Lately, I have been having a hard time remembering how old I am. When filling out forms or talking to customer service personnel, there’s an inevitable six-second lag before I figure out the answer. I even have to make a quick calculation in my head sometimes. I find this unusual because as a child and a teenager, I always knew my age. You could ask for it while I’m in the middle of a book, in front of the computer screen, or watching TV, and I would instantaneously blurt out the answer. Five. Twelve. Seventeen.
Mag-aral nang mabuti sa Biochem. Ito ang first exam. Dapat “good vibes” agad. Kapag pangit ang pakiramdam mo unang exam pa lang, iisipin mo na ‘yan araw-araw hanggang sa panlabindalawang exam.
When I was a Grade 6 pupil, I cried over my first periodic exam in English. Periodic, my English teacher then would always stress — not periodical, as we were wont to say before he came to our small private school. Sir E’s instructions on the exam were clear: we were supposed to read the given passage and answer the subsequent questions in complete sentences, based on what we read. I did not follow the instructions.
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!”
She could not stop thanking me profusely.
“Dok, maraming maraming salamat po sa lahat ng tulong ninyo sa anak ko,” she said, one hand clutching both handkerchief and rosary, the other stroking her son’s forehead. I had just signed the necessary discharge orders and I approached my patient to remove the thin tube sticking out of the back of his head. The tube was inserted in the operating room to drain excessive cerebrospinal fluid. It would serve no purpose now.
I never liked going on duty on Sundays. Sundays are never quiet in the hospital. Somehow, people get into all sorts of trouble and find a convenient excuse to drag themselves to the hospital on a day that used to be dedicated to attending mass, rest, and mellow music on the radio.
“Good morning, Dok!” he would always say in the morning when we did our rounds. Despite being 18 years old, his voice was a high-pitched squeak of a boy reaching puberty — awkward, but always happy and thankful nevertheless. It was one of the effects of his brain tumor, in addition to his short stature and delayed maturation of physical appearance. Any stranger would incorrectly guess his age to be no more than 12 or 13.
Every day begins at 5:30 am. As I walk past the charity wards on the way to the Neurosurgical Special Care Unit, I mumble a short prayer asking for a little more kindness and a little less impatience. That has become my morning habit. I used to wish for fewer patients, until I realized that I didn’t need the daily disappointment, and thus directed my morning offering to self-improvement instead.