Saturday, November 25, 2023


I overheard my mother's friends praying over the speakerphone as I did a third round of review of my suitcase. It usually takes me three iterations to trim my clothes to the bear minimum. I'm a light traveler. The past days have been crazy. I won't bore you with the details of the commitments I've gotten myself into—a hospital's tumor boards, a small group discussion in med school, a lecture on the coagulation pathway for biochemistry, a research collaboration, and many personal matters, such as the death of a high school classmate, my reunions with friends I haven't met in a while. Nanay and her friends meet on Facebook Messenger at 4 am daily, except Sundays, to pray. Auntie Cecil, who's like a second mother to us, thanks God for people who are arranging my quick trip to Davao City for a research contest for doctors that I'm judging today, the safety of my flight tomorrow and the health of the passengers around me, and all the small details I forget to praise God for. It amazes me, therefore, that there are people interceding for me, and I should do the same, too: praying for others, looking over and beyond myself, and be intentional in my thanksgiving. 

And thanks be to God for my work space, a place of quiet and peace, with excellent lighting and various options for writing, both analog and digital.



Wednesday, November 22, 2023

The Person with tHis Ability: Rehabilitation from Prehabilitation


I am usually awake on the 3:20 am flight from Manila to Gensan. I can't stop reading Dr. Brent Viray's book. I had met him the night before. He was one of the writing fellows this year. We shared the same table during the closing program of the Creative Non-fiction Writing Workshop for Doctors. Before he left, he gave me a signed copy of his memoir. 

Unless you read his book, you wouldn't notice that he had a huge stroke. Out of the sheer grace of God and a lot of willpower and the help of friends and rehabilitation, he pushed the limits of what was possible. His recovery has been nothing short of miraculous. He is back at what he does best—surgery. 

I recognize a lot of names in the book. I can imagine the operating room and the hallways of Philippine General Hospital. The book hits very close to home. The brevity of life, the way dreams can vanish with a brain bleed. Despite these, Brent, who's one of the kindest surgeons I know, with a special calling to serve the underserved communities, overflows with thanksgiving. 

I'm not done with the book yet. But it's something you should read when it comes out in the market.


Friday, November 17, 2023

In good company

This is a copy of my closing remarks as panelist that I delivered during the closing program of the 4th National Creative Nonfiction Writing for Doctors by the Bienvenido N Santos Creative Writing Center of the De La Salle University. 

In 2020, in a small condo unit in Mandaluyong, isolating from the world that was confused and broken, I received an invitation to join a Zoom writing workshop for Joti’s mentees. These were young, bright-eyed medical students. Dr. Elvie Gonzalez was in that crowd, too. I was unemployed. I had just finished my medical oncology fellowship, with plenty of time in my hands. I had a blast. That would be the start of my involvement in being a panelist of the creative nonfiction workshop for doctors by the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center. Through God’s providence and grace, I found myself in the company of like-minded, curious, kind people who like words and stories and books. In a sense, I have the experience of two worlds: being a participant and a panelist of this workshop. I suppose I am in a unique position to share my thoughts on the importance of this workshop and why it has worked for the last four years.

First, they offer instruction to doctors who have stories to tell and who have the willingness to write them. Most of our participants had no formal training in creative writing. This workshop was probably the first time they had heard of terms like “in medias res” or “close reading”. The workshop is done online, a format that is convenient for doctors, even those who live outside of Metro Manila. This workshop is truly national in scope.

Second, they offer encouragement. This encouragement is inherent to this community. The past iterations of the workshop, including this one, have been open, safe, perhaps nurturing environments for stories to be shared, examined, and analyzed. I believe the advice to not care about what other people think is nonsense. We must think of what other people will think of us, but not all people, for we cannot please everyone. I am talking specifically about the people who matter to us. I remember this line in The Lord of the Rings, where, after receiving a compliment, Faramir says, “The praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards.” For our stories to receive the rapt, kind, compassionate attention of celebrated writers like Prof. Marjorie Evasco and Dr. Joti Tabula buoys our hearts. To hear that our stories have moved our peers, people we have only met because of the workshop, is a great kind of feeling.

Third, they offer possibilities. Some of our fellows have gone on to reap literary awards and get their creations published in magazines, anthologies, and books. Those are great. But I am also talking about the gift of insight in what we can do with an idea or a figment of a story that might, in the future, might find its way to other homes and hearts as well. I am talking about the realization that doctor-writers share a space in the world.

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Thursday, November 9, 2023

Flowers during my rounds

Flowers during rounds


Wednesday, November 8, 2023

There's the Rub and bookstores of childhood

I woke up thinking of Conrado de Quiros for no reason, then a quick Google search brought me the news: he passed away on November 6. I grew up reading There's the Rub, his opinion column in the Inquirer, and I loved how he weaved words and phrases. Because of him, I wanted to own my own column, too, thinking I would have the energy and words for it. I'm now looking for copies of his books. Amazon and the online retailers indicate that this books, including "Flowers from the Rubble," are out of print. Please send me a note if you have any leads where I can get them. 

Ambeth Ocampo's column in the Inquirer is about bookstores

Looking back, my earliest memories of bookstores were of Popular Bookstore on Doroteo Jose which was the carrot my father dangled to get me into a dentist’s chair. Popular Bookstore didn’t have children’s books, but I liked just being in it as my father browsed the latest engineering texts for his classes in Mapua and University of the Philippines Diliman. The bookstore where I remember buying a childhood book was Ato Bookshop along Session Road in Baguio. It was located in the basement of a building and I remember scrimping on horseback and merienda allowance to save up for my first Filipiniana book, “Creatures of Midnight.” Maximo Ramos published an illustrated catalog of all the aswang, tianak, manananggal, kapre, and mangkukulam in Philippine lower mythology. This book taught me how to detect these creatures and I memorized, by heart, all the methods to dispose of them.

For me, it was People's and Crown Bookstores along Alunan Avenue in Marbel (Koronadal). 


Tuesday, November 7, 2023


Resumed my piano lessons after more than a month of hiatus. Ma’am Deborah, so gracious and accommodating, understood why my performance was sub par. The twenty-year old electric keyboard borrowed from Tita Beb’s house is broken. Was not able to to practice at home. Ma’am Deb is generous enough to say I’m a fast learner. Either that’s true, or that her benchmark is the eight-year old pupil who takes the slot before mine on Monday afternoons.

Sunday, November 5, 2023

Remembering October

I revisited Des Poticar-Biboso's excellent photography (I wish she'd resurrect her blogs) and remembered that there was a time when I used to take so much pictures to share in this space. October was a colorful month for me. To write about the month-that-was in the past tense reminds me how time flies quickly, how everything passes before our very eyes if we don't pause and look and look back. 

Paul adds so much happiness in our home. Now an indoor dog, he considers it his birthright to sleep inside the house. His spot is behind the white couch beside the bookshelves. At midnight he barks and awakens everyone—by everyone, I mean Manong Ralph, the lightest sleeper—so the doors can be opened and he can urinate outside. After a minute, Paul returns to his nook, preparing for his 6 am walk in the neighborhood. He is the sweetest, most considerate, and most compassionate dog. He leaves some of his food for the frogs, which he kisses and licks gently when he meets them.


Rizal Street is where my old high school is. After casting our votes during the barangay elections, Manong and I walked to the café where Non's store used to be. It was the go-to place to buy school supplies at the very last minute. The street was quiet at 2 PM. Most of the city's voters were done. The precincts were beginning to wrap up. The secret to voting quickly is to do it very early, before daybreak, or do it very late. But where's the fun in that? In a small town, queueing and small-talking and random sighting of old friends and classmates and neighbors are as much part of the democratic process as deciding which leaders to choose. 

Rizal Street, in front of KNCHS
On my solo walks after attending a worship service in a reformed Baptist church, I visited Museo Naval (the Naval Museum) in Madrid. Admission was free, but a 3 euro donation was encouraged. I kept looking for references to Ferdinand Magellan, but I remembered my history lesson (I hope that part hasn't been revised yet): that Portugal, not Spain, sent him on a quest to find Malacca and in the process, he landed in the Philippines.

Museo Naval

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Saturday, November 4, 2023

Friday night

Met Willie, Mayche, Katty and her little boy Mark last night for dinner. Small pockets of reunion are ideal for catching up with my high school circle. Willie lost his Uber privileges because a driver in a small town in America gave him a low rating because he charged his phone in the car without asking permission. Stuck in an outlet store miles away from his hotel, he booked a taxi instead which cost more. After her extended yoga session, Mayche spouted theories about interracial marriages but says she's not getting married soon. We didn't get too much into politics, but Mayche's eyes were fiery when the subject of confidential funds was brought up. Katty remembered the times when we were the ones left at Precious Child Learning Center because our sundo, Manong Elvic, was late again because his tricycle broke down. Katty proudly shared that Manong Elvic eventually did send his children through college. What I remembered most about him was his extraordinary kindness and his ill-fitting dentures. 

Had to ditch all plans to catch up on pending work to watch All the Light We Cannot See because of Prof. Marj's recommendation. Beautiful, even the opening music. It kept me up all night. Only made it to the first two episodes, though, because I was too sleepy. When I woke up this morning, I read my copy of Anthony Doerr's book. As usual, Manong Ralph's judgmental reaction was, "Ay, wala mo pa gali nabása na?" So all I talk about now are Marie and Werner. When I'm absorbed in a particular story, I always say the names of the characters, like how some people repeatedly hum a tune of a song they'd just heard. They look older in the Netflix series but they're 16 and 18 years old, respectively, in the book. I look forward to finishing the series today.


Friday, November 3, 2023

Let the kids play

Russel Moore's newsletter (Moore to the Point) which arrived in my inbox on October 20, 2023 is entitled Let the Children Play: Their Lives Depend on It.

He writes:

Most people know that something is going badly awry with the next generation.

It’s not often that an executive summary from The Journal of Pediatrics ricochets around the internet. But this week we saw just that with the findings of a study from three researchers entitled “Decline in Independent Activity as a Cause of Decline in Children’s Mental Well-Being: Summary of the Evidence.”

The broad thesis is that, while many factors have led to the national emergency we are seeing with adolescent mental health, there is one major factor that is insufficiently recognized: the decline in unstructured, unmanaged, and unsupervised play.

He continues:

It turns out that play and exploration are essential for what it means for us to thrive as human beings. And by play, I do not mean organized sports or hobbies (while those are important). I mean the sort of unstructured freedom to independently encounter obstacles and problems—and overcome them. And to pursue this for its own sake, not to put an item on a college admission application or a résumé or even to gain status with one’s peers.

This might look like spending a day wandering through the woods, playing an impromptu stickball game with the neighbors on a city street, or combing the neighborhood looking for arrowheads or lost coins—without a hovering parent in sight.

Subscribe to Dr. Moore's newsletter here


I took my brother Sean and sister-in-law Hannah to the airport yesterday morning. My brothers, especially the Third Born, take punctuality to a whole new level. If Sean says their flight leaves at seven, we should be on the road by 4 am. Never mind that they were checked in online and had no bags to drop off. Yesterday we arrived on time, with plenty more to spare.

One thing you should know about my family: we are hardly ever late. We got it from our father, who, contrary to the prevailing culture at the time (that's changing now), was conscious of time. My mother doesn't like the feeling that people are inconvenienced because they are waiting for her. Preparing to go out of the house is clockwork, chop-chop, paspasanay. Anyone left behind, dilly-dallies, nagapadugay-dugay, invites criticism. It baffles me how some people, who are not celebrity and who have not  massive strokes or disabling neurological diseases, can take hours just to shower and put on clothes and arrive late to their appointments.

I can take this concept of time even further to describe why I avoid meetings in general because they take so much time and often end with what one could call "progress." These meetings are unstructured, do not have a fixed agenda, and people are unprepared to give updates. All organizations should have a flow chart on how to determine if a meeting is really necessary. This is brilliant. The flowchart should incorporate whether a face-to-face or a Zoom meeting is preferred. I like online meetings better, to be honest. That's one good thing that came out of the pandemic, in a sense: the realization that meetings can be done virtually. It removes the hassle of driving to the venue, time that's better spent doing something else. It's also more economical: no snacks, no venue reservations, and no airconditioning.  

Meeting schedule