AT 9:30 PM I was still outside, with street names I couldn’t read properly, at roughly 4-10 degree temperatures, until I found an inscription that read “Mustak,” a train station. My feet hurt. From Charles Bridge, I wanted to hit Old Town but got lost. My guide, whom I’d meet a day later, would tell me the Czechs don’t know how to define squares. (I suppose the Austrians are the same—the platzes aren’t exactly isometric and four-sided).
Central European men, most likely drivers, were smoking outside, their taxis parked on an alley I hadn’t been to before. Or maybe I’d been there already, only that it was already dark. Groups of tall college students were shouting in the middle of the street—they seemed very happy, as I was—and were probably drunk, and I wasn't.
IN GRADE TWO I prided myself for being able to spell “Czechoslovakia” without batting an eyelash. I liked the sound of it and picked it for a school project in celebration of the United Nations. Its flag was a lot like the Philippines’, sans the sun and stars. I looked down on my classmates who picked Japan (too easy to spell, and the flag was too simple) or France (for the same reasons), but couldn’t quite feel superior towards a classmate (I forget who) who picked USA. Cutting up fifty or so stars from a piece of art paper impressed me.
Many years have passed, and now I’m here—my side trip in Central Europe—after a comfortable three-hour train ride from Vienna. It goes without saying that the country has split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia; so I don’t have reason for boasting anymore. It’s much easier to spell.
I arrived at 3 PM, checked in at my hostel in Národní Street, and took a nap. At 5 PM, I walked around the city. I had wanted to get lost, the best preliminary way to imbibe the city, and found Charles Bridge. For dinner I ate at a burger stand near the Old Town. I had mulled wine—quite sweet, but its warmth was soothing—and trdelník with chocolate for dessert.
Tomorrow I’m joining a walking tour.
“You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when then their grain and wine abound.
In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” —Psalm 4:7–8
“For I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. And the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”—Galatians 2:20
What grace you’ve given me all my life, O Lord, and what delight you’ve made me enjoy in your presence. There’s nothing else I can wish for, no other thing I desire. I am grateful—eternally, most of all, for all the things that you’ve done for me, for showing me who you are.
You know my innermost thoughts, my restlessness—and you know all too well that, if left on my own devices, I will never turn to you. But you sought me ought, and you found me, and you’ve never let me go.
What a story it is to tell the world, and if every life is, in fact, a story, then mine would have you as the centerpiece around which everything resolves. May it always be, O Lord, that you will always occupy the throne of my heart—not my family, my ambitions, my worldly desires. May I behold you so dearly that the entire world—no, the entire universe—pales in comparison to you.
Remove from me the vanity of the world. Restore to me the joy of your salvation daily, and help me be cloaked with humility, because I am a truly proud man. My pride manifests in so many ways—in my irritations, my unholy thoughts, my wicked actions, my feelings that I deserve more than what I have. But I look to Christ, who left everything and became man, and when he was a little past 30—around my age—bore my sins, accepted your wrath, and died the most brutal death imaginable on that wooden cross. May I be reminded of this daily—the cross, your suffering, your death, your life.
Take good care of my family. Give more good years to my parents and provide for my brothers. Bless the church, and nourish it with your Word. Show my friends the way of your salvation so they will know you, too. Heal my patients, and comfort them.
And may this be the narrative of my life: that I’ve lived—and will joyfully live—my next remaining, most fruitful years, for you.
I PLANNED ON doing nothing today—at least nothing as touristy as going to the Schoenbrunn Zoo (ok, maybe in two days). Of course, I had my usual coffee at the local café—Kaffee Melange and salami sandwich—where I greeted the kind people behind the bar. The old lady already recognized me. “The English-speaking kid,” I overheard her say in German. Don’t make me translate that.
As I soon as I was done reading Morning and Evening by CH Spurgeon for my devotions, I chatted with a fun-looking family of five—three children, all of them girls, aged 11, 8, and 2, and they were on break for Easter. I recognized them from yesterday, as I am now in the habit of baby-watching. Their mother, probably a little older than me, told me they came from Munich. I said I was from Manila. “Our au pair was from Manila,” she said. They kids smiled; they missed their yaya.
What she does with the stories is nothing short of magical. She comes from a position of omniscience. She tells stories, sometimes in hushed tones, so one must pay attention. It helps that the stories in this collection are set in Paris—at least I got the imagery right. Miss Gallant doesn’t insult the reader by telling everything: one just knows.
For instance, this line from the story, “In Plain Sight,” about an old romance that never came to be.
Years of admiration, of fretting about his health and, who knows, of love of a kind have been scraped away; yet once she had been ready to give up her small and neater flat, her wider view over Boulevard du Montparnasse, the good opinion of her friends (proud widows, like herself, for the sake of moving downstairs and keeping an eye on his diet.
This morning I overhead at the Schoenbrunn Palace, the Habsburg summer house, a family who looked brown and noisy and happy enough for me to consider they were Filipino, and as I went close to them—I had no intention of opening a conversation, because I like to keep my anonymity—I listened to their conversation.
“Ma, ayusin mo ‘yung picture. ‘Yung pang-I.G.” said the teenager, as she was posing for the camera.
“Yung upo mo—‘yung relaks lang, ‘yung parang tambay,” said the lady who looked like her mother. “Bilisan mo! Iiwan na tayo ng bus!”
Yet another reason why I prefer to travel alone, or with people who detest taking photographs of themselves all the time. But I belong to a nation that has made selfies and Facebook-profile-picture-taking a national pastime, if not entirely a science. I love my people.
DESPITE the snow, I emerged out of my bed in Hütteldorf to take the U4 to Karlsplatz, where I could walk my way to Karlskirche. I was going to watch a 65-minute performance of the Vienna Concert Orchestra that would start at 8 pm. I arrived just in time, my body frozen to death because the snow never stopped falling outside. I loved their rendition of G. F. Händel's Oueverture. Natalia Stepanska, the soprano, gave a heart-stopping performance of Largo from Xerxes. Of course, Mozart's Requiem (Lacrimosa) and Divertimento in D Major were played, too. When I got back to my room, the songs were still playing in my head.
TOUR guides always refer to Christianity as if it were something distant: something that needs mentioning, but not too much. Talk about anything else—the food, the culture, the lifestyle, but not about politics and religion—or so the modern thinking goes, because you'll make enemies if you do. But Christianity has formed much of Europe; as Christianity flourished, so did the rest of the world. Tour guides have a job to do, nevertheless: not to evangelize, but to show us around, so we forgive them.
And while Europe is pretty much a post-modern, post-Christian world, it's been interesting for me to see a few of its remnants in modern culture. Like the musical Jésus, de Nazareth à Jerusalem in Paris.
And a page from the leaflet of my OBB train from Stuttgart to Munich: a celebration of the Reformation. Martin Luther is my hero.
Nothing arouses playfulness like the first experience of snow.
From Gare Paris Est, I took an 11-hour train journey to Vienna, crossing Germany (Strasbourg, Stuttgart, then Munich), then Austria (Salzburg, Linz, and Wien Mielding). Taking this ride, with the greenery and quaint German houses and snow-capped Alps in my view, has been one of the best decisions I’ve made for this tour thus far—never mind the hipster-looking Frenchman behind the information counter at Charles de Gaulle who, when he asked me how long I was staying, to which I answered, “Just for a few days, then I’m taking the train to Vienna,” couldn’t stop himself from saying F***!
IN A few hours I'm hopping on a train that will take me to Munich, Germany; then to Vienna, Austria, where I'll be staying for a few days. God has graciously provided for everything I need and has kept me safe. I thoroughly enjoyed my two full days in Paris, where I've spent the day walking then having desserts in the bistros, occasionally whiling away time and praying along the Seine. It's been a good chance to brush up on my basic French again, a skill that was challenged when, hungry, I barged into a Subway store right across the Gare du Nord station, and the man behind the counter, who spoke very little English, got confused with my orders.
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”—Psalm 22:1
Were here behold the Savior in the depth of his sorrows. No other place so well shows the griefs of Christ as calvary, and no other moment at Calvary is so full of agony as that in which his cry rends the air—“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” At this moment physical weakness was united with acute mental torture from the shame and ignominy through which he had to pass; and to make his grief culminate with emphasis, he suffered spiritual agony surpassing all expression, resulting from the departure of his Father’s presence. This was the black midnight of his horror; then it was that he descended into the abyss of suffering. No man can enter into the full meaning of these words. Some of us think at times that we could cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” There are reasons when the brightness of our Father’s smile is eclipsed by the clouds and darkness; but let us remember that God never really does forsake us. It is only a seeming forsaking with us, but in Christ’s case it was a real forsaking. We grieve at a little withdrawal of our Father’s love; but the real turning away of God’s face from his Son, who shall calculate how deep the agony which it caused him?
— CH Spurgeon, Morning and Evening
"From the Eyes of a Healer: An Anthology of Medical Anecdotes" will be released on the third week of April. I had the privilege of contributing to this collection, and this will be my first book publication to date. Many thanks to Dr. Joey A. Tabulá—poet, internist, and now book editor—who has realized that medicine and medical training are minefields of stories about the human condition. I'm excited to read the rest of the stories myself; I know and have worked with many of the authors, too.
Each book sells for Php 249 and is released by Alubat Publishing. You may reserve your copy through this link.
I give thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart;
before the gods I sing your praise;
I bow down toward your holy temple
and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and faithfulness,
for you have exalted above all things
your name and your word.
On the day that I called, you answered me;
my strength of soul you increased.—Psalm 138:1–3 (ESV)
I TREATED myself to a novel yesterday—Edward St. Aubyn’s “Bad News,” the second of his Patrick Melrose novels, where the twenty-something Patrick, after learning about the death of his father whom he had despised, flies to New York City to claim the remains. In what reads like a blow-by-blow documentation of his descent into drug addiction, St. Aubyn paints the portrait of a rich man who has everything the world desires—money, sex, influence, women—but who remains empty despite these earthly possessions. We read of Patrick showing up to dinners high with concoctions of heroin, Quaalude, cocaine, and alcohol, which he took shots of inside washrooms, hotel rooms, and dark alleys. His hatred of his father burns him inside out.
Today's Sunday sermon couldn’t have been more timely. Pastor Bob spoke on John 5:1–16, “The Healing at the Pool on the Sabbath.” In this gospel account, the apostle John takes us to a place in Bethesda where a healing pool was. It was widely believed that when the angels would stir the water, the healing would take place. In the area were five roofed colonnades, shielding the blind, lame, and paralyzed from the sun and rain. I imagine this place to be a lot like the hospital where I train, where there is no shortage of illnesses, loneliness, and desperation.
All the things I’ve learned and struggled with and suffered through the past two years—yes, all of them—have found their ultimate utility and fulfillment in my first stint as a General Medicine service senior. It was as if everything was meant to prepare me for this: leading the team of residents and students to sound dispositions, focusing the direction of management, and even arguing for or against certain clinical impressions.
NOTHING much happens in Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island. An anthropologist, who works in-house at a big commercial firm, writes about Claude Lévi-Strauss, parachutes, oil spills, his love life, and his modern-day theories about civilization. The novel reads like a diary. The prose is magnificent.
“The terminal’s interior, despite its new façade, was dingy. Parts of it were boarded up, awaiting repair. The smell of popcorn, hot dogs, pizza and donuts hung about the concourse, impregnating air that was much warmer than the air outside—cloying and heavy, too. People were milling about, waiting for the ferry: normal, everyday folk who commuted on it daily. A few of them wore suits—cheap, polyester ones, the standard-issue outfit of the low-white-collar ranks; but most wore plain, casual clothes. They looked bored, frumpy, tired, unhealthy, overweight, and generally just very, very normal.”
I see "345" in the cash registry—three digits flashed in green light on a dark background, like how they had appeared in old calculators in the nineties. I’m in a queue at Wendy’s, buying bacon mushroom melt with fries and Coke Zero—my long delayed lunch. I hand two one-hundred peso bills, and two twenty-peso bills to the nice lady behind the counter—confidently, as if had, in fact, added them correctly in my mind. “Sir, kulang pa po,” she tells me. I rectify my error, a realization that although I like mathematics, I do not like arithmetic.
WHILE I was leisurely reading my morning paper, Din Floro—my senior in IM, now a gastroenterology fellow—and Niño Lucero, the plastic surgeon who doubles as an Instagram rockstar, sat in front of me and joined me for breakfast. The music playing was John Mayer's "Love On The Weekend." Our morning chat was a pleasant surprise; but alas, duty called. It's admitting day today.
A young doctor almost my age—plus-minus a year or two—has died. Someone shot him one night: a bullet that killed him right on the spot, piercing his heart. Four years of medical education, one year of internship, all these on top of the four or five years of college undergraduate education—and then this: an armed man who, for whatever reason, pulled the trigger at him, leaving him defenseless as he lost blood and eventually his consciousness.
He was, I later learned, a gentle soul: a towering six-footer but whose voice was sonorous, whose ways were charming. And charm the entire Lanao town he did: the people he served loved him, for who would leave his family to ease the suffering of his lowly Mindanao community, many of whom hadn’t met a doctor in the flesh until his arrival?
There is no escaping death, but there are good ways to die—and his came too early, too soon.
THIRD year residency reaches its pinnacle during the four months of being a service senior. Under a General Medicine service are two or three first year residents, interns, and clerks, plus the second year residents who go on duty at the Emergency Room. The responsibilities are overwhelming. Aside from being a clinician, the Gen Med senior is also expected to take on administrative tasks, which include, among others, assuming primary care for patients previously handled by other specialties; providing clear-cut dispositions to patients; setting short- and long-term goals for problematic cases.
March is the first time I'm taking on the role of a Gen Med senior. I'm working with Drs. Nico Pajes (first year IM resident) and Clare Enriquez (our Neurology rotator), and it has been a pleasure to struggle with them thus far. Every night I ask the Lord for wisdom. I pray for my residents that God continually sustain them. I also pray for our students: that they become battle-tested, compassionate, competent physicians in the future.
We had a service dinner last night, something that has become a tradition during the Ward rotation. With us were our interns, Chacha Mercado, Gerald (Baby G) Mendoza, Jeff Manto, Marz Marquez, Athan Lozano, and Joan Lampac. Two of our bubbly clerks also joined us: Ichi Nakamura and Carl Marquez.
Onward, Service 4.