My Reading Year 2014

HERE'S a list (probably incomplete, and not in any particular order) of books I've read this year. I'm not sure which ones I like best; the top ten should include the works of Marilynne Robinson, William Faulkner, and, well, of pretty much everyone else in this roster. Jhumpa Lahiri was a surprising discovery for me; her simple prose evokes so many complex emotions. I read The Interpreter of Maladies once in a while, and I get a different insight from it every time. Roddy Doyle, the Irish writer, famous for The Barrytown Trilogy of which The Commitments is the first, is a happy addition to the Funniest Writers list I'm compiling—a list that already includes David Sedaris and PG Wodehouse. Also included in my 2014 reading diet are essay and short story collections, like Chabon's Manhood for Amateurs and Faulkner's Go Down, Moses. The New Yorker anthology, Secret Ingredients, features the best magazine articles about food; I enjoyed that immensely, too. Spiritually, I've benefited from Jon Bloom's Not by Sight—great retelling of Biblical stories Christians have come to love. Overall, a great year for reading.

Fellowship

ONE of the greatest blessings—and joys—of the Christian life is having a church family. Having been literally rooted out of our home in Mindanao to pursue further studies in Manila, my brother and I didn't have any immediate family members to go to, homes to spend the weekends in, aunts or uncles to visit. Yet the Lord, in His sovereignty, brought us to a small, faithful church where everybody knew each other. Over the course of many years we have developed meaningful relationships with many of the members who have always prayed for us and wished us well. Our local church is the closest thing we have to a family in Metro Manila.

About to begin

RESIDENCY begins on the 16th of December. Last week, I was handed my schedule for the entire year. I'll be at the Pay Wards on December, the Charity Wards on January, and the Medical Intensive Care Unit, hereon referred to as the MICU, on February—that's all I can remember for now. I will have my out-patient clinics every Tuesday morning and Thursday afternoon. I will have 24-hour shifts every three days. Except for the seven-day “leave” (yes, it's in quotation marks because it doesn't really exist) on the third week of August next year, I will be doing rounds every single day of the year 2015, regardless of holidays, floods, or supertyphoons.

Lila by Marilynne Robinson: a story of grace



YOU READ a book, expecting to have fun, the kind that your brother Sean, who hardly reads anything at all, save for his textbooks, won't ever understand. You begin with the first few paragraphs. Amazed at the craftsmanship of the sentences, you keep at it—the pleasures of reading, they call it. Then you lose grip of time; your head is up in the clouds of the story—a made-up world that, for a moment, seems more real than reality.

You wonder at how words—letters pieced together, their meanings defined by spaces or lack thereof—can have such an effect on your emotions. Apathy turned into concern, rage into sorrow, discontent into delight. Or maybe a combination of them, because a person, indeed, has the capacity to handle, though not completely explain, a wide range of feelings, like the spectral colors of the rainbow in the afternoons of childhood.

Soaring like the eagle in the light of the eternal sun

AS A SUPPLEMENT to my daily devotions, I'm reading "What Happens When I Pray?," a condensed version of the works of two not-so-famous classic Christian writers, Thomas Goodwin and Benjamin Palmer. My copy is published by Grace Publications Trust (London, England), and is a rewritten and abridged version prepared by Dr. N. R. Needham, in order to cater to a modern-day readership.

Karl Ove Knausgaard on brothers

KARL Ove Knausgaard is a Norwegian writer whose monumental book, Min Kamp (My Struggle: Book One), is what I'm currently reading. Critics call the 3500-page autobiography monumental; I can see why. There's nothing so special about the subject--his life--but he writes in such a way that keeps the reader, any reader, hooked. Compelling: that's the word for it. He keeps us interested, finding meaning in the minutiae of life: his breakfast, his band, his first pseudo-sexual experience, his father's death. One of my favorite book critics, James Wood of The New Yorker, said that "even when [he] was bored, [he] was interested."

Laughing at politics

AS I WAS INUNDATED with news of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee crucifying Vice President Binay for his alleged involvement in an overpriced parking space or airconditioned chicken farms, I discovered the HBO original production called Veep. Having resolved not to get too involved with national politics, I considered Veep a welcome diversion.

To be the best for my patients

THIS IS an excerpt from my pre-residency admission essay for Internal Medicine - Philippine General Hospital. A set of guide questions where given. The essay reads like one of my blog entries, so here it is.

1

I'M LANCE, and unlike many people who go by other names, I'm simply “Lance” to most people I know—except perhaps my father who still calls me “Bon,” after the best sound I could blurt out when I was barely beginning to speak. My mother, then a voracious reader before her migraine attacks, named me after Lance Morrow, the Time magazine essayist who wrote about Imelda Marcos's shoes in the late 1980s. I emailed him ten years ago (I was 14), and Mr. Morrow jokingly said he and my mother were just “friends.” These days people call me “Doc,” so I guess I had better get used to that, too.

Undeserved

LAST WEEK I had the privilege of being one of three people to share my testimony during my church's Wednesday Prayer Night. Here's an excerpt:

The sovereign grace of God underlies and explains every believer's life experiences, both the good and the seemingly bad. The true Christian knows that God lavishes His children with His providence—all of it undeserved, unmerited, and overwhelmingly so. We who worship the true and living God are assured that all things work together for our good (Romans 8:28) and for our Master's glory, a realization we often arrive at on hindsight. We usually go through hard times without completely making sense of our circumstances. Only by looking back can we appreciate the tapestry of God's grace, beautifully choreographed like an ingenious master plan, the end of which is our prizing the Lord Jesus Christ above all things. We also become more like Him. And, like the writers and poets of old, our hearts are filled to overflowing that we can't help but sing of God's great love for us. It is therefore a privilege for me to “sing,” figuratively, of God's undeserved blessings in front of you tonight. Let me end with Isaiah 54:10: “'Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet My unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor My covenant of peace be removed,' says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”

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.

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

The first paid job of my life

image

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.

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.

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.

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 clichés 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.

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.

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.)

Pass

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!

PTSD

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"

Routine

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.

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. 

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.

Groaning

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.”

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

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.

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.”

To help me relax

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.

What to read in prison: James Joyce's Ulysses and 1,045 more

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.

Chef, the fun movie I watched with an actual pastry chef-friend

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.

Distracted

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.

On Nora Aunor and the National Artist distinction

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.

My study companion is a kid named Theo

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.

Old men around

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.

La vie en rose

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.

Paintings

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.

A. W. Tozer's The Pursuit of God: debunking the secular-sacred dichotomy

A. W. TOZER writes beautifully. I hadn't fully appreciated him when I first read him in 2004 (I was 16). Fortunately my father had one of Tozer's books in his meager collection.

Yesterday morning, I reread parts of Tozer's The Pursuit of God: Human Thirst For the Divine. The final chapter is entitled The Sacrament of Living. He writes, "One of the greatest hindrances to internal peace which the Christian encounters is the common habit of dividing our lives into two areas—the sacred and the secular."

Tatay's farm

I WOKE UP earlier than planned because my brother jolted me from sleep. Then he showed me his phone and said, "I'm on Youngblood!"


He wrote the article, which first appeared on his personal blog, to honor our father today. If you have the time, it's a worthwhile read. As for me and my family members, we're going to find an actual newspaper, cut the article out, and have it framed for posterity.

Untitled
Tatay and my brothers. I practically handpicked all of their eyeglasses to fit them right.

Day trip to Dinalupihan, Bataan

I HAD the nerve to leave my board review materials behind for the promise of a relaxing out-of-town trip. I went to the quaint town of Dinalupihan, Bataan, on June 12. With me were Manong Ralph and Kuya John Dasmarinas, whom I haven't seen for more than a year since he had relocated to Singapore for work. The last time I'd been to Bataan was in 2011, during the Holy Week, when Paul Velasco (who had just flown in from New Zealand) and I ransacked Jason Enriquez's home in Balanga.

Dune by Frank Herbert: my favorite fantasy/sci-fi thus far

IN 2006 I asked my friend Juanchi Pablo what book he liked best. His first answer was Dune by Frank Herbert.

I remembered what he said when I started reading the book two weeks ago, in between study breaks (I'm on my medical boards review). I finished Dune yesterday. I can't wait to start on the next novel in the series—maybe after I finish my academic reading backlog. In August.

Whirlwind

I'M AT A POINT in my life when there are too many things happening all at once that I hardly have the words to write about them. Maybe that part of me has changed after ten years of blogging: the part that wants me to write everything down and share it with the world. I feel that there's already too much noise going on over the Web, and that I'd rather spend my time reviewing for the Board Exam.

Haruki Murakami's After Dark: surprised that Eri Asai hasn't died from pulmonary embolism


BEING a "morning person," I found Haruki Murakami's After Dark intriguing.

Two parallel stories occur, and it won't be long before we find out they're related. The first involves a weird 19-year old girl (Mari) who reads in a diner alone, at midnight. The second is about a beautiful lady (Eri) sleeping soundly, her TV set spontaneously showing what seem like real-time videos of a mystery man and, possibly, herself.

Sunday morning ritual

CALLING MY parents on Sunday mornings is a ritual. I rang them at the break of dawn. They were both up early, probably talking over coffee and breakfast in preparation for the Sunday worship service.

At 6 am, my father would shine his shoes, take a quick shower, and don his best clothes, a ritual he ends with a spray of perfume behind his ears. He'd eventually find himself frustrated at my mother's leisurely stroll in her small garden, where she would literally uproot shrubs and transplant them elsewhere, something she does on a regular basis. She forgets that plants need to be rooted, quite literally, and are not movable like our dog Benjamin who, if left alone, will travel to as far as Ethiopia.

The End has come

AFTER THE so-called "fake" graduation last April 25, all things seemed different. Our sprints to the Lab Info and ER were spirited and light-hearted. We didn't mind that our patient census for the day was filled to the brim. When difficult cases were referred to us, we didn't panic that we had to endorse them during the morning rounds. Instead we said, "Bring it on!" At the Triage we were passive and resigned—and gone were the times when we'd argue with patients who demanded ER admission, patients who could be better managed at the OPD. In our minds was the slow ticking of the countdown timer to May 1, the End of Internship and of Med School.

The fake graduation that felt real and fun

I WAS contemplating on whether I should attend the University Graduation or not. My main argument against it: that it wasn't a real graduation, in the sense that we still had to report to the hospital at 6 PM, that we weren't finished with our academic and clinical requirements yet, that we had end-of-the-year exams to prepare for (not that I'm losing sleep over them—far from it, actually).

UP Manila 105th Commencement Exercises

But my father insisted on flying over to Manila. He was so excited he immediately booked his plane tickets. This was, after all, the first time that someone in our immediate family would be graduating as a physician. My mother and younger brother Sean are both addressed as "doctors," but they're dentists. I also figured that attending the Univ Grad would be a dress rehearsal of sorts, in preparation for the real College of Medicine graduation on May 19.

Favorite solo shot

Remembering Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for nobody else in the world could write like him



THE NEWS OF Gabriel Garcia Marquez's passing away didn't come as a shock to me. Old writers die eventually--that is a fact of life. But I was saddened by the news and was deeply affected by it, perhaps in ways that only avid readers can relate to. Nobody else in the world could write like him.

Sigizmund Krzhizhanokvsky's The Letter Killers Club: so meta!


WHY I READ Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky's The Letter Killers Club:


1. The title. A letter-killing club? I love letters. I only made sense of mathematics when I saw letters alongside numbers. Which is why I like math but detest arithmetic. And I love words—through them I make sense of the world. 

2. The scenes. A secret group of intellectuals with weird three-lettered names meets every Saturday to discuss stories. They claim that writing ideas on pen and paper is inferior to hearing the stories directly from the mouth of the storyteller. The absence of medium removes all forms of complications, they seem to believe, but they don't quite realize that air, too, is a medium on which sound vibrations travel to reach the cochlea of the listeners.

3. The name, Sigizmund Krzhizhanovksy. I take pride in being able to spell that. 

Countdown: days 28 to 19

WAS I extraordinarily busy last week that I wasn't able to update this site? I don't think so. Didn't really feel like blogging last week. With nothing else useful to say I didn't want to pollute the internet with nonsense. But I should stop explaining myself and get to my point. Here's a recap of the last 28 to 19 days to The End of Med School.

The Countdown To The End of Med School: A Prelude

TOMORROW I'll start a daily countdown to The End of Med School—30 days left, can you believe it? I wrote in a previous entry that I don't feel extra excited for May 1 the way some of the classmates do. But the feelings will come in due time, I guess. I have too many things in my hands—my OB rotation and stresses that come with it. For now, though, I live each day one day at a time, living every moment in the light of God's grace. He has, after all, sustained me since day one of Medicine. I don't think I will live my life differently this final month.

Barrel Fever by David Sedaris: short book, explosive laughing spells about Santa, sympathy, and smoking

I DON'T remember everything about Barrel Fever by David Sedaris. I read it in a span of weeks, occasionally turning to it when I needed a good laugh. The book is short, and it was suited for my purpose.

The essay that stands out in memory: SantaLand Diaries, where the author talks about his experiences working as an elf—green tights and all—in a store's amusement park. It may well be a critique on the commercialization of the Christmas celebration, where parents force their children to sit on Santa's lap and ask him for gifts . Ah, the tortures these kids have to face. I was never really a Santa believer, and I always knew he never existed. The idea of reindeers and snow and gifts thrown down on the chimney: these were concepts that I found contemptible, even as a child. They would never survive in this heat, I thought.

Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach: stories that wound us


I STARED blankly into space after I finished Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach. McEwan always does that to me: he paralyzes me with wonder. As usual I was in a restaurant, whiling away time, as if I—an overworked medical intern—had extra time to while away. (My excuse: that I'm in the hospital most of the time, and that I need to see the outside world, too). I've had the book for months now but only started on it a few days ago. Short, sweet, and tragic—just the way I like love stories to be.

Two virgins discover each other on honeymoon night. This was in 1962, in a hotel on the Dorset coast in England. Edward Mayhew is a bookish fellow who dreams of writing about history. Florence Ponting is a violin player who comes from a wealthy family. Although they come from vastly different backgrounds they love each other very much, so much so that on their first night of what would be many matrimonial nights together, they want to make wonderful memories.

Round and round the bend

AFTER MY 24-hour shift at the Labor and Delivery Room I got a text from an old high school friend inviting me for brunch somewhere in Makati. I had to stay in the hospital to do rounds, and I had to attend a teaching session at lunchtime. I apologized profusely. The last time I was invited (for dinner, with the same set of friends, in Makati), I also begged off, thanks to my hospital commitments.

Send off

I WOKE up, not with a jolt, but with a kind of serenity that one feels after a truly restful sleep. I realized I was all alone; my roommates were probably home for the weekend. The lights in my apartment were all unlit, it was eerily quiet (just the way I liked it), and Taft Avenue, which I could see from my study, did not harbor heavy traffic. Where I would have dinner was my first concern, until it occurred to me to check my phone. Many missed calls and a text message asking me where I was. And then I hurried. I was 30 minutes late for a despedida I had promised to attend.

The Countdown

TRUTH BE told, I don't feel extra excited for May 1 at all: the End of Internship, the End of Medschool. And it bothers me. Years ago I had imagined these final moments to be extra special: my stomach fluttering with the idea that this, too—this insanity we call medical training—shall end, if only for a few months.

I passed by the PGH corridor this morning and saw the countdown board—42 days to go. With a month to go in OB-Gyn and another two weeks in Ortho, plus a couple of days—give or take—for make-up duties (thanks to various instances when I either came in late or did not come to the hospital at all, for valid reasons or otherwise), the End still feels so far away.

Kate Atkinson's Case Histories: rooting for a character

I LIKE mystery novels, especially the ones that are hard to figure out. Except that (and I say this with all humility) I usually figure out who the killers are at the story's beginning; the trick is to look for the unlikely characters. That I've been right after all gives me a sense of accomplishment at the end of the book. It only takes a short Agatha Christie novel to bring me back to earth, though—I can never really figure her out, and I haven't been correct in my predictions.

Gently

AT THE OB-GYN Out-Patient Clinic, I diagnosed a 30-something unmarried woman with a sexually transmitted disease (STD). I prescribed an antibiotic regimen and gave her a list of laboratory tests, which included a quick screening test for HIV. Nothing special with her case; it was rather straightforward and only required a standard work up. She was taking it all in—the very idea that she had STD—until the final blow came: that her partner had to be treated as well.

Jon Bloom's Not By Sight: powerful stories for the weary Christian

I'VE ALREADY told you this: that Not By Sight by Jon Bloom will become one of my best reads this year. It's just what I need to read, and part of me wishes I hadn't finished it yet. What will I look forward to reading now?

Jon Bloom, who had blogged some of these stories at the Desiring God website prior to publishing them, retells familiar stories in the Bible and tackles story and character angles not expounded explicitly by Scripture. Of course one can argue that Bloom's approach is tantamount to fictionalizing otherwise recorded factual events. The danger is that he can go too far and make entirely different stories. But Bloom steers clear of this danger, anchoring his stories to actual passages in Scripture, not deviating from the heart of the message. The things he wrote—what Joseph must have felt inside that prison cell, the visit of Paul's old friend when the apostle was in prison, and the rest of the stories—may have actually happened. The reader must give leeway to Bloom for the liberty he has taken to recreate these stories, but they're too beautifully crafted that the Christian soul cannot help but feast on them.

We go a long way

VANESSA and I—we go a long way. We were seatmates and partners in crime back in high school—first row, near the trellis. We would later be partners in our science research project, which was hogwash in the greater scheme of things. I hope it's buried somewhere so no one else would find it. I was a frequent visitor to her home in Tambis Street, where we would work on school stuff, the actual work comprising 5% of our stay there. The rest was spent chatting or eating her sister's homemade brazo de mercedes.

Comfort in conversations

WITH BARELY 50 days to go before Internship ends, the question we keep asking these days is, "What next?"

Five years of med school does seem like a short time. There were periods, though, when it felt like forever. With all the exams, 24-hour shifts, round-the-clock monitoring of intubated patients, incessant pushing of heavy, metallic stretchers; we counted the days, like newly-incarcerated prisoners, hoping for the moment when we'd get out of our cells. We were too bogged down that we hardly had any time to ruminate on what our paths will be. Should we go straight to residency training? Pursue careers in Public Health or Policy? Get married and have children? And now we have to find answers to those questions.

Your face

JON BLOOM'S Not By Sight will probably end up as one of my favorite reads this year. Here we relive timeless Biblical stories with fresher eyes.

I kept wiping my tears away as I read parts of the book in a restaurant early this morning, while I was eating breakfast. Good thing I didn't know anyone else there, or it would've been embarrassing.

A quiet habitation

Old building in Delta

PONDERING ON Psalm 91:9, Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote:

The Christian knows no change with regard to God. He may be rich to-day and poor to-morrow; he may be sickly to-day and well to-morrow; he may be in happiness to-day, to-morrow he may be distressed—but there is no change with regard to his relationship to God. If He loved me yesterday, He loves me to-day. My unmoving mansion of rest is my blessed Lord. Let prospects be blighted; let hopes be blasted; let joy be withered; let mildews destroy everything; I have lost nothing of what I have in God. He is "my strong habitation whereunto I can continually resort." I am a pilgrim in the world, but at home in my God. In the earth I wander, but in God I dwell in a quiet habitation.

Unborn

THE HARDEST part of going on duty at the OB Admitting Section (OBAS) is having to interview patients who have willfully aborted their children. They come in many forms: teenagers who think an unplanned pregnancy is going to cost them their future, middle-aged mothers who can no longer sustain another mouth to feed in the household, single women who believe raising a child would be burdensome in this harsh and cruel world.

Jesus was a busy man—and He prayed a lot

photo (4)

MANY, if not all, of us, have so-called valid excuses for not praying. School work—upcoming exams, group works, research meetings—would probably top the list. Stress would be second.

I have my excuses, too. But when I reexamine them, I wonder: are these excuses valid? You see, Jesus was a busy man. And yet He always took the time to pray.

Coffee, puto bumbong, and funny words

THREE DAYS into OB-Gyn, and I miss my Community Rotation already. I'm sharing some photos I took during my six-week stint in General Emilio Aguinaldo (the town, not the hero), Cavite.

Coffee beans being air dried—a regular sight in front of houses and major roads. I guess you can safely say I've become a coffee drinker. I was offered coffee every where I went; it was offensive to refuse. The best cup I scored was at Kapeng Bailen, an unassuming stall just beside the Rural Health Unit. A cup cost Php 10—freshly brewed, which gave my tummy the right warmth on cold afternoons. Of course I had to suffer insomnia at night.

Coffee beans

Alice Munro's Open Secrets: eight stories in Carstairs, Canada

JUST FINISHED Open Stories, Alice Munro's short story collection first published in 1994. (And I've convinced myself that I'm on a reading moratorium). The book contains eight stories. All of them mention Carstairs, a town in Alberta, Canada.

What I love about Alice Munro: her writing style, devoid of literary gymnastics, but evoking clarity and complexity at the same time. It's clearly the work a virtuoso of the English language. Its utter simplicity is its beauty.

Also: I get the feeling that a gentle old woman—or maybe my grandmother—is the one who's telling me the stories.

John Piper's When the Darkness Will Not Lift: a wonderful encouragement for the depressed

WHILE MY PRIMARY disposition is sunny, there are days when I'm down and lonely. This is true for most, if not all, people—part of the ongoing, unpredictable cycle of ups and downs we all experience. Sometimes the melancholia goes away after a few hours. Sometimes it goes on for days, even months, but we go on normally with life. However, there's what we call clinical depression, where persistent sadness already interferes with work or relationship. I know of some people, and I have diagnosed some patients, with this clinical condition. Christians, being humans themselves, are not exempt from this.

When the Darkness Will Not Lift by John Piper is a helpful book for me. Piper asks, "How can we help Christians who seem unable to break out of darkness into the light of joy?" I read it in the wee hours of the morning because I couldn't sleep, my mind wracked by so many thoughts and problems that I wished would go away at the flick of the finger.

Blue Jasmine: not your typical riches-to-rags story

I WILL watch anything with Cate Blanchett on it, especially if it's a film directed by Woody Allen.

Blue Jasmine (2013) is about a former Manhattan socialite named Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), at the time in her life when she's just about to hit rock-bottom. Her husband was charged with, and later on incarcerated for, theft. He has stolen from the government and from other people to further his businesses—think Janet Napoles if you're from the Philippines. Her husband would later hang himself in prison.

And all these leave her with an empty, pointless life—for what could she do, apart from holding New York City's most awaited dinner parties or decorating her home or going to galas? She doesn't have any degree. Her stepson has left her. She is alone in a cruel and unforgiving world. Until, as we see in the first part of the movie, she moves in with her sister Ginger, who lives in a small apartment in San Francisco and waits tables in nearby diners.

In shirts, shorts, and slippers: our day trip to Tagaytay

IT TOOK us a while to realize the big mistake we made after we had hailed the bus bound for Tagaytay: we forgot to bring our jackets. Already used to the rural community setting, we were dressed in shirts, shorts, and slippers—as if we were headed to the beach. We forgot how freezing it could get in Tagaytay, and the wind was so cold we felt we were being refrigerated.

The quick day trip to Tagaytay was largely unplanned, which was just as well, because sometimes the best trips are those made spontaneously. From Bailen we took the jeepney to Alfonso, which was 30 to 45 minutes away. From Alfonso we rode an ordinary bus (the Coastal Mall route) to Tagaytay. The trip lasted an hour. All in all, the bus fare totaled to Php 40.

trees trees

Getting the hang of it

Women

AFTER three weeks of living in Bailen I think I may have gotten the hang of provincial life. It wasn't that hard—I am a promdi. It should come to me naturally. I was born and raised in Southern Mindanao, where the malls start closing at 7:30 PM and most people are alseep by eight. Bailen, islands and seas away from where I was born, has its own charms, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to call it a home, albeit for a short time.

Albert Camus' The Plague: death is an omnipresent reality

SLOWLY I'm making headway to finish my reading backlogs.

The Plague by Albert Camus is what people have called it—disturbing—because so much of what happens in the city of Oran can happen to any city in the world. People in Public Health or those involved in epidemiological research must read this book. It is by no means a textbook about the do's and don't's in an epidemic, but it reflects the basic human reactions to helplessness: panic, submission, and acceptance of the new status quo. To the people in Oran, the epidemic has become an omnipresent reality.

It has happened before. It can happen again. 

My favorite twins

I LOVE twins. I've always wanted to have one: it's like seeing yourself every time without having to look at the mirror.

I've been called twins with other people, especially my brothers. People in church, for example, still mistake me for Manong; they ask me for legal advice, which I know nothing about. Years ago, my high school classmate Angeli yelled in excitement after seeing my brother Sean, whom she thought was me. I'm called a twin with another non-relative, my forever blockmate Casti, because we sport similar haircuts (semi-kal), and we bear prominent traumatic alopecic scars in our occiputs, which is a grander way of referring to a poknat.

Juan Pablo Villalobos' Down the Rabbit Hole: in the eyes of a clueless child

Juan Pablo Villalobos' Down the Rabbit Hole

THE KID Tochtli only wants to own a Liberian pygmy hippopotamus. He's also fond of the Japanese samurai and French guillotines. He likes hats and big words—like "sordid." He lives in a mansion. He doesn't play with other children, but he is properly cared for by servants who do not speak a word—their tongues have been cut off. He gets what he wants. Daily he sees his father's gang members, guns, and prostitutes. He is the son of a notoriously rich Mexican drug lord. He doesn't realize how dangerous his life is. How far can a child's innocence get him?

Joseph O'Neill's Netherland: playing a game of cricket in New York

NETHERLAND is about a Dutch banker in post-September 11 Manhattan. His name is Hans van de Broek, a successful Wall Street analyst whose English wife had left him for London. She took their son with her. He visits London occasionally—he expects for the marriage to work, but it's on the verge of falling apart. Why all this is happening to him is something he grapples with every day. His solitude is so palpable it spills over the pages.

My first Christmas Eve in Manila

2013 WAS THE year I was going to spend Christmas Eve in Manila, the first time without family. I was feeling rather depressed—my appetite gone, my mood lonely, my mind fixed on Koronadal—and it didn't help that on the morning of December 24th, Gary V's Pasko Na Sinta Ko was played on my patient's phone while I was doing blood extraction. I wasn't exactly on the verge of tears, but I longed for home like a Filipino OFW in Kuwait.