Saturday, March 27, 2010

In awe

I jolted on my seat and was awakened from my not-so-deep sleep when my body sensed the seacraft's noticeable change in speed as it was about to touch the pier.  I glanced at my wristwatch.  Five minutes before eight in the morning.  I had a few minutes to spare for disembarking the vessel and then taking a tricycle ride to the hospital where I work.  I decided to prepare my things instead of trying to get a little bit more of this thing which is a luxury for us doctors - sleep.

With the slings of my backpack chained around my shoulders, I watched by the window near my seat.  The blue green waters of this island greeted me.  It's wide expanse was decorated with waves, big and small, dancing with glee, like a child who had longed for, and now is finally reunited with a parent who has been away for a long time.  The proud mountains also welcomed me.  As I looked up to them, I thought, 'Who could ever miss them?'  Tall and still green,  and sadly, unlike the mountains of the Queen City of the South,  they do more than manifest their presence.  These mountains are lined up like pretty candidates of a beauty pageant.  Truly nature's art work.

My mind and my gaze were both about to wander further when the seacraft slowed down even more then came to a halt as it finally touched the pier.  The crew then started throwing the ropes that would anchor the vessel.  After that, the gang plank was positioned with care  so that the passengers, I being one of them, would be able to cross the other side safely and be back on land again.  The passengers would then be off to where they are supposed to go - most of them foreign nationals and a few locals will be taking a tour of this beautiful island of Bohol.  Others will be going home to family and some will be like me, who come to this island not for rest and recreation, but for work.

As I witness this seemingly ordinary scene unfold, I realized that I have lost count of how many times it has been replayed in front of my very eyes.  Not that I mean to count it though but I just felt like a disc stuck at rewind - the vessel approaches the pier, the crew unroll then throw the giant blue ropes, then the passengers, a group made up of a mixture of races, would disembark.  The walkway then becomes a man-made rainbow as it is crowded with luggages of different colors and sizes.

I witness this scene two to three times a week since I have been crossing the seas on this part of the archipelago for around three years now.  Amazingly, I never get tired of witnessing it over and over again.  Instead, there is some kind of excitement that dawns on my each time these scenes unfold, all with generally the same characters playing the same roles.  Why I do not get tired of it, and why I get excited, I do not exactly know why.  I continue to wonder.  I continue to be in awe.  

As soon as the passengers disembark, the calm atmosphere of the pier instantly transforms to the ambience of that of the marketplace.  Some passengers giggle with excitement as they think of the treats waiting for them in this world-known tourist destination - the  famous Chocolate Hills, the Philippine tarsier which happens to be the smallest primate on this side of the earth, and most of all, the most sought-after Filipino hospitality.  

Some of the passengers, especially the tourists, for posterity's sake, take a picture of themselves at the Port of Tagbilaran,  while I belong to the very few who can't wait to get my way out of the crowd, or else I will be late.  Being late would mean patients would have to wait.  Believe me, letting patients wait is something which we medical people always try to avoid since time is of the essence in saving lives.  

Saving lives.   I am proud to say that I do that almost everyday.  I save lives because I am a doctor.  A physician.  A healer.  I may be the most unlikely person whom you could instantaneously identify as one.  Petite and with a slender physique, I could easily be mistaken as a high school student, sometimes even as a grade school pupil.  I used to be annoyed when people, most especially patients, smile and tell me that I seem to be very young to be a doctor.  Their smiles initially did not convey any hint of sweetness to me but  instead overflowed with mockery which was absolutely unnecessary for someone like me, who was then trying to grab the chance to live and act like an adult in order to gain respect as a professional.  However, as years continue to pass, or to put it bluntly, as I grow older, I have learned to read the smiles in the way that they should be.  I have learned to smile back and  enjoy the flattery that go along with the remarks. 

However, there is more to flattery that makes me stick to this profession.  Indeed we physicians cannot live by flattery alone.  It is the fulfillment that I get out of this profession that gets me through the busy schedules and the demanding duty hours.  It is the fulfillment that I get out of this profession that makes me last a number of days even with only a few hours of sleep and two cups of coffee running through my veins.

A mother's smile and the sigh of relief and security she gives out right after she delivers her baby.  The cry of a newborn baby.  The privilege of being the newborn's first human contact as he or she is brought out to a world which is wider and wilder than the mother's uterine cavity.  A simple thank you from the parents of a pediatric patient whose wound which he got out of child's play has just been sutured.  Another thank you from an adult patient who just recovered from a severe bout of infection, or experienced relief from excruciating abdominal pain.  I remember reattaching and suturing up the dangling and shattered ears of a waiter after his head was trapped between the doors of a closing food elevator.  It felt like I was sewing up meaty pieces of a jigsaw puzzle entitled, 'The Revenge of the Food Elevator' or 'Look, Ma, I got my ears back and they're whole again!'  Engaging in a conversation with a patient who is this time  already talking back to you, smiling and thanking you for everything - all good signs that he has finally got out of the comatose state he was in when you first met him at the emergency room. The smiles on their faces  which are overflowing with thankfulness, and which are louder than and more profuse than their thank you's.  All these priceless moments,  make me tick and inspire me more to be the best physician that I can be.

I could not picture myself to be in any other profession although in the tiny crevices of my brain I have entertained thoughts of being a chef or a photographer.  Not that I dread or look down on other professions, of course not.  I will never do that.  The glaring irony here is that now, I could not picture myself to be in any other profession but in the past it was actually difficult and near impossible that I would be where I am now.  

I come from an average Filipino family belonging to the middle class of the economic stratum and my parents are simple rank-and-file employees with big dreams for their children and with high hopes that their children would never go through the poverty they had to deal with as soon as they first saw the light of day.  Life was already hard in the Philippines  when my parents were born, as it is now.  But I believe some things are just meant to happen and through God's grace, I indeed became a doctor.  The first doctor in my family.

My love affair with medicine started way back when I was very young when I remembered someone asked me what I wanted to be with when I grow up.  That was actually when I was older than six years of age because my kindergarten yearbook says I wanted to be a teacher.  But teaching and the art of healing, I realized, are so closely related, and one is as noble as the other.  I answered I wanted to be a doctor and the rest was history.

I would like to believe that my love affair with medicine is a process that  is continuously evolving.  It  is not untainted with imperfections.  There are those days when I have to drag myself out of the bed, and in my case out of the bed and on to the pier.  It is not spared from challenges  especially those times when you need to be strong and  you need to maintain an unfazed stance even as both near-death and death reveal their faces to you, all depleted with emotions except that of maybe pain and  helplessness, all ashened and gasping for air, grunting and screaming inaudibly yet paradoxically in a deafening way.

But I do not get tired of that.  I do not get tired of everything medicine at all.

I do not get tired with lining up for my boat tickets.  I do not get tired of seeing that scene at the pier over and over again, by my window at the seacraft.  I do not get tired watching the men throw the ropes that will anchor the boat to the pier.  I do not get tired and impatient as they position the wooden plank with care, it being our gateway to dry land.  I do not get tired of hearing the  cacophony of passengers' voices at the pier.  

I do not get tired because of all those signal the beginning of a new day.  Those  scenes  are a prelude to a day which will again be spent in saving lives, and most importantly, those scenes remind me that indeed,  I  am  living  the  dream.

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