The reunion was like any other: it would not involve anyone else but instead only those who would make the gargantuan effort to just be there. The wives had been gracious and understanding enough to give the boys the “day pass” to become boys again – after all, love is a matter of trust, and given the company that they would be in for the day, the worst that they could expect is that more than enough would be spent on nonsense things like comic books, arcade tokens, and more food. That’s why as the budget enforcers (and guardians of the waistlines), they gave their husbands only enough money for food and maybe a small cup of coffee afterwards.
Despite the years that passed, the conversations remained the same, although those who have children have more updated information about the latest cartoons and toys. The other single men were not really outdated: one has two nieces and a nephew that require him to be at least aware if not knowledgeable about the latest kid stuffs, while the other has an enviable job as an animator for the empire of some famous rodent to be able to even brag about its up-and-coming products (except that he would not give any details or confirmation, lest he would have to kill us).
The topic shifted to another part that made them realized how old they have become: it was about money this time, and not really about them lacking it. In their high school days, it was actually a common topic especially when one has to go on a date and he has no budget and he would be asking those who have extra to maybe lend him some. This time it was about their kids’ tuition fees, expenses for maintaining a home, and investments. Yes, investments – as in possible business decisions (but not including the selling of insurance plans or recruiting members for some actual or imaginary products). Discussions on the cost of franchises, creating partnerships, and differentiating mutual funds versus index funds (and which ones to invest to) were brought up, until the elephant in the room was brought up.
“Why don’t you try going with us? We made it there, we know that you can make it there too.” Of the four people who were there, two were already successful expatriates in that country. One revealed that he was about to leave to try his luck there – not that he was earning poorly here: he’s actually working in the IT industry with a rather handsome salary. He decided that he had already had enough cow dung in the Philippines that he wanted to be in a place where his taxes are actually put in the service of the people and his promotion or non-promotion would be because of his achievements at work and not because of who he knows.
“I’m planning to get back to the Practice here. I’m just making my preparations. Thank you,” I replied, myself not even convinced of what I just said.
“Nonsense. You can get into the insurance industry there too and earn more than what you are currently earning here. You already know how to hustle. You only need the opportunity, bro.”
It was not the first time that I have been offered to go there: my former college roommate who used to work in a neighboring country had also gone there with his wife, who in turn left her practice as an emergency room physician to practice there instead. A former co-worker who worked in Dubai in an insurance company, had been planning to return there. Another high school friend, who moved to a South Pacific island, has established a successful practice as a professor in Pathology in a medical school there. All have asked me to go with them and try my luck there. They all have said that having known me all this time, they knew that I would make it there too.
I looked at my previous missed opportunities and pondered if this latest offer is actually the sign for me to finally leave the country and maybe reinvent myself again – if not as a physician then as someone who’s still working close with the medical industry. After a series of events in both my personal and professional life in the past year and early this year, I have come to realize how much I miss the Practice and I had been yearning to see patients again. After all, physicians are in demand there, and I do have several acquaintances who have moved their Practices there.
I remember my medical school days and I remember one particular conversation that I had with my bestfriend Allen. We had the same mutual interest about going to the barrios and practicing there – minus the flair and the elegance of high-tech medical equipment and the vacuum-and-polished floors of “internationally-accredited” hospitals. We would still be wearing white coats – or at least blazers – but instead of tailored pants and Italian shoes we would be wearing blue jeans and rubber shoes to make us move more comfortably. Instead of the well-lit air-conditioned halls of large hospitals, we would be walking on muddy trails of far-flung areas of the country. Instead of spoiled brat pediatric patients and people pretending to be sick and just wanting to have a medical certificate to get a night off work, we would actually be fighting tuberculosis, intestinal worms, and malnutrition in people who have no real access to decent medications.
Yes, in some way, we had been influenced by the late Senator Juan Flavier. At the back of our minds, we thought, if he could do (“DOH”!) it, we can do it even better!
Fast forward to the present. The dreaming is over, and we are where we currently are. My bestfriend and I rarely communicate as we used to anymore, but I have had the privilege to become his bestman on his wedding (and I made him swear to me that he will be my bestman on my future wedding). When we do get to converse, I would love hearing about his patients. Medical confidentiality would of course be observed, but more than the daily rounds, diagnoses, and courses of treatment, we would be discussing the things about Life (not just “life”) that we learn from our patients. I created my own term for it – “Evening Rounds,” as doctors’ visits are usually only made during daytime (unless the doctor had been very busy), and only relatives and people close to them get to be with them at night. Being alone again and being in the middle of the night somehow bring out the sentimentality of people, and they tend to be more open about talking about their lives at that time – and be more receptive to medical advice compared with formal hospital visits. Professionally speaking, besides establishing a better rapport with the patient, it also helped ensure their compliance to management, especially for those that involve lifestyle changes instead of just intake of pharmaceutical products. More than those, I would learn so many things from their points-of-view, which make me appreciate more the Beauty of Life.
Neither my bestfriend nor I have become barrio doctors, but he is in the province and he is serving the people – still close to our younger dream. At times, he would forego getting his professional fee and rely instead on the designated payment that PhilHealth had provided for the particular disease that he had just treated (and admittedly, it is usually too small) to help those less-financially-privileged to keep their money for buying their take-home or maintenance medicines. As a specialist, he acquired a better knowledge on diseases and this helped him become a better doctor.
I had not gone shabby myself. I have come to work for a company where I felt valued and – modesty aside – had provided me not just the financial stability that I wanted but also the opportunity to be with doctors and evaluate medical cases more thoroughly. More than that, additional privileges had been given to me – and extended to my loved ones. Still, there had been something deep within me that told me that there could be more to Life than what I already have.
Enter now this offer from my high school buddies. One had offered me his flat for me to stay on to for free until I find my own flat. The other promised to get me familiarized and street smart – as well as introduce me to his friends there. The only thing that I had to worry about is getting the tickets to get there, as well as my updated résumé. The one who was about to leave had offered me his agent (a friend of his wife), who could assist me in getting a new job and negotiating my desired salary.
I promised them that I would very heavily think about it, and despite their protests and playful (but still stinging) mocking of me letting the opportunity pass (especially with me being single and without having to think about leaving anybody here), I think they understood where I was coming from. I have never really thought about leaving the country, except to visit the Vatican or to make a pilgrimage in Israel. Those were ordinary desires wherein I would only be a tourist and be gone for maybe a week or two – not really a way of life that I would have. My work is at a semi-government corporation, and while it is far from my dream of directly serving the people – those who could not afford medical services, I have come to realize that my work still involves that – providing affordable healthcare and access to top-caliber physicians to people who otherwise could not afford them. Of course there would be limitations and exclusions as after all, the medical services provided would be determined by the employer, and my job would be to ensure that the services that had been guaranteed to the patients as needed would be delivered and they are able to utilize it correctly and efficiently.
Still, there is discontentment.
At the back of my mind, I thought about my desire to earn more – to be able to buy a huge house in an exclusive subdivision, a brand-new expensive car that would turn people’s heads when I pass by, buy all the stuff that my (future) wife would love to have, and send our (future) children to expensive schools. I could buy an iPhone on a whim and maybe that large-screen LED TV that I had been drooling about.
Then again, I thought about my younger dreams. Of course it is important to have my own house and to have my own means of traveling. Of course I want to spoil my wife and send my children to the same schools that my parents have sent me and my siblings, but do I really need to have a luxurious and extravagant lifestyle?
Do i really need to get out of the country to be able to afford the bare necessities and realize my younger dreams?
I remember what Pope Francis had said about Greed – that so much blessings are poured by God to our cups but instead of letting it overflow from us and on to others, our Greed tends to magically increase the size of that cup such that despite so much blessings pouring down, it would still not be enough to satisfy us.
Have I become like that – unsatisfied by what I have already have and still saying (screaming): it’s not enough! I want more! I deserve more!
For the week after our reunion, the unofficial updated lyrics of “UP Naming Mahal” kept playing inside my brain (yes, I took my pre-med course at UP). The lyrics go: “Malayong lupain di kailangang marating / Dito maglilingkod sa bayan natin / Dito maglilingkod sa bayan natin.” I then remembered the speech that Prof. Solita Monsod delivered to one of her classes about the cost of education and how much my country had shouldered mine: if Ateneo and La Salle (which, according to her, are the second and third best universities in the country, respectively) are charging so much for their education, how much more should UP charge, being the best university in the country?
More than that is the sense of social responsibility that I feel that I should have – not for anything else but because of the too many blessings that have been poured down on me: blessings that I may have overlooked because of my desire for something more, which I believe the world owes me.
My new passport had arrived and getting a ticket is just a click away. My résumé’s been updated and a resignation letter is too easy to write. It will be a new beginning for me, but I know that transplanting myself to another country would not be easy. Being a Filipino is already difficult in the Philippines, what more in a foreign land?
Will practicing as a doctor in another country compensate for my non-practice here? Would i finally become satisfied with Life?
In a recent conversation in Viber, my friend gave me some consoling words: “You might find her here.”