Monthly Archives: December 2012

Beyond Medicines

striking a balance

striking a balance

Looking for inspiration on what to write about, I found this written on a piece of paper while cleaning my room. I recall reading this in a daily broadsheet once and having been moved by the words, wrote it down and eventually forgotten, until now. Happy Holidays everyone!

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“Respect and balance” was what Dr. Samuel Bernal said when he was asked to choose keywords to best describe his medical credo.

He continues by saying “one must respect the individuality of a person, and how every RNA, the edited version of genes of DNA, is expressed. Every gene expresses itself uniquely in every individual.”

“Balance – this isn’t just physical, it is all of mind and spirit, too. When working at one’s health, the personal state of mind and heart is an integral part of the totality of being.”

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Happy Death

UntitledThis post was originally posted in my other blog. I don’t believe that the world will end tomorrow, but what if it did? Maybe it’s because life and death are intricately woven in my chosen profession that every once in a while it is but proper that I reflect upon it. I hope you like what you find in here, unedited as it was written about four years ago..

inkblots & blood clots

During my last tour of duty at the hospital, we received two patients at the Emergency Room, both with critical thermal burns secondary to massive electrical shock. One would need immediate surgery for his wounds, but he will live to tell his tale. Unfortunately for his companion, he was not as fortunate. In his demise, he leaves behind a very young son, his wife and their unborn child. He was called to work on the day that he was supposed to be off duty and was just called to fix a broken connection. He died in the line of duty.

I have been witness to so many deaths in the ER that sometimes I feel that my conscience is numb. But every time I talk to their loved ones left behind I am reminded that they are not just another body headed for the morgue as each death has a…

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A Day With Kids

[This was previously published  as a contributed article in the Aesculapian Vol. 40, No. 1, slightly modified and updated for this blog post]

It was supposed to have been the last day of school before the much awaited (and very much needed) Christmas break, but some friends of mine asked me if I wanted to join them visit an orphanage. I thought to myself, “why not?” Little did I know that this visit would change not only the way that I look at life in general, but also how our actions affect other people’s lives  in particular.

The place wasn’t far, just a jeepney ride from school. I really didn’t know what to expect when we came in, not that I didn’t visit orphanages before. It’s just that sometimes, we get a little more than what we bargain for, and this was one of those times. It was their play time when we reached the place so the kids were, well, playing. In the beginning, I wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to do. In the orphanages that we used to visit, the kids were usually already around grade school age. The kids here were barely in pre-school. The resident volunteers told us that we could play with them. Most of my friends quickly approached them and started playing with them. Me? I waited. I waited and looked at the kids and wondered, “How long have they been here? Do they realize that they are orphans? What will become of them when they grow up? Does he really think he can climb that fence?” The last question at least I can answer. Finally, I decided to approach the kid who thought he was Spider-Man and smiled at him. He didn’t give me much attention though, as he was really intent on climbing the perimeter wire fence. Being the kind guy that I was, I helped him achieve his goal. It was then that I realized that he was trying to get a toy that fell on the other side of the fence. I retrieved the toy for him and probably gained his trust by doing so (but apparently not enough for him to willingly lend me his toy). The volunteers said that this was quite unusual because he doesn’t usually warm up to volunteers and visitors like us. Perhaps he was looking for a father figure or maybe because most of the volunteer workers there were females. So I realized what I was going to be for the kids. I was going to be a big brother to them, even just for a few hours that day. But it turned out to be a difficult task. It was as if these kids were like the energizer bunny. They just kept on going and going and going…

It was after my fill of kids clambering around me like I was a tree, chasing one of them only to be chased by half a dozen later, waiting patiently as another tries to impress me with his imitation of soiled laundry in the hamper, and my own imitation of a helicopter that I decided to take a break and sit at a corner. And that’s when I noticed him. Maybe because of the innocence on his face, the way he wasn’t always moving about like the rest of the kids, the way he held his arms up gesturing to be picked up, or maybe because he was the one nearest me that made me go and pick him up. Big mistake I later realized, because he never wanted to let go after that. It was then that I realized that he was, unlike the other kids, “special.” He longed for more attention than the rest of the other kids, and actually did deserve more care and attention because of his condition. It was only when John (the only other guy in the group) got him from me that I got to rest.

Luckily, soon it was already lunchtime for them. We were left to put away the toys that they were playing with – a truck with a missing wheel, a faded action hero, and some other toys that have seen better days. Some of us used the time to try our hands at feeding some of the kids. Others attempted to lull the younger resident babies to sleep, which I also tried with limited success.

After eating, it was bath time for the kids and when they smelled fresh again, it was time for their afternoon nap. And it was also our time to go. We left the administrator with some treats for the kids when they woke up. On our way back, I was thankful that my friends invited me. That day with the kids taught me something that I probably wouldn’t have learned within the confines of the lecture rooms. They made me realize to value the things that really mattered in life – a sound home, friends, and a complete family to which I belong. It wasn’t a fair trade. The kids gave us more than what we gave them. So with child-like innocence and faith, I’m praying that the future be kind to them.


The Sandwich, The Bananas and The Blind

image courtesy of 7bigspoons.com

A patient came in for follow up consult today after being confined in the hospital for elevated blood pressure. She was grateful that I took her case even though at the onset she stated that she did not have any money on her. I told her that if I didn’t take care of her when I did, she might have ended up with a stroke or worse a heart attack. Although she’s still not out of the woods yet she is thankful that she now knows what she has and with the right medications and motivation, she can still enjoy a rewarding life ahead of her. I told her that her consultation today was on me. She can pay me the next time she visits for consult. It was then that she said no, and gave me two bunches of bananas. She insists that she will pay me for my services as soon as she is able, that the bananas were a thank you gift. I could not say no and graciously accepted them.

It made me think of the time when I was still a clinical clerk (4th year medical student) doing rotations in the department of ophthalmology, I had come to see a patient who came in for consult at the outpatient clinics for a much needed eye surgery. When I saw her all she had was light perception, but if operated on there was a chance that she could see again. Being in the charity service, there was a lot of work to be done and papers to be filled out. I did all that I can to help her out. It took us almost half the day to finish, but it was all in a day’s work for me. She asked me what my name was and I told her. I won’t forget you she told me. And they went home to get some of the other requirements. I saw them a few more times in the OPD but then we were to rotate in general surgery already, so I never did know what happened to her after.

Until after a rather busy tour of duty, in the flurry of activity in the surgery quarters, someone called out my name and was handing me a package of what seemed like food. “Your breakfast” he said. “From who?” I asked. He mentions the name and in my half asleep, half awake state I realized that it was the name of the patient I had helped before. Apparently she was already admitted and was scheduled for surgery that day.

Eventually, I did find to time to visit her and see how she was doing. She was already in the ward, but still with bandages over her eyes. “Oh, it’s you” she said when I greeted her “did you get the food that I sent you?” I responded in the affirmative and advised her not to strain herself as she just underwent surgery. Again I thanked her for the kind gesture but she was quick to say that she was just giving what is due to her “doctor”.

At another time, as part of our rotation in the department of obstetrics and gynecology, we needed to complete a month of outside rotation from our private teaching hospital to a government institution, either at East Avenue Medical Center or at Quirino Memorial Memorial Medical Center. Half of the team went to the Quirino Questors while I was with the East Avenue Avengers.

At one time during my duty at the delivery room there was a patient who looked famished and asked, no she begged me actually, if I could call her husband for her. Since I couldn’t leave my post, I said no. But a feeling of guilt and sympathy took the better of me and I asked if there was anything else I could do instead. She said if it was possible for me to text her husband to bring her food. I obliged and a few hours later I found her eating a sandwich, presumably the one her husband brought for her. She had even offered me a bite which I respectfully declined, even if my body probably did need some form of nourishment as well. I was off to my other duties and between assisting in the residents, doing post op orders and generally just trying to survive, I never saw her again. She would just be another nameless patient I had encountered in my tour of duty, nothing of major significance. Or so I thought.

A few days before we were to leave the hospital I heard someone calling by an unfamiliar title “Doctor, doctor!” they said. It was a while before I realized who they were. It was the sandwich lady. I did not recognize her because she was in a much better state than when I saw her at the delivery room. For one thing she was cleaner and looked refreshed. And she did not look famished anymore. But the dead giveaway was that she could now afford to smile. “I’m on my way home. We’ve been discharged already. I just wanted to thank you” she said. “You were the only one who was kind enough to help me.” I was at a loss for words so just I bid them good luck and to take care of their most precious possession, but by the smile upon their face, I knew that whatever the day was still to bring, it was all going to be worth it.

They teach us all kinds of stuff in med school from how to diagnose diseases to what medications to give them, but here in the hallways of an understaffed overworked government hospital a patient has taught me that an act of kindness no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, goes a long way.

So whether it be a bunch of bananas, a packed meal, or simply just a smile and ‘thank you’ I will always be thankful to the patients who remind me why I chose to be in this profession in the first place and why I continue to do so.


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