OUR class president, Jonas Bico, for whom I have the highest respect, told us that he has been having difficulty sleeping these past few days. He thinks a lot about the upcoming Boards, a preoccupation many of us share, an incessant personal battle waged with feelings of dread and worry and hope. He sleeps in the wee hours of the morning, only to find himself waking up again to a day closer to August 23. Our diagnosis: PTSD.
Pre-traumatic Stress Disorder. That's not included in the DSM-V yet, but it will be in the sixth.
. . .
HIS reply, via SMS, when I told him I had written about him:
THE SIGHT of my classmate Al sitting in a zen-like state at the Student Lounge the entire day reminds me of how many of us are creatures of habit. We may hate routine, but there is a sense in which all of us have been programmed to follow a certain order of things. We have the suprachiasmatic nucleus in our brain, the part that dictates our body clock. We have habits we can't do away with easily, like coffee. Some can't move on with their lives without taking a dump first. We are, indeed, funny creatures of habit—a fascinating fact given that we often complain of the drudgery of our existence.
Al likes his spot; it doesn't make him sleepy. Meanwhile I study in the library because I like being surrounded by books. These past days, whenever I take bathroom breaks—and I do it a lot (diabetes insipidus, perhaps?)—I make it a point to say hi to him (his spot is very near the toilet), just to remind him that there's a world outside of books. He seems to like the routine, but like everyone else I've talked to, he wants the Boards to be over. I'm not sure I do.
I AM, in a sense, back to the old grind. I have exhausted my tolerance for coffee shops, my room, the kitchen, or my favorite Dunkin Donuts store that serves excellent coffee. I will probably miss the cold airconditioning or the funny waiters who already know my name or what I will order. But there is a comfort in being with like-minded friends opening similar books or discussing similar problems or sharing similar mnemonics (the weirder, the better). The Boards is just a few days away. I will find myself huddled in a quiet corner at the Med Library today, surrounded by journals and books written when I wasn't around yet—or better yet, by friends who, like me, have tons of materials waiting to be read and highlighted. The day is long. May God be our strength.
THE LAST story in Jhumpa Lahiri's collection, Interpreter of Maladies, is “The Third and Final Continent.” It's a befitting conclusion to an eloquent and honest piece of literary work, something that earned Lahiri the Pulitzer Prize, among other awards.
A man from India sails to London in 1964. He eventually decides to move to America after he scores a job in the processing department of an MIT library. At 36 years old (not a bad age), he gets married to someone named Mila, whom he hardly knows (not so bad, either). As with many marriages in India, theirs was arranged. Mila is still in India. She will be stepping on American soil in a few weeks.
I READ Psalm 5 this morning. The first verse goes, “Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my groaning.” I haven't been groaning exactly, but I've had my moments of doubt and anxiety, not just about my upcoming exams, but about what I'd do with my life. I've come up with a plan, of course, something I've shared with close family and friends. But what if my plans don't materialize? What then? I've realized that my anxieties are borne out of my forgetting that God's hand isn't too short, that He is in control, that He is powerful, that He is deeply involved in the personal affairs of His children. Anxiety exposes so much of how I distrust Him. Jesus cautions his disciples in Matthew 5, “Do not worry.” In a sense He is saying, “There's no point in worrying too much because I am in control.”
THE SHORT story being my favorite literary form, I picked Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies just a few weeks before my licensure exams. As a reader I've realized these past years that, yes, the best stories for me are those that resonate with my personal experiences.
DURING PRAYER TIME this morning, I talked to a college engineering freshman seated near me. We were prayer partners for 15 minutes. After saying our hellos (it was the first time I spoke to him), I asked that he pray for me as I prepare for the upcoming board exams. His prayer couldn't have been more appropriate. I smiled, grateful, as he prayed with eyes closed, “Lord, tulungan niyo po si Kuya Lance sa kanyang pag-rereview. Sana hindi po siya makatulog.” Thanks, Renzo. I was really encouraged.
DAVID ROBERTSON'S The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths has been an interesting read for me. I just finished it this morning. The book is a calculated, well thought-out, intelligent, and respectful collection of letters geared towards debunking the "myths" espoused by the renowned atheist Dr. Richard Dawkins. Robertson appeals to logic, not to emotion—but he, too, gets emotional, especially when he takes offense in atheism's misconstrued notion of God (or His existence). Towards the end of the book, Robertson wrote:
I LIKE history and how it mirrors many of our country's woes. I follow Ambeth Ocampo's Looking Back column with the interest of a showbusiness fanatic. I have a few friends who are history buffs, as well—for instance, Joseph Brazal who took me to the National Museum when we had nothing else to do in med school; and JP Asong, who, despite being a lawyer now, still has history as his first love.
MY NON-ACADEMIC READING for the week is The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths by David Robertson.
David Robertson is a pastor of St. Peter's Free Church in Dundee, Scotland, who posted a comment on Dr. Richard Dawkins's website in the winter of 2006-2007. His comment was on the book, The God Delusion, written by Dawkins himself, who has gained quite a following, mostly from the academia and the so-called intellectual elite. It's also popular in the growing atheist movement in local Philippine universities, especially at the University of the Philippines, where I studied for 10 years. Pastor Robertson received many replies in that website, many of them scathing, insulting, personal attacks against Christianity and the people associated with it. In this short book, Robertson aims to present “one person's response to Dawkins and to do so from a wide and personal perspective.”
INTERSPERSED with all the academic reading are novels, films, and TV series that have kept me sane and wonderfully entertained. I do not agree with people who burn themselves out studying—unless, of course, they want to top the exams, an ambition I do not share at all. Burning the midnight candles isn't just a fire hazard; it induces too much stress. And we know where stress leads to: premature aging and death and irritability. Why inflict that on yourself and the entire humanity? Besides, I tell myself, after five years of sleepless nights (no kidding), I should feel a sense of entitlement to undisturbed moments of sleep. This moment is short-lived. When I begin residency training, Lord-willing, it will be back to the same old 24-hour shift grind. The fact that I can sleep anytime and anywhere (but why prefer other places other than the bedroom?) is something I praise and thank God for.
SOMETHING TO READ about reading: A Prisoner's Reading List by Alex Halberstadt, published at the New Yorker blog. It's a feature on Daniel Ganis who finished 1,046 books during his ten years in prison. Roughly 105 books a year, or nine books a month. He was charged with theft, which he did badly, according to the blog. Maybe that was why he was caught.
WATCHED Chef the other day. “Last full show,” Jil Bocobo texted me, because Koji Bulahan still had to attend a cell group in church. With us were the Bocobo family of travellers—with Frances and Jed. I'm serious when I say they're travellers. Just recently their father, Tito Tani, went to Surallah, some 20-minute ride from Koronadal. That family has practically been to all the corners of the earth, save maybe Africa, South America, and Antarctica—and we don't know where they'll go next. I listen to their stories and remind myself that there is, in fact, a greater world out there. Lord willing, I hope I'll be able to visit some of those places in the future, too.
WHEN studying elsewhere, say, in a restaurant, I'm picky about the people seated near my table. I avoid noisy teenagers at all cost. I don't feel comfortable sitting beside families with children playing with their tablets—I have the unfounded (well, maybe not) notion that kids who dwell too much on the iPad will end up dumb and socially inept. I also don't like sitting near glass walls, where I can see the smokers outside. I get distracted because I think about their lungs and how they will look like when they're dying of cancer. And I hope they don't—but medical literature is overwhelmingly unanimous. Smoking is a health hazard. It kills—and I've seen enough "dying moments" to realize it's not an easy death.
THE PRESIDENT, in a rare press interview I saw on TV around lunchtime, explained why he didn't make Nora Aunor a National Artist: she had a history of drug addiction. As if that should matter. Apparently it does, very much, for the President, who doesn't want to encourage kids to do drugs. Nora just won't do as a role model—and National Artists are role models, President Noynoy seemed to say. Never mind that she was a top choice of the NCCA, CCP Board plus the National Artists themselves. Never mind that Nora has set a standard against whom other actors are compared. Never mind that she was (and is) so good that my mother (a Vilma Santos fan, the only actress who can make her cry) still classifies her high school classmates as Noranian or Vilmanian. Me? I'm all for Eugene Domingo.
DONNA TARTT'S doorstopper novel entitled The Goldfinch—a doorstopper because it's thick and might take a lifetime to finish—is a happy addition to my pre-board exam reading. I'm also reading Rushdie's Fury on top of my review materials. As if I need more distractions.
So far, so good, though. A terrorist bombing incident, museums, an intelligent bullied kid, New York, Amsterdam—it has all great ingredients of an engaging story.
TO MY left are middle-aged men gathered for a Bible study. Their dicussion is on Paul's phrase "the eternal weight of glory," taken from the apostle's letter to the Corinthians. CS Lewis wrote a book with the same title. Male human laughter is really one of the best sounds on earth (I must qualify, though, that I cannot tolerate male drunken laughter; I find it obnoxious). And that's what these men do—discuss, then laugh, then drink their coffee, then discuss again.
MY fascination with pink began a few months ago. I was searching for studying paraphernalia I'd be using consistently for my note-taking, page-marking, and highlighting. I would spend hours roaming around bookstores, killing time trying out pens and notebooks. You're probably guilty of the same obsession.
One day I chanced upon a pink Pilot G-Tec 0.4 mm pen while monitoring at the PACU. When I used it to annotate an Obstetrics book I was carrying, my scribbles jumped out of the page. My notes didn't look obtrusive amidst the surrounding text. They didn't look garish either. "So pink it is," I thought.
MY COPY of Netter's Atlas of Human Anatomy is open for most of the day, its spine suspended on a wooden bookstand that I carry with me anywhere—in coffee shops, in crowded restaurants, even in libraries.
Leafing through the book reminds me of my first patient, a dead obese lady whom we (my Anatomy groupmates and I) called Big Bertha. My first year in med school was the hardest, and I was most miserable during dissection. It didn't help that she was so huge we had to resort to actual kitchen knives instead of the more sophisticated-looking scalpels. My own copy bears Bertha's juices from five years ago. They no longer smell foul.
These days I have a newfound appreciation for Dr. Frank Netter, whose illustrations are accurate and elegant. It took me a while to get the hang of the doorstop, but investing in it is worth the time, money, and effort. The atlas is a perfect companion to sleepy pre-board exam days, when the anatomy text doesn't make sense. After all, pictures paint a thousand words—and it's the same thing in Anatomy, I guess.