Earlier this week, a medical intern’s photo of the emergency department of Philippine General Hospital (PGH) circulated online. It showed the triage area filled to the brim, packed with patients lying on bare metal stretchers, fazed watchers, and not surprisingly, only a handful medical personnel. Because of a change in the start of the academic year, the student workforce had been reduced to a third of its usual number. “Madness. We need help. (Crying emoji)” part of the caption read.
As a student, I was the stereotypical academic achiever. “Consistent honor pupil” was how family members would invariably introduce me to acquaintances then, and how most of my former teachers would remember me now. At the end of each academic year, it was no surprise to my parents receiving a letter from my school, inviting them to bestow medals upon the eldest of their five children.
Dr. Aida Salonga and other guests of honor, Dr. Leonor Cabral-Lim and consultants of the Sections of Adult Neurology, Pediatric Neurology and Neurosurgery, alumni of the Department of Neurosciences, parents, co-residents, medical students, and guests, good evening.
What common experience binds all of us doctors here tonight? I thought about this and realized that aside from Emergency Medicine, no other specialty confronts the fragility of human life head on like the Neurosciences.
In February of this year, I had the rare opportunity to assist a world-renowned neurosurgeon as he clipped three intracranial aneurysms in a patient on the same sitting. Dr. Michael T. Lawton led his medical team from Mission BRAIN Foundation on a three-day visit to Philippine General Hospital, to give lectures and workshops for Filipino neurosurgeons and nurses, and to demonstrate surgical techniques on different neurovascular cases.
“Anong kuwento mo sa akin ngayon?”
“Ga-graduate na po ako, Dok. Sa wakas.”
“Talaga? Anong course mo?”
It was a cramped courtroom, filled with wooden tables and benches that appeared much older and heavier than me. I suppose the weight was intentional, to prevent any plaintiff or defendant from hurling any of the benches in a moment of outrage.
I had been served a subpoena to testify in a case of frustrated murder. The plaintiff was a patient I operated on three years earlier and it was my first time to perform my civic duty as expert witness. I picked a seat in the middle of the first row.
This is the beginning of the end.
2014 is the year I expect to finish training as a neurosurgeon. Except for 2009, when I taught in medical school and practiced general medicine, I have spent most of my waking hours from June 2001 until today in this government-run university-hospital complex. That is 12 of the last 13 years.
While I sat in front of the TV in the comfort of my apartment as Yolanda (Haiyan) unleashed her fury in Central Visayas, these doctors to the barrios (DTTBs) decided to stay at the forefront instead of going back home when the super typhoon hit their respective municipalities.
Rather than point fingers and waste time ranting on what should have and could have been done, allow me to share the first-hand stories of my colleagues, so that the Filipino medical community and the rest of the nation can focus all effort instead on what can be done right here and right now, to create meaningful impact on the people who have been hardest hit by this catastrophe.