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.
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 against 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 right 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.
We need to talk about doctor shaming on social media. This month alone, I have seen three separate posts in which a patient’s watcher, presumably a relative, snaps a photo of the involved physician or intern, and then posts the image on Facebook with either a disgruntled remark or an agonizing narrative alleging that the doctor is being negligent by sleeping while on duty or acting rudely when dealing with patients and their families. The post invariably generates commiseration in the form of likes and comments, only a few of which could be considered constructive, some even bordering on harassment and libel.
The outcry: “Ipa-viral ’yang doktor/intern na ’yan!”
It was elective surgery day and I was the pediatric neurosurgery fellow assigned to the operating theater. After scrubbing my arms and hands with antiseptic in the anteroom that served as our washing area, I walked into the operating room with both arms held up in front and politely requested a sterile towel from the scrub nurse. From across the room, it was our head nurse Shelley who noticed the grazes on both of my forearms.
“Oh, what happened to you Ron?” her tone filled with concern as if I were her own son.
“I got into a fight in a bar over the weekend,” I said with as much seriousness I could muster while patting myself dry.
Earlier this week, a medical intern’s photo of the emergency department of Philippine General Hospital circulated online and became viral. It showed an overcrowded triage area packed with patients lying on bare metal stretchers, fazed watchers, and not surprisingly, only a handful of 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,” 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.