Five Year Love Affair

WP 5 years

Today is my fifth year anniversary of blogwriting. My love affair for words written and/or spoken has always been a source of comfort, catharsis and coherence.

So imagine my surprise when WordPress granted me a virtual trophy for persevering with my occasional writer’s block. Like a milestone for transitioning from being an okay writer to a bit more okay one. One step at a time.

Here’s to a deluge of years of writing, hopefully with passion, depth, meaning, wit and love.

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A Promise is Always a Promise

Note to self. Remember your promise during Crossroads.

God honors your agreement. God takes you up on your word.

When you find it hard not to look back, always remember to look up.

Look up and shift your gears toward God. He sees everything: your efforts, your failures, your successes, your perseverance, your hardship, your frustrations, your joy, your dreams.

What about your love for Him?

Learn to fully trust in Him.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” -Isaiah 55:8-9

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord.” -Jeremiah 29:11a

 

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Student In Charge

The SIC. One can always read it in the doctors’ order sheet, like some monotonous voice of an unseen robot giving out instructions.

“SIC to complete database for patient information.”

“SIC to refer patient to SAPOD, IDS, TB DOTS. Inform service once with labs.”

“Highly appreciate SIC efforts!”

In the world of the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital, SIC means student in charge. He/ she is either a clerk or an intern. Each one is assigned a number of patients to be monitored for any progress in health management. It goes without saying that the doctors’ orders must be followed and carried out. Without fail, or else.

So when the textpass came that all classes in Manila were cancelled due to inclement weather, Clerk Villa shrugged it off. Class suspensions did not really apply to us anymore. We were waterproof. The dedicated mermen and mermaids of UP-PGH. I continued with my battle gear preparation for perfect storms such as this one: the boots my Daddy bought for me, a functional jacket, a sturdy umbrella and my indispensable, ever-reliable duty bag. Off I wade into the high waters of Taft Avenue!

Oh it was such fun wading the waters with my boots on! I crossed the then ankle-deep muddy water of Taft Avenue with the strong winds slapping against me. Without fear. Without hesitation. I felt so privileged, confident that my feet would always be dry and my white pants unstained. This must be a semblance of what the Israelites felt when the Red Sea parted for them and they walked on dry land right through it. Amazing.

I arrived in the Orthopedics ward (unscathed) to see my patients and check up on the latest doctors’ orders.

I have four patients so far. Two of them have undergone below-the-elbow amputation on the right forearm because of a cancerous mass or a complicated extrapulmonary tuberculosis lesion. They are happy and relieved to be going home on Sunday, partly because they have no money to spend anymore. One is a 15 year old kid who has bilateral clubfeet that makes it hard for him to walk and relate because of the seeming disfigurement of appearance. My last patient has gone home already. He’s my age, and his fracture on the left leg necessitated that an external fixator (Ilizarov) be put on for proper bone healing. It looks like this one:

Ilizarov

Why am I writing this?

Because upon arriving in Ward 8, I am not surprised to see my blockmates, even those who are not on duty, doing their SIC work. I am not surprised to see my classmates in UP College of Medicine Class 2016 walking along the dark and cold hallways of PGH, entering their designated wards to do what they are tasked to do. Getting the latest lab results for their patients. Endorsing needed requirements to facilitate patient healing with fellow clerks. Bad weather or good. Even if they feel like doing it or not.

I am not surprised, but I am amazed all the same.

I honor the clerks, the interns, the doctors, the nurses, the utility workers, the lab technicians, the medical technicians. Being a health professional is a sacrifice. It is not easy and at times it is most inconvenient.

But the joy of serving the patients. No one can take that from us. I would like to quote my fellow clerk, Doi Infante, on his beautiful insight after a tiring duty:

“Did my rounds early this morning after a toxic 24-hour duty, and found out that one of my patients will be discharged today. All the exhaustion seemed to fade away when Lola said, “ma-mimiss ko kayo, doc!”

It may not seem much, but it made me smile.”

Doing my rounds despite the weather may not seem much, but the Lord designed my heart to bask in the joy of seeing my patients heal and get better.

A simple thank you from a worried mother, a smile of acceptance from a sick old man, even seeing the healing wound of a quiet child. These incidental forms of appreciation make us feel more human after executing the must-be-done-without-fail orders churning out from that unseen mechanized robot voice.

Class suspensions don’t really apply to us SICs anymore. Bad weather or good, we go to the hospital, do our thing, and hope that at the end of the day, our patients get better. That at the end of the day, the things we do for our patients eventually teach us to become good doctors with kind hearts, willing to cross Taft (or Pedro Gil) even if it morphs into a monster of a river.

Clerk 157

Each medical student has his or her own class number corresponding to the surnames’ alphabetical arrangement. I am 157 out of the 162. I am one of the people who belong to the last block, occupy the farthest of the locker spaces, and can be at peace when it comes to graded recitations because my surname’s a kind of a charm for starting with the letter V. Teachers call us last, and the questions are not so difficult by then.

“V as in Victory po,” I tell the lady who writes “Billa” on my health record.

“B as in Bictory?” she asks. I make the peace sign and she gets it.

Being the 157th clerk in our batch in UP College of Medicine Class 2016, however, affords no perks or points whatsoever. All of us have to be trained under the rigors and pressures of UP-PGH so we can be the best doctors of and for the country. No way out but through, unless one quits.

And by God’s grace, I finished my first month of clerkship and am currently on my third department rotation assignment in Orthopedics (specialty for bone diseases). Such happiness! After assessing numerous distressed patients, extracting bright red blood for tests, coaxing shy veins to appear for intravenous lining, writing on dozens of patient charts for disease management, presenting different cases of diseases to consultants and residents, toxic 24 hour duties, busy nights at the Emergency Room, sleeping on the ER bench to catch up some needed rest, doctors’ rounds at 12 in the morning, bloodied uniforms while taking care of vehicular crash patients, studying medical books despite the tiredness and hunger and lack of sleep because in the morning a patient’s case will be presented to a senior doctor, etc.

Busy life. And I only have Ophthalmology (Eye), Otorhinolaryngology (Ear, Nose, Throat) and Orthopedics (Bones) under my list of clerkship experience.

No, I am not ranting. I write this to try to make sense of everything, as a thanksgiving, because despite the sacrifices I choose to make while living my doctor dreams, I can honestly say I love what I do. I love where I am now, and I cannot see myself as anything except as a doctor, to be working anywhere except in a hospital. I love the action and challenge of learning about my patients’ lives and their diseases, of being inspired by the excellence my mentors, senior residents and consultants display, of being an instrument of God to care for and heal His people.

Sacrifices are part and parcel of this profession. I am home from my 24 hour duty to find the apartment empty. I see my younger brother a lot less now. With my schedule intertwined with the hospital, there are family parties I cannot attend, CYA and Phi activities I cannot join, sleep that should have its maximum to three hours only. My free time has become a prized leisure time: first for the Lord, for catching up with my family, for studying, for eating, for taking care of myself when I don’t take care of patients. My dinner tonight is my first meal of the day. I am tired from duty and I opted to sleep rather than eat.

Everyday, I still choose to wake up at 4:30 in the morning to pray. I’d be insane if I don’t have God to be with me as He molds me to be His image of a best doctor. Like clay in a potter’s hand, I pray that God bless me with the grace to strengthen my faith in Him. That amid the tiring, sacrificial and sometimes frustrating life of a clerk, I can find in Him the peace of mind, the satisfaction of heart and the grace to deny myself, to take up the big and small crosses and follow Him. He is always there for me to be my number one mentor. He is, after all, the greatest physician of the whole wide universe.

Nine months to go. Lord, reveal Yourself. Open the eyes of my heart. I offer my clerkship year for Your Glory.

Silence

He does not know his surname.

Robert* is an eight year old boy who has a body of a five year old: short in stature and very thin his bones seem to stick out from the sockets. He is very quiet.

“Ako, Villa ang apelyido ko. Sa’yo, ano?” I urged him on. He wouldn’t even look at me in the eye. The only answer I got was a shrug, telling me he didn’t know.

Interviewing Pediatric patients can be very difficult, especially if the child does not want to talk. Trust for a child is a big issue, and establishing good rapport with Robert is my priority above anything else.

I proceeded with measuring his oxygen saturation and pulse rate through my pulse oximeter in his finger. His interest was piqued when he saw bright green numbers coming to life in the little black monitor of the gadget. When I removed the gadget, he drifted off in his own world again as he looked at me warily from time to time.

Since this was a dermatological mission, I asked Robert if it was okay for him if I lifted his T-shirt to inspect his skin. He nodded. My worst fear was confirmed.

There, spread all over his tummy, were numerous circular scars the size of cigarette butts. Some were even overlapping. His back also harbored a few of these scars. Several of the lesions could be seen on his extremities, the shape of which I couldn’t imagine what the cause was.

I inspected his ears closely, wondering if he couldn’t hear me because he didn’t answer most of my questions. From the outside, solidified ear wax could be easily seen clumped in both his ear canals.

Then a caregiver from the institution went to me and explained Robert’s case. He was found abandoned outside Quiapo Church last year. A concerned citizen brought him to a local hospital because he was so weak he was drifting in and out of consciousness. He couldn’t even stand on his own. He was referred for adoption in the institution where he was now in on the eve of Christ’s birthday, December 24.

The caregiver told me they wanted a specialist to examine Robert’s head. They were afraid his hearing might be affected by a possible head injury.

In one week’s time I have seen two Pediatric patients who suffered from the hands of their own parents. The other one was a nine month old baby hit by a bottle of gin on the face.

It was heartbreaking. I had to take a moment or two to steady myself, prevent the tears from spilling out and take deep breaths before facing Robert again.

As a medical student, I have a lot to learn in this profession. There are many things I still do not know and understand yet, even in the aid of Harrison’s, William’s, Katzung, Nelson’s, Schwartz, etc.

But the kind of human behavior that inflicts violence on innocent children escapes my understanding. Incomprehensible. Unacceptable.

Seeing Robert and the children who have borne the brunt of their parents’ weaknesses makes me realize that there are a lot of them who have no voice. No voice to protest against the violence that threatens their very lives.

*Name changed for protection

PERSONalities

I am a hawk.

Others are peacock, owl or dove.

That’s what CYA LEAP had for us this afternoon. Kuya Paolo talked about different personality tendencies that would help in maximizing human resource and in minimizing potential conflicts.

I am just so happy because the Lord affirmed my decision to “make buno.” And by “making buno,” I mean to endure the awkwardness and discomfort of going out of your comfort zone.

Earlier this afternoon, I poured my heart out in a blog entry about the irritating and uncomfortable effort by which I had to adjust. I could have been okay in Phi. Or in medicine. Or in my not-so-holy life.

But God has other plans for me. So I have to follow. I want to follow.

What happened during LEAP was amazing. I really appreciated the insights which I could summarize through the following points:

1. Awareness. Be aware of your tendencies.
2. Acceptance. Accept your personality and that of others.
3. Adjustment. Adjust. If you can and you know how to, be the one to adjust. It’s better that way. A sis in Phi, Dr. Girlie Teotico-Ching, also told me the same message. It is better for you to adjust if you can, if you know how, with the person who needs adjusting to.

The first two points are a requisite for the third. But I think the third point, Adjustment, is the most important.

Before CYA, I had a serious conflict with someone where I felt I was the one who adjusted big time. As in big time. Dr. Girlie supported my decision, and she told me golden lesson #3: adjustment. All the while when I was adjusting, I was screaming “unfair” at the top of my imaginary emotional lungs. I felt I was the one being underhanded, being screwed up by someone who had the skill of shrugging off problems that should be solved by the both of us.

Looking back, the Lord revealed to me that I did the right thing, even if I felt strongly against it.

Similar situations where I am doing the Lord’s will and strongly feeling against it (the nonexistent love life), or is very unsure about it (other life areas), crop up today. Giving up the love life to anchor myself deeply in the Lord, joining CYA, being in CYA, immersing myself in CYA whenever my schedule permits it to bond with brothers and sisters (this time conscious about taking care of my Phi relationships), academic requirements where I am scolded by my adviser, et cetera. Et cetera. Et cetera.

And I find myself complaining to God again. Whining it’s unfair to be in these situations. Unfair that I am adjusting when I could have been comfortable not adjusting, especially when I have Medicine to deal with. I seriously think like a kid sometimes, it’s disturbing! God may think so. After all, I asked for these wonderful and loving changes.

I remember how the Israelites are in Exodus. They complain so badly that it takes them 40 years to reach a land that could have been reached much earlier if they only followed the will of the Lord. Then the Lord strikes them and they turn into stone. Scary.

I am grateful God is patient with me. He constantly makes ways for me to see His insights, to see His will in my everyday life. He reminds me of His promises, that He leads His people away from Egypt and into the promised land. He is patient with me because He knows that I find it hard to completely surrender to Him.

The Lord takes His time. His timing is always, always perfect. He is concerned about who I become in my journey of faith with Him. And if adjustment is what it takes, then through Jesus Christ, I can and will adjust.

“Can I not do with you what this potter does? As clay in the potter’s hand so are you in my hands.” -Jeremiah 18:6

“Finally, everything is for your good, so that grace will come more abundantly upon you, and great will be the thanksgiving for the glory of God.” -Romans 8:28

“So strive with greatest determination and increase your faith with strength, strength with knowledge, knowledge with moderation, moderation with constancy, constancy with piety, piety with fraternal love, fraternal love with charity. If all these riches are in you so as to abound in you, you will not be idle and useless; you will rather be rooted in the knowledge of Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore brothers and sisters, strive more and more to respond to the call of God who chose you. If you do so, you will never stumble.” -2 Peter 1: 5-8, 10

Thank you Lord for your love. Thank you for CYA, for Phi, for my family, for my education, for my friends, for the many blessings you have showered upon me. Most of all, thank you for the grace of having you as my God, for the grace of being your witness and your child.

What is right and what is good

What an amazing, God-filled day!

This afternoon, I watched Cinemalaya’s Hari ng Tondo with CYA sister Mauee, then headed toward Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf along Vito Cruz to study with Jhing Talan.

I was in the presence of committed and disciplined board exam reviewees the whole afternoon, so I grabbed the opportunity to read a spiritual book to pass the time. We were reading from 3pm until 730pm. Straight. No breaks in between (CR breaks were, however, acceptable).

Then we ate dinner at Wai Ying, a small but packed Chinese food outlet with good food and okay service.

It was the conversation during dinner that really made me appreciate more the love of CYA sisters. God made sure I could hear His voice through these beautiful people. Their goodness and their commitment to love as the Lord had done always inspired me. To get straight to the point, I was reminded of the following as I talked with them that made me love God more and to commit to what is right and good:

  • A trial can be a good challenge if it brings you closer to God, and you seek His will amid the hurt and pain it causes. It’s a good challenge. It encourages you to get out of the boat and walk on water towards Jesus. Always towards Jesus. And that perspective of truth is given by God when I asked Him to increase my faith and show me the right path.
  • Gossiping and backfighting are always, always bad. No matter how small they are, if it leads you away from God and what He made you to be, then do without it.
  • Commit to what is right and good, according to God’s will. Do it even if the whole world thinks you are corny or OA or wrong. Commit to God’s ways and you can never go wrong.
  • Love the way God has made you to love. Care the way you know how to care. Just love, because God has loved you first.
  • It’s okay to make mistakes in relationships. You will learn the balance in time and by His grace.
  • Be better. Be better for God.
  • Be generous! Love generously!

I could still write so much but the words describing the splendor of what God made me realize just fell short. Someday I wish to write almost exactly as if that wonderful moment– complete with its own colors, feelings, love, warmth and clarity of God’s truths– were frozen and poised steadily just so I could write them to my heart’s content. A heart-stopping moment. A breathtaking moment. A God moment.

Someday, Lord. Someday. 🙂 For now, all I could do is be grateful. And to love you with all of me.

 

Faith at forty thousand feet

Shuttling to and from Manila for eight years now has never really assuaged the temporary heartbreak of leaving my true home– my family in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan.

So it didn’t come as a surprise when last night, on the eve of my departure, the loneliness and anxiety of being on my own again broke like a dam. I cried silently (and copiously) on my father’s shoulder as he locked me in his arms in a tender embrace, telling me it’s going to be okay. The tears stained a small puddle in his blue collared, cottony shirt. We held each other like that for quite a long time while my mother got busy preparing her clothes for packing.

I was crying not only out of loneliness, but also for the sadness I imagine my father would feel. My mother would be coming with me to Manila. She was accepted for Masters in Hotel, Restaurant and Institution Management in UP Diliman. A prestigious feat indeed, as UP’s MHRIM placed 19th in world rankings.

The house would be a lot quieter now. Too quiet. Too different.

I kept talking to God in my heart. Hear, Lord. Here, Lord. You were close to the brokenhearted.

I was lucky I got into the plane’s window seat.

I stared out the window, drinking in the greenery that assured me I was still in my hometown. At least for a few minutes. It became long stretches of green mixed with gray pavement as the plane accelerated with hurtling speed.

Then a bird of white came flying along. It stretched the full expanse of its wings and flew on with calm and unperturbed purpose, as if mimicking the plane beside it. It was an egret, a common bird sighted lounging along the green banks of the airport.

The blue sky emerged with splotched clouds as the nose turned heavenward. The egret was gone.

And the message of the Lord came to me. Not in glorious epiphanies or heart-rending realizations. It was simple, clear and true:

I will never abandon you.

I assure you, even the egret is well taken cared of. How much more will I take care of you, my daughter?

He knows what I am going through. And He is with me.

As if that was not enough, the Lord showed another promise.

Out into the fluffy cumulus clouds, above the blue sea and the fringes of the city life that begin to come alive from the land of Manila below, I see a most delightful thing.

There, at least forty thousand feet on air, is God’s promise manifested.

A rainbow. With its ends anchored in clouds of white.

rainbow_in_the_clouds_l