Sometime in the year 2000, in the heart of New York, New York. In the hallways of the intensive care unit (ICU) of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, a world-renowned hospital, and one of the best cancer center of the world, if not the best. Five doctors – four were fellows-in-training and one young attending physician with a specialty in Critical Care – were in a huddle, making their rounds on the critically ill patients.
The doctors were scholarly in their discourse of each case, deliberating what the best management approach was for each individual patient. There was nothing really special in their rounds, especially given that it was a regular occurrence and practice in an academic center. Except that they were all speaking in Tagalog – deep in the bowels of New York City, a thousand miles away from Manila.
Of course English is the official language of the academe and of this country. And those Filipino doctors were discrete not to talk in their native tongue in the presence of other people. There were several other doctors-in-training as well as consultants of other races aside from Americans in that institution. But in this opportune time, with all of them Filipinos, they felt comfortable speaking in Tagalog. Who says Tagalog or Pilipino cannot be the language of the learned?
All of those young doctors finished their medical education in the Philippines. They came from different schools though: one from University of the Philippines, another from University of Santo Tomas, one from University of the East, one from Lyceum-Northwestern University in Dagupan, and another from Saint Louis University in Baguio. That they ended up in one place, at one time, is a happy twist of fate. And here they were all now, in an Ivy-league-affiliated hospital of Cornell University. Who said Philippine schools do not produce world-class graduates?
After a demanding few hours of rounding and working in the ICU, those Filipino doctors took a break. They did not go down to the hospital cafeteria for an american doughnut or for an English muffin. Instead they headed back to the fellow’s call room, and snacked on home-made puto (rice cake), brought by one of them. No one asked for dinuguan (blood stew) to complement the puto. I guess the gory sight of some of the ICU cases were deterrent enough to make dinuguan unappealing. So you’d think puto is only found in the streets and markets of the Philippines?
Was the puto special? Does it have cheese on top? Or salted egg perhaps? Did only the Tagalog-speaking doctors eat the puto? Or did they share them to other people?Did the puto made the medical rounds noteworthy? Did the puto made the doctors more brilliant? Did the puto help cure the sick patients? Was puto prescribed to the patients to be taken at least once a day?
Is the puto even the focus of this story? I don’t know.
Twelve years have passed since those puto rounds. What has happened, you may ask, to those young Filipino doctors? The young attending physician then, is now the chief or Program Director of the said training program. One of the doctors after completing her training, went back to the Philippines, where she now practices her profession. She is also an elected congresswoman.
The other three physicians-in-training then, found their niche in different areas of the United States, where they are now specialists, involved in private practice as well as in some academic institutions.
How do I know this story as a fact? Because I was there. I was the one who brought the puto.
(*image from here)
(**compliments to my wife for making the puto, and the story it inspired)
Post script: This piece was later published in Manila Standard Today, on Oct. 2, 2012.