Measuring Six Weeks in San Juan

[Naisulat ang sanaysay na ito noong medical intern ako sa PGH taong 2011. Ibinabahagi kong muli dito.]

Six weeks ago from the hallowed, tepid womb of PGH, I was an eager medical intern waiting to be delivered to the expectant coastline community of San Juan.  Six weeks ago endowed with due developmental milestones, I babbled my expectations not impishly but with the clarity of human language.  Six weeks ago I along with another eleven toddlers escaped our bassinets to run down the rabbit hole leading us, not into Alice’s Wonderland, but into the no-fantasy-world but real idyllic town of San Juan. Six weeks ago we were exposed carrying with us our eight-month ripened thrill and enthusiasm to the flesh and blood of community medicine.


Sixty thousand four hundred eighty minutes flew like the monsoon wind. But how do we measure six weeks in San Juan?


Week One stomped like a racing horse, fast but not furious. My partner Greggy and I met our warm and hospitable foster family, did an ocular inspection of Buhay na Sapa and Ticalan, shook hands with the local health leaders and providers, and inquired about barangay health projects in progress. Week One was the peek-a-boo of the whole six-week rotation.


Weeks Two and Three became a two-week long holiday break granting me the rare chance of a medical intern to celebrate Yule with the family in addition to reading few good books such as Sontag’s The Benefactor, Updike’s Gertrude and Claudius, and Syjuco’s Ilustrado. Reading novels is blue moon to a hectic medical intern whose reading staples are Harrison’s, Schwartz’s and William’s.


Week Four was spent conducting clinics in health centers freshly reopened with new purchases of essential medicines shaping patient censuses to rocket-high figures. Other than seeing the sickly, kindling rapport and working with BHWs was our task of prime import.  In the morning, we sat with BHWs diagnosing and advising patients using IMCI[i]. At lunchtime, we partook of their toothy fried tilapia and the squash-fruit-and-tendrils-plus-kidney-beans-in-salted-water bulanglang. The taste was excellent as their genuine company.  We also got a chance to work with nursing students stationed in Buhay na Sapa. We discussed new patients for Interdisciplinary Approach referral and made three house visits.  We met a two-year old with global developmental delay, his mother’s hands clasped for a miracle; a twenty-six with cerebral palsy, his family in beginning caregiver fatigue; and a five with bilateral leukocoria, her grandma responsively omnipresent for her needs. After the count of three patients we, medical interns and nursing students, synthesized our insights and experience.


Week Five was exhausted mainly for our group’s community research.  We raced writing our research protocol. Brainstorming and building the instructional design for teacher’s training for BHWs was a herculean task and process. Our foster family would catch us our legs in Indian seats on the newly polished wooden floor of our sanctum using our bed as a makeshift for an instant laptop table. Fortune befell us – our arms fitted snugly in parallel to the bed mattress. We were not accosted of having sore shoulders from incessant typing in the deep nocturne. Week Five, the penultimate week of our rotation, though was not purely research. On top of our regular clinics in health centers, we facilitated a discussion regarding IMCI among BHWs. We learned about their strengths, mistakes, and fears on IMCI and appropriately acted on these. We bolstered their strengths, corrected their mistakes, and assuaged their fears.   In the end, we noticed a step-up brewing empowered version of our BHWs.


Week Six, the tail end of our rotation, was hectic.  Everyone was catching up.  Aside from the regular clinics in health centers, we had a follow-up meeting on our IDA patients, a lecture on ovitraps (a simple invention for dengue surveillance control) and refining of our community research protocol. However hectic our schedule was, my senses were not blinded nor numbed to appreciate the beauty of San Juan.  One day when we were planting the ovitraps around an elementary school, I could not help but surrender my arrested attention to the scenery directly in front of the school.  There laid acres and acres of rice fields whose emerald grass blades danced and swayed with the wind. Far beyond the greeneries stood proudly Mt. Banahaw like a breast of a puerperant, her nipple touching the heavy cumulus clouds gliding in the sea of azure sky. What a simple and happy life would be to live in a place with such a view!  It was a breathtaking mecca.


Unfortunately despite such a delight, Week Six spelled a mix of happiness and melancholy.  Happiness that another rotation was over hence a sign of moving forward in Internship. Melancholy because everything I enjoyed in the community would suddenly stop at a halt.


As they say every start has an end.  A dogmatic truth even an Einstein could not disprove.  A life begins; an end consumes it. Birth and death accompany each other.  Hence when I harped the first week of my Community Medicine rotation, I consented to its unavoidable end.


The day for Exit Report came inevitably, the moment we would tell our observations and experiences in San Juan pinpointing its successes and problems on its health programs.  It was the last day of the last week. Inside a small room inside RHU 1, midwives and nurses comfortably sat and chat on the first four rows of monoblocs.  Interns huddled at the back.


The first slide of our Exit Report flashed on the screen.  The light coming out of the LCD projector temporarily blinded my vision. I got a cue from a woman in yellow. I began to report in Tagalog. In less than an hour, I was finished. After a few questions and comments, Interns were awarded certificates (of appreciation from the town of San Juan for our service) and the end was called.


As a baby slowly crosses the different planes of the maternal pelvis and passes in between the ischial spines often called station zero inching out to the light of this world, I had come for a second birth – the birthing of me from the warm womb of the community of San Juan with tepid amniotic fluid shooting in the air.  After once born out of PGH to community rotation in San Juan, I was eventually reborn back to PGH. It was not a ping pong experience but a mind-opening, dynamic, practical exchange and application of theories and ideas, both medical and socio-political.


Going back to the initial question I threw – how do we measure six weeks in San Juan?


It is not measured with how many patients we saw in health centers, nor how long we spent time with the BHWs and our foster families, nor how much we paid that tricycle driver for a speedy ride from poblacion to our houses, nor how much lambanog or kapeng barako we gulped, nor how wrinkled our palms and soles were after soaking too much in Laiya.  Nor how many ovitraps we planted, nor how much time we did the research, nor how much we became close to our intern buddies, nor how much often we post pictures of our blocks in Facebook.


It is in how much centripetal force those six weeks have imbibed in us convincing us to once again go back, pro-actively and voluntarily without a medical curriculum launching us, and re-experience those six weeks or even for much longer time in a place exactly or similarly San Juan. Not only a completion requirement but a self-driven passion, a personal advocacy. It may not be practically San Juan itself but another place – a well deserving place – where people only see doctors in TV dramas or where doctor is just plain word and a phantom synonym for the ubiquitous hilot.  This is the real measure of gravity on how those six weeks blossomed to the genuine fruits of community medicine.





[i] Integrated Management of Childhood Illnesses (IMCI) is an easy-to-follow module for nonmedical personnel such as BHWs on managing children.

Biyernes Santo

Nagising nang alas-nuwebe. Di pa rin mapakali. Nasa ulo na ang kwarantina. Nasaulo na ang kwarantina?

Nag-brew ng kape. Iisang piraso ng loaf. Pinalamanan ang kahalating parte ng peanut butter at saka itinupi ang loaf. Almusal.

Binuksan ang laptop. Sinubukang magtrabaho. Wala. Di mapakali. Lumilipad ang isip. Kalikot nang kalikot sa selfon. Nagpatugtog ng zen music sa Youtube.

Nakapagtrabaho nang kaunti. Tanghalian. Nagluto ang pinsan ko ng ginisang repolyo. Isang tasang kanin, isang tasang repolyo. Pananghalian.

Balik sa laptop. Tulala. Gustong magbasa nang nobela. Pinigilan ang sarili. May trabahong kailangang tapusin.

Di mapakali. Lumabas ng condo. Bakit sarado ang Rob Supermarket? (Nalimutan kong Biyernes Santo.) Naglakad sa Kalye Adriatico patungong Mercury store.

Bakante ang maraming istante. Nakatago ang mga vino sa wine section. Alcohol ban daw.

Dried guyabano. Matagal nang di nakakatikim. Lavender air refreshing gel. Baka makarelaks sa condo. Muskobado. Para maiba ang lasa ng kape sa umaga. Korean cup noodle. Para maka-relate sa pinanonood na Korean drama. Isang supot ng kaligayahan.

Sa bangketa may nagbebenta ng mga prutas. Isang babaeng nasa 40, isang lola. Naluoy at nangingitim na ang mga mangga. Malambot na ang mga limon. Apat na pirasong hinog na Indian mango, tatlong malalambot na limon, isang kilong saging. Dalawandaan at siyamnapung piso. Gumaan ang pakiramdam ko.

Gusto ko ng tinapay. May paniderya sa Kalye MH del Pilar. Apat na Spanish bread at dalawang putok. 

Nagtatakbuhan ang mga batang kalye. May paparating na patrol ng pulis. Nagtatawanan ang mga bata patungo sa kanilang taguan.

Balik sa condo. Hugas ng kamay. Hugas ng paa. Inayos ang fruit platter.

Nag-brew ng kape. Pang-isa. Isang kutsara ng muscobado. Isang Spanish bread sa platito. Hay!

Dieu nous aime? si Mama. Ano daw sa Filipino? Di ako marunong mag-French, Ma. 

Isang minuto. God loves you, chat ko kay Mama.

Balik sa laptop. Sinubukang magtrabaho. Nakausad nang kaunti.

Hapunan. Iyong natirang ginisang repolyo at kanin. Nagtimpla ng lemon juice.







Dung-aw sa Pagpanaw ni Dr. Dennis Tudtud sa Panahon ng Pandemya ng COVID-19

UNA KAMING nagkakilala ni Dr. Dennis Tudtud noong Hunyo 17, 2016 sa Lungsod Cebu. Hindi siya maramot sa ngiti. Nagkapalagayang-loob agad kami. Hindi dahil sa kapuwa kaming mula sa UP at PGH, higit pa roon. Bukod sa naging pangulo ng Philippine Society of Medical Oncology (ang samahan ng mga doktor sa Filipinas para sa mga pangangailangang-medikal ng mga taong may kanser at ng mga taong at-risk sa kanser), alam ko na isang mabuti at magaling na doktor si Dok Dennis. Mahihiwatigan mo sa asta, sa pakikipag-usap, sa pakikipagkamay, sa mga mata, sa mga adbokasiya at idea niya. Walang yabang itong si Dok Dennis kahit naabot na ang rurok ng propesyon sa Medisina, hindi ang salapi o magarang kotse at bahay kundi ang pinakamataas na gantimpala—ang DOXA, salitang Greek para sa pagtingala ng taumbayan sa kaniya. Taon-taon siya sa mga pangunahing kumperensiya ng mga bagong kaalaman sa Medisina at makaseseguro ang mga pasyente na base sa pinakabagong saliksik ang kanilang gamutan. Malikot ang utak ni Dok Dennis, hindi laging mapalagay. Proyekto dito, programa doon. Laging naghahanap ng mga gawain para sa ikabubuti ng mga pasyenteng may kanser. Laging abala sa mga outreach program ng simbahan, ng bayan, ng ospital, at ng medical society na kinabibilangan. Minsan ipinagtataka kong talaga kung saan nagmumula ang enerhiya ng mga doktor katulad ni Dok Dennis na walang kapaguran—araw man o gabi, weekend man o hindi, bakasyon man o regular na mga araw.
Sa una naming pagkikita ay inimbitahan niya akong mananghalian kinabukasan (Sabado) nang makapag-usap nang mas matagal at matikman ko raw ang mga putahe ng Cebu. Treat daw niya. Oo agad ako. Sino ba namang tatanggi sa libre at makasama nang mas matagal si Dok Dennis. Laging may batobalani sa akin ang pakikipag-usap sa matatanda. Bukal sila ng karunungan sa buhay at sa propesyon nilang kinabibilangan. Kaya sobrang eksayted ako na makipaghuntahan kay Dok Dennis. Bukas ang kaniyang isip sa mga bagong karunungan at hindi namumuhay sa nakaraan. Isa sa mga una naming napag-usapan ay ang animation video na likha ng kaniyang anak. Talamak ang endorsement ng mga alternative treatment para sa mga taong may kanser. Karamihan sa mga gamutang ito ay walang aprubal ng FDA. Kaya naman naisipan ni Dok Dennis at ng kaniyang anak na lumikha ng isang educational video para ipaalam sa publiko ang potensiyal na peligro na maidudulot ng mga alternatibong gamutan. Humingi ng komento si Dok Dennis para sa video na siya ko namang tinugunan.
Nabanggit ko din na may ilang kaibigan ako sa Cebu. Isa dito si R. Joseph Dazo na naging cofellow ko sa IYAS Writers Workshop sa Bacolod noong 2016 at naging coeditor ng “Libulan” at awtor ng “Ubang Gabii sa Mango Avenue,” isang koleksiyon ng mga maikling kuwento sa Sugbuanong Binisaya. Isama ko din daw siya sa pananghalian kinabukasan sa Paulito’s.
Puno ng mga putahe ng Cebu ang aming hapag at masaya at magaan ang aming naging kuwentuhan. Parang matagal na kaming magkakakilala at ngayon lang muling nagkita. Napakarami naming napag-usapan hinggil sa Medisina, Cebu, sining, at ilang personal na bagay. Hindi kami makatayo mula sa aming pagkakaupo dahil sa kabusugan at masayang kuwentuhan. Masuwerte kami noong araw na iyon dahil doon din nananghalian ang 2016 Binibining Pilipinas title holders. Kinapalan ko na ang mukha at nagpa-picture kami kasama sina Maxine Medina, ang Miss Universe Philippines 2016, at Nicole Cordoves, ang first runner up ng Miss Grand International 2016. Pinaprint ko ang retratong ito dahil balak kong bigyan ng kopya si Dok Dennis, pero lagi kong nalilimutang dalhin sa Cebu at hindi ko din alam kung magugustuhan ni Dok Dennis. (Hinahanap ko ang printed copy pero hindi ko na mahagilap.) Nang mapababa na namin sa aming bituka ang aming pinananghalian, iniikot kami ni Dok Dennis sa restawran. Mayroon itong koleksiyon ng mga inukit na santo. Walang sulok na walang santo. Nakita ko ang isang piano at tumugtog ng ilang piyesang Bach. Hindi lamang pisikal ang aming tanghalian, espirituwal din.
Kinabukasan, nang nilisan ng gulong ng lulan kong eroplano ang runway ng paliparan ng Mactan at nagsaalapaap at nasa ilalim ng mga ulap ng Cebu, natanaw ko ang mahigit 500 taóng lungsod kung saan dumaong ang barko ni Fernando de Magallanes noong ika-7 ng Abril 1521, dalawampung araw bago siya mamatay sa Kingdom of Mactan (Lungsod Lapu-lapu ngayon), habang nakatanaw din sa akin ang Bundok Busay, sumagi sa isip ko na mapalad ang lungsod na ito sa mga manggagamot katulad ni Dok Dennis. Walang pader ang kaniyang paggagamot—hindi lamang sa klinika o sa ospital kundi naroroon din siyang nakikisalamuha sa simbahan at sa komunidad.
Kaya naman isang biyaya ang makabalik-balik ng Cebu, lungsod na kumakalinga sa at kinakalinga ng mabubuting manggagamot, at makausap nang personal ang mga doktor na katulad ni Dok Dennis. Parang nagbabalik lamang sa danas sa loob ng silid-aralan ng UP Medisina at mga ward ng PGH. Laging may napupulot na aral kung paanong maging magaling na mangggagamot, may pagmamatyagan at paggagayahan ng pakikipagkapuwa-tao at kung paanong maging aktibong mamamayan sa pagsulong ng kalusugan ng bayan.
Kaya maitim na ulap ng kalungkutang bumabalong sa lungsod ang pagkamatay ni Dok Dennis sa COVID-19 habang nagsisilbi sa mga taong may karamdaman, kasama ng kaniyang maybahay na si Dok Helen, at marami pang doktor na katulad ni Dok Dennis. Napakalapit ng kaniyang kamatayan. Parang nasa sariling salas lamang ang lamay. Pumatong ang belong itim sa aking ulunan nang nakarating ang balita. Nagdudung-aw ang aking tinig. Walang mapagpahingahan ang aking panghihinayang. Gusto kong maging magsahangin para hawiin ang dagim. Alam kong hindi ako nag-iisa sa pugad ng pagluluksa. Alam kong sa pagpanaw ni Dok Dennis ay laksa-laksa na ang kaniyang kabutihang naipunla.

Sommarblommor ni John Iremil Teodoro

Umaapaw ng mga dumalo ang lunsad-aklat ng “Sommarblommor” (UST Publishing House, 2019) ni John Iremil Teodoro sa Solidaridad Bookshop sa Ermita sa tulong ng PEN International at UST Publishing House. Kinaray-a ang wika sa orihinal ng mga tula at may salin ng awtor sa Filipino at salin sa Ingles ni Alice Sun-Cua. Mayabong ang naging talakayan hinggil sa pagtula at wika sa pagtula’t pagsasalin. Ilan sa mga ito ay ang talakay sa “Visayan-laced Filipino” ni Leoncio Derriada o “Filipinong may timplang Bisaya” ni Virgilio Almario at kung bakit sumusulat ng tula na sinagot naman ng awtor na ang pagsusulat ay isang pangangailangang dapat matugunan upang maisiwalat ang saloobin at nararamdaman.

Una kong nakilala si Sir John sa Iyas National Writing Workshop noong 2016 sa Lungsod Bacolod. Pagkatapos, naging propesor ko siya sa Poetry Workshop at Professional Editing sa La Salle para sa aking masterado. Ngayon naman, kasama ko siya sa UMPIL, ako bilang isa sa mga board member at siya bilang Secretary General. Masasabi kong magkaibigan na kami ngayon at di lamang basta propesor-estudyante sa La Salle at magkatrabaho sa UMPIL ang turingan. Minsan ko na rin siyang pinahiram ng mga libro ng tula ng hinahangaang doktor-makatang Rafael Campo. Kumokonsulta din paminsan hinggil sa mga katanungang medikal.


Isa ako sa mga tagahanga ng mga tula ni Sir John at isa sa mga paborito kong tula niya ay iyong tungkol sa Marawi (wala itong pamagat). Ipinost niya ito sa Facebook noong 2017, kasagsagan ng Marawi siege.  Kung paanong ang takot para sa isang lungsod at mga mamamayan nito ay “sa aking isipan parang / punit-punit na sarong.” Kung kaya’t hikayat ng persona sa kaniyang iniibig sa tula na “[h]alika, ipagdasal natin / ang Marawi.” Gustong-gusto ko ang atake ng mga tula niya dahil laging napakalapit ng persona sa mga tinutulaan, minsan may libog, erotiko, tenga-sa-dibdib, labi-sa-labi, at pawang pabulong kung kaya’t napakalapit ng tainga sa labi ng nagbubulungan. Kung paanong ang trahedya ng isang komunidad ay isang trahedya din ng magsing-irog. At ang pagdarasal ay di lamang pribado o pangmisa kundi gawaing pandalawahan din tulad ng magsing-irog. Madalas ganito ang mga tula ni Sir John. Napakatotoo niya kung kaya naman napakadaling sabihin kung ano ang pakiramdam niya sa araw na ito o iyon, basahin mo lamang ang mga tula niya nung araw na iyon. Kumpesyonal. Hindi naman bago ang confessional poetry tulad ng mga tula nina Sylvia Plath at Anne Sexton pero nakaaaliw na kaya ni Sir John magpakatotoo sa mga tula.

Pagkatapos kong makapagpaotograp ng libro kay Sir John, dumeretso ako sa Café Esso para basahin na ang mga tula. Lalong pinaeksayt ako ng Panimula ng makata. Binigyang-konteksto nito kung bakit siya nasa Sweden—bilang pangakong pagbisita niya at ng kanilang Tita Neneng dahil kinuha na si Juliet (pamangking ipinaalaga muna sa kanila ng kapatid niyang nauna sa Sweden). Ngunit hindi na ito natupad para sa kanilang Tita Neneng na pinaiikli ang buhay ng kanser sa atay. Kaya mag-isang lumipad pa-Europa si Sir John noong Hunyo 2016 at lumagi doon hanggang Agosto, higit isang buwang bakasyon at pagsusulat na din.

Nang binasa ko ang “Sommarblommor”, hinanap ko sa mga tula ang mga pagtatapat ng homoerotikong nasa (desire). Hindi naman laging tawag ng laman ang nasa. Mahihiwatigan ito sa pinakapaborito kong tula niya sa koleksiyon, Sinulat sa Tabi ng Lawa Lenhovda—“Hindi lahat ng pagmamahal kailangang / maramdaman palagi ng iyong balat, marinig / ng tainga, malasahan ng dila, maamoy / ng ilong, at makita ng mata.” Maraming pagsasakatuparan ng nasa. Wika nga niya, “[i]ba-iba ang kulay / ng pagpalangga.” Ngunit aminin man natin at hindi, pangunahin pa rin sa nasa ang pagramdam—ang visual, aural, tactile, gustatory, at olfactory.

Ito ang mga nakalap kong may homoerotikong nasa sa koleksiyon. At marami sa mga tulang ito ang paborito ko sa koleksiyon. Sa Bluberi, habang naghahanap ng bluberi sa gubat ng mga pine tree sa Lenhovda, “may iniisip” ang persona na “isang / guwapong bampira.” Sa Smultron, “Dalawang maliit na mga ilahas na istroberi / ang aking mga utong ngayong bukang-liwayway” at “[a]akyatin mo ako, tatapakan mo / ang mga bulaklak ng iyong pagmamahal. / Hahanapin mo ang maliliit na istroberi / na sa iyong dila hindi na mga ilahas.” Sa tulang Sa Lubeck, “Nang dumaan ako, / kumindat ang pagkapula ng kumikinang / na mga istroberi sa mesa. / Tumigil ako at tiningnan / ang nagtitinda. Guwapo / na Syrian na nakadyaket / ng pula.” Sa Naligaw sa Praga, “[p]inanood ko ang mga lalaking dumadaan / sa aking harapan. Iba-iba  ang hugis, kulay, / tangkad, at laki nila. Bigla kong naalala / ang mga lalaki ng Praga sa binili kong / payreted ma M2M sa labas ng simbahan / ng Quiapo. Bigla akong nilagnat at naalala / ang larawan ni Kafka noong ito’y / binatilyo pa. Sa Sa Guwapong Weyter ng Zuliani Aparthotel, “[k]agabi pa ako kinikilig sa ‘yo / nang pagsilbihan mo ako ng rose wine / sa hardin sa labas. Kung ngumiti ka kasi / parang guwapo kang bersiyon / ni Josh Groban.”  Sa Sinulat sa Parke ng Thielska Galleriet, “may estatwa ng lalaki / na nag-iisa. Hubad siya at nakatungo / dahil sa lungkot. Parang masarap yakapin ang likod niya.”

Matalas ang pandama ni Sir John lalo na ang kaniyang mga mata. Dahil kaya niyang isiwalat ang nararamdaman ng pandama ng persona—pangunahin ang nasasaksihan ng mga mata—mas nagiging malapit ang tula sa mambabasa. Totoo at raw ang persona kaya totoo at raw ang danas sa tula ng mambabasa. At ang interpretasyon sa tula ay nasang sisibol sa handurawan ng mambabasa. Kung danas ngang tunay ni Sir John ang mga danas sa tula, nakatulong ang nasa para maging matagumpay ang paglalarawan ng mga tauhan (lalaki) at tagpo at mas nagiging malinaw ang emosyon sa tula. Landi kung landi. Lungkot kung lungkot. Libog kung libog. Pag-ibig kung pag-ibig. Hindi naman homoerotiko ang koleksiyon pagkat marami ring tula na nakaangkla sa pamilya, sa kaibigan, at sa mga hinahangaang makata tulad nina Cirilo Bautista at Wyslawa Symborska.

Kapwa nakaiinggit at nakamamangha kung gaano at paanong kabilis magsulat ng tula ni Sir John habang naglalakbay sa Europa. Imadyin, isang buwan ay nakasulat siya ng isang koleksiyon ng mga tula. Nakatatlong balik na ako sa Europa at nakabisita na din sa puntod ni Symborska sa Krakow tulad ni Sir John ngunit wala akong koleksiyon ng mga tulang isinulat sa Europa. Marahil kailangan kong sundan ang kaniyang nilakbay na ruta o magkaroon din ng Sirenahaus. May dahilan ngang propesor ko siya sa masterado at marami pa akong matututuhan sa kaniya hinggil sa malikhaing pagsulat ng tula—ang disiplina ng salita, panahon, at nasa.

Padayon at pagbati, Sir John!


Alas otso y media ng gabi ang usapan namin ni Dom para magkita dito sa Singapore pero nahuli ako ng dating dahil naligaw-ligaw pa ako sa paghahanap ng isang lokal na indie bookstore, ang Booktique sa CityLink Mall. Kaya naman hindi ko matagpo-tagpuan, yun pala e matagal nang nagsara ang Booktique dahil hindi kayang masusteyn ng may-ari ang renta para sa puwesto nito. Kaya ayun isang mataong Starbucks na lamang ang inabutan ko sa dati nitong puwesto. Nakakalungkot na hirap na hirap ang mga namumuhunan para sa paglalathala at pagbebenta ng mga libro sa mga bansa sa Asya, tulad ng Singapore at Filipinas.

Mag-aalas nuwebe na ng gabi nang magtagpo kami ni Dom sa ION Orchard, isang shopping mall sa sikat na kahabaan ng Orchard Road. Buti na lamang at pinayagan na maagang makalabas ng pinapasukang ospital si Dom. Isang hospital housekeeper si Dom. Magdadalawang taon na siya rito. Tuwing Linggo ang off niya at inimbita niya akong magbarbekyu sa tabingdagat ngayong Linggo. Sa susunod na lang, sagot ko, dahil ngayong Sabado na ang balik ko ng Pinas.

Overseas worker si Dom mulang Vietnam. Lumaki siya sa Vinh, ang pinakamalaking lungsod sa Central Vietnam at nasa 300 kilometro sa Timog ang layo ng Vinh sa Hanoi. Vinh din ang sentro ng ekonomiya at kultura sa bahaging ito ng Vietnam. Bisitahin ko daw dahil tiyak magugustuhan ko ang Vinh kaysa Lungsod Ho Chi Minh, na nadalaw ko noong 2009. Oo ba, sagot ko, lalo’t pag naroroon siya para ilibot ako sa kaniyang lupang kinalakhan.

Hindi mahulugan ng karayom ang ION Orchard sa dami ng tao. Karamihan bagets. Marami ding Filipino. Halos lahat ng mga boutique naka-sale. Black Friday kasi. Kaya naman hirap na hirap kaming maghanap din ng makakainan.

Toast Box lang yung naabutan naming maikli ang pila kaya sinamantala na namin na doon kumain. Umorder si Dom ng kaya toast, isang sikat na agahan at meryenda sa Singapore at Malaysia. Palaman sa tinapay ang kaya na gawa sa asukal, niyog, itlog, pandan, at mantikilya. Isa ang kaya sa mga paborito kong palaman. Hindi yata naintindihan ng kaherang Singaporean ang order ni Dom kaya medyo nagtaas ng boses si Ateng Kahera. Nagmamadali din yata kasi siya. Ako na ang sumagot kay Ateng Kahera, Can you get us two kaya toasts, one hot coffee with milk and one lemon iced tea? Medyo nalerks yata si Ateng Kahera na sumagot ako sa paraang confidently beautiful. Medyo bumait si Ateng Kahera mula noon. Samantala, nagpumilit naman si Dom na libre na daw niya ang gabing ito. Ay sabi ko, wag na, at ako na. Pero sa huli nagtagumpay pa din si Dom.

Nakakuha agad kami ng mauupuan sa restawran at habang naghihintay ng order namin, nagpaalam muna si Dom para bumili ng pizza. Mukha yata akong gutom na gutom at gusto niya akong mabusog. Eniwey, mabilis naming naubos ang kaya toast at pizza. Gutom nga yata talaga kaming dalawa. Agad kaming lumabas ng mall dahil parang puputok na lobo na ang mall sa sobrang dami ng tao. Mainam ding lumabas para sa mas preskong hangin sa Orchard Road.

Maraming street artist at street performer sa sidewalk ng Orchard. May musikero. May living statue. May Bumblebee para papiktyuran. Buhay na buhay ang Orchard kahit gabi. Kumukutitap ang mga krismaslayt. Magpa-Pasko na talaga. Malamig na din ang simoy ng hangin. Masarap maglakad-lakad. Nang may kalayuan na din ang nalakad namin, naghanap kami ng mauupuang restawran. Puro puno at may waitlist bago makaupo, kaya bumili na lang kami ng Heineken at umupo sa malapit na parke sa lilim ng ilaw at puno. Parang di maubos ang mga kuwentuhan namin tungkol sa buhay-buhay, sa mga nalakbay at pinapangarap na mabisitang mga bansa, lokal na kultura at iba pa.

Biniro ko siya na nakuha na niya ang “lah” ng mga Singaporean. Oo nga raw dahil araw-araw niyang kausap ang mga Singaporean kaya natuto na siya ng Singglish. Nagbigay pa siya ng mga halimbawa ng Singglish. Natuwa ako kasi malay siya sa wikang ito kahit magdadalawang taon pa lamang siya sa dito. Mula at iba na sa wikang Ingles ang Singlish. Isa itong wikang creole na base sa Ingles na may halo-halong salita mula sa mga wikang Malay, Mandarin, at Hokkien. Isa itong uri ng natibisasyon (nativization) ng dayuhang wika. Isang paglikha at pag-ari ng bagong wika mula sa dayuhang wika. Samantala, maraming Pinoy ang manghang-mangha at gaya nang gaya sa punto (accent) at Ingles ng mga Amerikano. Pero ang totoo ay katanggap-tanggap naman ang punto ng mga Filipino na di sumusunod sa “pulidong” English accent at maling matahin ng mga naggagaling-galingan.

Tinanong ko si Dom kung marunong ba siyang mag-French. Isa kasi ang Vietnam sa tatlong pinakamalaking komunidad ng mga Francophone sa Asya kasama ang Laos at Cambodia. Minsang naging opisyal na wika ng Vietnam ang French mula nang maging kolonya ng France ito hanggang lumaya ang Vietnam noong 1954 pagkatapos ng Kumperensiya sa Geneva. Hindi daw marunong mag-French si Dom at kaunti na lamang ang marunong ng French sa bansa nila.

Ewan ko ba at bakit kung saan-saan na napunta ang usapan namin. Marahil sumipa ang alkohol ng Heineken. Nabasag lamang ang huntahan nang biglang may dumapong ipot ng kung-anong ibon sa pantalon ko. Nakakaloka. Panira ng moment. Nagtawanan na lang kami at nagpasalamat na hindi sa mukha ko dumapo ang hulog-ng-langit.

Kapuwa marami pa sana kaming nais ikuwento sa isa’t isa ngunit tila nagmamadali ang gabi. At bago iwan si Dom ng huling tren pauwi, nangako kami sa isa’t isa na magkikitang muli.

28 Nobyembre 2018


Not Alone with Multiple Sclerosis

After enjoying my coffee, I drove early today to St. Luke’s Medical Center.

I was invited to attend a lay forum on multiple sclerosis, a rare autoimmune  neurological disease in a tropical country like the Philippines.

To be honest, I haven’t seen one confirmed case of multiple sclerosis since med school and even during residency in internal medicine in PGH. I rotated in neurology but I got the usual cases–strokes, brain tumors, epilepsy, and brain infections.

But today was different. The lay forum was attended by doctors, caregivers, advocates, and patients living with multiple sclerosis. There were fifteen patients with the disease present during the forum, some on wheelchairs, some with canes, others without any mobility aid.

The auditorium was wide enough to accommodate the nearly 100 attendees. A renowned medical expert in multiple sclerosis welcomed everyone. Lectures were delivered by healthcare professionals from different disciplines–a neurologist lectured on the basics of multiple sclerosis (including its prevalence in the country, the risk factors for the disease, the types of multiple sclerosis, and its protean symptoms); a clinical nutritionist informed on a healthy diet and issues of having difficulties in swallowing; a pain specialist described the different types of pain and the options to manage them; and and lastly another neurologist advised on stress and coping management.

After the lectures, some patients shared their stories. Each story was different and was devastating at the onset. Somehow during the course of the disease, each of them managed to find hope and healing. Some realized their new-found purpose. A similarity among their journeys was a strong support system from their own homes, their workplaces, their schools, and their hometowns.

Imagine, one day you suddenly woke up blind in one eye. Or paralyzed from the waist down. Or worse from the neck down to the tips of your toes. These were stories on life-changing alterations in/of the body. Some eventually lost control over their peeing and pooping requiring them to wear adult diapers 24/7. Some lost their selves to depression. Who wouldn’t be depressed in such harrowing loss of basic functions of the body? I wouldn’t be surprised if a patient suddenly stopped seeing their doctor. But the patients and their caregivers who were at the lay forum kept themselves together and stronger. Permanently surrendering to the disease and its complications was not an option. They  managed to follow their passions and purpose. They knew that fighting this disease was not just about them but their families and their small organization of fellow patients living with this uninvited disease.

I held back my tears to many of the stories, especially when two caregivers spoke in behalf of their loved ones. One was a caregiver, a teacher by profession, but decided to take care a woman with multiple sclerosis. The caregiver described herself as being “the hands and feet” of her patient. The patient was quadriplegic and was bound to a wheelchair. Gratitude was both ways for the caregiver and the patient. The caregiver found a second mother in her patient. Another caregiver was a spouse of a patient. A public school teacher, he found himself not just fighting for his wife’s health but also for the others who have been struggling with the disease. He promised to partake in the patient group’s advocacy to educate the public and to call for government support to patients living with multiple sclerosis.

Patients came to this lay forum from as far as the Bicol province. I would assume they might be sleepy or tired from the early morning ride to arrive at the forum before 8 am. But I could only see each of them charged anew with the glow of energy for life, love, and healing. This forum was a celebration and a confirmation to something hopeful.

The last person who spoke about her disease has been living with the disease for the past fourteen years. Her voice was strong and determined, clear and uncompromising. Now, it’s not a surprise how she won and has been winning over multiple sclerosis.

She has not been alone.

REPOST: Pag-alaala kay Papa (20 Mar 1956 – 3 Mar 1997)

Minsan nang naligáw sa Lungsod Baguio. Tatlong taóng gulang daw ako noon. Isináma ako ng aking ama sa kanilang taunang class field trip. Suroy-suroy sa Mines View, The Mansion, Grotto, Camp John Hay, atbp. At nang sa Burnham Park na, saglit akong ipinagkatiwala sa isang estudyante ng aking ama. At ayun na nga, nawaglit ako ng kaawa-awang estudyante.

Hinanap akong parang nawawalang kapares ng hikaw. Inikot-ikot ang paligid ng lawa. Sinipat-sipat ang mga nagpapaandar at nakaangkas sa mga bisikleta. Ipinagtanong-tanong sa mga turista, sa mga nagpaparenta ng mga bangka, at sa mga nagbebenta ng istroberi.

Malamáng tagaktak ang pawis ng mga naghahanap.

At marahil parang diwatang sumulpot ako sa kanilang balintataw: naglalakad daw akong parang alam na alam ang pupuntahan, walang bahid ng balisa sa pagkaligáw, at natutuwa sa ingay at kulay na likha ng parke.

Madalas at lalong-lalo na ngayong nása Burnham Park muli at tigulang na, pílit kong inaalala ang yapos ng aking ama at ang hawakan ng aming mga kamay nang muling nagkita sa parke. Gayumpaman, wala akong maalala. Musmos pa ngang marahil ang aking gunita.

6 Enero 2019






Just Another Saturday

I did a lot of sleeping today.

I woke up past 10 in the morning. I craved for pancakes from McDo but I was already late for its breakfast menu. Too lazy to go out, I managed to fill my stomach with unhealthy snacks–sour cream and onion potato chips and Coke zero. Well, at least there’s onion in it and the drink’s zero-calorie.

I wanted brewed coffee. But the coffeemaker needed washing. There was no water in the faucet. Goodbye brewed coffee.

I sat on the couch and turned on season 7 of Orange is the New Black on Netflix. After three episodes, I dozed off.

A doorbell woke me. It was past 3 pm. It was my cousin Mean who stayed in a hotel last night with her workmates after their company ball in Makati. I was forced to stand up again and realized I scheduled a meeting today with Prof. Marj Evasco at DLSU.

So I took the bath with one pail of water. Too bad water runs thru the pipes only from 6 to 9, am or pm. Water crisis in this part of Manila. Imagine living in an expensive condo only to find out that no water runs through it 18 hours of the day.

Thank God for that one pail of water, my oasis in this condo-desert.

I met Prof. Marj at the faculty room and delivered to her gift copies of our interview book “Bulawan: an interview of Filipino medical oncologists.” She saw it in my Instagram posts and asked me if she buy copies. The book was not for sale but I told her I could get her a few copies. Prof John Iremil Teodoro was also interested in the book so I gave him the extra copy for the university library. I could come back with an extra copy for the library anyway. Both of my professors were happy that we came out with this book. They agreed that what we (my coeditors included) were doing was important not only in the writing of history of medicine in the country but also our efforts to come out with a book that attempts to be literary.

To be honest, I would love the interview book to ask more personal and out-of-the-box questions to the cancer doctors. Their moments of happiness, despair, hope, fear, and courage. But for the occasion and celebration of a medical society’s golden anniversary, the book is beautiful enough, and perhaps more, as some medical oncologists told me they loved and appreciated this piece of art and history. It was made from hard work both from the interviewing team, the art designer, the cover artists, and the editors. That permeated an essence through the pages to the (target) reader.

Sir John promised to write a book review. I was elated to his unexpected promise. I now wait in hope that the review would be positive.

Prof. Marj had to rush to National Book Award ceremony so we had to bid our goodbyes. She also returned to me my copy of Rita Charon’s Narrative Medicine. She used it for her first Pathography class. I would now be using it for my thesis proposal defense.

I heard my stomach complain. I crossed the busy Taft Avenue and headed for a brewed coffee at Starbucks. A piece of cake wouldn’t hurt my weight so I grabbed a fork.

I read in silence the last 30 pages of Laura Kipnis’s “Bound and Gagged.”

I arrived at the condo sometime between 6 pm and 9 pm.

Water came out of the faucet.





UP Writers Night 2019

I almost didn’t go. Waze estimated the drive: two boring hours from my office in BGC to College of Fine Arts in UP Diliman. The Librong LIRA books (which needed selling at the writers night) were with me so I had no choice but to go.

I braved EDSA. It was a stagnant canal, and cars including mine were mosquito larvae squirming in it. Believe it or not, I arrived at my destination.

The night was beautiful. There were two events: the writers night and an art exhibit. The art show featured works on local drug war and extrajudicial killings. Paintings and sculpture were fearless as their artists. The works exposed gloom, desperation, angst. These were also where hope is hoped to spring. Affective towards collective action, an art show collective like this perhaps to start with. The writers night was overflowing with new and familiar faces in the literary scene. Friends and strangers. I could feel the celebration. Books born 2019, thanks to their writers and UP Press, readers may consume them for pleasure or otherwise.

With the help of LIRA members, I set up the Librong LIRA booth for our merchandise: the “LILA” anthology (a collection of poems by women of LIRA), “Ibig” (LIRA member Joey Baquiran’s selected and new poems), “Sa Ilalim ng Pilik” (a collection of poems by LIRA member Tuvilla), “Lirang Pilak” (the silver anniversary anthology of LIRA), and a few books (self)-published by other presses such as Kid Orit’s zine “Para kay Papa P” which included his winning works from Maningning Miclat Poetry Awards in 2017, my edited book “From the Eyes of a Healer,” an anthology of medical anecdotes, and “The Asian Best Asian Short Stories of 2019” which included fiction by LIRA member Joel Donato Jacob or Cupkeyk, his nickname for people close to him. Cupkeyk manned the booth with his cute boyfriend. We managed to sell a good number of copies.

Food and drinks of course were available.  I skipped it, I heard there were limited plates and utensils. My stomach could skip a dinner. Upon entering the room where the official program was happening, I saw my fellow doctor-writer friends from UP Med, upcoming medical anthropologist Vincen Gregory Yu and pediatric neurosurgeon Ronnie Baticulon. Vincen’s suite of poems was included in “Likhaan 13.” Ron’s CNF book “Some Days You Can’t Save Them All” was also part of the UP Press mass book launch. They are two of the most productive doctor-writers in the Philippines. Ron’s book was beautiful and true, reminiscent of Arturo Rotor’s and Ting Tiongco’s books on their own life as healers navigating in our broken and fractured healthcare system. Ron, Vincen and I made a selfie as a witness to a growing community of doctor-writers in the country. Doctor-writers absent in the picture unfortunately were the poet on-stage and on-page Loaf Fonte, the medical anthropologist and cultural critic Gideon Lasco, the endocrinologist with recently-acquired Bostonian accent and fictionist Marc Gregory Yu, the OB-Gyne and Gawad Balagtas Awardee Alice Sun-Cua, and the oncologist and essayist from General Santos City Noel Pingoy. These were just a sampling of the growing community of doctor-writers in the country. I hope that the day comes when we sit together, enjoy dinner and each other’s interests and company.

My professors from DLSU–Dinah Roma, Gen Asenjo, and John Iremil Teodoro–were there, too. Sir John also launched his book of fiction from UP Press. I would love to get my copy soon.

One of the fun parts of the night was Bebang Siy, a fellow LIRA member. She called every LIRA member present in the launch for an org picture. It was unimaginable to call almost everyone in that peopled and loud room, but her indefatigable energy did. Marne Kilates and Vim Nadera were there. Beth Limpin and Jowie delos Reyes were there. There were others as young as or younger than Cupkeyk and En Villasis (no offense).  It was fun to have that photo especially when a street cat posed in the middle. That shot was adorable. One for the books!

The night was young and everyone was leaving around 10 PM. Party was to continue in a wine bar somewhere in Katipunan but I begged off. It had been a fun Friday night. I went straight home to bed.

I woke up the next day under a vibrant light.


First Day Blogging

This is my first time blogging again for a long time. But as usual there’s always a first time, even after a long while. Hehe.

Why have I resorted to blogging (again)? I don’t know. But I felt it would help me with writing. I haven’t been writing for the past months. I edited a book recently but that was a sprint, working on it for less than a month. Luckily we finished the book in time for printing and distribution. But yes I haven’t been writing lately. Though I had been a voracious reader and film-watcher during my non-writing days, I felt the need to express myself today and beyond more frequently.

I felt my memories would get rust and cobwebs in my brain hence this blog to save them. This blog like a USB flash drive to store data.

I cannot promise to write here everyday. But every book starts with the first page. Who said that again?

Now, the language. It’s weird that I am writing in English or from English as Jimmy Abad would put it. I had been reading and writing in Filipino since I got in the LIRA poetry workshop. Reading more Filipino authors as far as I could’ve imagined when I wasn’t introduced yet to Philippine literature. A few times, I would delve into some English especially when I wanted to read foreign literature. That counts medical literature, too.

But I don’t know. English comes naturally to me today. Probably, the book I just finished this afternoon, Laura Kipnis’s essays on pornography and the politics of fantasy in America. It’s a great read putting into perspective pornography in history, society, and the arts.

I write in English because I could use it. My first published short stories were in English, one in the defunct literary magazine Free Press and the other two in the extant lit magazine in the country, the Philippines Graphic. Being published in those reputable lit magazines says a lot about my English. I could use it. Hence now, unabashed and unafraid, I wield this language and this “pen”. And I just hope, you and I will like it.

This is not closing doors with writing in Filipino. This is just for today.

Tonight, I dream in Filipino. The day after, I write with it.