Sunday, April 20, 2008

a dry adventure, for a change

This weekend is my last weekend-off for my entire PGI-ship. Ironically, it's also the first time in a long while that I haven't been to the beach or to a pool. Instead, I found myself participating in a traditional Filipino rite of passage: the tuli. More specifically, I was on the other end of the instruments, the thankfully painless end. A lot of boys are circumcised as infants these days, which I suppose is fine from a health/hygiene point of view. But from my comfortable perch as a girl who wouldn't have to go through it, I think it's kind of sayang when circumcision is done while the baby has no idea it's happening. I have lots of male cousins, and at one time or another I've seen them wearing oversized shirts, pulled forwards at waist level. They had been tearful but proud that they'd had the balls to go through it. It does take a manly sort of bravery to step up to the table, and these guys are all the better for it.

As I will be neck-deep in preparations for my Post-Op conference this Friday, the graduation Wednesday after next, paperwork for as long as it takes, and finally packing up for home, I'm not sure when I'll be able to post again. Not that I couldn't find the time to head for a WiFi hotspot if I wanted to, but I probably wouldn't have the time to think of something to write about. So, in the meantime, here are a few of our recent pictures.

This was when I initially went solo at Lowland. Emma, Jouie, etc.
had already arrived by the time this picture was taken (duh!).
You can almost predict a shark coming and gobbling me up.

the perpetual self-portrait, also at Lowland

preparing the spices for the sinugbang isda at Wuthering Heights

after the Rotary medical mission last week
(Brian, Arlyn, me, Tonet, Dr. Ducay, Dr. Rebaya and Dr. Alo)

Good times with good friends. What more can one ask?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

about a guy

Back in 2002, I met this guy at our church's sacristy. I was preparing for the next Mass, where I was to be one of the readers, and he was there with a classmate. We got to talking, became friends, and he soon enough fulfilled almost all of my criteria for things I disliked in guys: smoked like a chimney, drank like a fish, was in a basketball team (too many female fans), used to be in a band (ditto previous objection). He himself told me all this; in fact, he confided, just the other night, he had drunk quite a bit, got into a fight, been chased by a guy with a knife, and was whisked away in the nick of time by a passing tricycle. (Or was it a taxi?) His mother steadily petitioned the high heavens for a change in her son, but he had skillfully dodged all divine interventions so far.

I was fascinated, despite myself. The matter-of-factness with which he disclosed his faults to someone who had been a complete stranger was disconcerting, and at times overwhelming. Still, I managed to keep a poker face through all his revelations. I can be good at poker faces, when I try.

Over the years, I've learned so much more about him. I've learned he carries so much emotional baggage that it would have been more surprising if he hadn't had any vices. But his love for those who have prayed for him and stood by him is such that he has since managed to quit smoking. As for drinking, I try not to ask, as I am now more likely to cry than to maintain a poker face and thus tend to compromise by launching into a stony silence. (He drinks a lot less now, definitely.)

His father left them when he was just a kid, so, as the eldest son, he had to grow up pretty quick. Even during his troubled years, he tried his best to look after his older sisters and younger brother. Still, he couldn't help feeling that he was loved less than his siblings. As a young child, he attributed it to the fact that he looked a lot like his father. I think he tries not to think about it now, but once in a while, the disparity in affection bestowed on him and his younger brother still crops up in our conversations. His emotional strength now is nothing short of amazing, but there are times when he's just like a lost little kid in need of a big hug.

He reads these blogs once in a while and has remarked on the fact that I haven't written about him. One of these days, don't worry, I'll write something worthy of its subject. This one was just spur of the moment, borne of reflections on how not all of heaven's bullets can be dodged, on how a person can bear so many burdens and still soar, on how there's still a little kid inside all of us.

Across the miles, kid, here's a hug. You've got me.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

all is grace

Ginoo, dili ako angay mokalawat kanimo, apan ipamulong mo lamang ug ma-ayo ako. (Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed.)

These words, spoken in Mass in response to the priest's line: "This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are we who are invited to His banquet," (can't remember the Cebuano line, hehe), was of special significance to me a few hours ago, because I remembered I so nearly wouldn't have been there. I'd inadvertently woken up late from the nap I had taken on arriving at Abby after today's Rotary medical mission. As the last Mass at Immaculate starts at 5:30 PM, and it was already 6 PM, I thought it would be another one of those Sundays when I'd fail to attend church.

Those Sundays had become more frequent since starting internship the year before last. I'd always been one of those persons who thought that there was something seriously wrong with you if you can't spare one hour of your week -- just one hour, out of the 168 -- for Mass, so the fact that I had acquired the habit of occasionally skipping church upsets me. My mother generously attributed it to the exhaustion of hospital duty, but, c'mon, not even just 1 out of 168? Exhaustion as an excuse just doesn't fly. Where there's a will, there's a way, as they say, and I suspected I was losing that will.

Thankfully, though, this Sunday, when I'd all but given up on hearing Mass, Jouie asked me if I wanted to come with her, Laurjie and Arlyn to the Cathedral. It turns out there was a 7 PM Mass, which we could just catch if we hurried. So...I was able to attend church.

But I nearly hadn't. If it hadn't been for Jouie, I wouldn't have. If I really wanted to catch the 5:30 at Immaculate, I think I could have. For one, I could have set the alarm (I didn't). After all, it wasn't as if that was the first time that that had happened to me. I was afraid my faith, or at least my discipline towards my faith, was drying up. If it was, if I didn't have the resolve necessary to devote just an hour of my time, then heaven help me. How was I going to fight temptation, "know, love and serve God," live for God's greater glory, and all that?

But there is such thing is grace. And grace was what enabled me this Sunday to hear Mass, when my resolve failed. It was, I believe, the grace of God that prompted Jouie to ask me if I wanted to hear Mass with them, the grace of God that keeps reining me in when I so often start to go astray.

That, I think, is the most beautiful thing about Christianity, that in the end it's all about God's grace. In the end, it really isn't enough that you try to be the person that God wants you to be, that you try to live according to His will. Of course you have to try and act on your faith, but at some point, you will fail. And that's where grace comes in. Grace is when God says, "Here, let me do it." Grace is the love of God for you being bigger than all your sins and all your imperfections. And it doesn't matter whether your sins are "small" or the size of Everest, whether they're few or TNTC. (Too numerous to count, for the nonhospital people out there.) "Where sin abounds, grace overflows." (Or something...I'm not that accurate a quoter, hehe.) Of course, if you can help it, you might as well try to sin less. But it doesn't matter, in the end. Heaven is all or none. Whether you're 1/2 or 1/3 or 1/1ooo of the person God wants you to be, His grace will make you whole. His love will get the entire you to heaven.

A few years ago, I prayed to God, "Don't let go of me." I knew, weak as I was, human that I am, there were bound to be times that I would falter in my faith, that I would stumble and not have the strength to get back up. So I prayed that, in those moments, even if my soul was so lost that I couldn't even think of praying, God would remember my earlier prayer. "Don't let go of me, and if I didn't have the strength to take Your proffered hand then grab my wrist, and don't let me go, please." That was my prayer years ago, and I think today's experience proves that He heard me, and hears me still, and remembers my plea.

And to all those who let themselves be God's instruments in keeping me in the palm of His hands, thank you. You don't know how much just a simple invitation can be life-changing.

Monday, April 7, 2008


Lucy stumbled into Narnia while playing hide and seek in an old house; I, while rummaging through titles in a used books sale in Limketkai. Out of the 7 books, I found and bought three -- Prince Caspian, The Silver Chair, and The Last Battle -- for just P45 each. Not a bad price for an introduction into the World that completely changed mine.

Since that serendipitous encounter with those old books, I've always secretly wished I was a Narnian. Or rather, I secretly think I am a Narnian, like that tree in Professor Kirke's garden whose branches would sway whenever there was a breeze in Narnia, the tree that would later be made into the wardrobe that the Pevensie children would later enter (um...Narnia read the Chronicles, do!).

Prince Caspian, the second Narnia movie, is coming out this summer. Just to whet your appetites, here are a few lines from the book:


"Welcome, Prince," said Aslan. "Do you feel yourself sufficient to take up the Kingship of Narnia?"

"I - I don't think I do, Sir," said Caspian. "I'm only a kid."

"Good," said Aslan. "If you had felt yourself sufficient, it would have been a proof that you were not. Therefore, under us and under the High King, you shall be King of Narnia, Lord of Cair Paravel, and Emperor of the Lone Islands. You and your heirs while your race lasts."


"You, Sir Caspian," said Aslan, "might have known that you could be no true King of Narnia unless, like the Kings of old, you were a son of Adam and came from the world of Adam's sons. And so you are.Many years ago in that world, in a deep sea of that world which is called the South Sea, a shipload of pirates were driven by storm on an island. And there they did as pirates would: killed the natives and took the native women for wives, and made palm wine, and drank and were drunk, and lay in the shade of the palm trees, and woke up and quarrelled, and sometimes killed one another. And in one of these frays six were put to flight by the rest and fled with their women into the centre of the island and up a mountain, and went, as they thought, into a cave to hide. But it was one of the magical places of that world, one of the chinks or chasms between chat world and this. There were many chinks or chasms between worlds in old times, but they have grown rarer. This was one of the last: I do not say the last. And so they fell, or rose, or blundered, or dropped right through, and found themselves in this world, in the Land of Telmar which was then unpeopled. But why it was unpeopled is a long story: I will not tell it
now. And in Telmar their descendants lived and became a fierce and proud people; and after many generations there was a famine in Telmar and they invaded Narnia, which was then in some disorder (but that also would be a long story), and conquered it and ruled it. Do you mark all this well, King Caspian?"

"I do indeed, Sir," said Caspian. "I was wishing that I came of a more honourable lineage."

"You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve," said Aslan. "And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content."


Saturday, April 5, 2008

trees, and the boulevard of broken dreams

I'll be leaving Dumaguete in about a month, and I don't know if I'll come back.

This may be the first time in my life that I have absolutely no idea what's going to happen to me, what I'm gonna do, where I'm gonna go. The plans I've made only extend as far as May 13, the last day I'll spend in Bangkok, a mere-impulse trip Ria and I dreamed up several months ago. I don't even know if, come May 15, I'll be attending review classes in CIM. It's just not my thing man gud. I don't know whether I'll take the board exams this August or next February pa. And if I do pass, I don't know whether mag-I.M. ko or mag-FamMed, and anhi ba ko sa Dumaguete magtrain or in Cebu or somewhere else. For sure I can't picture myself in Manila, but then, just a few years ago, I couldn't picture myself being a doctor either.

Hayy... Can I just be a writer na lang? Wouldn't it be cool spending all your time in coffee shops and have people hanging on every word you say? (Hehe, kind of like Chofi's EBO compatibility. Hehehe!) But then, if I wasn't a doctor, what would I write about? Earrings? (Long story. Lots of inside jokes in this particular blog, sorry.)

The thing to do, I guess, is to make the most of every moment I have left, in this place that has come to mean so much to me.

What I'll miss most, perhaps, are walks along the Boulevard and along Silliman's tree-lined roads. I've begun to understand why Ver says he'll only marry a Sillimanian, someone (according to his logic) who's sure to appreciate Nature, the spirit of which is intensely palpable in the trees dotting the campus. (Jet and Lei, mao na'ng wala na gyud ta'y pag-asa ni Ver hahaha kay aside from dili ta niwang and slim ug legs, dili pa jud ta taga-Silliman, hahaha!)

I guess it does take a certain compatibility of spirit to appreciate trees and waves and stars. The stars! Whenever I come home late at night, and I look up at the open sky above Silliman, I always feel the urge to grab a picnic blanket and just lie down in the field and look up at the stars. (Oh, all right! I'm a part-time weirdo.) And walks in the Boulevard... There's something about the majesty of the trees and the fury of the waves and just walking and talking that brings a serenity to the soul.

Whether I come back or not, I guess a piece of my heart will always remain here.

Friday, April 4, 2008


(alternatively titled 76 and proud of it)

In my evaluation form for a certain specialty rotation, one of the residents had given me a score of 76 out of a 100%. Did I have any idea why? I was asked. Did we have an altercation of any sort, any fallout, or did I do something, anything, to get her mad at me?

I honestly had no idea. I cordially disliked her, but that was about it. On principle, I was still polite to her and still made an effort to smile at her whenever our paths crossed. Di lang gyud nako makaya ang small talk and exchanging pleasantries, but neither was I rude to her.

There must be something, they said. I'd gotten one of the lowest scores in our batch from that particular resident, and even if I had received good enough marks from the other residents, the 76 was pulling my average down.

It's okay, I said.


It was okay.

Grades were perhaps important in second grade, where a 100 in an exam meant a new Nancy Drew book. They were important in college, so I could maintain my Oblation scholarship. (Hahaha! Nag-name-drop gyud ko sa, hehe! Actually, ang ako lang point is that if I was smart enough to get an Oblation scholarship, then a one-time grade of 76 can't really do that much to scratch my self-esteem, even if my whole idea of self-worth was based on my grades, which it isn't. That's why a 76, in and of itself, was okay.) And grades were important in med school, because a semester's tuition fee was so high, I literally couldn't afford to fail.

Still, the whole thing was kind of a bummer. Was my performance in (oh, why be coy?) OB-GYN really just worth 76? What's ironic is that people's immediate reactions were in the line of: what did I do to tick her off? It is perhaps to my credit that no one asked if I really had been such a lousy labor watcher. Hehe, um, let's see, what did I do? Mmm...mmm...dedicate a whole blog to her controversial remarks, maybe? ;-) But she couldn't be one of my avid readers...could she?!

76. If I really didn't care, why am I writing about it?

Because if I didn't deserve a grade like that (and the other OB residents didn't seem to think so), then it's just horribly mean to give it to me. And therefore she's just hurt herself more than she could possibly hurt me.

Because in the drama called the medical profession, you get to come across a lot of people you can't just get. I mean, what's with all the bitterness? What's with the I'm-a-resident-and-you're-just-an-intern-and-I-don't-sink-to-your-level attitudes? There are divas, there are hypocrites. You try to make allowances. You try to tell yourself, maybe they're like that because of all the hardships they went through while they were training. It's almost an acceptable explanation, but then you catch sight of those on the other end of the spectrum. There are brilliant consultants who don't mind if you ask them stupid questions, who don't put on airs, who unselfishly pass on the secrets of their trade to you. There are residents who don't mind getting themselves dirty, who don't act like it's beneath them to help you out when the work gets toxic, who try their best to understand when you have shortcomings because they were themselves once interns, and who aren't stingy when it comes to showing their appreciation when you do something right. And you wonder, how come they aren't mean or bitter? And you begin to think, maybe it's all really just a matter of batasan.

I'm trying to think that maybe I just really deserved that 76. Maybe that was just her honest evaluation of my work. Maybe she wasn't at all being vengeful. For all I know, maybe she doesn't have one mean bone in her body.

But if she was being mean, then she picked the wrong way to hurt me. Because I know myself. I know I wasn't a slacker when I was in OB. She could have given me a 26, and pulled my average rating down to abyssmal depths, and that still wouldn't have hurt me, because I know the truth.

You see, there's something we all have to know about the truth: nothing we do or say changes it. One plus one is two, and even if Einstein were to say it's eleven or some other genius says it's ten thousand, it would still be two. In the same manner, even if we all said there is no God, we wouldn't be able to negate His existence. Because some things are absolute.

I know I'm not our batch's most outstanding intern. Even if all the residents had given me 99% and named me M.O.I., I still wouldn't be the most outstanding, because I'm not, and that's the truth. Brian has the better attitude, Chofi is smarter, Tonette is nicer, Sherwin is more pleasant to work with and delivers lab results better ("CBC showed..."). Hehe.

Some things are absolute, like truth, and the existence of a God who loves us and cares for us. In a world where the outlook of our day is often changed in an instant by the mere moods and whims of others, it helps to know that some things don't -- thank God, CAN'T -- change.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Whenever I heard anyone say, back in high school, that we should make the most of our high school years because these were gonna be the best years of our life, waves of despair would wash over me. Are they serious? Could life actually get worse?

I look back at my childhood with contentment and happiness, because it generally was a happy childhood, and I'm content with how everything turned out. But I have to admit, I wouldn't want to go through it again. It's difficult to explain, but when I was a kid, I always had the feeling that I was out of place. I was always struggling to belong. It wasn't anybody's fault: no one, at least as far as I know, made any conscious effort to be unkind to me, or to make me feel unwelcome. But there I was, always outside; trying not to care, but always looking in.

Being a smart kid was partly to blame, I guess. When you're good at your subjects, people tend to interpret your behavior accordingly. I was good in school AND I was a quiet kid, so people thought I was "serious." It was a label I hated but couldn't get rid of. I didn't know what to do. I often couldn't relate to what my cousins would talk about. If I didn't say anything, they would say stuff like, "Tingog pod nganha Gay oy," which is, in my opinion, the most silence-inducing phrase in the entire universe. I would try to join in, of course, but the more I tried to convince them that I belonged, the more I ended up convincing myself that I didn't. People were just being nice, of course, but it didn't help being pressured to come up with witty conversation.

In Elementary, being on the honor roll meant I rubbed elbows with the honor roll people. But that just accentuated my feeling of not quite belonging. Unlike the other smart kids, I hadn't gone to Kinder or Prep. I wasn't pretty. None of the boys had a crush on me. I didn't have an older brother or sister also attending CIC. I wasn't rich, I didn't live in a village, and I didn't have a Spanish-sounding surname. Even back then, I knew those things weren't the important things in life, and I didn't care too much, actually, at least not to a debilitating extent. But to a kid trying to fit in, sometimes, it's the unimportant things that matter.

One thing I won't forget about elementary, though: a friend of mine had the idea of forming a "gang," kind of like the Unicorns in the Sweet Valley Twins series. We called ourselves the "Pink Panthers" hehehehehe! I was 8 years old at that time, and my mother totally freaked out when I told her I was in a gang.

High school definitely wasn't the best time of my life. I belonged to a group of popular people, and I was the least popular of them all. Do you know how annoying that can be? People still thought of me as "serious." And the same insecurities hounded me: not pretty enough, not rich enough, no boys sending me letters and asking me if we can talk. Hehehe! It all sounds silly now, but people tend to be, in high school. Once, in a fit of depression, I found an outdated Psychology book, diagnosed myself with existential neurosis, and made one of the most life-changing decisions in my life: I would study Psychology in college.

Life-changing, because it was as a Psychology student that I gradually became comfortable with the person that I was and the person people thought me to be. Some people still thought I was "serious," but I began to realize that it didn't really matter that much what people thought. And at any rate there was nothing wrong about being serious. Sometimes I was and sometimes I wasn't. I'd developed a foolproof strategy for surviving conversations: if I didn't have anything to say, then I didn't say anything. Friendship, I read somewhere, is when silence between two people grows comfortable. If I couldn't be silent with someone, I reasoned, then we weren't really friends. So there.

College wasn't totally spared of angst, of course. But for the first time in my life, I felt I really belonged. For the first time, it wasn't about belonging with people, necessarily, but just being where you're meant to be. I was in UP, where people went to school in shorts and slippers, where norms were challenged, and it was cool not to give a damn about what other people thought of you. I was in Psych, where one learns to accept oneself, where similarities were enjoyed and differences were celebrated. I was with friends, with whom I still keep in touch today. I particularly remember one Christmas time, when we were doing bunot-bunot and a friend of mine guessed who my manito was just by looking at the expression on my face. She wasn't, like, my closest friend, and I wasn't hers, and the expression on my face wasn't that dramatic, but I remember thinking, "Wow, someone really knows ME."(Bingbing, by the way, is getting married this year, woohoo!!)

One grows up, eventually. One moves on, and all the anxieties and dramas of the past become something to laugh at, stories to inspire, or simply fodder for reminiscence. This one, in particular, was prompted by a blog I read recently (click on "Dr. Ducay" at the upper right portion of this page). The most insecure kid can become the most competent, likable and happy adult, and who's to say she would have become who she is now if she hadn't been what she was in the past?

For my part, I can say that if I hadn't known what it's like to be "on the outside looking in," I wouldn't have appreciated as much where I am right now: neither outside, nor inside, but just simply where I'm meant to be.