Sunday, May 30, 2021

Displeasing the world to obey God's pleasure

Letter of John Calvin to Monsieur de Falais, Geneva (1543):

...I could not refrain from reminding you, that the benefits which God hath bestowed upon us, indeed require that we should prefer his honour to all the world besides, and that the hope of salvation which we have by his Evangel is so precious, that we ought readily to forego meaner considerations, in so far as they hinder us from reaching forward to that hope, and that we ought to have such contentment in conforming ourselves to his will, that whensoever the question arises of our displeasing the whole world, that we may obey his pleasure, it is good for us.

I derive much joy and instruction from Calvin's letters. 

You can betake yourself to a covering shelter from the storm—for we have no other retreat than that of our God—let us then hide ourselves there, and we shall be in security. 

Amen to that.  

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Between two kingdoms et al

While I had the stamina to post something every day in 2020, I barely have the energy to sustain the habit this year. It’s not for the lack of things to write about. After the eventful beginnings of the pandemic, whose end is, at present, far beyond our line of vision, I’d much rather read and watch and think quietly. 2021 has so far been a year of introversion—a time of keeping it all in, making sense of things, praying, and meditating. This year also marks a major career transition—from medical training in Metro Manila to starting my private clinical practice in South Cotabato and General Santos City.

But I’m keeping my one post a week quota, if only to get me writing again.

Early this morning I finished Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad. The author writes about the experience of being diagnosed with leukemia, and how that has reshaped her life and relationships. The second part of the book is about her land trip around the US. When she wrote a column for the New York Times during her bone marrow transplant and chemotherapy, she received mails from readers all over. After her treatments, she decides to drive her friend’s Subaru and visit some people who reached out to her. The book is honest, sensitive, and inspiring. But reading about the topnotch oncologic care, clinical trials, and the sheer convenience of getting a port for chemo access made me wish for a better, more humane oncologic care in the Philippines, where a cancer diagnosis can lead to financial catastrophe. I pray for the author’s continued remission. And may she find God in her suffering and illness.

Last week I finished Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. It’s practical, inspiring in its pragmatism. This year is proving to be a great one for books.

My driving is markedly better. I can do reverse parking parking now—more hit than miss. Hitting the right parking spot, not other vehicles; otherwise I’d be in big trouble. In a hospital in Gensan, I befriended a security guard who hails from T’boli town. Calling me “kasimanwa,” he would come to my aid when the parking spaces are packed. I offered to drive him to his home town if he ever needed to go home, but his family is in the city, and he is happy where he is.

In a few days, it’s going to be June! We’re halfway through the year. Let's all keep safe and get vaccinated.

Monday, May 24, 2021

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Week ahead

Not much happening with the lockdowns and new COVID cases here and elsewhere. Grateful to be alive and well.  Finished Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, started on Isaac Bashevis Singer's short story collection, received packages of books ordered from Book Depository since last year, including Piercing Heaven. Read the first prayer after dinner last Wednesday, during our weekly family prayer time. All victories against this pandemic seem short-lived. We take what we can. For instance, there's my second dose of vaccine—praise be to God. Will head over to the hospital at 8 am, drive to Gensan to see some patients, head back to Marbel for lunch, then visit a patient in another town on her final day of chemo. In oncology circles, we call it "graduation." 

Untitled

Friday, May 14, 2021

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Delightful rosal (Gardenia jasminoides)

Rosal (Gardenia jasminoides Ellis)

Rosal (Gardenia jasminoides Ellis)

The rosal delights us with its first flowers on this rainy tropical morning. Grown by Uncle Glenn in his home garden in General Santos City, its branch was transplanted onto rich soil with coconut husks from our Banga farm, and was given to my mother as a gift. The plant occupies a small, quiet space beneath the kamuning tree [(Murraya paniculata (Linn.) Jack].

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

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Mentoring

Had a refreshing conversation with a medical resident a few days ago. She was also a mother, wife, and daughter who had lost her father many months ago. Told her I miss my father, too. We both agreed that suffering somehow made us empathize with patients more. 

Gave her tips on doing rounds on the floors, the same ones Sir Nemie Nicodemus taught me when we checked on his referrals. He taught me and my friends to see check the medication list, the I and O, the vital signs monitoring sheet, and the latest entries before marching inside the patient's room for a full physical exam. Mentors impact trainees to a degree greater than they can imagine. I'm grateful to have met Sir Nemie and my other mentors. I'm nowhere half as brilliant, but their advice were, and I took good notes so I could share them with the younger doctors. 

Monday, May 10, 2021

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Shtisel, my new favorite show of all time—among a few others

Not exaggerating when I say Shtisel is simply one of the best shows I've seen in my life. It ranks alongside Breaking Bad, Veep, The Office (US), Derry Girls, and The Mandalorian.

“Shtisel” is generous, lighthearted, and nostalgic—even when the origins of its nostalgia remain elusive. It is also a little old-fashioned, not only because of its subject matter but because of its situational structure. Things happen and cease to happen to the characters within a single episode: an illness, a robbery. It’s drama dressed as a sitcom. The show’s center of gravity is the father-son relationship between Shulem and Akiva, who are usually seen sitting around their cramped kitchen table, with its waxy tablecloth, eating sliced vegetables in their shirtsleeves and prayer shawls.
Love the characters. So fascinated by them that I find myself reciting Old Testament verses as they pray. Enjoyment is cloaked by sadness—these people reject Jesus Christ. While Christians are awaiting the Lord's second coming, they are still expectant for the first coming of the Messiah. While Christians believe that salvation is by God's grace through faith in Jesus, they believe that they must obey the law to the letter in order to be saved.

Still—the series displays so much humanity in a secluded, ultra-religious community we almost know nothing about. 

Brothers to me: "Watching Shitsel again?"

"Not Shitsel. SHTIsel!" 

Do not be condescending

Marilynne Robinson on thinking highly of her reader:
My main concern is to be respectful always of my reader’s intelligence. I tell my students always to assume the reader is a better person than he or she is. I tend to assume that good prose simply is accessible, and that condescending to the reader obscures meaning.

Same principle applies in medical communication. Be condescending to the patient, and you lose his trust.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Heartbreaking work of Dave Egger's staggering genius

Dave Eggers

Teary-eyed at 9 am on a Monday, at Starbucks along Santiago Boulevard. Arrived too early for my clinic and had time to spare—the story of the young doctor starting his practice. Nobody else noticed me, the solitary man, sipping coffee, al fresco, reading a white Kindle. But who cries at 9 am on the first day of the work week?

It was the book’s fault. Dave Eggers’ novel punched me in the gut. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius spoke to me the way people who’ve gone through similar suffering communicate a common language, populate the same neural network. Dave wrote about his mother, dying of gastric cancer. Feeling an emotional proximity to writers, I refer authors on a first name basis (Mavis Gallant is Tita Mavis, for instance). “While reclining on the couch most of the day and night, on her back, my mom turns her head to watch television and turns it back to spit up green fluid into a plastic receptacle.” He brings her to the hospital, despite her earlier instructions on the contrary. I could see myself in the situation, could hear and smell and feel its mundanity and extraordinariness, could imagine that “loss is accompanied by an undeniable but then of course guilt-inducing sense of mobility, of infinite possibility, having suddenly found oneself in a world with neither floor nor ceiling.” Succeeding chapters narrate what happened after—Dave stands as his brother Toph’s legal guardian, drives him around town in a red Civic, brings him to school activities. Hilarious, self-deprecating, heartbreaking, and staggering, but also compassionate and affecting. Do read it.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

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My performance in Ganap

 

Was invited to read a piece for Ganap, a series of literary performances hosted by Likhaan: University of the Philippines Institute for Creative Writing. Thrilled to be part of this
Tao lang din ang mga doktor. Napapagod din sila. Anong klaseng suporta ang kailangan nating ibigay para matulungan silang kalabanin ang pandemyang ito? Sapat na ba ang pagbibigay ng mga PPE, face mask, at face shield? Mayroon nang bakuna, ngunit hindi natin alam kung naipapamahagi ba ito unang-una sa mga health worker na pinakananganganib sa virus. Malalaman lamang natin ang sagot sa mga tanong na ito kung tayo ay makikinig sa kwento ng mga doktor na kumakalaban sa pandemya halos araw-araw. Sa episode na ito, matutunghayan natin ang mga pagbasa ng mga doktor na nagmula sa iba’t ibang rehiyon at disiplina. Kasama natin sila Dr. Joey Tabula, Dr. Justine Yu, Dr. Elvie Victonette Razon-Gonzalez, Dr. Lance Catedral, Dr. Maria del Carmen Castillo, at Dr. Will Liangco. Huminga muna tayo at sumama sa isa nanamang makabuluhang GANAP. 
TUNGKOL SA MGA MAGTATANGHAL 
Joey A. Tabula is a general internist, anthologist, publisher, and poet from San Antonio, Zambales. He was the editor of three books including "Pagninilay: Hinga, Hingal, at Hingalo sa Panahon ng Pandemya" published by UP Manila last year. He has been a workshop panelist in the 2020 and 2021 CNF Workshop for Doctors by the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center. He is the vice president and publisher of Linangan sa Imahen, Retorika, at Anyo (LIRA) and a board member of Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL). He is currently writing his thesis for MFA in Creative Writing at the De La Salle University.
Justine Yu is a neurologist and presently a fellow in training in dementia and related disorders at a hospital in Metro Manila. She was a creative nonfiction fellow in the Silliman Writers’ Workshop in 2007. Recently, she was a fellow in the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center 2nd Creative Nonfiction Writing Workshop for Doctors. She comes from Dumaguete City.
Dr. Elvie Victonette Razon-Gonzalez is an internist-gastroenterologist from Iloilo City. She finished her residency and fellowship training in University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital. She completed her thesis for MSc in Clinical Epidemiology in UP Manila. Her poems and essays have been published in several magazines and anthologies (Philippines Graphic, Poetika, From the Eyes of the Healer, Ilongga Bicycle Diaries). Her collection of poems, Vignettes of Voyages, was published as an eBook last 2020. 
Dr. Lance Catedral is an internist and medical oncologist based in Koronadal, South Cotabato and General Santos City. His interests include precision medicine, global oncology, and medical humanities. His creative works have been published in the anthology, From the Eyes of a Healer, the Cotabato Literary Journal, and the Journal of Patient Experience. He has been a panelist of the Creative Nonfiction Workshop for doctor-writers hosted by the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center.
Maria del Carmen R. Castillo completed her training at the UP-Philippine General Hospital. Her present practice is in both private and public hospitals in Las Pinas and Muntinlupa. Her poems were published in Caracoa 19: The Poetry Journal of the Philippines in 1988 as she was beginning medical school. Married, with two adult children who make fun of her gaming skills on Animal Crossing New Horizon, she continues to write to keep her sanity.
In 1998 Will used his one free elective to escape from pre-med subjects and took up The Short Story at the UP ICW. He claims that it has been one of the most fun and most formative courses he ever took, and since then he has always found it exhilarating to be in the company of storytellers. Practicing now as an oncologist, he writes stories and essays that try to find hope and humor in the frequently bleak landscape of patient care.
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