Saturday, November 25, 2017


Writing with Diamine Merlot is like dipping one’s pen in wine over dinner. Thanks to my former clerk, Walter Cheng, for ordering this for me.



We were taking selfies before "selfie" even became a word*. My good friend Wegs Pedroso owned a portable blue Sony digital camera that she brought with her everywhere, especially during lab classes where she took photos of slides straight from the microscope then uploaded it in Multiply, a terrific photo-sharing site before the Facebook era. This was the camera's primary utility, but Wegs also used it to take photos of ourselves, while picking samples of Dieffenbachia, or eating at CASAA (already burned down, to our dismay, as the place sold delicious turon), or hanging out at Albert Hall in between PCRs. Her primary subjects were me, Dianne Deuna (who's doing further studies in marine biology--so cool!), Juanchi Pablo (who's based in the States, married, with a smart kid, but still balding), and our other block mates in molecular biology. This is my personal history of the selfie. How we managed to get everything done still escapes me!

But when did this phenomenon start? Jonah Engel Bromwich of the New York Times set out to find the first selfie taken in history.

Robert Cornelius's photo, taken in 1839, is considered the first selfie, but "he ran into the frame. Could it be argued that a selfie must be taken using a hand-held camera?"

The image in question was taken in 1839 by an amateur chemist and photography enthusiast from Philadelphia named Robert Cornelius. Cornelius had set his camera up at the back of the family store in Philadelphia. He took the image by removing the lens cap and then running into frame where he sat for a minute before covering up the lens again. On the back he wrote “The first light Picture ever taken. 1839.” 
I've gotten past the impulse to take selfies. I've done it so rarely these days--during my roommate Tom's 30th birthday (for posterity); my travels, mainly to appease my father ("Tay, nakita ko na ang Eiffel Tower!"); or when my students insist, usually after rounds--as I find the exercise rather extraneous. Seeing photos of myself online also makes me uncomfortable.

*It was first used in 2002 and became Oxford's Word of the Year in 2013.

10 years of Kindle

The Kindle celebrates its 10th year. Amazon's Chris Green says, "We can never be better than paper, but we can be as compelling ... We really didn’t want any bezel or bling or even page-turn buttons — everything we’ve done over 15 generations has been to reduce it to basically a piece of paper.”

Take a look at the different versions of the Kindle through time. I still like reading books on actual paper, but I don't have much physical storage space and have pretty much settled with Kindle, a remarkable device! It was a smooth transition.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I bring my Kindle everywhere (I named it John Ames--the device actually requires you to), and have finished many books, as in Ernest Cline's Ready Player One, on the train and cab rides, or during long waiting times at the grocery cashiers, and so on. My mind drifts everywhere when I don't have a book with me, a sensation that leaves me more tired at the end of the day. I also can't stand or sit still without doing anything. The Kindle helps allay my unease.

This is the way to read more books: get a reading device, bring it everywhere, read intermittently, avoid the internet.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Increase tobacco tax now

My professors and mentors in med school share their poignant stories of how smoking had affected them and their families.

Dr. Tony Dans, whom I look up to (he meets us weekly during lunchtime to appraise studies on therapy), writes

My Dad was an amazing man. He taught us discipline, integrity, love for God and love for country — not by words, but by example. When I was young, I thought his greatest fault was that he was a heavy smoker, and all his kids were exposed to this habit.

He had a stroke at 67, and died of lung cancer when he was 69 years old. Both are considered self-inflicted tobacco-related diseases. But now I understand. He was a victim, not a perpetrator. Smoking was not his fault.

Dad, this fight against tobacco is for you. Smoking is not a choice, increasing tobacco tax IS.

This article is a response to the disappointing response of Senator Angara and Secretary Dominguez to increase tobacco tax. Failure to do this is, I suppose, tantamount to allowing 150,000 deaths from tobacco each year.

Saturday, November 18, 2017



Got myself a carbon black ink today but later learned that it can potentially clog the pens. I’m still on the lookout for the perfect blue-black. It helps that I live most times of the week near a fancy pen store. From left to right: blue Lamy ink, J. Herbin in vert, and Plaisir black (in cartridge).


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Counting the days

ECG reading
Walter, Agnes, and Micah. 

ECG reading
Tyson and Walter.

ECG reading

Each month, depending on where we rotate, we read a pile of ECG tracings. The ECG room is on the first floor of the PGH Main Building, beside the section of Medical Oncology, just on one's way out to the Out-Patient Building.

I can't imagine being as great as Dr. Ramon Abarquez, our professor emeritus and once my service consultant in Service 1, who diagnosed obesity or gallbladder stones through ECGs alone. Making sense of the lines inside the tiny red squares was a daunting experience for me as a medical student, but by constantly reading ECGs, I think I've gotten better at them.

In first year residency, before I left for home (assuming I could), the ECG room was a haven where I could sit undisturbed inside some of the most powerful air conditioning in the hospital (the chilled air comes from the same machine as the Central ICU on the second floor). I considered it a brief respite from the humidity and noise and action of Wards 1 and 3.

Last week I read my last ECG tracings as a Gen Med senior. I took my students with me: I've made it my mission to teach them the basics of ECG, so at least they'll recognize somebody with a heart attack and save a life.

Writing about my "lasts" sounds so premature when I still have a month to go before residency actually ends, but reading those ECGs is something I'll miss when I'm done.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


I have nothing much to say about the declaration of work holidays, suspension of classes, closure of roads, and narrowing of EDSA to two functional lanes during the ASEAN summit, except that it all looks staged to me, a glorified pretension to impress the world, hiding from the world's most powerful the stark reality of the every day.

Ambeth Ocampo, whose column I always read in the Inquirer, writes about Filipino hospitality, basically saying that we've always been welcoming as a people, and even history attests to that.

Documentation on three royal visits to Manila are available, namely: the Duque de Hedimburgo in 1869, and the Duque de Genova and the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia in the 1880s. Manila played host to only one king, Norodom I of Cambodia, who visited in 1872, months after the execution of the priests Gomez, Burgos and Zamora. Archival material is so detailed with individual receipts for all the expenses for the visit: materials for triumphal arches, cloth for festoons and banderitas, food and drink, so a good time could be had by all. Norodom was so impressed with Filipino hospitality he ordered one of his ministers to ask the Spanish governor general for a complete list of everyone who had contributed to the success of the visit. Norodom later rained on all these individuals various medals and ribbons of the kingdom’s state decorations.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Pens and inks

I've been reading about fountain pens these past days after my friend Mervyn had convinced me to get one. The second year IM residents have taken a strong liking to it: never mind that their ink runs dry, literally, after a 24-duty shift at the emergency department. If using a fancy pen makes their ED stint any easier, why should we stop them? Their chart entries look like photographs of journals from the past.

I joined the bandwagon a few days ago when I realized I didn't really like blue or black ink but a combination of both. I was curious: people who've converted to fountain pens never seemed to look back, as if using ballpoint pens were heretical, if not entirely malicious. But these people, good friends and colleagues in the hospital, were never snobs: try it; it suits your handwriting, they said. They also said that it may turn out to be more cost-effective in the long term. I learned that with fountain pens, one can combine ink colors. The opportunity to personalize this part of the physical writing process, using pen and paper, thrilled me.

It helped a lot that two of my students, Walter and Agnes, were fountain pen users themselves. Walter asked if I wanted to piggyback on his online order. He showed me a palette of colors, twice as many as there were in the rainbow, and, overwhelmed, I picked something that looked brown, blue-black, and I don't know what else. The inks should be arriving this week.


Naturally, I read the history and mechanisms of the fountain pen. Why, for instance, doesn't the ink drip? What keeps the ink inside the reservoir, and what allows it to diffuse, via capillary action, onto paper? As if I had lots of time to kill, I watched YouTube tutorials of how to change inks via converters, what to check if the ink doesn't flow, and so on. This meant that I enrolled in a local forum for fountain pen enthusiasts in the country, but I've not posted anything yet.

Tonight, I fixed my brother's fountain pen, something given to him as a gift a year ago. I soaked the nib in tap water for a few minutes, flushed the dried ink with running water, refilled the cartridge with Verte Empire (J. Herbin) ink using an insulin syringe (it was not a converter), and made a mess with my hands in the process. The green ink, combined with the dried black stuck inside fountain pen for months, looked elegant.



Sunday, November 12, 2017


Today marks the 500th anniversary of a German priest, Martin Luther, famously nailing his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg. He had encountered God in fresh ways, and sought to reform the church by calling people back to a teaching that we receive grace freely from a generous God rather than earn it stingily from a reluctant one. In the process of sparking debate and pushing for change, however, the political and religious movements of the day carried his ideas into a massive fracturing of Christianity. Much good ensued, such as Bible translations into heart languages rather than only Greek and Latin. Much pain, warfare, and division also followed. Having grown up Protestant, however, one hardly notices the word root is "protest." Our narrative feels more like the true faith standing firm in the face of unreasonable opposition than like the vilified footballers taking a knee, or civil rights protestors marching through southern towns. Can faith and protest go hand in hand? Is is sometimes necessary, even heroic, to be fissiparous?

Read 500 Years of Protest in Paradox Uganda.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Soft wisps of hair

View of Sarangani Bay, taken from the veranda of Sarangani Highlands (2016)

To introduce my piece for this issue of the Cotabato Literary Journal, MJ Tumamac writes, in eloquent Bisaya,

Apan ang mga doktor gayod ang usá sa mga gadeklara sa kamatayon sa mga tawo. Pipila na kahâng kamatayon ang ilang gideklara ug nasaksihan? Sa anekdota sa doktor nga si Lance Isidore Catedral nga nag-ulohan og “Mother and Son,” gisaysay ang kamatayon sa usá ka inahan pinaagi sa pagtutok sa gibati sa anak: “On Mother’s Day, he was still a boy — soft wisps of hair just starting to grown on his armpits, his voice barely beginning to crack — but already mother-less.” Ginapasayod niining pagpapaila sa “pagbalhin” sa anak gikan sa pagkabata paingon sa pagkabinatilyo nga kauban sa kamatayon ang dakong kabag-ohan sa kinabuhi sa mga nabilín sa mga namatay. Gadugang pod ang klinikal nga deskripsiyon sa kamatayon sa inahan sa pagpabatî sa atoang magbabasa sa sakít nga pagdawat sa anak.

Thanks, MJ, for keeping our region's literary tradition vibrant.