Monday, October 24, 2022

Meditating on death

What else do we daily in this present life, than heap sin to sin, and hoard up trespass upon trespass? So that this day always is worse than yesterday, by increasing our sins as our days, and therefore thy indignation, good Lord, is against us. But when we shall be suffered to go out of the body, and are taken into thy blessed company, then shall we be in the fullest safety of immortality and salvation; then shall come unto us no sickness, no need, no pain, no kind of evil to soul or body; but whatsoever good we can wish, that shall we have, and whatsoever we loath shall be far from us. Oh dear Father, that we had faith to behold these things accordingly! Oh that our hearts were persuaded thereof, and our affections inflamed with the desire of them! Then should we live in longing for that which now we most loath. Oh help us, and grant that we, being ignorant of things to come, and of the time of our death, which to thee is certain, may so live and finish our journey here, that we may be ready, and then depart, when our departing may make most to thy glory and our comfort through Christ!
Been thinking about death and dying more frequently these days—October, being the month of Tatay's death. Two emails in my inbox reported news of my patients' passing. And it has been raining in the afternoons. There's nothing else quite like the pouring rain on a quiet afternoon, when the tropical sun is temporarily shielded from view, the living room is quiet, the house is almost empty, and one is left with his own thoughts.

The Puritans knew so much about death and, in a way, looked forward to it as departure from the sinful world and a reunion with their Creator. John Bradford prays, "Oh dear Father, that we had faith to behold these things accordingly! Oh that our hearts were persuaded therefor, and our affections inflamed with the desire of them!" 

Bradford writes to believers: 
Thereto remember the good things that shall ensue after this life, and without wavering, in certainty of faith so shall the passage of death be more desired. It is like sailing over the sea to thy home and country; it is like a medicine to the health of soul and body; it is the best physician; it is like to a woman's travail, for so thy soul, being delivered out of the body, comes into a much more large and fair plate, even into heaven!


Sunday, October 23, 2022


Paul during the rain

We present a rare case of melancholia, prolonged silence, and nervousness in a one-year old mixed breed named Paul. Heavy rains and thunder make him nervous and anxious. Otherwise happy, excitable, and tender-hearted, he was found crouching under the sink and was brought inside the living room on a dark afternoon. Paul is turning a year old this November, and he has brought to our home rampage, noise, and immense joy! 


It is no good to explain

In Hilary Mantel's brilliant historical novel, Wolf Hall, specifically in the chapter, "Alas, What Shall I Do for Love?"Eustace Chapuys digs into the past life of Thomas Cromwell in the hope of defending Catherine of Aragon and preventing Anne Boleyn from being married to King Henry VIII. There's this paragraph where Mantel gets inside the head of Cromwell, who keeps his past in secrecy.

... It is no use to justify yourself. It is no good to explain. It is weak to be anecdotal. It is wise to conceal the past even if there is nothing to conceal. A man's power is in the half-light, in the half-seen movements of his hand and the unguessed-at expressions of his face. It is the absence of facts that frightens people: the gap you open, into which they pour their fears, fantasies, and desires.

Interesting to read this, isn't it, in this age of over-sharing?


Saturday, October 22, 2022

Whose gift it is that I exist

Rereading Confessions by Augustine, translated by Garry Wills, on this early Saturday morning. 

I thank you, my God, for your gifts to me, may you preserve them, thus preserving me, so that everything you gave me may grow and be improved, and I shall be with you, whose gift it is that I exist.  

Old, familiar books feel new to me when I return to them a few years later. I read this translation in 2013, when I was in med school. I bought it at Booksale, Robinsons Mall Manila, from my allowance. I was a prolific reader of non-medical literature, my way of coping. Being cooped up in the hospital, drowning in stacks of unread chapters of textbooks, I needed get a sense of being away from the hospital, from being a doctor-in-training. Books offered me that escape. Augustine was (and remains) a friend of my soul. That Booksale stall has long been replaced by stores that sold pastries and protein supplements, and so was the Ya Kun Kaya beside it, where I read my Booksale finds.


Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Gideon Lasco's The Philippines Is Not a Small Country" and Will Liangco's "Even Ducks Get Liver Cancer"

New books

Thrilled to see these books in my library: Gideon Lasco's The Philippines Is Not a Small Country" and Will Liangco's "Even Ducks Get Liver Cancer." Dr. Lasco will be speaking in the upcoming Creative Non-Fiction Workshop for Doctors this November. Dr. Will, whose blog I follow, was one of our workshop fellows. 


Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Auntie Nanic

Sunday afternoon found Auntie Nancy (Nanic to us) in Gensan. She lived with us when we were in kindergarten, then left Marbel to work elsewhere, and life happened. She met her husband Uncle Nonoy and together now have three kids, obedient and loving. 

I played around with Hipstamatic, the iPhone app that I used in the early day of blogging, on our trip to SM. 

Auntie Nanic

Auntie Nanic

Auntie Nanic

Auntie Nanic

Auntie Nanic

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Stop stair-ing at me!


Stair [sic]. 


Sunday, October 16, 2022

Saturday reading

The Dead Complain of Their Burial

Was in Gensan the entire Saturday. During the two-hour break from a meeting, I walked to SM and bought five books, all on sale. Got myself a cup of coffee in a café and read a few chapters of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, a retelling of Sir Thomas Cromwell's life. It's one of those books that make me scratch my head with the gnawing question, "Why didn't I read this sooner?" Mantel died this year; she was a formidable literary talent. Was too absorbed with my reading when I realized that (a) I had 15 minutes left before the next meeting, and (b) it was pouring outside. I carried my books by hand and fit the smaller ones in my backpack. Got myself a tricycle that took me to the meeting venue. 

Book haul

(I ordered Gideon Lasco's The Philippines Is Not A Small Country online; it arrived in the mail yesterday.)

There was a dog inside the café who barked at passersby. Dogs are probably a lot like children: if they don't like you, you're likely a person with an evil heart. This dog liked me.

Dog inside the café

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Saturday, October 15, 2022

Writing and surgery

Will Self writes about Dr. Simon Bramhall, the surgeon who inscribed his initials on his patients' livers.
Writing and surgery have many odd congruences: each activity depends for its success on counterfactuals, since there can be no satisfying conclusion to a plot without a potentially unsatisfying one, and no sense of a life being saved unless it could have been lost. Moreover, while any writer may mutilate a text, so any physician may create complications rather than cures. But among medical specialties, only surgery entails such injury by its very nature: you wound patients, with the hope that they’ll both recover from those wounds and benefit from what this wounding has enabled you to do.

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James 4:14


Tuesday, October 11, 2022

How to write a research proposal

Had the privilege of being invited to speak about developing research proposals at Mindanao State University College of Medicine - General Santos City. This is the overview lecture. You may download the slides but please link to this website for attribution. 


Monday, October 10, 2022

Where smart people wash their clothes

Store seen along Yumang Street, General Santos City:
Summa Cum Laundry.

Summa cum laundry

(Photo credit: my cousin Hannah Riza!)


Sunday, October 9, 2022

Congratulations to the CNF workshop fellows for 2022

CNF Workshop

It's the time of year again when I have the solid excuse (not that I need to have one) to immerse myself in the shared joys of the written word. I still experience impostor syndrome whenever I call myself a writer even if, sure, some of my literary pieces have appeared in journals and book chapters. But Prof. Ron Baytan, perhaps sensing this discomfort, said in last year's workshop that doctors who write can be both and are in a class of their own: they are called doctor-writers. 

This list of fellows joining the workshop, just released yesterday, makes me look forward to the workshop.  Through their submissions, I am starting to get to know these doctor-writers, who come from all over the country. The process of close reading doesn't feel like work but a respite, a quiet and contemplative retreat with like-minded people.

Let me also say that it always amazes me how privileged I am to be invited to sit as panelist in this workshop. I'm with Prof. Marj Evasco, one of my favorite poets in the world, and Dr. Joti Tabula, a prolific poet himself but also a patron of creative writing and medical humanities, one of my greatest enablers to write. They live and breathe literature. The things they share in the workshops are the distillation of their personal experiences and craft. To be in the same room with them still feels intimidating, but they exude warmth and generosity. 

I look forward to a meaningful, generative, and inspiring time with other doctor-writers. 

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Friday, October 7, 2022

Pas mal


Picked up my new vintage frames from Farrofo Eye Center near Odi Street, Koronadal this afternoon. Had them replaced last week to fit my prescription. They look and feel great. Hadn’t bought new frames for years now but I couldn’t resist them when I spotted the displays in the weekend market in Montmarte, near Sacré-Cœur. I bought them for 4 euros. As the French say, “Pas mal.”


Wednesday, October 5, 2022


Untitled First time to see the river in Lamsugod, Surallah. When they were kids, Nanay and her peers (her cousin Auntie Nene Jasmin, her younger brothers Uncle Toto and Boboy) spent their summers here.


Monday, October 3, 2022

Guide to mental status examination

Here's my lecture on how to perform mental status examination, which I'm delivering today. Feel free to download the slide set, but please link to this website if you plan to use some slides.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Homecooked meals

Something to ponder in church today: James 2:1-4: 
My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

Whenever I visit a church for the first time, I'm always amazed at the warmth of the welcome extended to me. Hospitality is one of those rare, precious, often underestimated gifts that draw outsiders to the body of Christ. I was in Bangkok a few years ago when I was invited to a potluck lunch at a Filipino church. They do this to all visitors, regardless of status. The after-church fellowship over home cooked meals may be a key to the church's growth and flourishing. After learning I was a doctor, the pastor asked if I could give some brethren medical advice. It was enjoyable: I was chewing on adobo and rice as I heard complaints of back pain and tumors. I miss the church and look forward to visiting it soon.

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Saturday, October 1, 2022

P's wake

P's wake was at a funeral parlor along the highway. When I arrived at 7:30 in the evening to pay my respects, the parking lot was full. I turned right, parked by the sidewalk, and braved the steady rain with my jacket on. She was in the smallest room that could fit her casket, three wooden benches, and a small table at the back where packets of instant coffee and snacks were offered.

I saw P's parents, sister, and some of our classmates I've not seen for years. We had our photo taken in front, careful to cover much of the casket and to show only her radiant wedding photo in the background. There was small talk and laughter. The only way to honor the dead is to bring them up in memory. I asked permission if I could tell the story of P's diagnosis, the difficulty of finding the right concoction of chemotherapy, the joy of seeing her respond favorably to treatment, the disappointment of learning the cancer had come back much stronger. Enyek, Yaya M, Pretty Shean, Dans, and Whilz—not their real names obviously, but what I, after all these years of being away, still call my high school friends—listened in rapt attention. 

The most painful part was seeing P's son. This 3-year old child with bright, curious eyes took the back of our hands to put them in his forehead. I was impressed that P had taught him to "bless" (or make máno), the Filipino way of showing respect to their elders. How does one comfort a child who had just lost his mother but to give him candy? And so I did. I also asked for his name before he ran away to play. 

It was getting late, and my classmates asked where we'd go to do pagpag, the custom of dropping by some place to release the bad luck of death before going home. I volunteered a favorite coffee shop that would normally be empty at that hour. Outside, it was still raining. We had coffee and cakes and, for some, dinner. We remembered our classmates who had passed away: William, whose vehicle crashed onto a carabao on his way home; Rotchelle, who died of severe blood infection; Herman, who supposedly had cancer but who died quickly due to reasons we don't fully comprehend. 

And we planned to go abroad on a trip together in 2024: somewhere near that wouldn't require visas. Enyek would meet us at Manila airport before we fly to Taipei. Taiwan is lovely and cool in December.