Return to Florida

We were in Florida for a few days about a week ago. We accompanied our son who had a team competition held there. That was our official purpose to go to Florida, though there were other reasons.

One reason is to escape the cold, as there was still snow on the ground in Iowa when we flew to Florida. Another excuse perhaps was to see the ocean. Iowa is a land lot, and the nearest ocean is about 1000 miles away, so it’s not everyday that we can view the ocean. But the biggest reason to return to Florida, was to see our many friends there, for we once called that place home. That was before we moved to Iowa.

IMG_6447

beach in Sarasota

We have lots of good memories in Florida. Spending weekends in the theme parks or time in the beach were not even the highlight of our three years of residence there, even though we’ve become good acquaintances of Mickey. First of all, it was in Florida where I started a “real” job, after three years of Medical Residency (New Jersey) and another three years of Subspecialty Fellowship (New York) training.

After finishing my training in 2000, I had to change my visa from a “training” to a “working” visa. That transition took several months to get approved, and I was in limbo with no permit to work and no place to go. I was jobless, broke, and homeless. I cannot provide for myself let alone for my wife and my daughter who was a toddler at that time.

During that dark period of our life, we were fully dependent on the kindness of friends and family. We spent a month living in our friend’s home in New Jersey, then two months in another friend’s apartment in New York, then several months with our relatives in California. We did not starve nor sleep in the streets because there were good people who adopted us and cared for us. They provided everything, from the food we eat to the diapers for my daughter. It was a humbling experience, yet at the same time awe-inspiring on how good people can be.

When my visa got finally approved in 2001, we moved to Florida for my first employment. It was a wonderful feeling to move to an apartment of our own, sleep in our own beds, buy our own groceries, and cook our own food. It was not that the food we ate during the times we were “homeless” taste bad, but it was just good to taste food from the fruits of our own labor. Florida is known as the “Sunshine State,” and for us we really experienced a sunny existence there after going through some cold and dark circumstances in life.

So during our return to Florida last week, besides seeing our friends, we also visited the homes we rented (we moved twice) when we were still residents there. We felt so nostalgic driving through the streets and neighborhoods we used to know. Although it took us some time driving around to find the homes we rented, as there were considerable changes in that area. It was sad to see that the orange groves around our previous residences are now gone and turned into commercial complexes.

We drove by the clinic and the hospital where I used to worked. We also visited the hospital where my son was born only to find that the whole building was demolished and the site was turned into a park. The hospital was relocated to a new site and is a much larger facility now.

img_7678

the new relocated hospital

I even teased my son that we’ll return him to the hospital where he was born. The back story to that was after my son was born, our daughter who was 5 years old at that time was jealous at the attention our new baby was getting. So she pleaded, “Let’s return the baby back to the hospital.”

Since technically the hospital where my son was born is gone, he can argue that we cannot return him anymore. I guess we are stuck with him. Hah!

I would be lying if I say that it was all good things that we experienced in Florida. For there were alligators there. They were not just in the lakes and swamps. They wear clothes like you and me. To be fair, they can be anywhere not just in Florida. Yet I still believe that overall, people are good.

While we were living in Florida, we had a friend and his wife who underwent a transition phase where they were in-between jobs, just like what we went through before. They have no place to go, so we adopted them and they stayed with us for a few months. We cannot repay those who adopted us before, but we can do to others what was done to us. We paid it forward.

As expected, this couple made it through their dark times and was able to get back on their own. We were happy for them.

So guess where we stayed when we visited Florida recently? At the Disney Resort? No, done that. At the beachfront hotel? No, done that too. In a tent at a campground?  Not this time. We stayed somewhere much better.

We stayed at the home of our friend whom we adopted before. A home where love abounds trumps even the most posh hotel. Not just we stayed there for free, it also gave us more time to catch up and enjoy each other’s company again. Besides, their place was cozy with a resort-like feel. Consider waking up to this view (photos below).

IMG_6425

We also had a meet-up with other friends who took special efforts to delight us. From a treat to a restaurant, to a home-cooked Pinoy breakfast, from home-baked bread to freshly picked malunggay for our “pabaon.” I’m not sure we deserve all these kindness but we’re thankful to all of them.

We surely had fun visiting Florida again. And we did not even see Mickey.

(*photos taken during our last trip to Florida)

Into the Next Frontier

I made it!

With another birthday under my belt, it is official. I have outlived my father.

After a certain age, people don’t like having birthdays anymore. I guess it is when the number of candles in your birthday cake is deemed a fire hazard, that getting older another year can also be deemed as a health hazard. Though a friend of mine sent me this text message: “Birthdays are good for your health; studies have shown that people who have more birthdays live longer.” Hah!

But before you all wildly congratulate me on reaching such a significant milestone (at least it is for me), the bar that was set was really low. You see, my father passed away less than a month before his 51st birthday.

My grandfathers, on both mother’s and father’s side, did not walk that long on this earth either. My mother’s dad died when he was in his 30’s, and my dad’s father did not last much beyond his 50’s. That’s why I never had the chance to meet my grandfathers.

Come to think of it, my children did not meet their grandfathers too, as both my father and my wife’s father died way before our kids were born. In fact they died even before my wife and I met. We need to break this chain.

I may consider that I am now walking on uncharted territory. But I am eager and hopeful on what lies ahead on what my father and grandfathers were not able to explore. The frontier of growing old.

It is interesting though that what age we consider old depends on what stage in life were in. In one article I read, they asked different people on when do they consider the start of  old age. Here’s their answer:

5-year-olds: Old age begins at 13.
13-year-olds: Old age begins at 30.
30-year-olds: Old age begins at 50.
50-year-olds: Old age begins at 75.
75-year-olds: Never. And go away.

For me, I still would not consider myself old. Not yet. Not after another 50 years. And if you don’t agree with me, go away!

IMG_5619

I am not ready to slow down just yet. In my mind I believe that there is still enough bounce left in me. Though my joints may tell me otherwise.

It is spring time and getting warmer here. It’s time once again to run outdoors and start preparing for another half marathon. I need new running shoes though. Perhaps I can get a discount through AARP.

(*photo taken few months ago)

Looking for Falling Stars

Last summer, we learned that there would be a great opportunity to see meteors in our area. That is if we would look at the right time and at the right direction. And provided that we would have a clear sky.

The event is the Perseid meteor shower, a stream of debris associated with the Swift-Tuttle comet. This is an annual event, and they said that in a clear night sky you can potentially see 100 falling stars in an hour. A hundred falling stars in an hour? That’s a proposition that was just too hard to resist.

Even though I spent half of my life in Manila (can’t see much stars in a big city), I have seen meteors several times in the past. The first time was when I was in grade school during our school’s camping in Batangas. The last time was not too long ago when I was driving home one night here in Iowa and it streaked down the sky. Perhaps I am lucky to see falling stars a few times, or perhaps I’m just looking at the night sky an awful lot of times.

My wife who have not seen a falling star ever, except maybe Kris Aquino falling off the stage on live TV some decades ago, so she was really determined to see this event.

So one night last August, we went outside to watch for falling stars.

We live in a country side, which was a decision we made years ago, where our dark night sky still shows the stars shining brightly and not blurred by the city lights. However in the past 13 years we have lived out here, the city has been creeping closer and closer to us. The cornfields and open prairies that we used to pass by is steadily being gobbled up by construction of housing developments and commercial establishments. I am not sure if I would like to call that “progress.”

It was close to 11 o’clock at night when we went out, a time that ordinarily I would already be snoring. We stood in our deck and looked out in our backyard sky towards northeast, the direction we read it would be. After close to half an hour outside, we still have not seen any falling stars. Not even a single one! And they promised 100 stars an hour?

We were also getting cold, for even though it was summer, it was seasonably cooler than usual that night. Our necks were getting strained as well from looking up. We should have placed a mat in our lawn and lay there under the stars with our blankets. At least we would be comfortable while we eagerly wait and while we listen to the ‘sweet nothing’ whispers in our ears. I’m referring to the pesky mosquitoes buzzing around our heads.

After a long while, as I was looking at the sky in the direction we thought the meteors would appear, I believed I saw a light streaked in my peripheral field of vision. So I told my wife that perhaps we were looking at the wrong direction. So we trained our gaze to a different direction in the sky.

Sure enough, in less than a minute, we saw a bright star flashed across the sky and disappeared in the dark. Not much later, another one did. And another one.

Isn’t it like many times in life, what we’re searching for has been there all along, we just have not realized it, or we just have not looked the right way. Like your lost keys. Or the love that you’re waiting for. Or the happiness that you’re chasing.

Satisfied, my wife suggested that we can go back inside the house, knowing also that the right direction where we can look was in the full view of our bedroom window. So we pulled out a sleeping mat and placed it near the window, and there we laid for the night instead of our bed, and watch for more shooting stars.

They said that you should make a wish when you see a shooting star. Of course I did. That wish was already been granted: lying down here beside me.

IMG_5651.jpg

Happy Anniversary my dear. It has been 23 years of happy moments and fulfilled wishes.

(*photo taken in Mohonk Mountain House, New York)

 

Chedeng at Chinelas

Noong makalawang araw ay bumisita sa aming bahay ang isang kaibigan, kasama ang kanyang asawa at panganay na anak. Siya ay isa ring Pilipinong duktor dito sa Iowa. Meron lang silang dinaanan dito sa amin.

Aking napansin na bago ang sasakyan niyang dala. Sabi niya, ipinamana na raw niya ang lumang Honda sa kanyang anak. Akin siyang kinantsawan na sobrang asenso na niya. Ika ko nga, “hindi ka na ma-reach!”

Kasi, naka-Chedeng na siya.

Malugod din niyang ipinakita ang mga features ng kanyang bagong kotse. Pinindot lang niya ang kanyang cellphone at umandar na ang kanyang kotse, kahit wala siya sa loob nito. Napabilib ako. Siguro pwede pa niyang i-program na utusan lang ang kanyang smartphone: “Siri, start my car.”

Mayroon din daw itong standard safety features, gaya ng automatic braking kung sakaling aanga-anga siya at hindi nakapag-preno kaagad, at nagbibigay din ng warning kung may sasakyan sa kanyang blind spot at kung siya ay antok-antok at lumilihis sa lane. Hindi lang din daw camera sa likod ang makikita niya kung siya ay umuurong, kung hindi 360º view. Higit sa lahat, kaya nitong magself-park, kahit pa parallel parking. Sabi ko nga, kulang na lang mag-drive ‘yung kanyang Mercedes na mag-isa.

Pero sang-ayon sa mga eksperto, by year 2020 or 2021, mayroon ng mass production ng self-driving cars, at available na ito sa lahat. Kahit sino ay pwede nang maging Knight Rider!

Habang ipinagyayabang ng aking kaibigan ang kanyang Mercedes, ay para kaming mga musmos na natutuwa sa bagong jolen, o trumpo, o kaya’y matchbox. Iyon nga lang, totoo ‘yung matchbox.

Noong ako’y batang paslit pa, ang kilala ko lang na luxury car ay Chedeng o Mercedes Benz. Kilala ko rin si Aling Mercedes, pero hindi siya kotse. Hindi ko pa alam noon ang BMW, Audi, Porsche, Jaguar, Ferrari, Cadillac o Lexus. Kilalang-kilala ko naman ang Sarao. Tingin ko sa mga naka-Chedeng noon ay sobrang yaman at sobrang matagumpay sa buhay.

Sa katunayan, wala nga akong kilalang naka-Mercedes noong ako’y nasa elementarya at high school pa, maliban sa isa. Siya ay crush ng bayan sa aming eskwelahan, dahil maganda na siya tapos naka-Chedeng pa. Ang tatay niya ay duktor, at sila ay nakatira sa Dasma (Dasmariñas Village).

Noong nasa kolehiyo na, ako ay namulat sa katotohanan na kahit sa mahirap na bansa’t lipunan pala, ay marami pa rin burgis. Marami akong naging kamag-aral na naka-Chedeng. May mga kaklase pa nga ako na may sarili silang kotse at naka-tsuper pa. Buong mag-hapon naghihintay lang ang kanilang tsuper sa may parking lot ng unibersidad. Hindi lang nga Mercedes Benz, may nakita pa akong estudyante na ang dina-drive ay Porsche. Okay lang, ako naman ay “Cadillac” – kadilakad.

Balik tayo sa kaibigan kong Pilipinong duktor dito sa Iowa. Habang kami ay nagku-kwentuhan ay aming napag-usapan na parang kailan lang ay mga musmos pa ang aming mga anak. Ngunit ngayon, pareho na kaming may anak na nasa kolehiyo. Ang bilis ng panahon.

Nagawi ang aming usapan noong kami ay nasa-kolehiyo pa. Siya ay nag-aral din sa Maynila. Nabangit ko na napakarami nang nagtataasang condominum sa Maynila pati sa university belt. Sabi naman niya ay marami na rin daw masasarap na kainan sa paligid-ligid ng university belt. Sa susunod niyang uwi sa Pilipinas, gusto raw niyang pumasyal at kumain sa mga turo-turo sa tabi ng unibersidad. Simple pa rin talaga ang trip ng kaibigan kong ito, down-to-earth pa rin.

Napag-usapan din namin kung paano kaming nakikipag-habulan sa mga jeepney, at kung paano kami halos makipagbalyahan at siksikan, makasakay lamang. Pinaririnig lang din naman namin sa aming mga anak kung gaano sila kaswerte ngayon, at hindi nila naranasan ang  hirap na aming dinaanan.

Jeepney_Benz

Chedeng na Jeepney

Hanggang sa napag-usapan noong kami ay nasa elementarya pa. Kwento ng aking kaibigan, dahil siya ay lumaki sa probinsiya, ay naglalakad lang daw siya araw-araw patungong paaralan nila. Ang pampublikong paaralan ay nasa kabilang barrio, kaya’t medyo malayo ang kanyang linalakad. Para mag-short cut, siya ay tumutulay sa pilapil ng mga palayan habang bitbit-bitbit niya ang kanyang chinelas para hindi maputikan. Minsan pa raw, binibitbit din niya ang kanyang chinelas para hindi ito maupod agad, upang makatipid.

Ako ay napangiti at napaisip. Ang batang nagbibitbit lang ng chinelas noon para hindi ito maupod, ngayon ay naka-Chedeng na.

Tignan mo nga naman talaga ang tadhana. Marunong pa rin itong ngumiti sa mga nagsisikap na umasenso sa buhay. Kahit na hindi Mercedes, ang kanilang pangalan.

(*photo from the web)

 

 

Road Trip

The road hums a wistful song, while the passing trees, powers lines, and scenery plays like an old movie in my hazy field of vision. I am safely buckled in my seat, while we whiz down the interstate. The car’s trunk is loaded, but not nearly as full and cluttered as my mind is.

My daughter and I are going on a road trip.

It is hard to imagine that it was more than 50 years ago now, when my daughter and I went on our first long trip. We went camping in a distant national park, and even though we stayed there only two nights, we packed our car full. We brought almost everything, except the house itself – the propane stove, the tent, the air mattresses, pillows and comforters, folding chair and tables, and even a portable heater.

When I fastened my little girl on her car seat when we embarked on that trip, she mildly protested. It seemed like we stopped on every rest area for a bathroom break, as my daughter claimed she needs to go. But maybe it was just her ploy to get out of her car seat. And yes, she asked a million times, “Are we there yet?”

It was a fun trip though.

It was more than 30 years ago now also, that I took my daughter on another long road trip. We drove for several hours to another nearby state. The car was overloaded with many things, like the electric fan, microwave oven, television, vacuum cleaner, a closet-full of clothes, and my daughter’s big cello. That was when I dropped her off to college.

She was so excited to go to the university and to be on her own. I guess she views it as independence. My heart was heavy all the way through that trip. Even though it was a long drive, I don’t want it to end. For I know that when we reach our destination, I would be leaving her behind and may not see her again for several weeks. Perhaps months. But she has to go and leave the nest, and make a mark of her own in this world. I get that.

Of course she made it through college. And beyond.

Now we’re together again on another road trip. Except that I am not in the driver’s seat anymore. I am just the passenger and my daughter is driving.

She said that I cannot live by myself anymore in our old big house. And I agree, since her mother left for heaven, I am really lost and lonely. She is taking me to a place to be closer to her.

She told me that I don’t need most of my stuff, just the bare essentials. For in the place where we will go, it has everything I need, she said. I don’t need much stuff anyway. The most precious things I used to have, I already lost them.

Funny that people say that my memory is getting bad. That my mind is already playing tricks on me. That I don’t remember things anymore. Like where I placed my glasses or even my dentures. Or who is Mr. or Mrs. so and so, people they say I should know. And yet, why do I remember all these nostalgic memories so vividly?

I know this may be my last road trip. For I can barely walk without any assistance anymore. I cannot even feed myself without spilling food on my lap and all over the floor. And that’s why I am going to this “big house” with all the help available, with some other old forgetful people like me. I hope my daughter will visit me there often.

It’s nice to be on the road again. To feel the wind and the sun on my face again. If only this road trip would not end.

photo taken in some back road in Iowa

(*This short story is written as a fiction. And hopefully will stay as fiction.)

Eclipsing the Eclipse

They said that it was the greatest show under the sun. The solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, billed as the Eclipse of the Century or also referred as the Great American Eclipse was visible within a band across the entire United States. The last solar eclipse that was seen across the contiguous United States was in 1918.

Where I live now, which is in Central Iowa, we only have partial eclipse, but it is still 95% cover. But if I want to see a total solar eclipse, all I need to do is drive about two hours west, or two hours south of me, and I will be in that narrow band of total solar eclipse path. Two hours travel is nothing. When I was still in Manila, it takes two hours just to cross EDSA.

There were places that I know that advertised their town or city as “the destination” for the best viewing area for the total eclipse. Their hotels were fully booked months before the event. I know some friends of mine tried to book a hotel on these popular places but were not able. Though they were still able to find hotels in smaller towns nearby.

In one place, they made their city parks and regional airport as the designated viewing place, but you have to reserve a spot for parking weeks before the event as they expect a wave of visitors. Of course there’s a fee involved. In another place, it was a military base that they assigned to welcome eclipse travelers, but again you need to reserve a slot there. Perhaps all the streets in these prime towns and cities suddenly have parking meters.

Even several weeks before the solar eclipse, I already knew that I am not working that day. It’s because I would be on-call the weekend before, so I am off that Monday. Thus I considered going to those prime viewing places. However, I learned that by that time, summer vacation is over and my children will be back in school already, and so I did not make any early plans.

As the event got nearer, and the hype for the eclipse got hotter, I thought that maybe we don’t even need to stay overnight in those choice places. I could easily drive early morning that day as it is just 2 hours away from us, and the time of the solar eclipse is not until around noontime anyway. And even if I have not made any parking reservation in those viewing areas, I thought I could just park in their town’s Wal-Mart.

Few days before the eclipse, I still have not procured the recommended glasses which is needed to safely view the solar eclipse. I tried to look for the certified eclipse glasses in the stores around our area, but all of them have sold out. I want to see the solar eclipse but I also don’t want to go blind. It was really poor planning on my part.

The weekend of my duty came. I worked and was on-call for an ungodly long time of almost 60 hours straight. Besides being so busy it was depressing too. In one stretch of time, we even had a string of deaths in the ICU that Sunday. I was just glad it’s over.

Solar eclipse by the way, for the superstitious, is regarded as an evil omen. The word “eclipse” comes from the Greek word “ekleipsis,” which means “an abandonment.” Thus it is not a surprise that civilizations throughout history associate it for bad things to happen.

Come Monday, the day of the eclipse, I was awakened by lightning and thunderstorm. I checked on the weather and found out that it will be raining the whole day in our area. Rats! So much for viewing the solar eclipse.

I also checked on those areas where I initially planned on driving to see the totality of the eclipse, and the weather forecast there was cloudy too for the whole day. Suddenly I felt bad for those people who made such elaborate arrangements and plans to view the solar eclipse, only to be disappointed by the cloudy weather.

I end up just visiting my daughter in her university which is also two-hour drive away. But it was north of us and going farther away from the band of the total solar eclipse path. I reasoned, If I’m not able to see the total eclipse due to the weather, at least I’m seeing my daughter.

When we arrived at the university, it was cloudy there too. The university have even arranged an eclipse viewing party. Outside the university campus, in the town center, there were also lots of kids and their parents gathered outside the public library with their lounge chairs and eclipse glasses. But all were disappointed, as the sun can be barely seen due to the cloudy skies.

Below is the best we were able to get a glimpse of the solar eclipse:

IMG_5404

The greatest show on earth was covered not by the moon shadow. But by the dark rain clouds. The eclipse was eclipsed! What a bummer!

Clouds are part of our lives here on earth. And so are disappointments. We can make all the elaborate plans for the future. But there is always that element of unknown that is beyond our control. All we can do is make the best of the situation.

It was still cloudy when we got back home. It even rained some more. But as the sun was about to set, this showed up in the sky:

IMG_5412

Sometimes, those rain clouds that disappoint us can also give us unexpected joy.

 

(*photos taken with iPhone)

View Through a Battle Shield

I sat quietly surveying my field of vision like a pilot of a battle tank. And I realized that I was looking at a killing field. It mostly happened last night, but it was veiled in the darkness. I had no idea that it was this vicious, until I saw it in the morning light.

In front of my eyes lay several casualties. Perhaps in the hundreds. They were all dead. Crushed and mangled. Their innards scattered on the battle field.

Life is short. I know for them it is shorter. And it just become even shorter. Life can be unfair sometimes.

All they want is freedom. Freedom to live. Freedom to propagate. Freedom to roam on a beautiful warm summer’s night.

But I want my freedom too. And my freedom to roam clashed with theirs.

I don’t like it. Nor did I plan it. It was not my intention to annihilate them. No, not at all! They were just in the wrong place, and in the wrong time. Or was it me that was in the wrong place and in the wrong time?

Dang it! My windshield is splattered with dead bugs again!

IMG_5231

(*photo taken with an iPhone)

Figments of Lavender Field

Few weeks ago, my family visited a 90-acre field of wild flowers. It was actually a farm land before, but the owners turned it into a natural prairie. Here in Iowa, the state gives incentives through federal conservation program wherein the government will give yearly rental payment in exchange of farmers turning their agricultural land into a prairie or a wooded area. This is one way of reclaiming industrial lands into natural habitats for the wild life.

FullSizeRender

Wanting to see more beautiful field of flowers, my wife checked on a website and learned that there is a lavender farm here in Iowa. She envisioned that it will be an expansive gorgeous fields of lavender flowers. Besides, the farm is located near a scenic route, the Loess Hills, which is included in the National Scenic Byways of America, meaning it is a must-see drive. Since we have not seen it yet, so we drove to it last weekend.

The lavender field is about two hours drive away from our place. Here in the United States’ midwest, two hours drive is nothing. At least when we say two hours drive, we mean we’re really driving mostly at maximum speed limit. Unlike in other parts of the world, like in Manila, two hours drive means a distance you can get to in twenty minutes but you’re stuck in traffic for two hours.

After finishing our Sunday morning chores, we packed the family in the car and drove. My college-age daughter, who is home for the summer, was not even feeling well that morning due to menstrual cramps, but we drag her anyway so she won’t miss it. She just brought a pillow and laid down in the backseat.

It was a relatively cool day for a summer, as it was cloudy and even had intermittent showers. In fact we encountered some heavy rains along the way, which to me, just made the trip more interesting.

IMG_5173

As we approached our destination, we passed by an overlook area. It has a tower where you can view the surrounding scenery. My daughter was feeling better already at that time, that she got off the car and also climbed the tower.

When we came to a nearby town just minutes to our destination, we decided to stop for lunch first before heading to the place. We discovered a nice old diner. It has a 1960’s theme, or perhaps they just did not change it since they opened. We found out that this diner was a major hub even back in the days, as it was near a major train station.

IMG_5182

When we continued on our trip, we got lost as our GPS directed us not to the exact site. Yes, I gave the verdict that the GPS was at fault, and it cannot defend itself. We phoned the farm’s number and it re-directed us to its location.

Finally we found the place. As we were pulling into their parking lot, we saw the field in front of us and it was nothing like what we imagined or expected. It was a dud. A let-down. A disappointment.

No stretches of beautiful lavender. No expansive field of wonderful flowers. Instead, it was a patch of drying bushes. In its defense, perhaps we were just expecting too much.

IMG_5183

As we already drove for two hours, so we still went down and checked the farm, including the small shop they have in that place. We did not tarry though.

We then decided to drive further in a road that has a sign “National Scenic Byway.” It was said that this scenic byway, the Loess Hills, has a unique terrain, formed by windblown silt, called loess. No other place in the world except the one in China, where there are higher loess hills formation than this place in Iowa.

After driving for some time in this said scenic byway, we admit that they were interesting, but we’re not utterly impressed. Maybe because we have already driven from US coast to coast, and we have seen more stunning scenic byways. We turned around and headed for home.

We passed by a small town that has a number of antique shops on our way home. The last time we were there was more than 10 years ago (see previous post). My son who was less than 3 years old at that time, accidentally knocked down an antique mirror sitting on a floor at one of the stores. The mirror fell on its face and shattered the glass into several pieces. I ended up paying $200 dollars. Since I paid for it, I took home the wood or board where the mirror was mounted. $200 for a piece of board!

They say that breaking a mirror will cause seven years of misfortune. I don’t think so. What followed was several years of bliss living in Iowa.

This time we did not shatter any mirrors. Just shattered expectations, I guess. After that last stop, we came home after almost 6 hours on the road.

Have you had any similar experience? Going to a place that did not live up to your expectations? Did we just wasted a day and some gallons of gas? I don’t want to believe so. For even if the destination was less than spectacular, we still spent some quality family time together.

Life is a journey. Sometimes it is not the destination that matters. But it is the joy of experience, discovery, shared moments together, and the eventual precious memories during the travel, that really matters.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Slow Run

It’s summer here in our place. Well, not quite officially, as the summer solstice is not until June 21 which marks the official start of summer in the northern hemisphere. Yet the mercury is rising, as our high temperature for the past few days and the coming week will be in the 90’s to even reaching 100 º F.

But this morning, it was a comfortable 74 º F, so I went out for a run. It is also about this time of year that I should start preparing for the half marathon, if I should decide to join again this coming fall.

As I was approaching the small pond in my running route, I have to stop and let the family of geese get off the road before I could pass. The mother goose was already hissing at me as I was approaching them. They can be very territorial you know. But that’s fine, I can share the road with them, and I have no plans on swimming in their pond.


When I came to the wooded areas, I also saw a deer. But it bounded quickly away before I could take out my phone out of my pocket to take a photo. It might be sneering at me that I am too slow.

Same thing happened when I came to an area where a couple of wild rabbits were on the side of the road foraging for food. They also scurried away at the sound of my slow feet, before I can get near them. They may also laughing at me for being slow.

I admit, I am getting slower. Maybe my age is catching up on me. I have no match for the swiftness of the deer and the hare. They seem to dash so effortlessly and yet so gracefully. While me, I push for every step of my way to get to a pace that runners would even consider “running.”

Maybe all of us can relate in one way or another, and in different endeavors, that we feel we are no match to the “competition” we are going against. Whether it be in sports, or in school, or in our work, and in life in general.

Then as I was fighting my way uphill, I saw this guy.


Yes, that is a snapping turtle. And I was “quick” enough to take a photo of him.

They are called snapping turtles not because they snap their fingers as they go, rather they have the ability to snap, as in bite an attacker. That’s why I kept my distance.

The pond, or any body of water that I know in this area, was hundreds of meters away. I don’t know how long it would take him to get there, if that was where he was heading. But I’m sure his slow pace does not stop him from continuing, for that’s who he is.

It gave me a good insight for the day.  Life they say could be like a race. But it is not always for the swift, but to those who kept on running.

 

Illusive Hope

During my last weekend call, one of the many admissions I had to the ICU was a man in his 70’s, who was found unresponsive in his home. Since he lives alone, he probably have been lying on the floor for a couple of days before he was found.

After work-up in the emergency room, it was determined that he had a large stroke. As he was very sick and unstable, we were consulted to admit him in our ICU.

The next day, after providing supportive measures, his vital signs stabilized and he became more responsive, and even following simple commands. Yet he still has significant neurologic deficits due to the devastating stroke.

The patient’s son who was the power-of-attorney, talked to me and showed me his father’s living will, which specifically detailed that in case he had an “irreversible condition,” he does not want to be on any form of life support including artificial nutrition, like tube feedings or even intravenous fluids.

I assessed that with the severity of the stroke, the likelihood of “good” recovery was doubtful. My projection was that he would never live independently again, would most likely be nursing home-bound, and definitely would not be the same person that they know. In addition, he could even get worse as the swelling of the brain increase. No question, I painted a grim scenario.

After hearing my assessment, the patient’s son and family, were ready to call hospice and just make the patient comfort cares. The son told me that his father, for sure would not like to live a life with such a poor quality as I have projected. Though I told them, that the neurologist whom I consulted have not seen the patient yet, and perhaps they should wait on what he has to say.

Not long after, the neurologist came. He extensively reviewed the CT scan of the head, and he made a careful and detailed neurological examination of the patient, as he tried to evoke even obscure reflexes that I can only read in the medical textbook. After his evaluation, the neurologist, the patient’s son, and me, went in a room for a conference.

The neurologist explained that with his estimation, even though the stroke was large, since it involved the non-dominant side of the brain and mostly the frontal lobe, he believes that the patient can still have a “meaningful” recovery. In addition, since the acute stroke was a few days ago, he thinks that the swelling was on its way down, and perhaps we were already past the worst phase. He backed this with his expert knowledge of brain anatomy and function.

Thus the neurologist believed that at best, though it may take months of rehabilitation, the patient can talk – though with a funny accent, walk – but with a limp that he even demonstrated, and maybe could even live independently later on. He definitely painted a more rosy picture than the gray picture that I have painted.

Hearing the neurologist’s opinion, it was obvious we have a “slight” difference of opinion. Perhaps slight was an understatement.

After considering the neurologist’s evaluation, the son and the family changed their mind and decided to defer calling hospice and instead support the patient as much as possible, including tube feedings and all.

To be honest, I was a bit perturbed that I gave such a bleak prognosis than what the other doctor gave. Have I given up on that patient too soon? Have I killed the embers of hope prematurely? Perhaps I have become so pessimistic in my view of things. Perhaps I have seen so many prolonged sufferings and bad outcomes despite our best intentions and efforts in my ICU experience. Perhaps I was just saving the family from the heartaches of clinging to unrealistic optimism. Or perhaps I become more cynical and have lost my faith in hope.

In my defense, maybe I just see the front end and the acute catastrophic courses of patients in the ICU, and have limited exposure to the success stories of patients’ wonderful recovery after prolonged and extensive rehabilitation.

But even though I felt betrayed by my negativism, I felt relieved that I have heard a differing opinion, and perhaps gave a chance to a life that we almost gave up on too soon. Even though I felt embarrassed and almost apologetic for my opinion, I was thankful that we gave hope a chance. Everybody deserves that chance.

The following day, when I rounded on our stroke patient, he was more obtunded and unresponsive. He now have labored breathing and had to be placed on a ventilator. I then requested a repeat CT scan of the head.

The CT scan showed what I was afraid would happen: a further extension of the stroke and more swelling, displacing the structures of the brain beyond the midline and even herniating down the brainstem. This was unquestionably a grave condition, and most likely fatal. No more differing opinions.

The family decided to transition to comfort cares, and the patient expired a day later.

I did not kill hope. It died.

IMG_3659