Friday, May 29, 2009

Birthday Boy #3

I started this blog a little more than a year ago. I have already posted a hundred entries - two were about the respective birthdays of the two very important men in my life - my father and my favorite teacher. Today, I'm writing a short one about the third. And he has absolutely no idea of the magnitude of his influence on me. I doubt if this would even be a big deal. Borrowing the words of Emily Dickinson, "He fumbles at my senses, like players at the keys. Before he plays full music on, he stuns me by degrees."

Today is the 36th birthday of the most amazing and unlikely personality that I was given the good fortune to meet. Ridiculous as it may sound, he found me in the most absurd manner - Friendster (which explains why I keep mum over these internet sites even if I'm really not a big fan), and because of the craziest of reasons (The Beatles, who would have guessed). And now, five years later, when Friendster is no longer hip and our life stories have greatly changed, it still escapes my reasoning how we are still so much around, no matter how evanescent, how unpredictable, how illogical.

This man taught me to travel, to go beyond my comfort zones and explore what he calls the "Edge of Civilization". In his usual laconic manner, he has uttered statements that made me brave, realize my errors, and see beyond what is apparent. Unknowingly, he pushed me off my boat, to start walking on water. Not only that, he made me jump off a cliff and surrender myself to gravity even if it turned out to be an infinite fall.

I've always believed that it doesn't really matter who we meet. What matters is who we get to keep. But perhaps the value of some people lies in their being fleeting. Fleeting but constant. Unexplained but tangible. Illogical but real.

To my good friend J, who's getting a year older today making him my oldest good friend, who started out as my diary, eventually becoming my best beer buddy, my travel buddy, my favorite patient, my best conversation whoring customer, thank you for being the fleeting but constant, unexplained but tangible, illogical but real phenomenon in my so-called life. In the end, everything may turn out to be nothing. But you must know I'm grateful.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Once in a while, there are days when, for no apparent reason at all, you'd like to pack up your entire old life in a box and shove it hidden under a pile of garbage. These are days when meeting people from your not-so-long-ago yesterdays becomes extremely stressful, when anything different from your usual boring routine gives you headaches and crowds make you shiver and throw up.

Today is one of those days. I'm packing up my old life into a tight box and keep it in a secluded corner. Hormonal. Purely hormonal, I hope. Before I snap on friends and ruin relationships, I have to get over this. Sleep, I need to get some sleep. Peace, I need to get some peace. Space, I need lots and lots of space. And solitude and quiet.

Ugh! Can somebody tell me what's going on?

Sunday, May 24, 2009


When it comes to life's crossroads, it's always hard to choose the best directions. It's like those choose-your-own-mystery novels back in childhood, when you make a wrong decision here and then a cascade of irrevocable and unfortunate events follows. Sometimes we make our decisions based on what's comfortable, what's familiar. Why is it so hard to be different these days?

It's all about opportunity costs. The most commonly sacrificed is convenience. Nevertheless, it's also the hardest to let go of.

I hope we make our choices based on what our hearts tell us, not on what's easy. Sometimes, it's better to discard our maps. Opportunities lurk in places yet undiscovered.

But if you choose what is comfortable and convenient, I won't blame you. The path of least resistance always appears to be the best even when it's not. But who am I to say what is?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mothers' Day Retrograde Post

(This was written on a piece of scratch paper last Sunday, Mothers' Day. I can't resist posting it on this site, simply for the stark honesty in it. Yeah right, flatter myself...)

It's Mothers' Day. Surely it wasn't the reason why I was given my first real day off in 3 months. A real day off after 3 months is such a treat I couldn't figure out what to do with it. Unable to spend it the best possible way I'd want to (which, by definition, is limited to the following: a quiet trip to a lonely and far flung countryside beach where I could be anyone, a long conversation with a favorite beer and travel buddy who's so evanescent he's almost unreal,
or a beach-side lunch with my parents and our dogs capped with a videoke session with my dad), I settled for the next best thing - I wasted almost P200 for coffee in my favorite Starbucks outlet in an almost secluded nook in CCP, enjoying the Manila Bay scenery with my Cardiology textbook in hand.

I couldn't concentrate on my academic pursuits though. All around me are middle-aged women bringing bouquets of flowers, obviously Mothers' Day token from their loved ones, young Korean women chattering gaily over coffee or tea with toddlers tagging along and messing with their chocolate cakes and Frapuccinos, huge families gathered over Sunday luncheon celebrating their women - from the lola in wheelchair to the little girl in the stroller.

I suddenly realize something. Today is Mothers' Day. And here's one special day I probably will never be given the chance to celebrate for myself.

I'm saying this because I was taught to be pragmatic, to base my hopes and subsequent courses of action on well-calculated probabilities, risk stratification, and prognostic quantification based on the best available evidence. And the evidence all show that there will never be Mothers' Day for me.

What do you do when you're an almost thirty, single woman, who never had the chance to participate in a mutual loving relationship with anyone in your entire godforsaken life; when all hope of beauty is gone (except if you scrape a few million and afford a Belo or a Calayan overhauling) and you never lost the thick slabs of leg, arm and belly fat you intended to lose all these years, when the lines on your forehead are much deeper and the circles around your eyes much darker and you're all bereft of the freshness and vigor of youth. When you happen to burn in the agony of unrequited love for so many years for someone you'll inevitably and completely lose very soon enough, and you don't even have the slightest gumption to stay away from danger and protect yourself from the imminent pain. When your only dream is to live a quiet and simple life in a farm by the ocean with a good man and a brood of children who adore you, but all your life's opportunities were never geared towards the achievement of that dream, but instead are directed towards something else more grand and less anonymous, something you didn't even long for, but unwittingly take because it was thrust upon you and you have no choice left but to be grateful.

What do you do when you're all of the above, huh?

Simple, actually. While all the mothers in the world are basking in their domestic bliss, you lay out your plan for world domination, a world without husbands and children. You save up for your future nursing home expenses and announce to the world that you're ready to die alone.
And you become a cardiologist pretending to be busily reading Braunwald on Mothers' Day. You just learn to stop caring, to stop dreaming, to stop looking. And you pretend. Just pretend.

You sit back, sip your expensive coffee and pretend you enjoy it. Just pretend...

Happy Mothers' Day to everyone concerned!

I know you're doing the world a great favor. Motherhood is a noble and honorable job. But yeah, I don't want anything to do with it.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Search for the 6th Man

Reality shows have been very popular during the past years. The topics vary from talent contests to losing weight to dating games, to everything imaginable. Whatever captures human interest sells. I'd like to propose a new reality show. How about: "The Search for the 6th Cardiology Fellow"?

For almost one month now, we have been shorthanded. My fellowship batch mates and I, the five of us, are doing the job of a 6-member team. This fellowship program was structured such that 6 people are being rotated among different posts. We started out with all 6 slots filled up, but during the middle part of last month, AKDM, our batch mate then quit due to an unprecedented pregnancy. The result - we have more frequent duties, heavier patient loads and unpredictable rotation schedules for the rest of the year.

This load is taking a toll on us now. The job is heavy enough. An extra load now is just too heavy a burden. Too much that my other batch mates and I have been gaining weight. Too much that when we were asked to dance during last weekend's alumni homecoming, we danced so wildly they all thought we were inebriated. Now, all I'm saying is Cardiology fellowship is toxic. But it can also be fun. We just need a 6th man.

I'm not being sexist here. A female or a male batch mate would be good enough. I've long given up on the thought that I will be the only girl in the team, since my batch mate Diva (genetically XY but phenotypically more XX than I am), happens to share the distinction with me. But of course, another XY in the team will be more interesting. If he happens to be straight, he'd be my pet. If he happens to be a bit on the metro side (yeah right, there's no such thing as a metro), he'd be Diva's. If this threatens any interested applicant, I'm sorry. The truth is, I'm perfectly harmless, lacking in grace and totally undesirable so I wouldn't even tickle his fancies (Diva is not, though. He's totally attractive and even stunning!).

Now if you can't imagine how toxic our lives are, here's a rough guide. We go on duty every 3 - 5 days, during which, we are the only cardiologists in the entire hospital. We read mountains of ECGs every day. We have Hemodynamics Conferences where we get grilled and eaten alive (aka steaks well-done or rare) by our esteemed consultants followed by Vascular Conference every Monday, Core Curriculum every Tuesday morning, Pre-op Conference every Wednesday. We have twice weekly OPDs where we see an average of 10 - 12 patients per OPD day. This is on top of our usual loads (diagnostics, pay, ward, ICU). For instance, I'm rotating in "Non-Invasive Diagnostics" now, which is supposed to be the most benign rotation. But I only get to go home to my apartment 3x a week. All these plus the fact that we don't have a decent and regular salary.

Such is the predicament and the excitement of my life that I have become an inspiration to several friends. My good friend and beer buddy J, a single thirty-something male on the fast rise in the corporate ladder, insists that my life (and my doctor friends') is stuff for reality shows. During my whining episodes, he always consoles me by claiming that whenever he gets so stressed out by his own job and so dissatisfied with his life, he just thinks of mine and he feels a lot better. Whenever he has the urge to complain, he thinks of what I go through everyday and he becomes thankful for what he was given. (Ugh, very flattering indeed.) In the spirit of amusement, gratitude, pity and friendship, he invariably ends up footing the bill. At least, even my misery changes other peoples' lives.

So please, if you know of any one interested in going to Cardiology, we still need a 6th man. I can assure him he'll be grilled, humiliated and laughed at. He'll pass through fire, he'll be incinerated, he will cry, he will tremble in sheer exhaustion (as my batch mate Diva says, ninipis ang singit ng pantalon nya sa kakalakad at kakatingin ng referral), he will realize how short one day is and how long one duty night can be. But he will come out of this satisfied and fulfilled to have done something way beyond his imagination, to have learned from great teachers and to be known as their fellows and eventually their colleagues.

And I can assure him. He'd gain weight. I've gained 4 kilograms in 3 months. Top that!

Life is a reality show. In CVS, we are the reality show every one else dreams of becoming part of.

(bwahaha, now that's the CVS spirit! mayabang!)

P.S. Here's my dream reality show ending...

Jean (approaches the training officer JCA in tears): Sir, I'm sorry but I have to quit the program.

JCA (in his elaborate JCA manner, with hand gestures and contorted face): Oh, why? What's the problem? What did we do wrong?

Jean (blushing, in tears and sobbing): Nothing's wrong with the program sir. It's not the job.

JCA (still shocked): So why quit? Why quit now?

Jean (still blushing, beginning to be cyanotic): Uhmmm, sir, I'm... I'm pregnant...

JCA (shocked but trying to hide it): Oh, that's great news. Who's the lucky dad?

Jean (already cyanotic): Uhhmmm, sir, I don't know. I really don't remember.

----reality show ends----

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I.M. Hero

Two days after his talk and even at the closing of the PCP annual convention, I'm still recovering.

If I write about him again in my next entries, block my site. Oh please. I beg your indulgence again. This is my last entry on him, at least for this week. I promise you'd enjoy this.

I came across this speech in the internet. This is probably one of Dr. D's most famous speeches. It has been posted in several blogs (old people, young people, etc). I got this from the Ateneo website.

The written speech is good enough, but I can bet my non-existent ass or my even more non-existent paycheck that the actual speech was surely many times better. As I've said in my previous entry, the message is not in the speech, it's the man behind the speech.

Anyway, I posted this just for the heck of it. This was delivered 2 years ago, but the message remains relevant even for us who are no longer in the academe.

It's a good read, I promise...

Don’t believe your report cards.'

(Speech delivered by Dr. Antonio Miguel Dans (GS 1971, HS 1975) to the graduating class of Ateneo High School batch 2007 on April 1, 2007 at the AHS covered courts.)

Fr. Hizon, revered faculty, graduates of Class 2007, parents, relatives, and friends, good evening.

I would like to thank all of you for the rare privilege of speaking to the graduating HS class of Ateneo.

Let me start by asking the graduates to stand up and take an oath with me. Please stand.

“I/ state your name/ hereby greet you all/ a Happy April Fool’s Day.” Thank you. You may now take your seats.

Pasensya na kayo kasi pang-anim na akong nagsalita at inaantok na kayong lahat. Konting pampagising lang. Where’s 4C? Ahhhh my favorite class. They’re the only ones who know me, so let me start by telling you about myself.

Class 4i

I graduated from Ateneo HS in 1975. In my batch, the 6 sections spelled out WISDOM, and I belonged to 4i. My class was really notorious. I know now for example, that 7 years after we graduated, the prefect of discipline was still talking about us to students we never met.

As early as first year, our entire class was posted for a chalk war during recess. We had no computer games then, so we had to use our imagination to play. Chalk was amazing. Cut to the right size, and hurled with sufficient force, it would explode and leave marks on your hapless victims.

Unfortunately, one day, during a full scale gang war, the teacher next door walked by to see what the noise was all about. I can still remember it in slow motion: a classmate hurled, another ducked, and the piece of chalk hit him right in the middle of the forehead, and exploded. Suddenly it was over and we were convicted for war crimes. There was no trial. Our whole class was posted, and from then on, we became known as the dishonors class.

I had my share of problems as an individual too. When I was 3rd year high school, I was called to the principal’s office in the middle of class. On the way to the office, I wasn’t worried. Fr. Raymond Miller was the principal then, and he was one of the gentlest priests I knew.

I gingerly opened the door, then froze in my tracks. My parents were there! Between them was a huge pile of fake letters excusing me from going to school for health reasons. I confessed right there and then, and expected to be expelled. But for some reason, the school decided to be lenient on me, and my sentence was commuted to several hours post and 6 months probation with no allowance. (That’s the part that hurt.)

Now that I recall this, I realize that I was really lucky. I was never able to say this before, but I say it now, I would like to thank the school for its leniency in handling this case… and several others I had.

You know, what you do in high school will haunt you forever. I thought I had outlived my high school mistakes when I became a doctor, but several years ago, by the strangest coincidence, guess who became our hospital priest? - Fr. Miller!

In his first few weeks there, he met Dr Rogie Tangco, walking in the corridor. Rogie is two years ahead of me. We’re about the same height but he is not as good-looking. When Fr. Miller saw him he said – Tony Dans right? Rogie raised both hands immediately and vehemently denied it “Father hindi ako yon! Si Rogie po ako!” Needless to say, they had a good laugh at my expense. Rogie has been very kind to needle me in public many times for this.

Now I understand why they invited me here today - maybe they thought I was Rogie! I’m sure that if my records still existed, the administration would have had second thoughts inviting me.

But not to worry, they still have time to regret this.

Before I totally lose my credibility, let me get on with my talk. For tonight, I was choosing between, one, saying something so inspiring it would change your entire life; or two, telling you more pointless stories of high school days.

I decided to do the latter.

To give you an idea about 4i, I did a survey of my classmates last week – by email or SMS. I had a good response rate. There were 37 of us when we graduated. Of the 35 still alive, 30 still keep in touch regularly. We used to see each other at weddings, where everyone became best man for someone else. Then it became baptisms - ninong na naman lahat. But now, more and more, we see each other at funerals. That’s the natural history of gatherings we attend.

Other than these, we have so many reunions, you can’t really call them reunions anymore. Imagine I received 24 responses from 30 contacts - a whopping 80% after 32 years, considering I just had a few days to do this.

Anyway, my question to them was this: What is the most important thing you learned in high school?

I thought this was a good question. I was sure the faculty would be interested in the answers… and the students too. You’re going home today with four years’ worth of knowledge, and you aren’t sure exactly which things to hang on to, that might help you through life. Well we have the perspective of 32 years to tell you what has helped us. So listen well.

First let me share some responses with you at random.

Choy Cojuangco – buwisit ka ang hirap ng tanong mo at paiba-iba.

Jorge Yuzon – pare pasensya na, wala yata akong natutunan.

Hmm. Let’s look for better ones.

Jev Ramos – Kung maitim ka noon, hindi ka na puputi, kung kalbo ang tatay mo, makakalbo ka rin.

Claro Gomez (read) – this one I have to censor.

You know what, just let me go straight to the summary, because you may misunderstand my classmates. With these guys, you need to read between the lines.

My summary is based not just on how my classmates responded, but also on observations about what they did and said in HS.

What’s the most important thing we learned in high school? The best summary of our answers would be this -

Oops that was the Greenhills survey.

Wait…. Ah ok, here’s the Ateneo survey. “DON’T BELIEVE YOUR REPORT CARDS”.

Teachers please don’t walk out. Let me explain myself. Despite our notoriety, the remarkable thing about our class was our attitude towards learning. As early as first year high school, we had this disdain for grades, and we constantly reminded each other of its inherent problems. Did grades really measure how good you were? Should we even bother about what we got? As a class, we didn’t believe so, and we tried our best to remind each other: focus on learning and don’t get too concerned with grades. The phrase “grade-conscious” became a jeer for us. If you made the mistake of publicly asking what percent of the grade came from the final exam and small quizzes, or if you complained about the cutoff for passing, you would regret it. You would be labeled grade conscious and never hear the end of it for a week. Classmates would walk by you and you would hear them say “grade conscious”, soft enough to seem like a whisper, but loud enough for you to hear. This ideology became inculcated in us, so by our 2nd year, some of us felt ashamed when our grades were too high.

Now I am sure that to a certain extent, this was just rationalization for low grades, but in retrospect our disdain may have had some basis. There are three reasons I say this.

1. Knowledge vs. curiosity/creativity

Grades, by default, measure mainly knowledge. Multiple choice, true or false, enumeration, fill in the blanks – they’re designed to measure how much knowledge is in your head. But in education, knowledge is just a decoy. It is NOT the most important intellectual faculty. My mother was an art teacher in grade school for many years, and she believed that creativity and curiosity were more important. I laughed at that thought for a few years, until I learned that someone else said exactly the same thing - Albert Einstein. My mom doesn’t know it, but she was a genius. With knowledge alone you become stagnant like an old textbook. With curiosity, and creativity you can actually discover new knowledge, and write the books yourself! Unfortunately, creativity is harder to grade, and curiosity - almost impossible. They don’t give credit for asking questions right? If they did, I would have been valedictorian.

When you realize that knowledge is a decoy, sometimes you notice funny things in the curriculum. I cringe when I hear my children memorizing things like DOST or SEC or CSI. I have often told them, to their consternation, forget memorizing. Just fail the darn subject. Criticize what you’re being taught. But when I see them doing projects, organizing affairs, and planning for events, I heave a sigh of relief and say - their tuition is worth every cent.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that Ateneo hasn’t taught you creativity or intellectual curiosity. In fact these are distinguishing traits of our education. All I’m saying is that these are difficult to measure, and therefore your report cards underestimate your worth.

4i was a bundle of curiosity and creativity. We looked at things under the microscope that would have shocked the teacher. We had long distance spitting contests, and trash paper basketball tournaments, and other things I cannot mention. Juvenile delinquence, you might say. I prefer to view them as exercises in creativity, and I treasure them as much as lessons inside the classroom.

2. Effort vs. passion

The other thing measured by your report card is effort – how hard you work. Now this looks innocent but there are several traps here.

First, it is very difficult to grade effort. If you’re super smart and math is effortless for you, shouldn’t you get a low mark in effort?

Second, assuming you could put a valid score on effort, do we really want to emphasize hard work? While it is often espoused as a virtue, it can also lead become a vice. We need balance in our life. I have seen people work so hard, they neglect their family, their spirituality, and even their own physical health.

Third, hard work makes life sound like a prison sentence. Congratulations graduates, from now on, you are condemned to a life of hard work! You see, dear graduates, the report card plays tricks on you! Hard work is OK, but Ateneo has given you something better – passion. There’s a big difference. Hard workers do things because they have to. People with passion do things because they want to. Hard work consumes energy, but passion builds it up. When you have passion for your work, then it isn’t really work!

Fr. Hizon I have a suggestion. Next year, in the report cards, let’s remove the column on effort. Instead, let’s put in a column on passion.

3. Misbehaving vs. rebelling

And then there’s this third thing measured by your report card – conduct. Conduct is measured by the degree to which we conform to acceptable behavior. But there are 2 reasons why people don’t conform. Either they’re rebelling or simply misbehaving. On the surface, they look the same. But when you rebel, you’re expressing a belief or fighting for a cause. When you misbehave, you are simply being obnoxious. Is it important to distinguish the two? Of course. We discourage misbehavior, but rebelling – that’s what you’re in Ateneo for – to prepare you to rebel and change the world.

Sometimes its not so easy to tell the difference. When a student asserts his right to hairstyle – is that misbehaving or rebelling? When he wears slippers to school because it is in fashion, is that misbehaving or rebelling? Do we listen to their views to distinguish the two? While we implement rules of conduct and grade how well students conform, I agree that we are nurturing discipline. But sometimes this may be at the cost of suppressing their other half – the one who wants to be different. The one that wants to rebel against society, change the status quo, and fight for a better world. We honor conformists in school because they have discipline and they don’t rock the boat – but after school, it’s the rebel we honor – the people who saw what is, and tried to change it into what ought to be – people like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jose Rizal, and Ninoy Aquino.

I’m not saying we remove conduct from the report card. I’m saying we need to be careful in dealing with apparent misconduct. Sometimes we may be suppressing exactly the values and characteristics that we espouse.

In summary, we have given you three reasons why you shouldn’t believe your report card. It misses measuring the important things:

- creativity and curiosity, rather than knowledge per se,
- passion for work, rather than effort, and
- the desire to be different and change things, rather than just proper conduct or good behavior.

In fact, these lessons, which aren’t in your report card – they are the ones that my class thought would help you in the future.

Hard workers will burn out, but you, because of your passion, will run circles around them.

Knowledgeable people will land decent jobs earlier, because this is what most employers evaluate, but because you are curious and creative, you will soon fly past them in the rank and file.

The conformists will stagnate in the past, while the rebels, like you, you will create the future.

Jesuit history, after all, is a story of curiosity and creativity and passion. The early Jesuits were not bookish scholars, they were explorers and philosophers. They debated science and religion. And they charted the earth and the universe. And they were rebels too. They were expelled from the Catholic Church by the Pope himself, for many years. This is worse than any post any of you got while you were here. But the Jesuit order survived the storm, and believe me, you will too.

The simple fact of the matter is that your education has brought you where you are now and no report card has been invented, that can measure the depth and breadth of what you have learned and what you have become. It doesn’t matter if you received the highest score, or if you barely made it. Don’t believe your report card! You are far better than what it says.

Fourth reason

To end, dear graduates, I would like to give you a fourth reason why grades underestimate you. When I fielded my survey to my classmates last week, I received many different themes on what was the most important lesson in high school. Can you guess what the most common answer was?

I assure you, nobody said “Kreb’s cycle,” or “quadratic equation.” By far the most common answer was -- the lesson of friendship. This is something we didn’t get from books or lectures, this is something we learned from each other. For sure, it can never be measured by grades.

So savor this last moment of HS and look around you. Look at the wonderful friends you found. You don’t know this yet – your HS friends are unlike any. They will last forever. You may be parting ways now, but your paths will cross again like ours has, regardless of the profession you have chosen.

How many of you plan to be doctors? Remember them. They will take care of you when you’re sick, and they will not charge you.

And how many are leaving the country? Remember them as well. You are going to live in their homes when you travel. Free!

There might even be a priest in here somewhere. He will preside at your wedding, baptize your child. I’m not sure you would want to confess to them. What a horrible thought.

There will be politicians amongst you too – governors, mayors, cabinet members, maybe even a president? Even they will seek refuge in your reunions, because it is only there that they can be themselves, with people they truly trust.

It doesn’t matter what they do, when you are down and out, your classmates will get together to pull you up. They will chip in for your hospital expenses, or help send your kids abroad, even when they themselves are in need.

I can spend the entire day with you talking about high school friends. My main difficulty preparing for this talk was choosing which anecdotes to share just to show how close we were 32 years ago, and how much closer we’ve become since then.

The point is this - I, am immensely proud of the people I grew up with in high school.

When I hear stories of principles they have had to stand up for in their life, I can see the same principles we nurtured together as classmates. Our futures have diversified us, but our values remain one and the same.

Today, we remain comrades in the same rebellion, fighting the battle in different zones.

Savor this moment. Say your goodbyes for now… but know that your paths WILL cross again. With graduation, your friendship has become more binding than marriage. Remember, you cannot divorce a HS classmate, even if it is ordered by the Vatican. It’s illegal.

Savor this moment dear graduates, no matter what your grades. You have Ateneo behind you, and your friends beside you, so you have no choice. Like the blue eagle that has symbolized you, you WILL fly high.

Congratulations to one and all!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Resuscitating IM

For the nth time in my blogging history, I'm writing about him.

Yes, him. The one who adores the Beatles, the one whose passion for learning and service is so contagious it boggles my mind and many others' conscience each time he speaks. He's one of those strangely fascinating big time creatures great enough to stoop down to your level so you can be lifted an inch higher than the slumdog you really are.

For the past three years since I came to my senses and started hitching my wagon to his star, I made it a point to attend his talks during the plenary sessions of the Philippine College of Physicians' Annual Convention. Today I dragged my still sleepy post-duty bulk to SMX Convention Center in Mall of Asia expecting to be enlightened. And as before, I was one of the first to arrive, so I managed to grab a seat only a few rows away from the podium, where I can listen more closely, each moment amazed at his message, the nobility of his ideas, the sincerity of his dreams.

This morning, Dr. D talked of the great crisis facing the specialty of internal medicine. He discussed why the internist is a dying breed, how this group of doctors who would have had the capacity to do great things and to bring about revolutionary changes for the country is silently dying and facing extinction - a sad death that would most likely proceed unnoticed. Not only was he able to depict the problem so vividly, he also provided concrete and novel solutions. Not only did he manage to terrify, he also managed to inspire.

Dr. D, of course, is not a stranger to great talks such as this. He always draws standing ovations from whatever crowd he addresses. But this time, he was able to convey a special message. And the message is not the talk. It is the man behind the talk.

His voice broke when he said we need more heroes.

Yes sir, we do. And people like me still believe in heroes because of people like you.

"When you speak, always speak from the heart. People will often forget what you tell them. But they will never forget how you made them feel.'

- AMLD, my favorite teacher
(some time in November 2008 during a workshop in Tagaytay)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Big Girls Don't Cry

This is my last post for the day, I promise.

I was answering a referral at the 7th floor and was on my way back to the CVS office at the 6th floor when I met a woman wearing a shirt with the words "Big Girls Don't Cry" boldly painted on it. And so feeling very prolific and inspired, I went to my computer rather excited because I found another bright idea to write about.

I was born big, and I have been big for my entire conscious life. For as long as I can remember, I was always the tallest girl in class, always the last in line, always the one to play the part of a boy when there's an excess of girls during a class presentation. Because of this, I have learned to play the part of the big girl - the one the boys can't hurt, the one who always fought back, the one who never needed help. I was the one girl who can join boys during boy talk, the one who can talk dirty with them, the only girl spanked in public by teachers for drawing lewd caricatures on school walls.

Aside from being big, I'm also overweight. And I have been that way for as long as I can remember. I have endured taunts from insensitive people during parades when I was in grade school. "Pssst, baboy." Or "Day, day, gibiyaan ka sa kusina?" At a young age, I learned how the world can be so insensitive and ruthlessly cruel even to children. And so I've learned to schedule toothaches and diarrhea during school parades and somehow managed to avoid more jeerings from the heartless crowd.

Because of my size, I grew up hating proms and dresses and high heels and fancy dinners and dates. Back in high school, it was always difficult to find a boy who would be happy to be stuck with a big fat girl when there are other dainty pretty girls around. It was also always hard to find a dress that fits, or a shoe that's big enough.

As if those repercussions of being big during childhood and adolescence were not destructive enough, my "BIG" curse persisted even during adulthood. (Ugh! As if I have a teeny-weeny bit of self-esteem left.) Until now, I'm still bigger than most women. The shoes are easier to find, but the dresses are still scarce and the men are even scarcer. So I've learned to be the independent one, the one who can travel the country's most remote towns alone, the one who always does things on her own.

There are several advantages of being big. For example, big women have lesser mortality from myocardial infarcts (literally!), plus we have lesser chance of osteoporosis because we have bigger bone densities. And I'm not saying I regret being built this way. I enjoy my size and I'm proud of the person I have become. And I know I'll never be this way if not for my bigness.

But the world should know that big girls DO cry. And when we do, we definitely have bigger tears.

George O'Hearn: Beautiful women are invisible.

David Kepesh: Invisible? What the hell does that mean? Invisible? They jump out at you. A beautiful woman, she stands out. She stands apart. You can't miss her.

Geroge O'Hearn: But we never actually see the person. We see the beautiful shell. We're blocked by the beauty barrier. Yeah, we're so dazzled by the outside that we never make it inside.

-From the movie, 'Elegy' (2008)


Since I already ventured to write about old friends in my previous entry, I can't help but spare a few paragraphs about not-so-old ones. This post sounds cliche for many and if I would be given the liberty, I will write about this again and again until I no longer make sense. But for clarity's sake, I'll try to keep this short, shrouded in a bit of mystery.

We often unconsciously lump our friends into categories: childhood friends, high school friends, neighbors, band mates, med school friends, blockmates, batchmates, work mates, co-residents, co-fellows, etc. As we grow older, our world expands and yet our capacity for a deep and spiritual communion with anyone markedly decreases. I do believe that at this age, the chance of finding anyone outside your usual circle of old folks that you can truly relate with is so remote it's almost an absurd fantasy. Yes, we meet people. But more often than not, our interactions with them are business-bound, temporary, driven by necessity instead of simple pleasure of company. Finding a good and lasting friendship at this age is almost impossible.


I happen to believe that some of us can still be blessed enough to find a not-so-old-friend who does not qualify under the categories I mentioned above, but who evoke the same warm connection like old friends do. It's a strange, odd, irrational, absurd, cosmic bond enveloped in modern cynicism and doubt, but it is still friendship in it's pure unadulterated form. I think it is possible for complete strangers to meet, to share moments that have lasting impacts, conversations that will be indelibly stamped in the memories, to form a bond that is beyond logic and convention, beyond definition.

It is possible. I just know.

And I also know that the strings of a lute make beautiful music when they are apart. Entangle them and the music is gone.

A touching scene from Lost in Translation, one of my all-time favorites. Very beautifully and realistically crafted, with poignant scenes even if they're wordless. During quiet Sunday duties such as these, I reconstruct the movie and imagine a happier ending. And then I realize, a different ending would ruin everything.

"For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow."

Kahlil Gibran
'The Prophet'

Old Friends

photo from

I had the chance to hook up with old friends recently. And when I say "old", I refer to those childhood friends I grew up with, those ones I had my first stick of cigarette with, the members of the Power Triangle way back in high school when we used to cheat during exams. These are the friends I had the privilege of counseling when they ran away from home, when they flirted with their boys, when they first broke their hearts. I still don't understand what design of fate entangled me with them, how I ended up part of them. We were the mean girls at the old high school, the circle of bitches one shouldn't be stupid enough to mess with. Indeed, these girls were crazy. Which is not a huge surprise because I happen to have a strange fascination for crazy people.

And now 12 years later, when smoking becomes disgusting and cheating is abhorrent and everyday you're longing to return to that home you tried so hard to run away from, after several failed relationships (and in my case the consistent absence of one), beautiful children (and in my case the eternally ungratified longing for several), I just realized, some things never change.

Such is the beauty of old friends. You grow up, mess up your life, rise up from the ashes of the fire you ignited on yourself, transform from a mean girl into a well-respected teacher, break your heart countless times until you no longer know that you still possess one, and yet the bond remains unbroken. There's a shared history, something indelible, something that will always be beautiful.

What remains of the old PSHS-MC circa 1997 gang (aptly called "Mangot Gang", which stands for something so indecent, even my open mind will censor it in this blog), is a bunch of grown-up ladies willing to rediscover the world. A lot more mature, a lot less mean, a little more wiser but a bit more reckless too. And thankfully, we are still prepared to fall in love again and again and again, even if the world tramples on our hearts.

After all, as my friend Kodi quips, "Karma stage is over. Meaning begins."