Ronibats.PH Stories of a Filipino neurosurgeon, teacher, and writer

CategoryMed School Anecdotes

First a Patient

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.

Excerpts (Where I Got Extra Money When I Was a Medical Student)

“Bats, tinawagan ako ng Student Affairs. Mag-submit lang daw ako ng requirements.”
“Ha? Bakit ako hindi tinawagan? Paano nangyari ‘yun?”
I was talking to A, my classmate in the INTARMED program. It was the first month of our first semester and we were on our way home. From UP Manila, we took the same bus, his stop 30 minutes before mine (or 60 minutes during Friday night rush hour). Also a class valedictorian and Oblation scholar, he would become my roommate and best friend in medical school.


Let me make it clear that when I saw the patient six hours after his surgery, I recognized right away that he was not fully awake. That was why when I noticed you and your co-intern sitting behind the desk just beside the patient’s bed, my first question was, “Gising ba siya kanina?”

On Making the Wrong Diagnosis

To any medical student, no task is more daunting than having to come up with a diagnosis for a patient who comes to him or her for medical opinion. I am not referring to patients seen in the wards or in the outpatient clinic, but to family members or friends of family members complaining of headache, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, or some skin lesion, among other things. Being the first doctor in the family (and my mother being the friendly village pancit vendor), I have had my share of such patients when I was in medical school.

The Doctor I Do Not Want to Be

Through Ofelia Reyes, a 36-year-old laundrywoman and mother of two, I would get to know the resident physician who I’d never want to be. To this day, remembering what transpired that night in Ward 1 still makes me shudder, for I had never thought anyone could commit such atrocity to a patient spending whatever was left of her short life confined in her charity hospital bed, not knowing whether the next attempt to take a deep, painful breath would be her last.

How I Got into INTARMED

Using her then box-type cellular phone with a 15-minute battery life, my unassuming mother delivered the good news that would ultimately lay down my career path.
“Anak, congratulations! Nakapaskil dito sa blackboard. Nakapasa ka!”

Kung Bakit Mabigat sa Loob Umupo sa Triage

Tuwing magdu-duty ako sa ER, kasama sa mga trabaho ko bilang intern ang pag-upo sa triage. Ito ang pambungad na mesa kung saan kailangan kong tulungan ang triage officer, karaniwang ER resident o kaya ay rotator mula sa ibang department, na harapin ang mga pasyenteng kumukonsulta sa ER ng PGH. Sa loob ng itinakdang oras, kami ang magpapasya kung ang pasyente ay kailangang i-admit, papuntahin sa outpatient department, o palipatin sa ibang ospital. Ito ang trabahong hindi ko kailanman nagustuhan.


Gutterboy drops his bag on the floor and throws his keys on top of his study table. Today, he took his last exam. That his first year in medical school is over still seems surreal to him. He has long wished for this day to come, and now that it has, the feeling of relief overwhelms him.

He fingers the buttons of his upper garment, taking care not to pull too hard, else the worn-out stitches suspending the buttons would give in, a perennial problem among medical students.

Ronibats.PH Stories of a Filipino neurosurgeon, teacher, and writer