Thursday, December 2, 2021

Saturday, November 20, 2021

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Morning walk along Rizal Park

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At the start of the work week: a visit to the Post Office. Saw this woman, hair still wet from a recent shower, walking along Rizal Park, Koronadal City. A dog was on a leash, enjoying the sunshine. Spoke to the dog owner, who planned to visit his relatives in Toronto as soon as travel restrictions are lifted. 

Friday, November 12, 2021

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Bull

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Bull, the aspin (asong Pinoy, preferrable to the derogatory askal), followed us around the farm yesterday morning. His master is Uncle Uwâ, who oversees our farm in New Antique, Surallah. Bull is kind, gentle, and quiet. They say dogs take on much of their masters' personalities. In the background are mahogany trees that Tatay himself planted. 

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

My vision



Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise 
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always 
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart 
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art 
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art

Monday, October 25, 2021

Dusk

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Looking at the orange skies on Sunday's sunset, I remember this beautiful song

This is my father's world
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres

This is my father's world
The birds their carols raise
The morning light, the lily white
Declare their maker's praise

This is my father's world
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas
His hand the wonders wrought

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Light rain

Light rain greets us as we drive to Rizal Park this Sunday morning. Nanay buys flowers to arrange for church. Flowerless pulpits bother her. Our house tries very hard to have flower cutting; even pictures, paintings, and cross-stitch art at home have floral themes. Waiting by the road, on hazard, I listen to Charles Wesley’s “And Can It Be That I Should Gain” (1738).

Light rain greets us as we drive to Rizal Park this Sunday morning. Nanay buys flowers to arrange for church. Flowerless pulpits bother her. Our house tries very hard to have flower cutting; even pictures, paintings, and cross-stitch art at home have floral themes. Waiting by the road, on hazard, I listen to Charles Wesley’s “And Can It Be That I Should Gain” (1738).

No condemnation now I dread;

Jesus, and all in Him is mine!

Alive in Him, my living Head,

And clothed in righteousness divine,

Bold I approach th'eternal throne,

And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

A blessed Sunday!

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Home visit

Visiting Tita Beb, Tito Henry, my cousin Matt, and my nephew Jared (son of my cousin Ate Bing) today, after lunch. Manong is coming with me. He'll get some writing done in a café in Gen San (says he needs a change of venue to keep his verbal juices coming), then I'll pick him up once I'm done with clinic and meetings. It's a wonderful excuse to visit Polomolok, where I used to spend summer breaks as a child. Praise be to God for those memories of endless games, merienda, and trips to parties and beaches with cousins who are all grown up now, with families of their own, but who remain childlike—and sometimes childish—in an endearing way.

Sleeping cat

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Picked Lola up yesterday for an eye consult in Marbel and saw Moon, this beautiful cat, sleeping on a throw pillow. Lola will need a cataract surgery. Been complaining she couldn't see well with her right eye. Had many good laughs during the trip. 

Monday, October 18, 2021

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In the tunnel

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Read Mavis Gallant's In the Tunnel this morning: a short story about a young Canadian woman (Sarah) who falls in love with an older man (Roy) and stays with him in "a low building that [she] thought was an Indian lodge." Roy's friends (Tim and Meg Reeve) own the place. They are used to Roy bringing many girls around. 

Started feeling irritated and angry towards Sarah for her unwise decision—why elope with an older man she hardly knows? 

Tita Mavis, always gracious and respectful to her characters (and we can learn from her example of understanding and suspending judgment), writes as the story winds down:

Her father would say it was all her own fault again. Why? Was it Sarah's fault that she had all this loving capital to invest? What was she supposed to do with it? Even if she always ended up sitting outside a gate somewhere, was she any the worse for it?

I know several friends and family who have made wrong decisions, leaving them with fatherless children and broken families. This story resonates with that theme: if love is in all the wrong places, it is love at all?

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Not my own

John Calvin, Ch. II (“A Summary of the Christian Life. Of Self Denial”). 1: 
O how great the proficiency of him who, taught that he is not his own, has withdrawn the dominion and government of himself from his own reason that he may give them to God! For as the surest source of destruction to men is to obey themselves, so the only haven of safety is to have no other will, no other wisdom, than to follow the Lord wherever he leads. Let this, then be the first step, to abandon ourselves, and devote the whole energy of our minds to the service of God.

I remember the song, "I'm Abandoned to the Captain." (Oasis Worship, Celebrate King Jesus – Praise & Worship Collection. ℗ 2012 Classic Fox Records. Released on: 1996-03-06. Music Publisher: (c) 1986 Birdwing Music). We sing in in church. 

I'm abandoned to the Captain
Of the mighty hosts of Heaven
And I pledge Him my allegiance
'Til the earth beholds His Kingdom 

Friday, October 15, 2021

Old and new

I expected my new laptop—a MacBook Air, space gray—to arrive yesterday. But the delivery man from the courier company couldn’t find my home address; I’d later learn he didn’t ask around. The website thus registered the issue as “The company named in the Company Name field on the transport label is not the entity located at the physical address.” I was supposed to “provide new or updated consignee address.” Another person reading the notice would imagine I lived somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle.

This morning I went to the warehouse facility in GenSan, about 200 meters from my clinic. The security guard asked me to wait outside: they have my package. The laptop was wrapped in a brown box, which was wrapped by a thick transparent plastic. I placed the package in the backseat of the car, thanked the warehouse people, and drove to another hospital to see a patient.

I hadn't planned on getting a new computer. My old MacBook Air, around seven years old, remains functional. Sure, it’s a bit slow at times, when too many tabs are opened, or when I activate Garage Band by accident. There are moments when a restart is required. But the machine gets things done—Zoom meetings, Keynote or PowerPoint slides, Word or Pages, web browsing, and Netflix. I drag it in my clinics and use it for my consultancy and faculty work. It is only about 10 to 20 percent less efficient than when I had bought it at Robinsons Manila with my first salary; this was on my first year internal medicine residency. I remember that afternoon: my friend Racquel Bruno accompanied me after work. She said, “It feels like Christmas morning.” Her MacBook Air, she tells me, is still alive and kicking. We used our Macs on mortality reviews, meta-analyses, and the many paper work and researches we had to submit. 

Colored lines

My old Mac is special to me. It has been with me on my overseas trips for conferences. It has proven a trustworthy company in presentations, lectures, and audits. I wrote papers, essays, blog posts, and stories on it. I recorded my podcasts with its built-in QuickTime player. I used it for my diplomate exam in medical oncology. So it pained me when, on October 5, vertical lines appeared in the screen’s center. Forums in the internet said it could be an LCD error, which requires replacement of the screen. It could also be a motherboard issue, which needs a special restart (it didn’t work). I was forced to get a new one.

I borrowed my brother Sean’s laptop, which runs on Windows, to tide things through. I reached out to a schoolmate from Notre Dame who fixes Apple products at a minimal fee. Just when I was about to meet Jeff, the vertical lines had disappeared. The screen looked normal. MacBook Airs are self-healing, after all.

Mac

I had just finished transferring all files from the old to the new Mac, and I’m writing this post so I could get used to the keyboard. For the file transfer, I used Apple’s Migration Assistant, which clones the old to the new. It took 30 minutes to complete the entire process. Sean made me a cup of lavender tea for the meantime. I also entertained myself with an Elizabeth Bowen story, “Mrs. Windermere.” Sean said, “Daw nami man ang laptop mo, Manong, ah. Nami iya color.”

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Rereading Stephen King's story with fresher, older eyes

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Treated myself to a Stephen King short story on this bright Sunday morning. "All That You Love Will Be Carried Away," which appears in his collection, Everything's Eventual: 14 Dark Tales. Read it first in high school. Now I have older eyes, with a fresher perspective; and I've been driving. A salesman in the American Midwest stops by a motel to kill himself then second-guesses his decision. Ending is open-ended, but I like to think it ends happily. Rained last night. Plants in Nanay's garden are refreshed. Getty hymns play in the background as the family prepares for Sunday worship. Take care, dear friends!

Sunday, September 26, 2021

No-movement Sundays No. 3

Car wet from last night's rain. Roads empty. Fog on the bridge connecting Marbel to Tupi, but visibility was good. Rolled down my windows twice, on the way to the hospital—first, in Polomolok and then in Gensan. Passed through without fanfare. Standard phrase I say is "Maayong aga, Sir. Doktor ako, may pasyente lang nga bisitahon." Don't care much for a putting up a sign ("Medical Frontliner") on the car window; some colleagues do. Military men saluted and wished me well, almost apologetically, for hindering my passage. "Pasensya na, Dok," they said. Overheard one young soldier said, "Daw kabáta pa sa iya ba." Didn't bother telling him I'm 34. On the way back home, noted four dogs playing in the middle of the road when I passed by Palkan. Almost mistook a brown dog for a gigantic poop, or a pile of cardboard. Sleeping on the outer lane as I passed through Judge Alba Street, it seemed satisfied with my driving. Dogs are taking over the roads when humans aren't around.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

A picture of peace

Been working on my assignment for the Old Testament survey class taught by Pastor Allan Luciano of TMAI. This beautiful passage from Dr. Thomas Constable's commentary on Amos struck me. 

If cruelty to other nations makes God angry, it is because His heart is set on kindness. If oppression stirs up His wrath, it is because He desires people to live in peace. If violations of human rights call down His judgment, it is because He longs that people experience happiness and well-being. His sovereign government always moves toward the best conditions for humanity, and He resists what disrupts those conditions. Amos closes with a picture of the world over that God desires and will bring to pass eventually. It is a picture of peace.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Alien versus predator

Alien versus Predator helmet

Just before we passed through the Silway 8 bridge, Sean woke me up. I was sleep in the backseat, and he was driving. Hannah, his girlfriend, was beside him in front. We promised Alyza (Klai, as we call her), Auntie Nanic's second daughter, that we'd treat her to new shoes and dresses after she completed her summer job of scanning old photos from the baúl.

“Manong, look!” 

We saw the man and his wife (presumably), trailing behind us. The wife hid her head under the otherworldly appendages flowing out of the man’s helmet. The couple rode without a care in the world. They were safe; they had helmets. And they were enjoying themselves.

Naturally, I remembered this line from Matthew B. Crawford's book, "Why We Drive":
Life often feels overspecified, fully modeled and determinate, but the road has a dicey quality to it. We usually have a destination in mind, but when we get behind the wheel we expose ourselves to unexpected hazards, as well as unlooked-for moments of discovery. On a road trip, you encounter landscapes and human types beyond the ken of your usual routines, and there is something rejuvenating about this. It reminds you that there are possibilities you hadn't reckoned with, lives you could have lived—or might yet.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

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The birds of the air

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This bird's nest, outlived by its occupants, fell from the kamuning tree. 

The birds visit in the morning. They sing and dance, with not a care in the world. They hide in the canopy during rains. 

Birds remind me of these comforting words of Jesus:
Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Matthew 6:26)

This has been a tough week so far, but God's word sustains me.  

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

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Death and burial—Calvin's encouragement

John Calvin to M. Falais

Letter CXXXIII—To Monsieur de Falais. Directions for his conduct towards the Emperor Charles V. Geneva, 31st May 1545. An excerpt:

It matters little what we have to endure in this world, considering the shortness of our life. And if length of days should be granted us, it is well that the Son of God be glorified by our sufferings, and we be participators in his glory. Since, for the love of him, you have begun to die to the world, it will be necessary to learn henceforth what it is to be buried. For death is nothing without burial. This is the consolation which it becomes you to take, that you make not deceive yourself, but prepare to endure even unto the end. And yet the cross you bear is very easy compared with that our of Master. When it shall please him to impose a heavier burden on you, he will give you, at the same time, shoulders to bear it.

John Calvin's letters are a breath of fresh air, balm for the weary soul, and encouragement to the heavy heart. 

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Tatay's fruit trees

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Two years after Tatay's passing, we still receive fruits from the trees he had planted years ago in the farm. This is guyabano (Annona muricate), or soursop. When we were kids, Tatay would bring home pasalubongkakanin, fruit, snacks—each time he went out of the house. The fruit harvests remind us of him. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Friday, July 23, 2021

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Not an easy story, but wildly enjoyable

Peter Orner on Mavis Gallant (via The Atlantic):
That's why "In Plain Sight" is not an easy story. It's wildly enjoyable to me, but to get to know another person, to really know them, you've got to be patient. That's why I pick up a book, after all. Fiction is one of the few ways I get that slowed-down feeling. Everything else in my life is moving so fast. But when I read, especially when I read Gallant, I pause. What I want to do is immerse myself in someone else for a while.
Gallant says stories are for shutting out the world, this way, for just a moment. "Stories are not chapters of novels," she says. "They should not be read one after another, as if they were meant to follow along. Read one. Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait."

Thursday, July 15, 2021

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Recording podcasts

Oncology Podcast Series screenshot

Kuya Imay was one of the first people who knew that I was commissioned to record a series of podcasts about cancer. The first episode is now out in Docquity, an app for doctors. 

Many years ago, at the Matulungin apartment, I recorded a few podcasts which would never see the light of day. I turned on my laptop's voice recorder app, brought it near him, and threw at him a barrage of questions in English. "Kuya, this is being recorded. What are you doing now?" He would speak in English at first, but would conclude his statements in Bisaya, and eventually, in laughter. I still have those files, Kuya, so don't you dare cross me. 

Monday, July 5, 2021

Sunday, July 4, 2021

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Weekly update

Guest speaker

Been asked to speak in an online graduation ceremony of my former high school. Initial thought: what have I accomplished in life, really? Agreed to it in the hopes that I don’t get invited again. Perhaps I need to tell the kids I, too, graduated last year in an online ceremony, and I know that not everybody pays attention to his/her screens. What do I know now that I wish I had known when I was younger? Many things. Experience sucker punches youthful boasting. My years outside of high school taught me there are far smarter people than me. Listening to counsel from family and church goes a long way. Read your Bible, pray every day. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not in your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Read and read and, perhaps, avoid the internet, if you can. Study hard. Invest in fountain pens. Find good friends. My message will be recorded this Wednesday, so I’d better start writing. 

Sunday rounds

Drove to the hospital after Sunday service today. My patient, a Christian woman who sings hymns during chemo, was admitted for bacterial and fungal pneumonia five days ago. She feels better today. Told her I was sorry I didn’t see her in the morning. She brushed off my apologies and said, in the most loving voice, “Akigan ta gid ka, Dok, kung gin-una mo ko. Di ba, ‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of God’ dapat.” My patients are blessings to me. 

Reading extravaganza

E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India. Breathtaking. Glad I was able to visit India before the pandemic. Liked to think my experience created a background for the novel’s sights and sounds. A Passage will end up as one of my favorite novels. Couldn’t wrap my head around it entirely. The language is glorious. 

Alice Munro’s Something I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You has stories that are, in brief, the textual distillations of her imagination. Now on the tenth story of the collection, “Winter Wind.” The stories are so good that I reserve them for later. 

Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential sounded like the TV show host. He wore desert boots, hated vegetarians, loved to cook, kept a close set of friends, was a professional. Book has tips on when to eat seafood in New York. The reading experience was aspirational for me, as I don’t see myself traveling elsewhere any time soon. He wrote about a person he knew who killed himself. Knowing what would happen in the future, it sounded ominous. 

Sunday, June 27, 2021

When I learned about PNoy's passing

I was doing chemotherapy when I heard President Noynoy Aquino has died. The television inside the chemo room was tuned to DZMM Teleradyo. My patients, young women diagnosed with breast cancer, were asleep. I asked Ma’am She, the nurse, what the cause of death was. It was hard to say if I spoke too loudly—with the mask and face shield, I could not calculate my volume accurately—but I must have stirred my patients awake from their diphenhydramine-induced stupor. They had heard about PNoy’s passing an hour ago. I am always the last to know. The 37-year old mother with metastatic disease told me, “You never know when God will take you home. At least I know I will die because of cancer.”

For many months, PNoy has been out of my consciousness. I have not heard from him. I’d later learn he liked to keep to himself. His introversion was misinterpreted as coldness, nonchalance, indifference. But he was keen on details. He remembered the important numbers. He drank Coke Regular and smoked cigarettes and liked Aiza Seguerra. He said his I-love-you's to his favorite nephew, Josh. Later that day, I read Twitter, that marketplace of bright ideas and fake news, cute cat videos and expletive-infused rants. Someone confessed that his Araling Panlipunan teacher used to give them an assignment to write an outline of the President’s State of the Nation Address. “‘Yun ang mga panahong naiintindihan ko pa ang mga sinasabi ng Pangulo.”

I chuckled and mourned.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

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Afternoon rains

With nothing else to write about, I will tell you about the weather.

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Since two weeks ago, it has stared to rain in the afternoons. The clouds thicken at two o’clock. As the cumulus becomes nimbus, a soporific gloominess descends upon the Valley. The streets are quiet. A cool breeze enters the living room, already emptied of people. It is siesta, the lowest point of human activity during the daytime. The occupants are inside the bedrooms. The indoor plants sway with the wind, as in a lullaby. The tropical warmth, accumulated during the morning, is pushed out of the house. Above, the gathering of water vapor—from the southern Philippine seas many kilometers away, the Allah River that cuts through the province, the great lakes in the Upper Valley, the smaller, shallower streams that nourish the farming lands and towns—is gradual but sure. Nobody notices the God-designed chemistry of the water cycle in the atmosphere, save for people on motorcycles who realize they must find shade and shelter, albeit temporarily. There is a general aversion to getting soaked in the rain; it can lead to illness. Those at home, deep in their sleep, may be awakened, dreamless, by the successive peals of thunder, a prelude to a soft drizzle that turns into downpour. It lasts for minutes, sometimes hours. Those inside rush to rescue whatever hangs on their clotheslines. The rain pounds on the roof, waters the plants, wets the dry earth. In these brief moments of respite from the uncomfortable heat, nobody misses the sun. It will be a cool night later.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Alternative meds

Nanay wakes up, distraught, getting hold of a memory that is becoming elusive with every second gone. As she makes her bed, she tells me, "I was telling a group of people to stop taking MX3!"

Friday, June 4, 2021

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First chemo, remembering H

Spoke about this verse to a woman, 62, on her first chemo session. She teared up, told me about how her church family is praying for her back home. She spoke as if she were about to die tomorrow. Patients with cancer realize they can go anytime. She referred to God as her Father. "He knows what's best, though I may not understand completely," she said. Encouraged her with a line that I remember from Tim Keller's preaching—that suffering is never wasted for God's redeemed children; He always has a purpose in mind. I learn so much from my patients. Their stories wean me from my love of this world. I remember the song: "And what can this world offer / when all I desire is You?"

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But this world has so much suffering. Yesterday, woke up to an online thread. My high school classmate, H, has died. H was a newly minted lawyer, was married for 7 months, with a baby on the way. Hadn't spoken to him in years, except with random greetings in a Messenger group chat. H was my classmate in Notre Dame; in high school, we transferred to KN Special Science Class, where we were in the same class for four years. Our hearts are heavy. His child will be born fatherless. May God's comfort be upon his family left behind. Life is a vapor. 

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." 

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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.

Friday, April 23, 2021

34—what grace is mine!

Kristy and Keith Getty's song is one of my favorite modern Christian hymns. The lyrics capture God's infinite love to me, once a "distant soul" whom "he called through the night." Thirty-four years of abounding grace—thank you, Lord, for making me live this long!

What grace is mine that He who dwells in endless light
Called through the night to find my distant soul
And from His scars poured mercy that would plead for me
That I might live and in His name be known

So I will go wherever He is calling me
I lose my life to find my life in Him
I give my all to gain the hope that never dies
I bow my heart take up my cross and follow Him

What grace is mine to know His breath alive in me
Beneath His wings my wakened soul may soar
All fear can flee for death's dark night is overcome
My Savior lives and reigns for evermore

So I will go wherever He is calling me
I lose my life to find my life in Him
I give my all to gain the hope that never dies
I bow my my heart take up my cross and follow Him
I bow my heart take up my cross and follow Him

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

When choices were limited

Paralyzed by the myriad of film choices in Netflix, I sometimes long for the early days of the nineties when video rental shops were popular. In Marbel, we rented VHS and Betamax tapes at the Notre Dame Complex, along Alunan Avenue. The store owner kept an index card for each customer. Listed were the movies rented out by each family. In those days, nobody seemed to watch films alone; it was a household affair that involved discussion and consensus.

Popular films—action movies, Disney animations, and Tom and Jerry episodes—could be leased for at most three days and must be returned immediately, or there would be a fee. Less popular films, like The Bridges of Madison County, could be rented out for a week.

My father would bring me, or any of my two brothers, with him to pick up the tapes. With instructions from my mother, who was partial to Harrison Ford, cowboy action, and historical drama, and generally averse to science fiction, we would visit the store, greet the owner (my father insisted on public courtesy), and proceed to the cartoons section. The tapes must have been illegally reproduced because they were covered in white cardboards labeled in the shopkeeper’s handwriting instead of the glossy, colored printed packaging of the originals.

When we got home home, we would have a say on what film to play first. The Betamax tape would undergo the prefatory process of rewinding—sometimes manually, but often by an electric machine given by aunts from Banga. This we did to ensure that the film started at the beginning. The shopkeeper often forgot to rewind the tapes before lending them. The film would then play in our Panasonic colored television connected to the Betamax player. Transfixed and transported to the dimension of imagination, we would all rest, content with the single movie of the week. If we behaved well enough, we could be treated to a Tom and Jerry film in the morning.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

With Uncle Boboy in Lake Sebu

Spoke too early about the paint fumes not affecting me. My nasal passages are sore, my mouth dry, my alveoli irritated. Everyone shares the general feeling of suffocation.

Decided yesterday morning to escape the house in exchange for cooler, fresher climate. Lake Sebu. Last time I visited the town was a decade ago. The prospect of zigzagging roads excited me, a new driver only used to city roads and straight highways. Dropped Nanay off to Banga, where she could spend time with Lola. Dragged Uncle Boboy, who had no plans that morning other than to fix the broken cabinet. Other aunts and uncles weren’t around. Sean was with friends. So it was myself, Manong, and Uncle Boboy for this trip.

Drive was pleasurable. Roads were lined with old but vibrant trees. The uplands reminded Manong and I of our trip to Banaue: a stark reminder of the beauty of God’s creation, and of the fact that we live in a piece of paradise in Southern Philippines. Arrived just in time for lunch at Punta Isla. Had sinugbang tilapia fresh from the lake; pork sisig; and pinakbet. While waiting for the food, we walked around the resort. Took touristy photos of Uncle Boboy with Lake Sebu in the background. Hearty lunch rendered us sleepy. Rain clouds hovered over us that we wished we had brought pillows and blankets. Nobody would notice us snoozing in the cottage; we were hidden from view.

“If your Tatay were alive, he’d love to go with us,” Uncle Boboy said.

“He’d do the driving himself!” I said, wishing my father were around. He loved adventures.

Uncle Boboy wanted to visit Traangkini Falls after midday coffee. Lady at information desk told us to turn right, head for the first bridge we see, then turn left. Parked by the dirt road’s shoulder when we realized the stream was too deep for the car to traverse. Walked all the way to the falls. Families rented cottages. It rained, and figuring we couldn’t go any further, we hid under a makeshift roof until the downpour was over. By three in the afternoon, we were on our way home.

Lake Sebu with Uncle Boboy
Lake Sebu with Uncle Boboy
Lake Sebu with Uncle Boboy
Lake Sebu with Uncle Boboy
Lake Sebu with Uncle Boboy
Lake Sebu with Uncle Boboy
Lake Sebu with Uncle Boboy
Lake Sebu with Uncle Boboy

Friday, April 9, 2021

Quick updates

1


Had a memorable time as panelist in the second creative nonfiction writing workshop for doctors hosted by the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center (BNSCWC) of the De La Salle University. Extraordinary privilege to work with Prof. Marj Evasco and Dr. Joti Tabula again. They elevated the tone of the discussion. Inputs were academic but practical, laced with grace and understanding. Enjoyed close-reading the works of the other fellows: a celebration of literature and medicine. That participants could bond over Zoom meetings and get to know each other as if they had met face to face previously—it remains amazing to me. Closing remarks of Dr. Ron Baytan, poet and director of the BNSCWC, on the workshop’s final day were inspiring. He told us to be doctor-writers and writer-doctors, which sent chills down my spine. So this is what we are.

2


Some close friends in Manila have contracted COVID. Been asking them how they are, almost on a daily basis. So far, worst complaint is the loss of taste and smell with some cough and fever. What else to say to them but to drink lots of water, eat well, get enough rest, because, truly, there is no cure yet? Together we look to the Lord Who controls all things, and in Whom nothing is impossible. Other friends got vaccinated. Some good news, at least, but cases are rising. Even big people haven’t been spared: former president Erap, now in critical condition; singer Claire dela Fuente, who passed away after being turned down by many hospitals. Won’t get started talking about the Philippines’ pandemic response—it’s much too early in the day.


3


Started reading Don Quixote, the quintessential Spanish novel. Each time I start with the classics, I ask the same question: why didn’t I read this long ago? Truth is that life got in the way. Miguel de Cervantes’ foreword is self-deprecating and hilarious: he apologizes for not coming up with a more illustrious novel and tells of his friend who advised him to include remote references, Latin phrases, and pretentious footnotes to make the novel sound literary. Don Quixote, of course, is one of the best novels of all time. Wish I could have met the author; he seems like a fun guy to hang around with. Might take me years to finish the novel. The chapters read like short sitcoms.


4


Started private practice in General Santos City. Currently brushing up on my Bisaya, which I inevitably mix with Hiligaynon. “Unsa gibatì mo, Sir?” opens their hearts to me. Patients understand both languages well. Have gotten used to driving 60 kilometers, one way, in the morning, then another 60 at lunch time. Travels feel like my commutes from Mandaluyong to PGH, only more relaxed. I play pulpit preachings of Tim Keller and John MacArthur—the long roads now avenues for quiet meditations. On evening drives, I prefer arias and operas. Léo Delibes’ Lakmé, some Puccini and Tosca—pretentious, but nobody can see me. These songs keep me awake, at least. Whoosh of faster vehicles in the dark Tupi highway can lull any careless driver to sleep. Days ago, when I got home from late rounds, my family and Auntie Nanic’s kids were more than halfway through the new Godzilla movie that they hardly noticed my arrival.


5


House in St. Gabriel now being repainted. Fumes irritate everyone, except me. Might drive to Lake Sebu for lunch. Sean on his way to Gensan to buy new sneakers. Manong might go with me. He has books to read. Nanay might stay home to play a word game on her iPhone. Yesterday, I was her designated driver when we visited Auntie Susan’s home in Banga, beside Notre Dame. Could write a book in Auntie Susan's garden. Some photos of her home:

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Homegrown kadios for the quintessential Ilonggo classic, kadios-baboy-langka (KBL).

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Friday, April 2, 2021

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Driving milestones

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Driving at 110 km/hr, I opened my window shades to the intermittent whoosh of vehicles of early morning risers speeding by: my people. Sun was just rising as I passed by Tupi-Polomolok border. Fresh, crisp, hopeful air circulated in the car. Tim Keller's preaching played in the background—The Sermon on the Mount. From my view, I could see Mount Matutum. In less than an hour I was in General Santos City. My record time. An empty parking lot greeted me—an early Sunday reward. My patient said, "I feel better just seeing you." I said, "No, it is I who feel better seeing you getting better." I drive back home, in time for the Sunday worship service. To a person beginning driving in the real world, every distance traveled is an occasion for thanksgiving. 

Even in driving, I am a morning person. 

(Photo of Marbel-Gensan Highway taken last year, not today, because I was preoccupied. And I did not drive the vehicle shown.)

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Bedtime reading

 John Updike's The Bulgarian Poetess:

He spoke to her very clearly, across the fruit, fearful of abusing and breaking the fragile bridge of her English. "You are a poetess. When I was young, I also wrote poems."

She was silent so long he thought she would never answer; but then she smiled and pronounced, "You are not old now."

Saturday, March 6, 2021

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