Wanting to write but not having the words come feels like wanting to cry when there are no tears to shed.
This blog has been idle for a good part of this year. At first, I thought the problem was Time. But I spent a relatively benign OPD month and a restful 2-week leave still in a disturbingly protracted writing slump.
So being able to write again, typing these words as the Beatles are singing about how Penny Lane is in their ears and in their eyes, sipping a good cup of coffee I leisurely brewed without having to rush -that is a Happy Thing.
No matter what I went through in the past, I always had Writing to make sense of my own Experiences, both good and bad. To lose it at a time my soul needed it the most was frightening. At some point, I wondered if the words have completely left. The anguish from the looming threat of Emptiness was beyond words.
But in the stillness and Silence of these quiet in-betweens, I found myself listening more than ever. I listened to the Stories of the people around me. To the soundless words they could not speak but their weary eyes too often reveal. To the trail of signs the Universe left for us to chase after.
They told me one thing:
Over the past months, I have been blessed with experiences that molded me into what I’d like to believe as a better version of myself. Though the tears felt infinite, the exhaustion otherworldly, the self-disappointment overwhelming, I always end up with the same conclusion: I wouldn’t have it any other way.
And so, here are the lessons we will take away from the gruelling months of 2021, picking up right where I left off:
MAY NICU: That a Heavy Heart is also a Full One
We suffered through literal and figurative fires this year, the month of May taking the literal one. It was a logistical nightmare in every aspect, but as always, people’s Kindness always comes through. There was an outpouring of love and support – from breast milk we couldn’t fit in our milk bank fridges anymore, to diapers that would last until these kiddos turn 6, to food that kept arriving days after the tragedy. That month, I was reminded of people’s inherent generosity – that giving without counting the cost is the natural human condition. If we are to survive any misfortune that comes our way, it will be because others are willing to lend a hand when ours are struggling to hold on.
Personally though, my most memorable experience for the month of May is being the RIC of a baby born with a rare condition called ectopia cordis.
The miracle of childbirth always fascinated me. As doctors tasked to be part of the whole process of mothers giving birth, we help bring out life into this world. It should be a Happy Occasion. If I had it my way, the whole world should pause, and listen to sound of a baby’s first cry. Very few things sound as pure.
And so, if you tell a mother that the angel she just brought into this world does not have long to live, and when you begin the painful conversation of how she wants to spend the last days with her child, you begin to wonder why the world is unjust in its arbitrary cruelty. But you keep struggling to make those few moments worthwhile, to the best of your ability.
A heavy heart is also a full one – it allowed itself to expand and be filled with a vast ocean of love. Sometimes, it is enough that it only does just that.
JUNE GEN PED: That it is hard to be a Good Doctor, but even harder to be a Kind one. But that’s who we are called to be
It’s cool to be as smart as Dr House or have the diagnostic prowess of Shaun Murphy, but to be a truly great doctor requires us to connect with our patient in a much deeper and intentional way no textbook or journal can teach us how. Every day I am struggling with this. I only hope to master kindness and to practice it in every opportunity that presents itself on a daily basis – even when it is hard, especially then.
A few days ago, I was in our Outpatient Department to get my annual flu vaccine. On my way back to the wards, there was a familiar face calling out to me, “Doc, good morning po” I’m not very good with memorizing names and faces. So there was an awkward few seconds of pause as I struggled to place the face with a memory. “Ako po yung tatay ni Angel*,” he volunteered. I remembered instantly.
Angel was my patient last June who succumbed from overwhelming sepsis. Her father worked as a custodian in our hospital. Every day, I would update him and his wife on Angel. It wasn’t always an optimistic update. If anything, it was to tell them that things are turning out for the worst – that we are doing our best, but the organs are failing from the severity of the infection. Every day after his shift, he would religiously visit the wards. I felt bad that after struggling to do his job despite what is happening to his daughter, I didn’t have happier news to offer. Eventually, Angel passed away.
“Kamusta na po kayo?” “Okay naman po ngayon Doc. Maraming salamat po sa inyo.”
I always saw my patients’ death as an unforgivable personal failure, so I didn’t understand why this father whose child died under my care was thanking me. “Salamat po sa pag-alaga kay Angel.”
I was speechless that moment.
If we can be anything towards our patients and their relatives, we must be Kind. We will not always get the outcome we want, but people appreciate the effort we put into making sure our patients receive the best version of care we can give them.
I am grateful for Angel and her family for teaching me this valuable lesson.
*changed the name for privacy
JULY HEMA ONCO: That Grief is the Price we pay for Love
Dodong* was admitted under my care in the wards during my June rotation, but was eventually transferred to our Hema Onco ward. So I met him again last July as a Hema Onco rotator in charge of patients in that ward. He was a kind 14-year old, with a sensitive heart. A conversation with him brings a smile to his doctors’ faces because his wisdom was beyond his years.
In his last minutes, he asked for a C2 red. He was on NPO, but I ran all the way to Bayanihan to buy him a liter of his requested drink, even if I was sure he wouldn’t drink it. He passed away shortly after that.
I thought at this point I have mastered the art of containing my emotions in front of patients and their relatives. But I bawled as we declared his time of death. I cried so hard, it was his mother comforting me instead of the other way around.
After being my favorite drink for years since Elementary, I stopped drinking C2 red back in College after promising myself to only drink it on a very bad day. I almost drank C2 red that day. Almost.
*changed the name for privacy
AUGUST OPD: That Perfection is a Myth in this Profession
This month, I was baptized into the LU 7 monitor club. It’s easily one of the greatest challenges I faced in my first year of Residency. It involved talking and coordinating with lots of people using up time you don’t really have. It was basically a throwback to my stint as our block’s Pedia LO both in clerkship and internship, but the responsibilities were suddenly on steroids! HAHA
But if there is a silver lining to this experience, it would be that I am so, so proud of these stellar interns for making it seem like it’s not their first rotation back in the hospital after enduring months of home-based learning prior to this!
They soaked up feedback so well, the second time I encountered them in their OPD case endorsements, I practically didn’t have to edit their history and physical examination. By the time they shift out of OPD, they volunteered their own assessment and management for patients!
I remember how my seniors were super kind, patient, and helpful to me back when I was a struggling clerk and an equally struggling intern. I told myself I will pass on that uniquely Pedia attribute of promoting learning in every opportunity. OF COURSE, I still struggle with this. I wish I had patience that doesn’t run out, and that I had more time to spare. My only wish is that every intern that rotates with us gets to experience the Happiness I (and I guess I wouldn’t be wrong to assume, my batch mates too!) experienced during our own Pedia Internship rotation.
If I were to give an advice to my internship self, it would be that “Perfection is a myth in this profession”. Of course we will all make mistakes in the course of our patient interaction no matter how hard we try not to. So we must constantly forgive ourselves as we persistently strive to become better and better physicians.
SEPTEMBER LEAVE (and also GEN PED): That the Learning Curve is steep, but the Growth is Statistically Significant
After months of being stuck in what felt like an endless cycle of pre-duty-post interrupted by short bouts of rare 2 days off or biyaya Golden Weekends, I finally got to go home for my 2-week leave! While my batchmates spent their own leaves going to the beach, traveling, and basically going out, I spent mine inside our house, going out only once! The next time I got out of our house was to leave for the airport HAHAHA
But it was refreshing to be Home even if it was only for a short while 🙂
The other half of September I spent back at Gen Ped, my fourth for the year. Even if I make “Ayoko na” my GenPed mantra, I can honestly say that GenPed is the rotation where I have the most growth and learnings. Always grateful to spend it with seniors who never tire of teaching me!
OCTOBER GEN PED: That we can’t please everyone in this life, but more importantly, that we shouldn’t make it our life mission to
I cried for so many reasons in Residency, half of them I just laugh at now. This month is no exception with regards to the tears. But what I’m grateful for is the people that help me process my personal experiences and convert them into learning moments!
If you get to sit across someone you look up to, tell them about an experience you had trouble putting into words, and they make you feel understood in a genuinely deep way, I think that’s when you know you’re in the right place to be.
So that was the past 6 months in the interim. In brief, I fell even deeper in love with what I do.
I am just extremely happy to be writing again. and grateful for the persistent Courage that allows me to keep hitting the Publish button each time.
I’m pretty sure the next 2 months will be challenging, but I am surrounded by the most amazing set of people to face November and December with.
So here’s to living our Dreams, and never forgetting that we are exactly where we prayed hard to be in not so long ago! xxx