Showing posts from 2013

Greetings from Koronadal

I'M GRATEFUL for the few days I'm spending with family and friends this last week of December.  This break, albeit short-lived, is just what I desperately need.

My Reading Year 2013

2013 HAS been a great year for reading—praise God! My list consists mainly of fiction. I was blessed to read some uplifting Christian literature, too. I enjoyed reading short story collections—this may well be the Year of the Short Story, with Alice Munro winning the Nobel, and many famous novelists coming up with their own collections. Anyway the books are listed in the order I had read them. Thirty-eight or so books—not bad for a PGH medical intern who should be reviewing his textbooks instead.

She sings in my dreams

I'VE STOPPED listening to popular music after the 90's. During the summers of my childhood my cousins and I used to gather in front of the television to watch the weekly MTV countdown of the most popular songs rocking the world. From 2000 onwards, when I was a little more grown up, I found pop music distasteful, crass, overly sexualized, senseless, pointless, and noisy—and that was when I became disinterested. The generalization is unfair, as most generalizations are, for there were still songs worth listening to.

Family Day 2013

I LEFT the hospital earlier than usual to catch the 8:30 am service at Higher Rock Christian Church. This Sunday was particularly special because it was our Family Day. Missing it would be a huge loss. The theme was Marvelous Love , taken from 1 John 4:19: "We love because He first loved us."

Confessions by Augustine, translated by Garry Wills: a beautiful rendering of a humble man's prayer

WENT BACK to my old habits and bought a new book I spotted at my favorite second hand bookstore: Confessions by Augustine, in the new translation by Garry Willis. I could not resist buying it. My favorite college professor, Dr. Carlos Aureus, recommended it in my freshman year as an English major. I started reading it in 2009 , in the translation by John K. Ryan. Since then Confessions has been one of my favorite books of all time. The book is a celebration of a sinner's newfound personal relationship with God. It is a literary masterpiece in itself, adored and quoted even by non-believers.

Our Pediatrics rotation in black and white

CLERK MARK Bitong celebrated his birthday days ago. He's a big boy now.

David McIntyre's The Hidden Life of Prayer: a jewel-strewn tapestry for the serious Christian

THE HIDDEN Life of Prayer by Scottish pastor David McIntyre is a masterpiece of Christian literature. Published in 1981, it deals with an important area of the Christian life where a lot of believers struggle with—prayer. McIntyre writes, "Prayer is the most sublime energy of which the spirit of man is capable. It is in one aspect glory and blessedness; in another it is toil and travail, battle and energy." So many books have been written about prayer—how to pray, why we must pray. Biographies of prayerful men and women also abound. The sheer number of published works on this subject shows that the struggle is great, and believers are looking for encouragement and instruction.

Remembering CS Lewis' 50th death anniversary

CS LEWIS died 50 years ago today . He is one of my favorite authors. He has shown me that the life of the mind and of faith are not incompatible—they complement each other. A Christian thinker and apologist, he was also a world-renowned professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature. He was a voracious reader, an excellent writer, and from what I've heard over the Internet, an engaging radio show host. I read Mere Christianity in 2004. My friend Paul Balite gave it to me as a present. I could not grasp him at first—his sentences were short and crisp, but they were so packed with meaning that I had to pause and reread entire pages and sections again. Following his thought process humbled me—Jack, as he was fondly called, was a brilliant man. That he was a faithful Christian excited me even more; that he was seriously joyful about Christ made my heart explode in excitement.

The only exercise I ever get

AFTER I WOKE up from my nap I felt my neck hurt. And my arms, too. The code, which lasted for 20 minutes or so in the early morning, had me do the chest compressions with the Pediatrics resident. The patient was a 16-year old girl with a malignant tumor. The family had long known the prognosis—a dire one—but her mother kept wailing in the corner, crying out for help, while her father looked dazed, as if hypnotized, wondering if it was all just a dream.

Stalking and Dante Alighieri

THE OTHER DAY I went to my neighborhood's second-hand bookstore after dinner. I was browsing through the new titles with the other customers. Some were leafing through magazines, which I don't give a fig about. Others were looking at thick academic books—no, thank you: I have enough medical books to read for a lifetime. But there was one customer who caught my eye, a man in corduroy, with thick glasses, carrying a notebook containing a list of Books to Read. He was already carrying a hardbound James Salter novel, something I'd been looking for since I'd read Light Years and A Sport and A Pastime . I stalked him, followed him in various corners, and a part of me wished he'd drop the book and pick something else. But he went on to buy the Salter anyway. It devastated me at first, but I later wished him well. That book wasn't meant for me.

Julian Barnes' The Lemon Table: stories of the old

SOMETIMES I wish I were older, living a steady and quiet life, devoid of youthful passions, haughtiness, and pride. I like talking to old people; I learn a lot from them. My great-grandfather Lolo Otim was a nonagenarian before he eventually succumbed to an infection that got the better of him. He regaled my brothers and me with stories of the war and talked about the drinking sprees he had with his friends. His humor often escaped us. We were too young to understand the nuances of some of his stories, but we wouldn't forget his hearty laughter as he clutched on to his wooden cane. That was the picture I had in mind while reading Julian Barnes' short story collection, The Lemon Table . Barnes ruminates on how it feels to be old—looking back at love that could never be, regretting one's unfulfilled ambitions, philosophizing on what makes the old irritated, leaving a decades-long marriage that was never really a happy one. It is a vignette of experiences by random peopl


From right (seated): Drs. Charlie Clarion and Richson Chy*. From right (back row): myself, Drs. Migz Catangui, Agnes Custodio, Bernie Cid, Franco Catangui, and Joseph Castillo. MANDATORY block photo at the Sick Child Clinic, Out-Patient Department, Philippine General Hospital, to commemorate this day. Not the best day of my life, but one for the history books. The photo is to be called a selvie —photos of our selves . A selfie should only involve one person—him- or her self . If this word makes it to the dictionary, then I'll be glad. We're shifting out of the clinics and going to the wards tomorrow. It scares me. *SLO (solo liaison officer) in activity. UPDATE: The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year is selfie , defined as "a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website."

Block F at Mak Chang

MAK CHANG is a Korean restaurant along Adriatico Street. It's one of those places where you have to grill your meat to perfection, so expect to smell like your food when you go home. Shouting is the norm—come to think of it, the waiters shout a lot. They shout when someone comes in. They shout when customers give their orders. They shout when they talk to each other. Despite all the shouting, though, people can still hear each other. I like it. It's a truly happy place.

The Duel and Other Stories, and my serendipitous discovery of a new favorite writer by the name of Anton Chekhov

Portrait of Anton Chekhov by Osip Braz (1898) I'M ASHAMED to admit that while I'd heard of Anton Chekhov—the great Russian short story writer, the gold standard against whom contemporary writers are compared—I haven't read him extensively yet. I was browsing the Web at random last night when I came upon an intriguing Wikipedia page that whetted my appetite for his works. Chekhov has most of the qualities that I find irresistible in any writer of literature: he was a physician (treating patients was his day job), he was Russian (after Tolstoy, I've found Russian authors intriguing, not to mention depressing), and he was a writer of short stories, my favorite literary form—yes, more than novels or poetry. And he had super-cool eyeglasses. Last night I determined that I should read at least one of his short story collections. I'm glad his works can be downloaded for free at Project Gutenberg. I picked The Duel and Other Stories; the translation is by Constance

Anita and Arnold Lobel's On Market Street: a pediatric guide to capitalism

FOUND AT the Sick Child Clinic today: On Market Street by Anita and Arnold Lobel. It's a picture book that illustrates the alphabet in beautiful shapes, patterns, and designs. Truth is, it's also an introductory lesson on shopping hoarding. The story begins this way:


MY MORNING meditation was on 1 Thessalonians 4:3, "This is the will of God, even your sanctification." I'm sharing Oswald Chambers' beautiful words on this subject. I can make a poster out of this! All that Jesus made possible is mine by the free loving gift of God on the ground of what He performed, my attitude as a saved and sanctified soul is that of profound humble holiness (there is no such thing as proud holiness), a holiness based on agonizing repentance and a sense of unspeakable shame and degradation, and also on the amazing realization that the love of God commended itself to me in that while I cared nothing about Him, He completed everything for my salvation and sanctification. Have a great week ahead, dear friends!

Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory: a priest in hiding

IN MEXICO the government has ordered that the Roman Catholic church be abolished. Priests have renounced their faiths. Some of them have married. The church bells have not pealed for years. Public prayer has been outlawed. The people have not had confessions. An unnamed priest—the only one living—is in hiding, drinking whiskey and wine, trying to save his life. As he goes from village to village, disguising as a regular man in tattered clothes, riding a mule to get to another town; he is flocked by faithful Catholics who risk their lives to hear Mass and be given penance. The lieutenant, whose chief end in life is to capture the priest and bring him to trial, goes on an almost merciless manhunt. Hostages are taken from each village where the priest may have gone, and people are killed along the way.

Why kids hate me

THE NORMAL reaction of two- or three-year olds at the sight of me is fear. They cry for dear life. They struggle, fling their arms, and run amok.

Spring cleaning

MY AUNTIE Netnet, the librarian who used to give us a lot of books during Christmas when we were little, visited my apartment this week and helped me arrange my books. I don't own shelves; installing them means I have to un-install them again when I transfer residences. That's not wise, given that in the city I'm a nomad. My books—both for business and pleasure—are stacked inside my drawers, cabinets, and in corners of my study. I asked that she classify my books using the Dewey Decimal System. Perhaps she would've indulged me if she had more time.

José Saramago's All the Names: chronicles of a bored stalker

NOTHING MUCH happens in All the Names , the novel by Portuguese Nobel laureate José Saramago, but after reading it I felt as though I'd been through a lot. It is, in summary, a chronicle of the events in the life of Senhor José, a clerk who works at the Central Registry of Births, Marriages and Death. Bored with his clerical job, he stumbles upon the record of an unknown woman and decides to snoop around and discover everything about her. Whether it is boredom or curiosity that launches his obsession with this woman we cannot explain, in the same way that we can't always come up with reasons for the things we do. Saramago has this to say about the absurdity of human action: Strictly speaking, we do not make decisions, decisions make us. The proof can be found in the fact that, though life leads us to carry out the most diverse actions one after the other, we do not prelude each one with a period of reflection, evaluation and calculation, and only then declare ourselves a

Not everyone reads

I EXAMINED a 70-year old woman at the Eye Clinic today, and she taught me an important lesson: not everyone can read. You see, the standard five-point eye exam begins with the test for visual acuity: the patient is asked to read a Snellen chart. The smaller the letter the patient can read, the higher the score.

I need Thee every hour

BEAUTIFUL rendition of the classic hymn, I Need Thee Every Hour (Annie S. Hawkes, 1872), by Sam Robson. We're missing out a lot by not listening to timeless, theologically-rich, well-written, and Scripture-saturated hymns; I'm glad people are coming up with new arrangements. I'm posting the lyrics in full. May this be the prayer of our hearts today, for without Him, we are nothing.

We're halfway through Internship year

WE'RE HALFWAY through Internship. Over dinner last night, my blockmate Agnes Custodio and I talked about the first days of Internship year. She had just finished manning the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit, while I was dying of boredom at the ward. I had nothing else to do until 7 PM when my shift would end. I already did chart rounds and carried out orders for the two newly admitted patients, so I had dinner at the nearby mall, and Agnes said she'd come along. That simple dinner was our inferior version of a Friday night-out. " Kawawa naman tayo ," we comforted ourselves.

Alice Munro wins the Nobel, and intermittent updates on her short story collection, Dear Life

YOU MUST'VE heard the news: Alice Munro has won the Nobel Prize for Literature this year! I must've read some of her stories in The New Yorker , but I don't remember any of them anymore. Got myself a copy of Dear Life , her short story collection, the last book she said she will ever write. Will try to read through it tonight. I've been enjoying short story collections recently. Just this afternoon, I began reading Julian Barnes' The Lemon Table . Recently I finished James Salter's Dusk and Other Stories . It's a long weekend for me. Good night, world! *  *  * The second story, Amundsen , is breathtaking. Here Munro takes us to a sanatorium where a young teacher sets out to work. Her pupils: children with tuberculosis. So you realize it was at the time when streptomycin was still in the works, and surgery was the main treatment. She meets a doctor, ten years older than her. He sets the rules of the place—a dreary, gloomy, death-saturated institution—and,

ORL (Otorhinolaryngology): October 2-15, 2013

HANAPIN ang taong may dimples kung nag-eksam! Si Kuya!

Walk with God

I WAS having my quiet time at a nearby restaurant early this morning. I decided to treat myself with a good breakfast while I was at it—today is Sunday, after all, and I'm free the entire day, and I can go to church at 9 am.  There weren't a lot of people in that restaurant, the music wasn't distracting, and nobody knew me and vice-versa. With me were my Bible, my faux leather-bound second-hand copy of Oswald Chambers' My Utmost For His Highest , and my journal. I was so encouraged and convicted by my reading, so let me share with you what I learned.

Vignettes No. 1

I. 3 AM. The nurse lays down the cannula and plain NSS bottle on the counter. I go to Bed 37 to establish an IV line. The patient is scheduled for surgery in a few hours. " Magandang umaga, Doc," she says, smiling at me. Beside her is a Nokia cellphone that plays what is unmistakably an Aiza Seguerra song. " Ang ganda ng music mo, ah. Sabi ng ibang mga pasyente, kamukha ko raw ang singer niyan ." Her eyes brighten up. The resemblance must be striking.

Graham Greene's The End of the Affair: what you can read after a painful breakup

GRAHAM GREENE'S The End of the Affair figures in the top three of Slate Magazine's best breakup books . That's one of the reasons why I embarked on it, the other being that the novel bears an interesting title, and I wanted a good love story. I don't know about you, but I've never been heartbroken—not in that sense. But I've had the privilege of hearing personal stories from friends who, at some point, had taken the leap of faith, had begun what looked like a promising relationship that eventually fell into pieces. From what I've  gathered, I have come to this conclusion: that a breakup is a painful, agonizing process, like an impacted tooth that demands all the attention and prevents other pleasures to be had.

James Salter's Dusk and Other Stories: the power of a sentence

JAMES SALTER knows the power of a well-constructed sentence—short, crisp, yet evocative. His armament lies in his understatements, which turn out to be explosions of feelings, or sudden twists in the tale. Reading him is an overwhelming, exhilarating experience. You fall into a trance. You're sucked right into his imagination, as in a black hole. Your mind bursts with cinematic pictures, and you emphathize with the characters because you know what they're going through. You see bits and pieces of yourself in them. If you dream of writing stories of your own, you probably wish you could write like Salter. I started reading his collection, Dusk and Other Stories (1989),  in between surgeries. Ordinarily a medical intern chooses to sleep in a corner, oblivious to the intermittent alarms of the cardiac monitor and the buzzing of the cautery devices. But I was captivated by the beauty of his prose and the elegance of his tales, and I finished the book in less than 24 hours.

Yoko Ogawa's The Housekeeper and The Professor: what to love about numbers

THE Housekeeper and the Professor is a novel by Japanese writer Yoko Ogawa whom I'd never heard of before. (Have you ever done that: take on a book written by someone you have no idea of? That was how I discovered David Bezmogis when I picked his short story collection, Natasha . When I read about him in The New Yorker I felt a certain sense of accomplishment, as if it was I who had discovered him first.) I only picked the book from the list because the title sounded neat. I like reading novels by Japanese authors—Murakami, Kawabata, and Ishiguro among them. There's a zen-like, uncluttered rhythm to their prose, perfect to ward off the stresses of urbanity. The novel is about a housekeeper who works for a recluse mathematician. The Professor lives in a dilapidated cottage. Years ago he sustained multiple injuries due to a car crash. As a result his memory has been compromised. "It's as if he has a single eighty-minute videotape inside his head, and when he records

William Boyd's Waiting For Sunrise: an actor is a spy

WAITING FOR SUNRISE is William Boyd's newest novel. The protagonist is 27-year old Lysander Reif, an actor, who goes to Vienna to consult with a certain Dr. Bensimon, a psychiatrist, protegé of Sigmund Freud. Dr. Bensimon prescribes a new mode of psychotherapy called Parallelism in which the patient imagines an alternative reality during hypnosis. Meanwhile Reif stumbles upon an intriguing lady named Hettie Bull, an Englishwoman living with a famous and rich artist, and he begins a passionate affair with her. He is cured of his ills, or so he tells Dr. Bensimon, but his encounter with Hettie brings about events that will change his life dramatically: he gets Hettie pregnant, he is arrested for rape, and he flees Austria under a disguise, never to come back again.

A cursed fridge and a generator that runs on uling

1 PRIDYIDER (2012) is about a cursed refrigerator that kills people. Whether it's death by suffocation or hypothermia, we don't really know. The film stars Andi Eigenmann playing the balikbayan Andi Benitez. She was brought to the US when she was younger to protect her from her crazy mother played by Janice de Belen. She had to go back to take care of the ancestral home. And that was when strange things started to happen—people disappearing, cats getting killed. The fridge is the average one-door type that most middle class Filipino families own. How did adult-sized people fit right in? As we were about to wallow in skepticism, we saw a scene depicting Janice de Belen inside one of the fridge's compartments. Think about this: Pinoy horror stories make the best comedies.

Books for the weekend

I'M CURRENTLY reading William Boyd's Waiting for Sunrise , but I should be able to finish it this evening. He's good. A Good Man in Africa is supposed to be a monumental work. We'll see about that.

John Barlow's Everything But The Squeal: Eating The Whole Hog In Northern Spain. Ahh, where's the crispy pata?

I TREATED myself to a trip down my favorite bookstore and got myself a book because the cover was interesting.

Speak, O Lord

THE SONG— Speak, O Lord by Keith and Kristy Getty—was sung in church yesterday. The melody is captivating, the message timeless. What a feast for the Christian soul! O Lord, that You would help us grasp the heights of Your plans for us.

Carwash 2.0

WE HAD five consults today. The most severe was a 29-year old man who sustained electric burns on his face, trunk, arms, and legs, affecting at least 40% of his total body surface area (TBSA). Before we scrubbed the burn sites we gave him meds which partially relieved the pain, but he still squirmed and sobbed like a boy whose dog just died. We took more than an hour peeling, cleaning, and dressing his wounds. For the next few weeks he'll be at the Carwash on a daily basis.


CARWARSHING—that's what we call the "torturing" we do to patients at the Hydrotherapy Room of the Burn Unit. Depending on the severity of their condition, the patients come in daily to have their burns cleaned and their dressings changed.

The best teachers

SPOTTED at the PGH OPD Surgery Clinic. Often we complain that we deal with so many patients, and we forget that they are the best teachers in our medical training. We're able to diagnose colorectal cancer because they've allowed us to poke our fingers inside their anal openings. We're able to detect cardiac murmurs because they've have agreed that we listen to their heartbeats. We're able to insert IV lines seamlessly because they've not hesitated to steady their hands so we could hit the veins.

Blast from the past: my column for DormWatch in 2005

WHILE LALLYGAGGING on a Sunday morning, I reviewed my old emails and chanced upon a copy of the column I had sent for DormWatch, the official publication of the Dormitories Christian Fellowship. The letter was dated June 29, 2005. I was part of the group that ministered to the freshmen at the Kalayaan Dormitory and was asking for prayers and support.

Overheard in the elevator

AFTER FINISHING my chart rounds for the morning, I took the elevator to the sixth floor. I was going to drop a referral. If you've been to PGH you probably know that our elevators have the following key characteristics: (1) they're slow—slower than an intern's brain on a post-duty day, (2) they're manned by actual people who press the buttons manually, and (3) they're almost always overpopulated, such that the alarm would go off once in a while, in which case the elevator lady would motion everyone to stay on the perimeter, a maneuver that always works.

Wired, not wireless

1. I DREAD going home these days. I will have to fix my computer. Since the random software update three days ago, Slowpoke—the name I call my rusty five-year old Compaq CQ40 laptop—could no longer connect wirelessly to the internet. I've been doing all sorts of things. I practically taught myself software troubleshooting. I'm convinced that the problem lies in the fact that the driver for my PCI (a Broadcom 4312 STA) is no longer installed. I've been trying to install it. I've spent five or six hours, probably more, downloading the kernels and what-nots through different means: Synaptic, the Additional Drivers key, the terminal—to no avail. It's frustrating.

My soul thirsts for You

DOWN with fever last night, I slept earlier than usual. When I woke up this morning I read Psalm 143. Seasons of sickness are occasions for unhindered communion with God.

Isaac Bashevis Singer's The Collected Stories: the wonders of short stories

I'VE BEEN saving up Singer's stories for the rainy days—and I say that both literally and figuratively. Great stories must be read with all the peace and quiet and concentration one can muster; they deserve all the attention. I also think such stories are best read on a gloomy weather—or better yet, when it's raining and flooding outside, and you're left inside your room alone with your thoughts and imaginations. "It is difficult for me to comment on the choice of the forty-seven stories in this collection, selected from more than a hundred. Like some Oriental father with a harem full of women and children, I cherish them all," writes Isaac Bashevis Singer in the foreword of his book, which I had bought weeks ago.

Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses: the closest I'll get to being a cowboy is by reading about it.

CORMAC MCCARTHY'S All The Pretty Horses is a work of genius. Sixteen-year old John Cole Grady leaves home after his mother sells their San Angelo, Texas ranch. He persuades his bestfriend Lacey Rawlins to go with him on a journey to Mexico where cattle and ranches abound. The journey is epic.  As they move further south they meet Jimmy Blevins who gets them into all sorts of trouble. In Mexico Grady and Cole find employment in a ranch owned by a rich and influential hacendero who immediately takes a liking to them, particularly to Grady. The hacendero has a daughter so beautiful Grady cannot take his mind off her. Her name is Alejandra, a strong-willed young lady who likes riding horses and chooses to defy age-old traditions in pursuit of happiness.

I played basketball

I HAVE a new exercise regimen: basketball. Let me tell you the story. A couple of weeks ago Rich brought his basketball to the call room. It was a lazy weekend morning. Left with nothing to do I took the ball out and dribbled it. Other people began to take interest in what I was doing, for in the last five years they had known me they'd never seen me hold a ball.

My reward system consists of films

SINCE September 1 I've resolved to devote at least two hours of my day to do something academic, of which reading medical textbooks and studying clinical cases are a vital part. It's not a strict rule, but it helps me put things into perspective. When the medical board exam results came out (and UP College of Medicine got a 100%  passing rate; all of my other friends who came from other med schools passed, too—what joy!), it occurred to me that in about a year, give or take, I will be taking the same grueling exam. Judging from experience cramming does not suit me well, so I had better prepare early. I don't know how I can sustain this exercise, but I feel like the theories I had learned two or three years ago now make much more sense.

On a gloomy afternoon


John Banville's The Sea: coping with loss

The Sea is breathtaking. Middle-aged Max Morden has recently lost his wife of many years to cancer and heads over to the seaside town where he grew up. Alone in a rented shack, he looks back at the meaning of his life and tries to make sense of it—for isn't it true that loss makes one consider what one truly possesses?

The things we do in the service of the sick Filipino

We labor under the impression that we are waterproof. Now let me cross this body of water, on its way to beating the Marianas Trench in depth.

The cure is friendship, and how to deal with bullies

THE CURE (1995) is about two friends, unlikely friends, who search for the cure for AIDS. They meet each other when Erik (Brad Renfro) jumps to the other side of the white fence and sees Dexter (Joseph Madello) for the first time. Erik's first reaction: "Wow, you're a midget." Dexter quips that he's within the normal range statistically. They hit it off instantly. Don't most friendships begin just like that? It starts with a common like or dislike, and progresses to something deeper and more meaningful.

Woody Allen's Getting Even: on Mafia and wiretaps

I'M HALFWAY through Getting Even by Woody Allen, his first collection of humorous stories and essays. "A Look At Organized Crime ," first published in the New Yorker in August 1970, is the perfect companion to understanding the dynamics of the Italian-American mob in the hit TV series, The Sopranos . (I'm watching the series now. The soundtrack is intense. The accent is infectious.) It is no secret that organized crime in America takes in over forty billion dollars a year. This is quite a profitable sum, especially when one considers that the Mafia spends very little for office supplies. Reliable sources indicate that the Cosa Nostra laid out no more than six thousand dollars last year for personalized stationery, and even less for staples. Futhermore, they have one secretary who does all the typing, and only three small rooms for headquarters, which they share with the Fred Persky Dance Studio.

A heart like Bonhoeffer's

FINALLY FINISHED the 500-page biography by Eric Metaxas on German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The final chapters are intense.

High school friendships

IT'S NOT every day that I get to see my high school friends. Throughout the years some of us have migrated to Manila for study or work. But although we are in the same city, we live separate lives and only see each other when we go home for Christmas in Koronadal. When Willie Loyola, who often flies here for monthly meetings, asked if I could make it to our mini-class reunion, I immediately said yes, even if it meant taking some hours off my precious post-duty sleeping time.

On kids, broken bones, and forgiveness

THE GIRL, about seven years old, came to the ER with a sling on her right arm. Her father held her other hand. She wore a white blouse and maroon skirt—her uniform—and bore minor abrasions on her knees. " Ano ang nangyari ? (What happened?)" I asked her.

Leo Tolstoy's The Kreutzer Sonata: when a man kills his wife

IF LEO TOLSTOY were alive today, and if he were born a Filipino, he would've made a profitable career out of writing scripts for modern-day soap operas. He understands Pinoy psyche. Consider, for example, The Kreutzer Affair , which I read last weekend. As Tolstoy's commentary on the marriage institution, it has this familiar plot: a jealous husband who murders his wife out of rage and hatred. Marital murders and quarrels are the bread and butter of prime time news. The emergency room isn't spared from them, either: last night I saw a bleeding patient who was stabbed by his wife with an ax ( bolo ) while he was sleeping.

Say Anything

IF YOU'VE seen Easy A (2010) you probably remember the scene where Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) pines for someone to woe her. Towards the movie's end, while Olive is doing a live broadcast on webcam, her long-time crush "Woodchuck" Todd (Penn Badgely) lifts his speakers, whereupon a song is heard, Emma looks out her window, and sees the man of her dreams.

Thoughts on my first Surgeon-on-Duty (SOD) duty as an intern

— My HPIs* contained at most two compound sentences. Charting that day gave me so much pleasure.

Charles Dicken's Great Expectations: the Joes and Herberts of our lives

I READ Charles Dickens for comfort. His writing is simple, his plots are straightforward, and his characters jump out of the page, making indelible marks in my memory, and occupying familiar, cozy spots in my heart.

The price of procrastination

THE PRICE of procrastination is hard to bear. For more than a year I did not bother updating my OS, when it could've been just as easy as pushing the Update Manager button in my desktop's upper right corner. Why was I so lazy?

Clingy-ness flourishes in Rehab

REHAB ends in two days and our free time with it. The past two weeks have been nothing but restful. After two months of IM, it was just what we needed. The available free time, for one only goes on 24-hour shifts twice (and for some, even once), has allowed us to get to know each other. If you read this blog, you probably know that apart from the twins who eat like anorexics during lunch, we pretty much have insatiable appetites.

Binge eating

TO CELEBRATE the end of Internal Medicine, Block F went to an eat-all-you-can resto for dinner last July 24. We've been eating a lot since internship started, but it was the first time as a block that we dined in a place as far away as Pasay City and as expensive as Buffet 101. Our "reservation" was at 6:30 PM, but we started an hour later. The traffic along Roxas Boulevard was atrocious. Nevertheless the night was filled with laughter and fascination as we reminisced the weeks that have passed, filling our bellies with unlimited food. I praise God for the grand time we all had. My blockmates—they make excellent company, both inside and outside the hospital. Below are photos taken using Agnes's huge camera.

Good reads

MY LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP with coffee shops is complicated. I like spending the afternoons there to finish a good book, for example, but I could not, for the love of me, force myself to study, a practice I like doing inside the comforts of my apartment. I took this photo one rainy afternoon, on a post-duty day, I think, in the hope of catching up on my academic reading, but I was so disturbed by the sight of college students, years younger than me, smoking outside (and I could see them because the walls were made of glass), that I couldn't help but think about the poor state of their lungs, and the fact that ten or fifteen years from now, they will have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, if not full-blown lung cancer. I went home instead.

Ricky Lee's Amapola sa 65 na Kabanata: an aswang's messianic calling to save the Philippines from his/her kind

I EMBARKED on Ricky Lee's second novel, Si Amapola Sa 65 Na Kabanata , about a year ago, when I was bent on patronizing Philippine literature—contemporary or otherwise. Caught up with too much work, I set the book aside and was only able to finish it last Saturday, thanks to the cold and the rain and the awesome Rehab weekend. The protagonist is a transvestite named Amapola who works as an impersonator in Timog and Tomas Morato. Clearly it's next to impossible to put down a novel that begins this way: Sa labas, habang ang mga kababayan ko ay hindi pa nakaka-recover sa sunod-sunod na bagyong pinasimulan ng Ondoy, ako, sa loob ng High Notes sa kanto ng Timog at Morato, ay naka-split sa stage, ini-impersonate si Beyoncé, kinakanta ang If I Were A Boy , theme song ng mga tomboy.

The Phenomenon of Sleeping in Cinema

I REMEMBER my irritation at Robinson's Movieworld for cancelling the showing of Before Midnight before I even had the chance to see it. I'd been looking forward to watching it on the second week it was shown in our neighborhood cinema. I felt a combination of anger and disappointment, the way a child feels when he is promised an afternoon at the beach and is told the beach no longer exists. The moral of this story: don't let good movies pass you by. Watch them with urgency.

Two months

I MUST'VE SPENT quite a long time in Internal Medicine (IM) because I often got mistaken for being a straight IM intern. Flattering, when I think about it; I wasn't qualified to be in the straight program to begin with. I'm just content to be regular medical student going through regular rotations with a regular block. So my two months of IM is finally over. If you're a regular reader you probably already know the ordeals I've been through at the wards during my first month: four mortalities, occurring in a span of a little more than a week; taking charge of Wards 1 and 3, even for just a night; my service winning the Jeopardy quiz show, thanks to a strategic move in the Final Round, making us the first group to gain the title, Chairman's Champs. But I've been silent about my second month, which was just as eventful as the first but probably not as exhausting.

Eric Metaxas' Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy. Read this for encouragement.

AT HOME on a post-duty day, I resumed reading Eric Metaxas' biography , Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy . This is a book that will probably end up as one of my most recommended literary works. Towards the end of Chapter 8 is an excerpt of a letter written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer to his brother-in-law Rüdger Schleicher. I could not resist not posting it here in full, for in the passage lies a strong encouragement to relish and enjoy God's Word. May you be encouraged as I certainly was!

New glasses

I COULDN'T resist not buying this brown pair, possibly the biggest I own. Fits me well. It's funny how friends, who usually don't give a fig about glasses, now spew random comments about eye wear.

How to make your OPD Triage post worthwhile

MANNING the Out-Patient Department Triage is the most coveted post during one's Internal Medicine ER rotation. Sure, you have to be there at 6:30 am, but the Triage ends at 11 pm, and, if you're fortunate enough, you'll have the entire afternoon off.


I'M HALFWAY through the Collected Stories of Lydia Davis . I started reading her works about a year ago, returning to them once in a while—after, say, a solitary meal, which was the case this afternoon. And that's the good thing about short stories—they're short, haha—and can be enjoyed for brief periods of time.

Honoring the details

IT WAS the writer Nicholson Baker's conviction that we should honor the details of our lives rather than get carried away by projections and abstractions. Let me share a few details, then:

Who are we without our memories?

I MET HER three days ago, the patient who had no recollection of the past. I took on the reins of the interview after the resident, in her frustration, decided that I could probably extract bits and pieces of information from her. Her husband was nowhere in sight, and her companion, the brother she had not seen for years, was just as clueless as she was.


ALONG Padre Faura Street, near the entrance to the PGH Outpatient Clinics, I saw a man urinating beside an old, gray car. The man, probably in his early 50's, was wearing a yellow shirt, khaki shorts, and slippers. As he was relieving himself (and a steady, uninterrupted stream it was), a married couple was watching his back. The wife, troubled, was whispering something to her husband, whose brows were crossed, ready to confront the stranger. The couple probably owned the car. Their five-year old son was with them. Fearing a public scene would ensue, I immediately walked away. Meanwhile the stranger's liquid secretions were pooling on the asphalt road.

Internal Medicine Ward: Weeks 3 and 4 (June 12-25, 2011)

MISERY loves company. And while Internal Medicine wasn't especially miserable, it was hard nevertheless, and good company was always a welcome treat. On our final two weeks at the wards we met Block E, a more outgoing group to whom we took an instant liking. Expect lots of group shots after the cut.

A dog on a leash—and some random thoughts

JOYCE Carol Oates' Mastiff is published at The New Yorker this month and can be accessed for free. The short is about a man and a woman who go hiking, encountering a dangerous dog on a leash along the way. Both past their thirties, they wonder whether they're meant for each other. Although it is a love story, I enjoyed it very much. My favorite passage: The man was a little annoyed by the woman. Yet he was drawn to her. He hoped to like her more than he did—he hoped to adore her. He had been very lonely for too long and had come to bitterly resent the solitude of his life.

Sunday mornings

HAVEN'T SEEN my brother Ralph for more than a month now. My mother must have told him of my present state—exhausted and sleepless—when he called home. While I was looking after ward patients complaining of new onset chest pains, he texted me, "Let's get some wine when you're free"—his subtle way of finally admitting that Medicine is truly harder than Law. (Feel free to disagree, of course: that is one pointless debate that can never be resolved.)

Feedly is a great alternative to Google Reader

GOOGLE READER will be gone for good, and today is the last day I'm ever going to use it. The announcement was made around the time when the new pope was installed. The news saddened me, an avid blog reader, because Google Reader has been a reliable, reader-friendly RSS reader. I didn't have to visit individual websites; I just logged on to my Reader account, and I could read all the entries there. What are good alternatives available?

Coping mechanism

DESPITE my self-imposed moratorium on book-buying, I got myself a couple more titles. Hoarding may be the more appropriate term, but I like to refer to my behavior as a means to keep my sanity. My justification: I've been swallowed by IM this past month; I needed to do something to keep the stress off.

Afternoon delights

AFTER MANNING the Out-Patient Department (OPD) triage at 11 am and handling one patient at the Dermatology Clinic, I went home to sleep. I woke up at 4 pm and noticed that a region of my hair, particularly the right temporoparietal area, was flattened—a Grade A recommendation for me to get a haircut immediately.

6:30 am

EVERY MORNING I wake him up, tapping his left arm or stroking the white tufts of hair on his head. My 70-year-old patient opens his eyes like a newborn, squints at the beginnings of what will turn out to be a blinding daylight, and looks at me.

Internal Medicine Ward: Weeks 1 and 2 (May 29 - June 11, 2013)

OUR FIRST WEEK in Internal Medicine was harrowing. Handling up to ten patients per person was commonplace, and monitoring for four to six hours straight wasn't extraordinary--everybody was doing it, anyway, so why should we complain like ignorant hormonal teenagers? If we could survive this IM clerkless existence, we could probably survive the rest of internship.

Wet armpits

WE'VE DISCHARGED most of our patients, and for the first time in two weeks I felt as if a backbreaking load was taken off my shoulders.

Random updates from my Internal Medicine rotation.

I APOLOGIZE for the lack of updates. I've been exhausted to write anything coherent, but tonight I make an exception. 1. Internal Medicine is sweeter the second time around—yes, even if there aren't any clerks to help us out. I'm not saying we don't need them. We do, and we're glad they're arriving next week. 2. Two mortalities in two days. I thought I could get used to seeing death, but I took care of those patients— my patients—and I felt terrible. I was told to leave all the burdens in the hospital—but I practically live at Wards 1 and 3 now.

29 years

I CALLED HOME tonight to give my parents a quick weekly rundown of how I was doing. I wanted to give them the impression that I was alive and kicking—not entirely true, of course—and that they needn't worry.

Eating out

LATELY I'VE been a regular customer at Toastbox, near—actually, beside—the Sta. Ana exit of Robinsons Manila. The restaurant chain is a hit in Singapore, where it originated. I always order the kaya toast set served with two softboiled eggs and homemade milk tea, even during lunch. Fell in love with it after the first bite. I like the place because there aren't too many medical students around. The couch is perfect for reading, especially in the afternoon when the light is bright but not blinding.

The Newsroom

NOTHING LEAPED OUT of my screen when I watched The Newsroom, an HBO series about broadcast journalists who want to change the prime time TV news landscape. Halfway through the pilot episode I was bored. Apart from the witty, fast-paced conversations that I doubt would ever happen in real life, nothing else stood out. But I got so hooked that I would repeat watching the episodes over and over again.

Block Photo 3: Neuro-Psych OPD (May 15-21, 2013)

Photo credit: Agnes Custodio CHARLIE was on his way to catch a flight to Davao. After having been gone for three weeks, the longest he's been away from home, he missed his mother's cooking and everything about his house in Mindanao. That explains why we were missing one person in the photo. I'd like to share a conversation I had with a patient I met during one of the pyschiatric screening sessions we had. The form we accomplished was more or less five pages long. My hand was tired from all the writing. The clinical experience was mostly drudgery, but some patients fascinated me I had to consciously keep a poker face and not burst out laughing. ME: Nagtangka ka na bang magpakamatay? Patient X: Opo, Dok. Me: Ilang beses? Patient X: Isang beses lang po. Kaso di rin natuloy kasi pag pasok ko sa banyo, napaka-baho. Hindi nabuhusan ang bowl. 'Di ko na tinuloy.

A new and living Way

I'VE BEEN reading Hebrews for my morning devotions these past few weeks. It's hard to miss the imagery of the Old Testament sacrifices, the necessity of the Levitical priesthood, the gore of the slaughtered lambs, and the flowing of gradually coagulating blood spilled year after year to atone for the sins of the people—ceremonies that highlighted the holiness of God, who cannot and will not let evil go unpunished.

Tsundoku and the story of my three new books

I LEARNED A NEW WORD today— tsundoku , which means "the act of buying books and not reading them." I like this word because I'm guilty of hoarding books, although I do read most of them. My problem has to do with the finishing of books. Alert me if there's a Japanese word for that, too.

About the shrieky teenager who could not steady her hands

FRANCES INVITED me to join her in a travel writing workshop conducted by Lonely Planet guidebook editor Greg Bloom along with other local travel writers. It was at Fully Booked, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. Minutes into the workshop I had flashbacks of a similar campus journalism workshop I had when I was in elementary, the days when I had awful grammar, limited vocabulary, and bad lead sentences.

Maria Reiner Rilke's The Notebooks of Malte Laurdis Briggs: what your next-door neighbors probably think of you, if you're studying Medicine

I'M NOT YET done with Maria Reiner Rilke's The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Briggs.  The tone is depressing, for it was written when the author lived alone in Paris, plagued by poverty, left to fend for himself. I'm stationed at the Psychiatry out-patient clinics in the morning. I see many depressed people. Reading this novel helps me see the world from their perspective.

Excessive, but of the right kind

AFTER WEEKS of waiting I saw The Great Gatsby in cinema. I went to the 7:10 pm screening and was disappointed at the rather low turnout of viewers. I was surprised when, just a few minutes before the movie began, I spotted AA Agdamag, Jopi Arce, Tel Almanon, and Karla Araneta—classmates in med school—squeezing themselves in my row. I'm used to watching movies on my own, but they made great company.

It's May 16

AND MANONG RALPH celebrates his 28th birthday today. I can't thank him enough for the Christ-like example he showed me. I was drawn to Jesus when, ten years ago, I saw him praying and reading his Bible inside our room, as if he were talking to a dear friend, his face a combination of seriousness and delight. It was around that time when he shared the gospel to me, as a beggar, after having eaten in a feast, would instruct another how to get to the banquet. Then I realized that Christ radically changes lives. Christianity is real. For that, I'm eternally grateful.

Block Photo 2: Neurosurgery (May 8-14, 2013)

Photo credit: Agnes Custodio NEUROSURGERY (NSS) wasn't a walk in the park as it was originally endorsed. At the ER I was monitoring five patients, three of them hourly. As the intern-on-duty I had to make sure all the CT scans were scheduled and performed, and the plates and necessary lab results should be available before the residents made rounds, usually at 10 am and at 8 pm. The job was mostly clerical, bordering on being a glorified errand boy, but it was the least the interns could do to help out in patient care. The NSS residents, chronically sleep-deprived, already had too much in their hands to start with.

The Good German

I RECOMMENDED Truffaut's The 400 Blows , a black-and-white 1959 French film classic, to my friend Ching some years ago. She later told me the movie lulled her to deep REM sleep, such that when she had woken up, it was already night time. Sleeping through a film was something that had never happened to her before. Ching's confession, which still amuses me to no end, has led me to rethink my movie recommendations. I should pattern my tips to my knowledge of other people's tastes, which can change like the weather. Not everyone likes old films from way before the technicolor era. Not everyone likes films where they have to read the subtitles. My friend Leeca, for example, rejects all films I tell her to watch, saying, " Title pa lang, nakakaantok na. "


FINALLY FOUND the time to have my prescription lenses ground for the new pair of browline glasses I had ordered online. The fit is perfect, and I like it.


THE SLEEP-DEPRIVED neurosurgery resident instructed me to accompany a 60-year-old patient to the Philippine Heart Center for a CT angiogram, which our hospital cannot do, as it does not have the necessary equipment. Heart Center is in Quezon City, about 40 minutes away from PGH, and very near my brother's apartment. Because it was my first out-of-PGH patient conduction, I had no idea what to expect. Inside the ambulance I studied the patient's history, just in case I'd get asked. I didn't want to embarrass my home institution by displaying my ignorance to the world. The patient had an aneurysm in the brain; unless surgical intervention was done, the vessel could burst any minute, possibly causing irreparable neurologic and mental function, even demise.

Things to like in Hannibal

1. Will Graham's eyeglasses. They look great on him. Hugh Dancy plays him well—the FBI special investigator who can relive the crime and see it from the killer's perspective. His gift defines him: he hates working with others, he lives alone, and he has the most terrible dreams. He has night sweats, is sometimes found somnambulating, and is almost always bothered by something. Sounds like a psychiatric case to me.