I say, "Well, well, well, something is always right in the world, huh?"

Some diseases need no cure.