The proverbial Outside

MILES away from Manila, and hardly having slept for the past 24 hours, Poring Porlas, Jerê Vallente, and I take an hour-long drive in search of the Outside World. It was providence that only brought some 15 patients to be decked to Internal Medicine at the Emergency Room last night, a far cry from the usual number of patients we attend to—about twice or thrice that number. Maybe because it was a Sunday, or maybe it was raining hard, what with typhoon Karen entering the country’s area of responsibility, forcing the ill to stay at home and wait for the sun to shine.

The coffee shop where we sit, all of us half-groggy from all the walking and window-shopping, is quiet. I’ve missed afternoons like these, when I could finish reading a book in silence, only to be surprised by the fact of the sun’s setting.

As we eat kaya toast and half-cooked eggs (“Don’t worry about Salmonella,” I tell them) in a corner, Poring makes fun of the way I assign our interns their tasks; he mimics my serious, stern, tone and wonders why, of all of us, our interns follow my orders first before theirs.

Working with students is one of the joys of my job: I see so much of myself in them—the sparkle in their eyes when they realize the ECG tracing is of a first-degree AV block; the giddiness in their steps as they accompany an intubated patient being finally wheeled in to the Medical ICU where he will more likely survive; and their excitement in knowing that a 24-hour shift is about to be over, and they have nothing else to do but sleep for the entire day.

Jerê—whom I’ve taken to calling Jerry these past days—enjoys the pleasure of window shopping, a task I find rather tiring. I have no desire to populate my closet with new things, but he loves novelty and the two-year old fact that he has money to burn, money he has rightly earned. I tell him I need new sneakers; my Converse is about to burst in the seams. Have my feet gotten swollen with all the walking? He takes on the task of helping his Kuya Lance find a new pair. “I prefer slip ons,” I tell him. “My classmates used to tie my shoelaces for me, and I haven’t been very good at it.”

We still haven’t found my pair.

Poring is now asleep on the restaurant’s couch, getting as much shut-eye to prepare him for the trip back that will remind him of how bad the traffic has gotten in Metro Manila. With the 15,000 new vehicles being added every month to our roads, with many existing cars parked along even the smaller lanes, where will we pass?

Meanwhile, I write this on my computer. I still write to make sense of things. Seeing words come out of the screen helps me understand my own understanding of things.

My roommate Tom confessed he had wanted to win the Nobel, too, when he was young. This was a few days ago, in the wee hours of the morning, when we spoke about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel for Literature. “Maybe we should settle for more quiet, unrecognized lives,” I must have told him. I realize now that doctors are, in fact, writers—only that our writing narrates medical histories, some of it in the most brief sentences and with the most technical jargon. And while we may not win any literary prize for it, we’re able to uphold and honor and preserve human life with the stories we elicit and make sense of.

These and many things are going on in my mind as I look at cars passing by the highway, seeing the proverbial Outside World for what it is—the same world I inhabit, only with healthier, happier people.

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