There was a time when I seriously thought about pursuing law. I wanted to be a human rights’ lawyer, one who had more pro bono cases than one could count, who wore slippers with a suit to courtrooms just to be disrespectful, and who traveled to remote places in Mindanao to get “accidentally” killed in an ambush attack by a rival politician’s private army.

The night I told my mother I wanted to take up Political Science or Journalism in a state university, she told me she wouldn’t support me financially if I did what I said I would. Now I know I could’ve survived in the big city alone without any financial support from family but, apparently, being fifteen and a minor render one quite helpless when it comes to making big decisions like this. So, I went on to study Biology in a non-state university.  It had not been an easy track, of course, but then nothing is supposed to be easy, yeck. What made it all worthwhile was the knowledge that medicine could get things done, which ultimately lessens my frustration over things that seem innately uncontrollable.

The Law in this country frustrates a lot of people, doesn’t it? Corruption has becomes so common that people make it into a joke just to make it less serious. In fact, meeting a man with conscience and integrity in this system strikes me speechless, mouth open and tongue-tied. If I had pursued law, I bet I would’ve been one very angry beaver, the kind who violently slaps everyone in the face with her freaking tail all day, every day. Medicine can be the same way too, having personally lived with and seen government doctors live in eternal frustration over this country’s health system. However, medicine allows things to be done right now, the results of which cannot only be seen acutely but also in the long-term. The most important part is to see that there has been a change that has occurred, no matter how minimal, as a result of an action. As opposed to law, where the result of your blood, sweat, tears, and sleepless nights is usually the inevitable freedom of a criminal because of the patronage of a powerful politician, which sounds so corny but which I also know for a fact is a reality.

The Law frustrates me too but I know it’s there for a reason. Plus I would have probably made an awful lawyer. Spoken words and I are not good friends. Moreover, explaining things with my tongue to people, especially to those who have their minds already set anyway, frustrates and angers me even worse. And I probably would have gotten myself killed before I turned twenty-five. I never want to hear my mother say to my grave, “I told you so.”

In the end, I guess I did not really agree to medicine. I chose it over and above my desire to be, well, everything else, as well as my desire to be with my family, to be home, to travel the world, and, most importantly, to earn my own living. It’s killing me to have to depend on other people for finances, haha.  Medicine allows me to understand even if I cannot do anything about it, to do something about it even if I know I’m going to fail, to fail as long as I tried anyway but still understanding where I went wrong so I don’t make the same mistake again. So, during the times I get frustrated with it, this is what I tell myself, repeatedly – I chose this over and above everything else so, honey, kindly don’t screw it up.

Yes, I talk to myself in my head sometimes.

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vanity crap

My little project began during senior year in college and, although it never persisted for more than a few months at a time, it still took up a big chunk of every single year since then. Let’s call it “The Vanity and Bare Essentials Challenge.” Captain Obvious, double-check title please.  This has something to do with female vanity and existing without the stuff women think are essential to them such as facial wash, moisturizer, lipstick, conditioner, body lotion, daily panty-liners, foundation, and many, many more – you get the drift. Open any girl’s bag and you’ll find very few who do not carry a beauty kit. Ask any girl for a tissue and she’s bound to pull out a pull-up.

This project took root during an out-of-town trip with some girls, when we’d ended up staying overnight somewhere remote, and one of them freaking out because she forgot to bring her vanilla-scented hand lotion, insert epistaxis here. The wanderlust in my veins spurred me into thinking that, since I am bound to get stuck somewhere unexpected and remote time and again in the future, I had to start training myself emotionally and mentally to survive with the barest of essentials without freaking out just because I forgot to bring moisturizer. What if you’re backpacking across Southeast Asia and could not find any store that sells your particular brand of lip balm? Freaking out over these things sounds very nonsensical.

It is a fact that female vanity is innate in all women but, if millions of other women who cannot afford beauty products can survive without them for most (if not all) of their lives, why would I be any different? As such, this project was more than just a I’m-so-kickass-‘cause-I-don’t-need-no-conditioner project. It was a way of impressing onto one’s brain that, despite the blessings one has been receiving from family and other benefactors that has led to a relatively easier way of living, at the end of the day, all women – all people – are the same. It just so happens that, for other women, Lady Luck has been very kind in this lifetime.  Being grateful instead of being ignorant or indifferent about it is the point.

On the other hand though, there is nothing wrong with being the kind of woman who wants to maintain herself, especially if she can afford it. To each his own. It was, after all, Coco Chanel, who said, “It is imperative that a woman fixes herself up even if only for the sake of politeness,” or something to that effect. Personally, it was only when I started facing patients that I truly understood what she meant because, these days, one has to always keep in mind that, when a patient looks at his/her doctor, he/she should already feel confident and hopeful that you can treat him/her. A disheveled countenance does not exactly inspire confidence, does it?

There was a time when my project was at its peak that I went for three days without taking a bath. Of course, I barely left the dorm at that time but, then again, if I had, I wouldn’t have known if I looked like complete and utter crap because I’d given my mirror away too. Over the years though, the rules of the project became more lenient.  Ergo, I have become just like most girls. But I can also survive on a mountaintop for two days with less than a liter of water to use for hygienic purposes. Disgusting? I think so too but we, bare-essentials people, are kick-ass like that… or so I’d like to think, haha.

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Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbili...

I keep having these weird dreams, dreams that take me places I’ve never been to.  I was swimming in a deep, blue ocean, submerging once in awhile to see fish swim around me underwater and I particularly remember thinking, “Thank God this is a dream for, in real life, cowardly me would not swim deeper than what my legs could reach.” I was thankful I was alone in that ocean… until a saw a baby swim right past me.

Yes, that was not a typo.  I saw a baby – a freaking infant of about eight months old – swiftly swim right past me towards shore.  What is this, lamaze?!  In that dream, I actually almost drowned in shock at the sight but, thankfully, I was able to wake up.  So weird to die in a nightmare of seeing an eight month old baby singlehandedly swim in a deep blue ocean… and him/her not even bothering to help drowning adult moi.  I have no idea where that baby came from… hopefully not from me!

Now, one would say that was probably my biological clock tapping me on the shoulder but I sincerely believe there is not yet that burning desire at the pit of my stomach to bear a child and hold him/her in my hands at this age.  In fact, both the miracle but indignity of childbirth (and breastfeeding!) is scary.  I was telling my mother the other week I was going to be a surgeon and she went, “You’ll be too old to marry and bear children when you’re done,” to which I said I’d adopt on my own and she quipped, “You’re never sure if their genetics have looneys in the family,” or something to that effect.  Very supportive, my mother.

Got me thinking though, that maybe, babies who were born spontaneously from vaginas and breastfed probably have an advantage over those who were not.  I mean, my granddad was your regular tough man from the block in his heyday with all the vices the world could provide at his hands.  He used to smoke like a chimney and could finish two cases of beer in one sitting.  He was born to a poor family of eight kids in the 1920’s, delivered vaginally with no complications and breastfed because there was no money for formula milk.  He’s now 89 years old and, ignore the catheter dangling from his leg, he’s still spry.  He has the most unbelievable immune system… although I’m not saying you should leave your kid/s with their vices, gosh no.  Your brand of parenthood is uniquely your own.

Moral of the story?  Embrace the natural course of motherhood.  Vaginally deliver your baby and breastfeed.  It’s good for him/her and for you.  Although… I honestly wish I could practice what I preach when it’s my turn, insert dreading-it icon here.

Going home to celebrate the holidays with my family does not mean that I’d left medicine in the closet in my dorm room to rot for two and a half weeks.  In a family of (mostly) doctors, the topic of conversations usually is (you guessed it) medicine.  By now, you’d think I’d be bored to tears or, at the very least, frustrated with the commonality of it all but no.  As funny as it sounds, I feel more of a (would be) doctor in the company of other doctors who believe that I actually know what I’m talking about as opposed to being in the presence of doctor-teachers who look at me as if I know nothing despite three years of drowning myself in all these medical shiz-nits.  See what I just did there?  I just allowed Pride to run its mouth.

Going home to my hometown also means having to meet up with the few high school classmates I’d chosen to keep in touch with over the years and bumping accidentally into those I’d tried very hard to not come into contact with in the last several years.  With these people, the topic of conversations usually revolves around what everyone else is doing – to put it simply, who’s at the top and who’s at the bottom, who’s the winner and who’s (still) the loser.  I would be a hypocrite if I said I’d never listened intently or asked prodding questions myself but the bottom line is that high school never ends, does it?

As one of my medschool friends would tenderly say, we rise up in people’s estimation with a medical diploma.  The honorable part of me wants to believe that that medschool diploma does not make one better than the other, despite the other thinking it himself already, but the realistic part of me has got to accept that we, as a society, put so much emphasis on education, especially further studies, because acquiring one seems to be tantamount to inevitable future success.  What people seem to forget is that a diploma can only serve its purpose if partnered with the priceless experience necessary to achieve that level of success.

I am halfway through medschool but I froze – totally poleaxed – when I saw a woman fall to the floor in the grocery store a few days ago when a thick holiday crowd was milling about.

The one other thing that made me ashamed of myself as a medical student, besides the fact that I totally went cold and froze as I watched her spontaneously fall, hit the floor, and look disoriented, is the fact that, at that time, I was thankful I wasn’t wearing my white medschool uniform.  Only when people had rushed to her aid did my brain start working again – ticking off the signs and symptoms, trying to come up with differentials etc.  As penance for my inaction, I stood at one side for a good 20 minutes just in case while the grocery store staff brought her a chair and her companion started to fan her.

I don’t like giving excuses so I cannot say that I was not able to help like I’d wanted because I did not have a stet or a pen light or a sphyg because who would I be kidding then?  I thank the good Lord that it was most probably just hypoglycemia or acute mild hypoxia instead of stroke or a seizure.  So, no.  I was not proud to call myself a doctor-in-the-making at that time… and my medschool education did nothing during an emergency situation when this supposed doc was on vacay.

As such, I repeat.  A medical diploma needs the necessary medical experience to be able to achieve expected results.  So, really – I do respect my mentors for they’ve seen more patients and been in more emergent situations compared to me.

I am humbled.  Humbled me shall now go take an ocean swim.  Pass the suntan lotion, please!

When I was a kid, my parents enrolled me and my brothers into a lot of classes.  For learning and improvement, they said.  My mom tells me now it was their way of making sure that their kids would be able to achieve all of their potentials in life.  Thus, from my childhood to my teenage years, I had taken classes in piano, ballet, karate, taekwondo, landscape sketching, portraiture, acrylic painting, guitar, typewriting, computer technology, swimming and First Aid, declamation, theater, and journalism.  My older brother got enrolled into a summer course on automechanics once.  He was ten.

As a result, there are a lot of things that I know how to do.  The problem is that I’m not sure if I’m that good in all of them.  As such, each one of them is a hobby that I don’t share with a lot of other people, simply because I don’t think they’re at that level of share-ability.  This desire to know or maybe to learn was probably the one thing that my parents had painfully but successfully instilled in me because of the constant barrage of diverse information during my formative years.

Speaking of the constant barrage of diverse information, which sounds suspiciously like medical school, perhaps the downside to being enrolled in an MD-MBA program is that it can be a bit confusing sometimes.  Sure, we know we are here to become clinical doctors but how can you focus on becoming that doctor when you also have to put aside what little time you have to become a public health practitioner, a quick-witted businessman and a social catalyst all at the same time?  Excuse the whining but I’m simply wondering, in earnest, how can you compete, clinically speaking, with other medical students from other medical schools whose only concern is to become the best clinical doctors ever?

It makes me think sometimes that, to have an MD-MBA attached to your name, you have to become sort of like a jack-of-all-trades –you have to know how to do a lot of things but you can’t be so sure if you’re that good in all of them.  Not unless you get the balls to try them all out, all at the same time – now that’s some serious balls.  However, these days, whenever I feel the urge to complain about the work load, I think about Daddy and Mummy and how they used to (irrationally) bombard me with diverse information that are so unrelated, I sometimes thought they were torturing me.  Yeah, my parents were very loving people.

The point though was that I learned how to do many different things and, in a way, I was able to achieve the potential to achieve.  I don’t care that I cannot readily define Ashermann’s syndrome or that I do not know what to call lub-dub-click-whoosh when I auscultate a cardiac patient or that I still cannot pinpoint the parts of the basal ganglia.  I mean, I am doing a lot of things here, okay, I am trying to be a lot of things here so chill, okay?

That is the reason why I am still slaving away right now, not for the MD-MBA titles (although, of course, they are still a major reason why I’m doing the shiz nits I’m doing right now, haha), but because I want to learn something new everyday and, these learnings may not be totally related to each other but they will help me achieve all of my potential – as a doctor, as a social catalyst, as a businessman, as a person.

Boom, we just had a pseudo-mature monologue right there.

Grey's Anatomy (season 7)

House MD is great. It’s hard-core medicine. It’s irreverent. It’s sarcastic and I love sarcastic humor.  However, this series? It’s kind of dark.  Sometimes I feel the doctor lacks respect for life.  So, screw the hard-core medicine because hell would freeze over before I would allow myself to turn into the kind of doctor – maybe even the kind of person – that House is in that series. He’s a great a doctor but I’m just gonna go hit my books and hit them hard to be a good doctor.

On the other hand, Grey’s Anatomy is full of drama. It’s exhausting – the drama and the complications and the personal lives spiraling out of control and people dying and getting cancer.  So messy (which is why I have no personal life whatsoever).  However, the one thing that makes me like Grey’s Anatomy a lot is how it presents the human condition.

Okay, I just made Grey’s Anatomy sound philosophical when it’s basically all about sex.  I’m kidding, haha.  For me, Grey’s Anatomy shows what life is like as a person practicing medicine but is also completely immersed in an uncontrollable world. Ergo, it shows me that doctors still have a life and it’s as messy as anyone else’s.

You see, what I’m trying to understand and look forward to is the life with the medicine. I’m already expecting the life of a workaholic. The hospital is a really small place and, as a clerk or an intern or a resident, that is going to be our world.  What a small, constricting, suffocating world.  It excites me.

The thought of waking up at 3 in the morning to go to the hospital while everybody else is asleep and be good at what I do excites me. The thought of myself in an O.R. with a scalpel in my hand just standing for eight straight hours fixing a stranger up excites me because that’s just so hardcore. The thought of travelling to other countries and treating people by the millions excites me.  Yes, it’s exciting to think about the medicine but I want to understand not just the medicine but the life that we are to live while practicing medicine.

I want an exciting life but I don’t want a messy one.  Constantly thinking about people you care about who are dying on you – well, it’s exhausting and that’s inevitable. People gravitate towards drama because we feel. We get hurt. We want to hurt others. We get angry. I just want to do my job well. People make it so hard to do just that because, honestly, it’s not the work, no matter how heavy or how seemingly unending the load is, that makes everything exhausting. It’s the people.

Which means that I do like watching Grey’s Anatomy and the series and the messiness it depicts never fails to entertain me.  In essence though, I don’t want to be House but I want to learn way he handles his life as a doctor practicing medicine because he finds ways to make life less messy.  How ironic is that?  Does that even make sense right now?

Maybe I’m better off in Pathology. Dead people can’t be that exhausting to be around.  Or maybe this is exactly the reason why I want Surgery. People can’t talk in my O.R.  The person on the table sure as hell couldn’t when he’s heavily sedated and I’ve my hands full squeezing his heart, his kidneys and his bowels. Now, that’s exciting.

Bullshit Ahead warning in style of warning roa...

It is not (that) difficult figuring people out. I am of the belief that we, as human beings, inherently wish to be understood by those around us that, even though we would like to seem mysterious and unreadable, that innate desire to be understood is reflected on our faces, on our body language and even on the simple physiological processes (i.e. sweating, increased blinking rate, body position and even the occasional smirks and eye-rolling etc.) that reveal the emotions that are boiling within us. Yes, I am a big believer of body language reading. However, although observation plays an integral part in showing the realness within us, intuition plays an even greater role in how one is able to gauge the character of another human being. This is what we call getting vibes or testing aura and, in my case, this is how I gauge the level of another person’s genuineness.

Genuineness is (personally) an important concept because having surreptitious agendas or putting on a mask of overt plasticity for no productive reason is, admit it, somewhat a waste of time. A mentor once said that the only way you will be able to spot bullshit is by being completely honest with yourself. Her point was this: how can you tell if another person is being honest with you if you are always lying to your own self? An argument could be that constantly bullshitting with yourself will make it easier for you to recognize other people’s bullshit but that would probably lead to a slap at the back of my head so I just keep my mouth shut.

It is a difficult endeavor, this being honest to self thing, which is why I truly appreciate people who have the most transparent faces. It makes spotting either bullshit or genuineness easier in the sense that there is no need to be paralyzed by analysis. There is no need to try to sift through their childhood and what could have gone wrong and the motivations that make them the way they are and how you can possibly help them and, damn, would prayer be enough to yield change in these people? Don’t hate on the effort at Psychiatry – I’m trying to make myself believe I didn’t flunk that exam. In short, it makes life easier… and why does life need to be easier at this point?

Because we do not have time for bullshit. Just kidding. Life needs to be easier because we are here to work, boo, not to produce, um, stool.

But what do I know anyway? There is a land called Denial-asia and I am their top monarch… and I bet I’m ruling this kingdom with several other monarchs.