Thursday, October 7, 2010

From the Outside Looking In

Since October started, I have been reporting to that heart hospital in far-away Quezon City. It is an awfully frightening responsibility to be removed from one's home base, but it does help to step away once in a while. Somehow, it allows us to view things from a different perspective. It does require some distance and some emotional detachment for us to see things objectively. A new vantage point will afford us a closer examination at our own weaknesses and to appreciate our own strengths.

On the bus home, I usually reminisce about each day's work. I thank God for the people I met in the new workplace, the new bits of knowledge that I acquired, the different diseases that I never saw in my hospital, the amazing surgical procedures that they were able to accomplish and which we will probably never do in the next few years. I marvel at their technology, their air-conditioned premises, the eminence of their teachers. Over there, the male doctors wear long-sleeved shirts and ties, while in my home-base, my male colleagues would rather wear jeans. There, they have 6 by-pass machines, here we only have 1. They do aneurysm surgeries left and right, peripheral artery bypass is a common procedure. They have Cell-Saver, ECMO, heart-lung machines, all sorts of technology my poor old hospital will never get to afford.

Perhaps I never should have stayed in my home base. The world outside is big. It's much bigger than my UP-PGH.

But I remembered what I had back home. Last night I stayed up late in my office's conference room, while taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi. I was elated over my students' (who are now Tayns' babies because of my absence) awesome performance in a class activity. I reread my favorite teacher's speech and shed tears again. I chatted with some old colleagues and students through Facebook. I spent the night in my callroom and woke up to the sound of the rattling LRT rails. Early this morning, my oldest consultant had me check his emails and his Pubmed account. He also showed me the nth revision of his paper on heart failure and digoxin. I could not leave while he still wanted to talk about the benefits of digitalis, so I left my home-hospital much later than I should.

I am in my home-hospital again, now, as I write. The conference room is in a mess. Tayns is busy printing the students' exam. That annoying duty phone is ringing again. Leora is still typing the echo results. There was a half-eaten chocolate cake on the table. Some small mice are running around, unafraid of the humans in the room. Dave dropped by to watch his telenovela. Junjun is relating how Dr. Abelardo started everybody's morning by exclaiming, "Putang ina! Ang galing ng mge estudyante kahapon!" Sometimes I doubt if this is really the best place to train. This may not be the institution that will make the best cardiologists out of us. We are all tired. We are all underpaid. We may be, just maybe, stuck in the wrong place.

But this is home. And there is no place like it. Definitely, most definitely, this is where I'd rather be.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Inconveniences of Going Solo

I have been traveling around the country for several years already. Aside from affirming my initial notion that this country is indeed breathtakingly beautiful, my journeys along the countrysides have made me realized that this world, this country included, is not at all friendly or the least bit indulgent to the solo traveler.

Take a look at restaurants, for example. No, not even those fancy ones. Pick those cheap, mass-driven fast-food joints such as Jollibee and McDonald's. Whatever branch you visit, there is never a table good only for one person. Even the fast-foods are biased to group customers and couples. Darn couples. Why is it that the best restaurant deals are good for two? Why can't dining be good for one person only?

Due to my chronic lack of travel company, I've been forced to shell out more than what is necessary. Travel packages are for big groups, or at least two people. Hotel rooms, even beach cottages, are for two people. Boat rides, tricycle rides, even hiking guides are priced for couples. Solo travelers like me would have to settle for the chance to hitch with strangers, or if other travelers are not around, we would have to pay a huge extra amount just to be able to get around.

Aside from the ridiculous expense that comes with traveling solo, I occasionally get those annoying Spanish-inquisition looks from the locals. Why does a woman like you travel alone? Are you doing research on our culture? Are you planning to do something crazy (like an abortion or drugs) when you're alone? Are you a nun planning to go on meditation? Do you intend to commit suicide? Sometimes, I get so tired of having to explain my solitude that I just nod and say "yes" to all those questions.

There was this one time, when I was in Samar, I chose to have a huge bottle of San Miguel Beer while I sat on the sand by the beach watching the stars. I was surprised that the caretaker of that deserted resort sent over his female house-help and his 15-year old son to stay within 10 meters from where I was supposed to be getting my epiphanies. When I asked the nice Manang why they weren't in their rooms sleeping, she told me, "Sabi po kasi ni Kuya, baka daw anong gagawin nyo." I ended up talking to her and giving her half my beer.

I am heading to El Nido in Palawan at the end of this month. My favorite travel buddy, J of the McDreamy fame, has vanished to oblivion (as always). My good friend from North Palawan would be stuck in his hospital. In all probability, I will be exploring the most beautiful place in the world alone.

Alone. Alone. Alone. I am that suspicious, solitary entity who will perpetually be stuck outside the rest of the world dreaming, wondering what it would be like to belong to someone other than myself.

Even if it seems unlikely, I do hope that solitude is not my destiny. I do need company. I need someone to dine with, to travel with. To split the expenses with, to share that big beach cottage with. To to talk to when some crazy idea bothers me, to be quiet with. I need someone to listen to when I'm tired of hearing myself talk (which is most of the time). I need someone to walk with in the morning. I need someone to have half my beer.

If there's anyone out there who's interested to tag along, I'd be very grateful. I won't bite. I won't be a burden. I won't usurp your own solitude. We will be as the strings of a lute - we will make good music together because we will stand on our own.

Come on now. I'm not so bad. I am actually nice. I might actually be interesting.

You! Yes, you. Will you come travel with me?