Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cleaning Up The Mess

I stayed up until 1AM last night scrubbing my apartment floor, mopping off the murky debris reminiscent of Ondoy's wrath. I could have used that time searching for a journal to present on Friday's Journal Club, but I just couldn't stand the stench of stagnant water anymore - a mixture of human excreta, rat urine, garbage juice and what-nots, benignly appearing as brownish water undisturbed by sunlight in several corners of my squalid apartment.

Mop and pail in hand, I took off my slippers, and scrubbed and squeezed and scrubbed until my hands ached and my feet were wrinkled. This is the price I had to pay for independence. I should have continued renting that room in Paco. Ate Justine and Ate Angie would have cleaned off the flooded floors as fast as Ondoy itself. After hours of attempting to remove the water using an old piece of shirt that served as a sponge, my living room looked dry enough to be lived in. I counted at least 8 dead roaches, 3 cigarette stubs, a dead lizard, and a small mouse, remnants of the Taft Avenue ecosystem that must have been washed off to Manila Bay by now.

By 1AM, I turned my lights off, lighted several scented candles, and sat down on my cheap sofa. I was suddenly overwhelmed by exhaustion and a certain brand of peace. Ahhh, this is the life. I couldn't help but utter a short prayer of gratitude - for being spared from the flood, for my shabbily furnished den that has served as my sanctuary from the hospital for two years now, for my mop and my pail and my Lysol, for everything I've been given even if I don't deserve them.

I capped my evening with a glass of wine. In front of an imagined company, I gave a toast to life and all the mess it surprises us with, and to myself - for being able to clean up most of this mess at least most of the time. And I silently drank a toast to my best buddy: To Solitude - now and indefinitely. Cheers!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Meditations After Ondoy

Manila looks serene and fresh from my office window. If yesterday did not happen, I would have lauded this day as one of the most beautiful city days I've seen in a long time. Indeed, some things, like yesterday's rain, have a way of "fumbling at your senses" and suddenly disappear, as if nothing happened at all. It's cruel. It's strange. It's wicked.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bad Hair Days

I don't believe in bad hair days. It's either you have a hair worthy of a shampoo commercial, or bad hair for the rest of your life. I am one of those unfortunate enough to be classified under the latter - my hair is perpetually thin - with strands like those of a 3 year old's, and perennially curly - with short ones vehemently standing up in kinks and in coils despite all intense efforts at taming them. But I won't be writing about my ugly hair. I'll be ranting about my bad hair life, filled with terrible, and oh so gravely horrifying bad hair days. And as if these days are not enough, some just simply stand out - some days are a gazillion times more awful than the already disgusting and insipid ordinary day.

Today is one of them. Perhaps it's because I woke up later than I had planned I should. Perhaps it's because I again found myself sleeping in the hospital for the 3rd straight day when my next duty is yet to be in October. This is me - the new resident-fellow. Ugh, what else is new? I've been sleeping in this hospital since I was a student, then as a resident, even as a chief resident. And now, here I am again, what's so different about fellowship when it is just an extension of residency after all? Sometimes it's just so tempting to go up to the 7th floor of the hospital, stand on that ledge facing Taft Avenue, and then jump off, with Tom Petty crooning in my head "now i'm free, free falling..."

I'm not stoned. I'm just having a bad day. Extraordinarily dreadful days are days like these - everything is going well, things are falling into place, but you simply can't take any pleasure out of it.

Later in the evening, I went to the mall to splurge on a solo fancy dinner. Still not satisfied despite my already distended bowels, I proceeded to seek solace in an old sadness treat -Peanut Butter Chocolate Dream Bar from Mrs. Fields - which ended up tasting like mud. Tonight I will be going to bed in the fellows' callroom again, grieving over my extra calorie intake.

Somebody once said that the bridge between hope and despair is a good night's sleep. I just wish that tomorrow, I'll wake up with better hair.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Despite my apparently cloistered life, I'm quite proud of my performance...

My Lakbayan grade is B-!

How much of the Philippines have you visited? Find out at Lakbayan!

Created by Eugene Villar.

The following are my travel dreams in the next 3 years:

November 2009 - Palawan

Early 2010 - Northern Philippines. Perhaps Sta. Maria town of Cagayan. They have old lighthouses there worth checking out.

Late 2010 or Early 2011 - This would have to be my ultimate dream - Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi!!!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Elevator Thoughts

Today I'm a zombie. I'm one of those half-awake, half-dead, not-so-human creatures walking around the hallowed halls of this wretched hospital in the middle of the night, on a Sunday, on a long weekend. So, the last time my hair touched a comb was 12 hours ago? So, my white coat is stained with ballpen marks all over and brownish icky discolorations at the sleeves? So, I'm wearing a 5-year old scrub-top and my shoes are worn out from too much walking? So, there's oil on my face and I smell like the ER? So, I look like a hobo, with tattered clothes, circles under her eyes, and an empty brain? What's wrong with that? And whose fault is it?

I'm a living dead today because I'm on 24-hour duty again. One of the most dreaded responsibilities a fledgling and struggling Cardiology fellow can ever imagine is a 24-hour duty on a Sunday, when the rest of the world is quiet except the hospital. For some reasons, people always get admitted during Sundays. And why is it that even stable patients get MIs during Sundays? And residents seem to love calling up Cardiology fellows on a Sunday when they could have done so on any other day?

One of the worst nightmares on a PGH Sunday is the elevator, or the lack of it. For as long as I can remember, all the other elevators stop functioning on a Sunday, except one. That single, solitary, overworked elevator traverses all seven floors of the hospital, carrying doctors, watchers, pickpockets, visitors, and employees alike (patients share another elevator). Sometimes the line extends up to the ATM machines (many meters away). Sometimes petty fights happen among those falling in line and those who don't.

Instead of taking the stairs to keep my cardiac muscles healthy, I invariably choose to be a sloth and take the elevator if I have to go up and down at least 2 floors, even if it would take light years falling in line, even if it feels like living in a sardine can while breathing that stale mixture of carbon dioxide, and nitrogen and what-nots for at least 5 minutes. I've been stuck in that elevator twice, at least. One time there was a sudden power interruption and I was stuck in that can for 10 minutes, slowly dying from asphyxia. Another time, the door simply refused to open. We were midway between the 5th and the 6th floor, pounding on the walls and the door, shouting for help. For some reason, the elevator just jerked and suddenly continued it journey up.

For some reason, being stuck in that elevator reminds me of my mortality. It reminds me all the time that despite my dirty white coat and my vestigial props of a stethoscope, I'm still human - a creature stuck in a sardine can, breathing the same toxic air just like everybody else. If, at midnight, the elevator is empty except for that tired-looking operator, my minutes in the PGH elevator afford me brief luxury of a shut-eye, and during that finite ride that seem to take eternity, I just breathe and enjoy everything imperfect around me.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Musings from the Great Not-Gatsby

I've recently joined the ranks of the nouveau riche - that detestable few in the society now acutely enjoying the pains and rewards of unprecedented and undeserved prosperity, no matter how short-lived that wealth is. After 3 months of being unemployed and almost 7 months of back-breaking uncompensated labor and living off my parents' resources, I am finally set free! All of a sudden, there was a fat paycheck - representing all the torture of the past months, suddenly thrust upon my outstretched, almost begging, palms. I couldn't help but imagine what delights I should get for myself.

Hmmm.... let me vaguely illustrate my foolish imaginings about the spoils of my temporary escape from destitution. These are the things that I intend to get with my recently acquired lump sum...

My apartment needs a refrigerator and a dining table. Once I'll get them, I'll probably try my hand at cooking delicacies such as adobo or pinakbet, so I might need to invest on a good gas stove too. End-point imagined: a domesticated me, making delectable meals, for an imagined clientele.

My iPod Nano is 3 years old. Three sets of earphones later, it has become so much a part of me that I would hate parting with it. But I want, no I need extra music space. Enough to contain every single Beatles album since Please, Please Me . Since an iPhone is simply too extravagant to even imagine, I'd probably get an iTouch. End-point imagined: an autistic me, not so different from the current situation, only with more music to choose from.

I need to get a nice guitar. Something even my children can use when it's their turn to get music lessons. Since I won't have time for my own music classes yet, I need self-instructional materials - books and CDs, etc. But I need to get that guitar first.

My Palm Pilot is no longer working. I need a new PDA - enough to contain a peripheral brain, which i desperately need, given my frequently faltering memory.

My laptop is 3 years old. And though I've recently reformatted it, it would be cool to get one of those 1.2 kg notebooks.

A nice notebook would need a nice bag. I'd like a bag that would be classy and elegant. Something made out of leather perhaps.

I need new shoes. I need a new wardrobe. I need a new watch. I need new make-up. I need new perfume. I need a make-over. I need a nice massage. I need a new backpack - I want those Eagle Creek convertibles, sturdy enough for rough trips, elegant enough for business travels. I need a new jacket. I need tickets for my next solo trip - my November Palawan adventure. I need new running shoes. I need Spanish lessons.

And last but not the least, how much does a man cost? I need a smart and decent man I can talk to, drink beer with, argue with, travel with, pray with. Where can I find a man for sale? My specifications are simple: I just need someone extraordinary.

I guess money can't buy everything. So perhaps I'd just keep that money in the bank. Next salary would probably arrive after the May elections anyway. There's no way I can ever get everything I need. But at least I'd have something to live on. For now.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Character of Our Nation

Since last night, I've been repeatedly watching President Barack Obama's health care reform speech to the recent joint session of congress. Although I know that charisma can be deceptive and politics remain to be the bottomline of everything those in power do, I would like to believe that this man was sincere in his desire to bring quality health care to all Americans.

While Americans grapple with increasing health care budget deficits, we Filipinos are fighting our own battles too. President Obama mentioned that no democracy on earth should deprive adequate health care from a huge bulk of its population. In our own country, 60% of Filipinos die without having seen a doctor. What are we, then?

The dismal state of our country's health care system has reached incredulously pathetic proportions. Every year, 200,000 families, roughly equivalent to 1 million people, are being pushed into the brink of poverty due to catastrophic health care expenditures. Another 500,000 Filipinos convert from poor and getting by to simply dirt poor because of health expenses.

The system will always have flaws. No matter what sort of reforms will be made, or whoever will initiate them, they will always be subject to extensive debates, and there will always be opposition. We will never have a perfect health care program that will satisfy everyone. A nation dies when opposition dies. Debate about policy is a sign of a healthy government and a discerning people. But as Obama said, this is no longer about politics and policy. Health care is above all, a moral issue. It's about the fundamental principles of equity and social justice. It's about having your fill while your neighbor is tugging at your expensive trousers, begging you for scraps, not of your caviar, but stale dry bread will do just fine. It's about the character of our nation.

We are a country richly blessed with intelligent, creative, and talented people, a nation who claims to be a democracy built on the basic values of Christianity. But while our leaders dine on $2000 wine and sleep in $50,000/night suites in Waldorf Astoria, 20% of our population are struggling to get through everyday, around 40% barely get by, and the rest - well, do they even count for our leaders anymore? What is the character of our nation, then?

Obama insisted in his speech that "No American should become poor because he is sick". When will our president finally come to her senses and realize that no Filipino should become sick because he is poor?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Pivotal Moments

During gloomy rainy days like this, after spending the past weekend poring over backlog work, I finally had the chance to look back and examine the past few years of my life.

Mine was a short and simple life. Nothing worth making stories about. Nevertheless, few extraordinary scenes stand out in my befuddled memory.

A 14-year old Jean walking along a dusty road in Digos under the hot mid-day sun, with a few coins in her pocket, not even enough to get her a pedicab ride. She had decided to walk the long and tiring walk home. Suddenly, from the middle of nowhere, shining under the scorching sun was a brand new one peso coin. Miracle from heaven - something unasked for, something willingly given, arriving with an impossibly perfect timing it was almost absurd.

photo from flickr

A 20-year old Jean brimming with the fervor and idealism of youth, braving the crowds and the threats of commotion at the Edsa shrine, ready to create her own adventure as she joins the Filipino community in expressing their disgust on a government marred by corruption and deceit. She was longing for company, but one can only be too lonely in the middle of a crowd. Suddenly, from a street corner was a small crowd singing a prayer, and two friendly eyes that caught hers. An old friend from high school not seen in a long time. Then came a warm hug, that familiar grasp of the hand. Miracle from heaven - something that defies the laws of probability and chance, arriving with such a tremendous intensity it was almost stupefying.

photo from flickr

A 24 year old Jean fresh from the Medical boards, finding herself in limbo, aimless and numb again, wasting time on web-based social networks she finds ridiculous and boring. Except for old friends, she was not expecting to find anyone worth finding. Suddenly, from wherever corner of the absurd and the unknown, came that one-line message from a stranger. Then followed years of excellent travel, intelligent and poignant conversations and a strange but genuine friendship. Miracle from heaven - to allow a stranger walk by and change your life forever, leaving you with so much emptiness it makes you whole.

photo fabricated from imagination

During times like these I thank God for those moments that stand out. A lucky penny, an old friend, a stranger. The penny is gone, the friend again disappeared in the crowd, the stranger lost to the strange. But I bellieve in miracles still. I believe in a greater design, in a perfect yet illogical timing. I have seen those miracles happen. And they will happen again.