Thursday, October 23, 2014

My NBI Clearance experience

GOT MYSELF an NBI Clearance today. Took me the whole morning. I was exhausted, and my face looked like a convicted criminal. “You're lucky,” you'll probably say, given that for some, the process can eat up the entire day or more.

Roddy Doyle's The Commitments: listening to the soul of Dublin

Irish writer Roddy Doyle. Photo by Patrick Bolger, The Guardian.

I FIRST HEARD of Roddy Doyle through The New Yorker Fiction Podcast hosted by the magazine's fiction editor, Deborah Treisman. The guest on the show was Dave Eggers, a writer in and publisher of McSweeney's, a literary magazine. In that episode, Eggers read “Bullfighting,” Doyle's short story about friends from Dublin who go to Spain for a quick vacation. The story kept me entertained throughout my hour or so of commute from Manila to QC a few months ago. What intrigued me then was Eggers's statement that although he is not a completist, he has read everything written by Doyle.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The second paid job of my life

THE SECOND paid job of my life will be at the Department of Medicine of the Philippine General Hospital. By God's all-sufficient grace, I made it through two weeks of competitive (yet surprisingly enjoyable) pre-residency, then a month or so of patient waiting and praying for the Chief Resident's call that should come on the third or fourth week of October, if I qualified for the top 21 slots.

Photo: Dr. Ralph Villalobos

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The first paid job of my life


THE FIRST paid job of my life was in a small infirmary in a coastal town along Sarangani Bay. I started working as doctor-reliever yesterday. My father, excited to see his son finally face the real world after years of studying, drove me to the hospital. My mother insisted that I bring a towel and a blanket, in the loving way that mothers nag their grown-up children to do the most illogical things. Tatay dragged my grandmother and my two other uncles with us. To the casual observer we must’ve looked like a family on a field trip, sans the embarrassing tarpaulin.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Reciting the Hippocratic Oath

Physician Oath-taking Ceremony 2014
With my internship block. Photo credit: Dr. Agnes Custodio

NO SURGE of emotions, no tear-stained eye, no passionate sighing overcame me when I recited the Hippocratic Oath this morning with most of the country's newest physicians, passers of the August 2014 Physician Licensure Examination. But what's done is done; I am, by the grace of God, a full-fledged doctor. Many thanks for your support and prayers. Special mention goes to some of my dear friends who visit this blog daily and to random readers who wished me well and sent me encouraging emails in the course of my board review. I thank God for you.

Friday, October 3, 2014

In which I list the books I've read, lest I forget them

THERE ARE moments when I find more comfort in the presence of books than people. Reading is one of the very, very few things I do that keep me quiet—the others include sleep and prayer, but even those sometimes have me saying things aloud.

I turned to reading during the last few weeks leading up to the Board exam; I went back to it after my application for residency. By reading, of course, I mean me tackling non-academic, non-medical pieces of literature; including my medical textbooks will inevitably bloat my reading list. When I read fiction (don't say “pocket books,” unless you're reading a Mills and Boon paperback romance), I am transported to other worlds created by the author's mind. Why that's so thrilling is something only readers will understand—a thrill that, in my opinion, should be experienced by all. But, alas, not everyone has the patience for the written word, let alone pages and pages of it. But the truth is that much is lost when one forgoes reading—a perennially recurring tragedy, what with the advent of smart phones and tablets, leaving people, especially impressionable children, more adept at computer games than self-examination and empathy.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping: suicide, adolescence, being different, losing someone

MARILYNNE Robinson's Housekeeping is a work of art. Every word, carefully chosen, reverberates in one's consciousness. Every punctuation matters. One does not sense the struggle in the writing process, if there ever was, because she makes it sound so effortless. Her prose reads like poetry—quiet, calm, soulful. Her language is masterful, often restrained, but so packed with the written and the unwritten that one should read it carefully, slowly, never in a rush, in full concentration, lest the story dissipate elsewhere. She deals away with clich├ęs but makes use of the full armament of her vocabulary to illustrate something or make a point. The landscape she paints of the town of Fingerbone, Idaho, where much of life is built around the lake, takes the reader to its darkest, hidden corners.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

On "An Auto-Corrected Journal of Printing Properties: Selected Texts On A Contemporary, Art, and The So-called Elsewhere-Anywhere"

WHILE STUDYING for the Boards, I often hung out with Renan Laru-an, the founder and current director of DiscLab | Research and Criticism—he, working on a book to be launched in New York in the Fall; me, rereading my annotated textbooks. I felt so scholarly in the presence of a writer/editor.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Chronicles of my passing (the Boards)

TWO DAYS before the Boards I trained myself to wake up at 4 am—not exactly a gargantuan task, since I'm pretty much a morning person. The exams would start at 8 am, but the call-time was set at 6:30, at the Manuel L. Quezon University in Quiapo—a dangerous place where snatchers abound, or so a friend told me. This friend related to me a story about someone she knew, a medical graduate ready to take the exam of her life, only to have her exam permit snatched away. That someone was disqualified from taking the test.

Before August 23 were three months of intense studying—not the most stressful period of my life, because reading and taking down notes and outlining are pleasurable for me, perhaps among the very few moments when I'm actually mum. (And, thankfully, preparing for the Medical Boards was not as discouraging as studying for the Bar Exam, where only one in five people passes). Finally I was making sense of concepts that were previously vague to me, things I always got wrong in tests, or sets of facts that didn't appeal to my academic interests but needed memorization anyway—like cancer staging. I remember, with regret, that in med school I had sailed my way through rounds by 15 minutes of cramming, or with the help of Medscape, the UP-PGH intern's most useful textbook app. What could I have done without it? There was hardly any time for rigorous personal study time then. So I welcomed the Boards as an "exclusive" opportunity to go back to my books, something my mother correctly said I should have done since Day One of med school. (She was reprimanding me for dwelling more time on my literary readings; mothers do know best.)

Friday, September 5, 2014


prc result

THIRTY MINUTES ago I woke up with a jolt, my eyes still adapting to the dark room, for I had already been asleep for some time. In a corner I saw my brother browsing his phone, then I heard him calling out to me, his voice pregnant with urgency: “Lance, Lance … you passed.”

I knew this time would come—I just didn't know when, or whether the results would make me jump for joy or seek a distant hideout. My first impulse was to thank the Lord for His goodness. What good thing can I do apart from Him, after all? In my heart of hearts, I knew I couldn't have done it without Him. He has seen me through med school; He has seen me through the Boards. All glory and honor to God Almighty!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


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:

"Waaah, ilang tumbling na lang. #Listeria"

Monday, August 18, 2014


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.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Library

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. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Surprised by life

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.

Saturday, August 2, 2014


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.”

Friday, August 1, 2014

Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies: stories that resonate with me

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.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Prayer warriors and battling sleep

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.

A lamentation

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:

The Dawkins Letters by David Robertson

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Mabini's 105th birthday is today

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.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

David Robertson's The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths

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.”