Running the First Mile

Not too long ago, I saw a patient that was referred to me for pulmonary evaluation. The complaint was “shortness of breath.”

Me: What’s going on?

Patient: Doctor, I cannot run a mile. I ran out of air. And I use to run before.

He is in his 40’s and is on the heavy side. OK, overweight. I already reviewed his chest x-ray and pulmonary function test (it’s a stress test of sort for the lungs), and both were normal. My nurse has tested and recorded in the chart his pulse oxymetry (measure of oxygen saturation in the blood) at rest and on walking, and it too was normal. You see, I have all the information I needed even before I lay eyes on the patient.

Me: Do you have chest pains, wheezing, or cough?

Patient: No, no, and no.

Me: When was the last time you were able to ran a mile?

Patient: 25 years ago.

I almost fell off my chair!

You may snicker at him, but I took him seriously. I told him that I do not believe he has anything wrong with his lungs. Although I cannot rule out conclusively any other diseases, like heart conditions, but I am almost certain of the diagnosis.

I told him that his shortness of breath is from being overweight and deconditioning. In more simple terms, he is way out of shape.

I coaxed him that it’s not easy to run that first mile. But I reassured him that with more training and persistence, he should be able to run a mile, and more.

I will be riding a 50-mile bike course tomorrow, as part of the RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa). In three months it would be the annual Des Moines Marathon, which I hope I can participate again.

Even though I consider myself fit and have been exercising somewhat regularly, there are days that I struggle to run the first mile. What I am trying to say is, it is not always easy to run a mile. No, let me rephrase that. It is hard to run a mile.

Running a mile and beyond, is not like a faucet that you can turn off for a long time, and then when you turn it on, you expect it to be flowing freely again. No, it is more like a pump, that you need to prime first, before it flows again. Running or any other endeavor for that matter, takes time, training, and dedication.

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For all of you out there, who are struggling to run a mile, don’t lose heart. Many times the hardest part of a long run is the first mile. But the good thing is, it can be done. And it must be done. For your health sake.

As a popular Chinese proverb says, ” A journey of a thousand miles, begins with a single step.” If I may add, that single step will eventually lead to the first mile.

(*photo from here)

Above the Storm Clouds

I was saddened to see the utter destruction wrought by tornadoes in Oklahoma earlier this week. A whole town was completely obliterated by a mile-wide tornado that touched down with wind speed of more than 200 miles per hour. Several lives were lost, and thousands of homes and properties destroyed. My thoughts and prayers goes to all who were affected.

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Moore, Oklahoma (photo from news4jax.com)

We were in Philadelphia when all these violent storms happened. When we arrived here in Iowa, I learned from our friends that we did had some bad storms in our area also. In fact, my friend said that during his daughter’s dance recital a few days ago, it was temporary interrupted for several minutes, when they announced a tornado warning. Though they were not forced to evacuate into a storm shelter.

We were just glad to come home and see that our home and our trees (including our  leaning tree), as well as our whole neighborhood to be still standing. But violent weather, including tornadoes, is a fact of life here in the midwest. Even the local university’s football team has a name that bears it, the Iowa State Cyclones.

Schools, offices and even hospitals have required drills, to be prepared in case a tornado hit. Just recently about two weeks ago, in the hospital where I work, we had a tornado drill. Although many people, and that includes me, did not take it too seriously when it was announced overhead, and acted nonchalantly as we know it was just a drill. But what if it’s not just a drill anymore? Will we survive?

When we were flying from Philadelphia back here to our home in Iowa, we have probably flew over places where the strong storms had passed and wreak havoc on their path. But one reality strikes me. A different perspective if you will. That is, it is always sunny above the clouds.

Storms, not just atmospheric, are facts of this life. Some may be extremely violent. Sometimes we will be hit by theses realities. And you may be experiencing one right now. But they too will pass. Let us just hold on tight and weather these storms of life. For it is always sunny above those dark clouds.

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photo taken at 33,000 feet

On the Banks of Jordan

(Our Pastor was away one weekend and I was requested to speak. This is an excerpt of that sermon.)

They were encamped at the eastern banks of the rushing and swelled up river. They were looking across the river, to a land that was promised to their parents to inherit. A land that was described to be flowing with milk and honey. A land so different from the desert they have been traveling on for so long.

Behind them was the land of Egypt where their parents came from, as slaves. But they cannot remember Egypt that much, as they were all children when they left Egypt. All that were clear in their memory was their aimless wandering in the desert for many years. They practically grew up in the desert. Some of them were even born in the desert.

But their elders and their parents were all gone now. The older generation had all died and had become carcasses in the desert. Also now dead was the spirit of murmuring and unbelief. Gone away was the complaining attitude towards their leader. This was a new generation. A generation with a more trusting spirit.

This was the new nation of Israel.

They were not a great nation. At least not yet. They were not mighty warriors. They were children of slaves! Their generation was inexperienced and young, that none of them was older than 60 years old (anybody older than 20 when they left Egypt, were not allowed to see the Promised Land). Except for their new leader, Joshua, and another older man named Caleb.

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The distance from Egypt to Canaan if you travel by the most direct route, is about 250 miles. This is a trip that the Israelites could have completed in about a month. Even if they only walk 1 mile a day…..1 mile a day! Do you know how slow that is? A giant tortoise can walk a mile in 4 hours. So if they walk slower than a tortoise and even resting on Sabbaths, it would take them less than a year to reach the Promise Land. But how long did it take them to reach their destination? 40 long years!

I know sometimes in this life we are made to wander in the desert. Sometimes we experienced long delay, and I am not talking about airport terminals, but in achieving our goals in this life. Many times we are like little kids asking God, are we there yet? How long O Lord would we wait? The answer my dear brethren is, in His time. Yes, in God’s time.

*******

Back to the Israelites, finally their wandering was almost over. Finally they were in the boundary of entering the Promised land. Finally they were overlooking the land that had been promised for them, many years ago.

Only one more obstacle laid in their path: the mighty Jordan river.

Jordan. In Hebrew, Yarden. It is derived from the word meaning to “descend or flow down.” If we study the geography of Jordan from the part that flows out from the Sea of Galilee, down to where it ends up to the Dead Sea, it is about 60 miles. In this relatively short course, it has a rather steep descent, from 682 feet below sea level from Galilee, to 1300 feet below sea level at the Dead Sea (the lowest point on Earth). That’s a fall of 10 feet per mile, explaining the rapid currents.

The Jordan river near Gilgal, the location where the Israelites cross, was said to be only about 100 feet wide at times. But we were told that it was the harvest season and it was flooded in its banks, as the snow from the mountains flows to it. Those who visited this river during the spring season, claims that Jordan river can swell up to 1 mile. 1 mile wide!

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Jordan River flooding, circa 1930’s

(*photo from LifeintheHolyLand.com)

God made sure that if the people of Israel will cross Jordan it will not be through their own strength. They have to fully trust on the power of God.

My friends, we all have our Jordan. Something that we need to cross to get to the other side. Something that is blocking our path to reach our goals and destination. For some of us it is our poor health condition and illness. For some of us it is our financial predicament and difficulties. For some of us it is our strained or broken relationship. For some of us, they are some other problems that I have no idea, but you alone know what they are.

Brethren, our God is more mightier than our Jordan. He is bigger than the biggest problem we can encounter. He is more powerful than any obstacle laying in our path. And He will help us cross it, if we will fully trust in Him.

*******

(sermon adapted from the Book of Joshua)

Against the Wind

Our weather had been crazy lately. One day it was spring, with cool, crisp temperature in the 50’s F. Then came summer, hot and in the 80’s F. Then back to winter with cold winds at 30’s F with lots of snow in the forecast. And all of that in a stretch of few days. That’s Iowa weather for you.

When there’s wild swings in the temperature with warm and cold air colliding, this causes unstable condition, and sudden thunder storms, or hailstorms, or even tornadoes can erupt. In fact, few days ago, some parts of Iowa had storms with ping-pong-size hail. Good thing no tornadoes have developed, yet (emphasis on the yet).

Yesterday, I went out for a morning run. It was really windy, with steady winds of about 30-35 miles per hour, with occasional gusts nearing 40 miles per hour. That was not considered a storm still. It was just a normal Iowa windy day. (A strong tropical storm has sustained winds of 39-73 miles/hour; 74 miles/hour or more, then it is considered a hurricane; while tornadoes can reach a wind speed of more than 300 miles/hour.)

While I was running inside our housing community, I did not feel the gusting winds right away, as the trees and houses blocked some of it. However when I went out to the lonely dirt road that was part of my running route, I experienced then the full effects of the wind force. The dirt road was in the vast open, with miles and miles of empty (still early for planting) corn fields, with nothing to block the gales.

It was bad enough that I was running against the wind, but the worst part was that the strong gust was causing dust clouds. I thought of turning back, but that will be a longer way to go, so I decided to move on.

It was not easy running against the wind, I can tell you that. That 1-mile stretch of dirt road that I usually cover in 10 minutes, took me forever to run. At least that’s how long it felt. But I made it through.

In life, sometimes we feel that we are running against the wind. There will be opposition that will slow us down. They will blow dust in our face. And sometimes adversaries may even completely stop us in our tracks.

We cannot choose the direction of the wind. We can only choose the direction where we want to go. And that means, sometimes we need to run against the wind.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Up

When I was a kid, I climbed up furnitures, trees and fences, much to my parent’s distress. And I had some scratches and even stitches along the way.

When I got older, I climbed up mountains and ladders of my dreams. I had a few slips and setbacks, but I reached my goal. I hope I made my parents proud.

A few weeks ago, my son and I went to a special gym and climbed up a 4-storey wall. With safety harness, of course. And we had a “wall” of fun.

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That’s me up high, with my best impression of “spider on the wall.”

You would say that I am not fearful of heights. In fact, I love heights. But only when we overcome our fears that we can scale the mountains and walls of our dreams. And I am not speaking of fear of heights.

(*Entry for WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Up)

Alma Mater

After finishing high school, I entered an old historic university whose campus was located in Manila. There I spent the next seven formative years of my youth – three years in College of Science (Biology-Accelerated) and four years in College of Medicine and Surgery.

It was more than twenty years ago since I left the university’s portals, and I have not visited it again, until now…..

As we entered the main gate in Espana Street, the familiar Arch of the Centuries greeted me. I was back in University of Santo Tomas.

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arch of the centuries

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arch of the centuries in its original location when the school was still in Intramuros

University of Santo Tomas is the oldest existing university in Asia. It was founded in 1611. In 2011, it celebrated its 400th year anniversary. Many of the beautification updates that I found were perhaps results from that celebration.

As I passed through the roads and pathways that were brightly lit with beautiful lights for the holiday, I mused on the hundred of times I walked through these passageways in the past in my quest for illumination.

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The monument of Bishop Miguel de Benavides stands in front of the main building. His pioneering desire to establish an educational institution paved the way to the founding of this university. This statue was originally unveiled in 1891, when the school was still in its original location in Intramuros.

I remember many times in my school days that I passed and communed with this statue with doubt and discouragement of where my future lies, and he always directed me “up.”

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statue of Miguel de Benavides, with his right hand pointing towards heaven

The Main Building, which functions as the university’s administrative center and houses the Faculty of Pharmacy and the College of Science, is arguably the most imposing structure in the campus. It was built in the 1920’s and first classes were held in this building in 1927.

Because of the big cross on the center tower of the building and with statues perched on its rooftop, it is often mistaken as the university church by people visiting the campus.

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The Main Building with its holiday lights

During the height of World War II, when the Japanese Imperial Army occupied Manila, UST was converted to an internment camp for a couple of years. The university was finally liberated in 1945.

Who knows how many soldiers died in this hallowed building during the war? No wonder there were many stories that goes around about unusual occurrences as well as experiences by students that they felt they were being watched. Or maybe they were being watched to discourage them from cheating during exams.

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old photo of Main Building

Part of my precious memories were at the University Hospital, where my eyes were opened to the wonderful world of Medicine, but was also enlightened to the harrowing truth of sickness and suffering.

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University Hospital

On that clear December night, with all the festive lights and glitters, it was a solemn moment for me to return to the place where I received the light.

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(*old photos of UST taken from internet)

Driving Rules for Metro Manila (A Primer for the Uninitiated)

During my last visit to the Philippines, I have to be re-oriented to the pervading traffic rules in Metro Manila. Since I grew up in Manila, I really thought these rules are the norm for all drivers around the world, but I have to unlearn them when I started driving in the United States.

This is a primer for tourists visiting the Philippines, or long-gone expats, and for all the uninitiated. As our latest tourism campaign goes: it’s more fun in the Philippines.

1. When approaching an intersection with traffic light: green means go; yellow means go faster; red means it is optional to stop if there’s a policeman patrolling nearby, otherwise you can still go at your own risk.

2. The painted lines to mark the lanes on the road are just for decorative purposes to make the road look nicer, for they don’t have any other purpose at all; you can swerve in between lanes as much as you want, and even into the opposing traffic lane.

3. When driving, put your one hand at the steering wheel, while the other hand on the horn; it is expected that you blow your horn every 5 seconds or even more frequent than that; it is a common courtesy that if somebody blows their horn on you, that you answer them back or blow your horn louder and longer.

4. When approaching a 4-way stop or any open intersection without traffic light, the rule is that the most faint of heart will need to stop first. No need to slow down, and just let the other drivers with less courage slam on their brakes.

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5. Seatbelts are for sissy. These safety belts hanging on the sides of the vehicles are there for ornamental function only. Do not touch them nor fasten them around you, or else they will know that you’re a tourist or a visitor.

6. In case a policeman stopped you for a “traffic violation” and asked for your driver’s license, they don’t mean the card with your photo, but a piece of paper with a Philippine hero’s image on it, or also known as money. The higher the currency, the faster you will be let go.

7. Expect to be stuck in traffic for hours; so bring a snack, a book to read, or even a urinal. If you are really in a hurry but don’t mind to sweat, walk instead; it will take you 2 hours to drive during rush hour a distance you can walk in 30 minutes.

8. Pedestrians have the right of way at all times not just on pedestrian lanes or crossing lanes; they can cross anytime and anywhere they want. They can even play “patintero” (a popular Filipino children’s game) with the rushing vehicles. Watch out for pedicabs and bicycles too for they can go anywhere (and make “singit”) even against the flow of traffic on the opposite lanes.

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9. Public utility vehicles (jeepneys, FX, buses, taxis, and tricycles) are the kings of the road, they can stop in the middle of the road to let their passengers alight or pick-up more passengers, so beware. Of course there are loading and unloading zones for passengers, but nobody really care about those zones.

10. When you are on the road, whether you are stuck in traffic, or exasperated with the other drivers, just remember to always keep your sense of humor. Driving in the Philippines should be treated as a comedy, though in reality it is a tragedy.

Now that you know these rules, please drive “safely.”

(*photos from here)

Stray or Stay on Course

If you are reading this now, that means you “survived,” and the world did not end last December 21, 2012, as some doomsday prediction wants you to believe. Well that is good. But now what?

I tell you though that something is definitely ending in a few days. No, not the world but the year 2012.

Another year is done. Another year is gone. Another “Auld Lang Syne.” Time to party and get drunk. Is that it’s all about?

With the end of the year upon us, I believe this is the perfect time to reflect (drunk and reflect does not mix) on things. To look back if you will, to ‘what have been’ so we can face the ‘what will be.’

If you are on course, then by all means continue on the right track. However, as most of us do, we often stray off the course. This is the time we assess our bearings, adjust our sails, and right our direction, or else we will be forever lost.

May you have a happy and prosperous new year!

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(*photo taken with iPhone)

Bahala na si Batman

Kumakaway-kaway ang bagong nakalambiting pahinang papel sa dingding, nagpapahiwatig na pumasok na naman tayo sa isang panibagong yugto.

Bagong kalendaryo. Bagong taon. Lumang pananaw?

Tunay na ang panahon na ginagalawan natin ngayon ay walang katiyakan. Kasing linaw ng tubig-kanal ang ating kinabukasan. Halos gumapang na parang pagong ang ekonomiya, kahit anumang bansa ang pag-usapan, kahit na sa Amerika. Naghihirap na parang daga ang maraming mamayan sa iba’t-ibang lupalop ng mundo. Walang gobyerno ang ligtas sa gulo at eskandalo. Walang sinisinong pamilya ang mga problema at kahirapan, kahit pa Dimaano o Dimagiba ang apelyido nila. Walang tao sa kasalukuyan, ang hindi apektado ng walang-kasiguraduhang bukas.

Sa kabila ng lahat ng ito, sino nga ba ang nakakaalam kung ano ang ihahatid ng bukas? Kahit pa mga manghuhula sa Quiapo, ay hindi nakatitiyak. At mayroon nga ba tayong magagawa tungkol dito? Mabuti pa kayang maghalukipkip na lamang at magpawalang bahala, at tanggapin na lamang ang anumang barahang iaabot sa atin ng tadhana. Kaya?

Bahala na.

Iyan ang katagang kinamulatan nating mga Pilipino. Ito rin ang pilosopiyang nakaukit na sa ating kulturang kinagisnan. Bahala na. Bahala na si Batman!

Pero kung susuriin, ang katagang “bahala na” ay nagmula  sa “Bathala na,” kung saan ang isang tao ay ipinauubaya na sa Maykapal ang kaniyang kapalaran. Maaring maganda naman ang saloobing ito, dahil ito’y nagpapakita ng pagtitiwala sa nakatataas na kapangyarihan. Ngunit ang masama, ay maraming mga tao ang ipinauubaya na ang lahat lahat, at hindi na nagsusumikap na ibangon o ibahin ang “kapalaran” na hatid sa kanila ng pagkakataon. Suwerte kung suwerte, malas kung malas, parang Sweepstakes.

Ika nga ng sinalumang kanta ni Rico J. Puno: “Kapalaran kung hanapin, ‘di matagpuan, at kung minsa’y lumalapit ng ‘di mo alam.” Kaya ba walang nang saysay ang habulin ang ating kapalaran dahil hindi mo rin naman ito maabutan? Sadya bang ang lahat ay nakasalalay sa “Gulong ng Palad” na parang lumang tele-serye?

Hindi ba nga’t si Juan Tamad, isa sa mga kinagigiliwang kwentong Pilipino, ay humilata na lang sa ilalim ng puno at nakangangang naghihintay na malaglag ang bayabas? Naghihintay na ang biyaya o suwerte, na mahulog na lang sa ating kandungan. Ito nga ba ang kagawiang Pinoy? Maging sa ating kanta, tele-nobela, o tradisyonal na salaysayin – bahala na.

Bahala na lang ba talaga?

Mawalang galang na lamang po, ngunit hindi ako sang-ayon sa pananaw na ito. Hindi rin ako naniniwala na wala tayong magagawa para sa ating kinabukasan, o kaya’y ibahin ang barahang tangan natin sa ating palad. Oo nga’t may mga bagay na lagpas sa ating mga kamay, at si Bathala (hindi si Batman) lamang ang may kontrol nito. Sang-ayon ako na mahalaga ang pagtitiwala sa nakatataas na kapangyarihan. Ngunit maraming mga bagay ay nasasa-ating palad, at ang magiging kahihinatnan nito’y bunga ng ating pagsisikap, at hindi lamang sanhi sa guhit ng kapalaran.

Kaya sa bagong taong ito, sana ay mayroon din tayong bagong pananaw sa buhay. Bagong pakikipagbaka. Bagong pagsisikap. Bagong pag-asa.

Bangon na aking kaibigan, ang bukas ay naghihintay sa iyo. Ang “suwerte” ay nasa pawis mo.

Burning the Turkey

Despite of what the title might suggest, this article is not about cooking. Let’s make it clear – I don’t do the cooking. I leave that to my wife. For if I do, that’s exactly what I will do: “burn” the turkey.

This morning, I went to the gym and found that it was jam-packed. All the treadmills and exercise machines were occupied. Even the open floor for stretching was full of people. What’s happening? Since I am a regular to this gym, I knew this was not an ordinary phenomenon.

Then I realized, it was the first day after the Thanksgiving weekend. That was it! People perhaps felt guilty of all the feasting they did and stuffing themselves with food (so it was not just the turkey that was stuffed!) during the holiday and now they are trying to “burn the turkey.”

I read in one article that according to the University of Michigan Health System, an average American devours 3000 calories during the Thanksgiving meal or dinner. Screaming turkeys! That much for one dinner? And since most of us also do a lot of snacking throughout the day, it will amount to about 4500 calories consumed for the whole Thanksgiving day. That is more than twice the recommended caloric allowance for a day. And considering that some people gobble ( gobble? yes, pun intended) that much calories whether it is Thanksgiving or not, no wonder we have an obesity epidemic.

But you may argue that you could have burned all those calories perhaps when you did your Black Friday shopping. Yes, you might have walked, ran, pushed, pulled, shoved, lift, and even jumped to get the best deals on the biggest day of shopping. That will certainly burn some of the calories you chomped, but it is not enough. Not even close.

An exercise physiologist from the American Council of Exercise stated that in order to burn the 3000 calories, an average 160-pound person need to walk 30 miles. Holy turkey smokes! That’s more than the distance of a full marathon! Well, if you want to burn much faster, you can run, right? Then you need to run at a moderate pace for 4 hours. And if swimming is your thing, you need to swim for 5 hours to burn that 3000 calories you packed from the Thanksgiving dinner alone.

After the holiday, we perhaps still have a lot of leftovers that we are trying to consume, even if it is in excess of what we really need. I know it is very hard to have good food go to waste, especially in some cultures. Coming from the Philippines, where food can be scarce for some families, it is inculcated in us by our elders, that it is almost like a heinous crime to throw away food. But you know what, in some instances, it may be better to have the excess food to be in the garbage, than the “garbage” to be a part of your belly fat, where it will stay there for a long, long time.

Now that you are enlightened, put down the turkey and start walking. The whole 30 miles of it.

(*image from here)