In 2019, I became a fellow of the 58th University of the Philippines National Writers Workshop. To apply for the workshop, I had to submit an essay explaining who I am, what I write, and why I write. This was my poetics essay.
Because medicine is rooted in the humanities. It is never just about the science. These stories are about doctors and/or patients, and how they face disease and death. We don’t read that from Harrison, Nelson, Williams, or Schwartz.
Noong 2016, matapos kong ipasa ang manuscript ng aking libro sa unang publishing house na sinubukan kong pagpasahan, hiningan ako ng mga kuwentong katatawanan mula sa med school upang mabalanse ang mga mabibigat na istorya mula sa residency training. Heto ang anim na kuwentong nahalungkat ko mula sa blog ko noong ako ay medical student pa. Wala ito sa librong ilalabas ng U.P. Press sa susunod na taon. Ito ay para sa lahat ng med student na kasalukuyang nahihirapan subalit patuloy na umaasa at hindi sumusuko sa laban.
Every year, when the winners of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature are announced, you always read about first-time awardees who succeed on their first attempt, and in a major category at that. This isn’t one of those stories.
Not a lot of people know that many years before I became a doctor, I was a patient first.
It was a month after my high school graduation and the euphoria of getting accepted into UP College of Medicine’s INTARMED program had not yet subsided. I spent whole days wondering about, dreaming of, and planning the next seven years that would lead to the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. I was excited to meet new friends who would come from all over the country. For sure, they must be just as I excited as I had been to dress in white, hold a scalpel, and learn how to use a stethoscope.
I struggled during my first two years of medical school in the University of the Philippines (UP). This I can say only in retrospect, not because of a lack of awareness at that time, but more so because I refused to acknowledge how I felt. I thought I was OK. I wanted to believe I was OK. Many years later, as a doctor and teacher at the same medical school, I can say I wasn’t.
It was Saturday morning, and by force of habit, I woke up early even though I had nothing scheduled for the day. It was the end of my second week in private practice. Lying in bed, staring at the circular lamp set on a deep blue background which is my bedroom ceiling—meant to simulate a full moon on a starless night sky—I wondered if I had made the correct decisions thus far.
Sa taun-taong pagtuturo ko ng biochemistry sa mga medical student na nagre-review para sa Physician Licensure Exam, nakagawian na ng mga estudyante kong magpatasa ng lapis sa huling araw ng klase. Diumano, upang makapasa, kailangan mong magpatasa ng lapis sa isang lisensyadong doktor na nakalampas na sa board exam.