Photo by Hazel Baconga
HERE'S the speech I gave yesterday, during the UP College of Medicine graduation at the PICC. My brothers, shaky hands and all, recorded it in its entirety. You'll have to increase the volume to hear it better. Full text below.
* * *
President Alfredo Pascual, Chancellor Manuel Agulto, Director Jose Gonzales, Dean Agnes Mejia, Miss Maria Ressa, distinguished members of the faculty and staff, parents, friends, ladies and gentlemen; good morning.
Please understand that the task before me is tough, more challenging than establishing an IV line in a whiny, dehydrated, obese six-year-old held by an equally hysterical mother at two o'clock in the morning: I am going to speak in behalf of my Class.
I consider this an immense privilege and a truly humbling one. I am perhaps the most average medical student in my batch. If we were to draw a Bell curve on academic performance, which resembles a Tanner stage IV breast — and I've just applied anatomy to statistics, if you haven't noticed — I'd be right smack at the bottom of the areola. Most of us would find ourselves in that region, too, and what a happy place it truly is.
As I prepared for this speech I asked friends for tips on how to go about it. After all, this was going to be their response as it would be mine. Some said, “Why don't you make a Powerpoint?” — but that would be tedious. Others suggested that I'd have to greet everyone — and I determined to collect a hundred pesos for each name I mentioned, but that would be controversial, and I didn't think the administration would approve. But the majority said I should make it light and funny and short — “light and funny” I can do, but “short”? This speech will last for an hour, so brace yourselves.
We may forget the mechanisms of drug actions, the components of the Light's criteria, or the brachial plexus, but we will never forget med school and PGH.
The cadaver we dissected in Anatomy. The barrage of exams that left us brain-dead. Our first 24-hour shift, ER duty, surgery assist, and Guazon endorsement. We saw through births and deaths, discharges and readmissions, miraculous recoveries and unexpected morbidities. We experienced happiness and grief, achievements and failures, abundance and famine, dinner buffets and rice-with-brown-sauce meals. We fell in love, and we fell out of it.
We've forged friendships. In a sense, these friendships were inevitable, for isn't it true that misery loves company? Because were breathing at each other's necks for more than 24 hours at any given time, we had to like each other somehow.
The Christian writer CS Lewis wrote this about friendship in his book, The Four Loves, “Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: 'What! You too?'”
You too have had to take the finals in Biochemistry and are hanging by the thread? You too have been pushing that heavy metallic stretcher from OBAS to Perinatology? You too have been monitoring non-stop since the day had begun? You too have had to endorse a complicated case who was admitted at 3:30 AM at Guazon Hall? You too have seen the White Lady at CI?
Believe it or not, though, living with equally miserable people has been one of the greatest joys of the past five years. Our friends, our blockmates especially, have brought a special dimension to our existence. They've inspired, taught, and helped us in more ways than they can imagine.
Graduation is a time for thanksgiving. We have many to be thankful for.
We thank You, our God, for sustaining us these past five years, providing for our needs, and reminding us to live for Someone or something greater than ourselves. All we will be we owe to You, and we thank You for the abundance of Your mercy and grace.
We thank you, our parents and our families, biological or otherwise, for always lifting us up in prayer, encouraging us when we feel like we amount to nothing, and cheering us up when we feel like quitting. You have sacrificed your comforts to make sure that we were fed, able to buy our books, and pay our bills on time. Today we remember our loved ones who have passed away while we were training. I'm sure they'd be proud of us, too, if they were here. To our parents we say, “We thank God for giving you to us. We cannot do anything to deserve you. We love you. And grandchildren? They're on their way.”
We thank you, our mentors — our professors, consultants, fellows, and residents — for teaching us to be competent and compassionate. Considered the best and brightest in your fields, you could've opted to go on with full-time private practice, yet you've chosen to spend your time with us. Your patience has been extraordinary. In humility, you have put up with our ignorance. Forgive us, then, for failing to answer your questions correctly — our brains usually work well, but they have a way of shutting down during rounds. We want to be like you when we grow older.
We thank you, our patients. We've learned a lot from you. Thank you for reminding us that we should be treating people instead of disease entities. Forgive us for we have often acted otherwise. We pray that all will be well for you and your families.
On the Return Service Agreement
I cannot make this speech and miss today's graduation theme, which also happens to be the title of first-year TRP choir piece that we had sung rather terribly in 2009: “Isang Lagda.” It alludes to the fact that we're the first batch to sign the Return Service Agreement, a document that requires us to serve in the Philippines for three years. This was largely a response to the decades-old trend of UP College of Medicine graduates leaving the country to practice elsewhere.
That we are the first batch to sign the RSA is neither a reason for pride nor gloating. For our superiors it was a necessary step to address an issue, and we merely happened to be the batch to sign it first. But one thing is unmistakable: that the RSA has given us a challenge — a mandate, if you will — to serve the Filipino. We cannot escape that. We have been marked. This challenge is palpable and will see us through the next three years — and hopefully more.
But don't we all long to see the day when the RSA will be rendered useless eventually? The day when every Filipino medical student who chooses to study in UP will serve in the country not because he or she signed a piece of document, but because he or she genuinely burns with passion in helping the Filipino people. It will be the day when doctors who have chosen to stay here will no longer be celebrated as heroes because serving here will be the most natural thing to do. What a day that will be! We hope it comes soon.
A Personal Story
Let me end with a personal story. When I was a clerk, I had a 70-year old male patient who was admitted at the Medical ICU. We diagnosed him with Leptospirosis. He presented with classic symptoms of fever, jaundice, conjunctival suffusion, and calf pain. He was already intubated when he came in, so I never really got to hear his voice. I had never handled an intubated patient so closely before, so I really studied his case. I visited him daily. He liked me. I felt like a real doctor. On my last day at the MICU, he wrote me a note, “Paano na lang, Doc, kung wala ka?” I felt that I had done something right in the world that day. Two weeks later he died.
Come to think of it: our country, with its problems and illnesses, asks us a similar question. And how should we respond?
Maybe we can start with this: that we, the graduating Class of 2014 . . . we are here to stay.
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