No Chance Encounter

(The following is an excerpt from a discourse I gave in a local congregation. Thoughts were inspired after standing in a spot pictured below.)

Simon, after an 800-mile long travel, in a dream journey of a lifetime, finally arrived in Jerusalem.

He was warned of the large crowd especially during Passover time. But that day, he saw a different event. Even though the streets were crowded with lots of people they were making way for this unusual procession. There were no wailing sirens or flashing lights to warn people to make way, but there were Roman soldiers shouting with their glistening swords that part the crowd like the Red Sea.

Then Simon saw a man, so bloodied in his face, head, and back, carrying a beam of a cross, being led by the soldiers. Simon realized, he was witnessing a man being led to his death by crucifixion.

Crucifixion was not invented by the Romans, but they perfected it. Crucifixion was a punishment mostly reserved for those sentenced with insurrection or rebellion. Mostly people crucified were people subjugated by the Romans.

The weight of the whole cross was about 300 pounds. But usually the one being crucified carry only the cross beam, which in itself weighs about 100 pounds. They carry this to the place where they will be executed.

But even that weight of the cross beam was too heavy for this man condemned to die, as Simon witnessed. Perhaps he was weakened from all the lashes he received in his back. Perhaps he was already too weak from the blood loss from the wounds in his head and body.

Simon saw that the man carrying the cross fell under the weight and cannot stand anymore. Next thing Simon knew was that he was being ordered to carry that man’s cross.

But why was Simon chosen? Was it really random or by chance that he was picked? Romans will not let a Roman citizen carry the cross. They only let Jews or a foreigner do it. And Simon looked like a foreigner. He stood out of the crowd. He definitely looked like a stranger in Jerusalem. Was it the way he dressed? Or was it something more obvious?

Simon was most probably dark-skinned. In a more blunt way of saying, he was black.

First of all he was from Cyrene, a country in North Africa. We know that these people were descendants of Ham, the third son of Noah, who was believed to be the ancestral father of black people. The name Ham, many scholars believe meant “black.” This is supported by the Hebrew and Arabic evidences, in which the word “chamam” means “to be black.”

Another support is in Acts 13:1, it mentioned a man named Simeon (Simon) who was called the black man, who was one of the teachers in Antioch. Whether this was the same Simon from Cyrene who carried Jesus’ cross is hard to prove. What we know though, is that Acts 11:19-21 mentioned that the first Christians who preached in Antioch were from Cyprus and Cyrene.

In all likelihood, Simon was picked because he looked different. Discrimination is not something that we only have today. Even in those times it already existed.

But Simon was not pick by chance. I believe God has destined him to carry the cross for a special reason. Same thing that God picked those who were being discriminated and ostracized during those times: the Samaritans, the tax-collectors, the Publicans, the lepers, the sinners. God chose those who the world see as unwanted, and use them in a special purpose for his divine plan.

If God does not discriminate, who are we to discriminate people whom we think are different from us?

Back to Simon, when he was picked by the Roman soldiers, he was reluctant. The Bible said in Matt 27:32, he was “forced” or “compelled.” Meaning, he did not volunteer. Most likely he even refused!

But can you refuse the Romans? There was a Roman law called lex angeria stating that if a Roman soldier tells you to carry his pack or a load, you must carry it for 1000 paces (1 pace=2 steps), which is really close to our current mile. After 1 mile, you can bring down the load and you can go on your business.

But Jesus in his teaching in Matthew 5:41, said that if a soldier demands you to carry his pack for 1 mile (pertaining to lex angeria law), carry it for 2 miles instead. That was Jesus said! So if someone ask you a favor, do it beyond what you are being asked. Not out of duty, but do it out of love.

I am not sure Simon heard of this Jesus’ teaching, that he would be willing to carry the cross for more than a mile.

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Station V, Via Dolorosa: spot where Simon carried the cross

But I get it, not just because the cross was heavy, and it was not even his cross to carry, Simon has other reasons to be reluctant. One is that if he carry that bloodied cross, he would contaminate himself with blood and he would be deemed ceremoniously unclean by Jewish law. He then would not be able to participate in the Passover feast, which was the very reason he came to Jerusalem in the first place.

Sometimes we have our own plans, and all of a sudden we are being diverted to do something we don’t want to do. Just like Simon. But God has a plan for us. We just have to trust Him.

The other reason, why I think Simon was reluctant to carry the cross was, can you imagine the humiliation of carrying the cross of somebody you don’t even know? The humiliation of being associated to somebody condemned to die.

Simon’s experience was: from dream to nightmare, from holy to horrific, from going to the place of worship to going to a place of execution.

But as Simon followed Jesus carrying the cross and being led by the Roman soldiers, something happened to him. It changed him.

Simon have looked into the bloodied face of this man and their eyes met. The look that peered through his soul. The look of love and forgiveness, despite him being led to his death. Surely, Simon thought, this Man was different.

As he was following Jesus with the cross, he have heard him speak as recorded in Luke 23:28 “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, but weep for yourselves and your children.” Surely, Simon thought, this Man was different.

Something changed the heart of Simon. I believe that after they came to Calvary and he was told by the soldiers that he can bring down the cross and was free to go, he stayed in the crowd and watched what would happen to the Man whose cross he carried.

Simon witnessed of how this Man forgave those who were crucifying him, praying “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” He saw this Man die and how He cried “It is finished,” and how he uttered “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” Surely, Simon thought, this Man was different.

From an unwilling cross bearer, Simon became a willing faithful follower.

Simon realized the fact that his hands and his shoulders and his body that were stained by this Man’s blood did not make him unclean, but rather that very blood cleansed him of his sins. Simon can claim that he was literally washed by the blood of the Lamb.

How sure are we that Simon became a follower of Christ?

In Mark 15:21 it mentioned Simon’s sons, Alexander and Rufus. The book of Mark was written about 25-30 years after Jesus died. The fact that Mark mentioned the names of his sons, implied that his sons became known to the early Christian church. That means they became pillars of the church, because their converted father introduced them to the Savior whose cross he carried.

Also in Acts 11:19-21, which mentioned those early Christians from Cyrene, and we may wonder, why were the earliest Christians from a place 800 miles away from Jerusalem? I want to believe that those were converted by Simon when he returned home to Cyrene. Even Paul in Romans 16:13 greeted Rufus, Simon’s son, whom Paul said was ‘picked by God to be his very own son.’

Yes, Simon was not picked by the Romans by chance, but rather God picked Simon. And it was not a chance encounter, but it was a destined encounter.

May the story of Simon, inspire us for our own fateful encounter.

(*photo taken in Jerusalem)

 

Once Upon A Time

Not too long ago while walking at the mall, I was captivated by the music being played. You might ask, on what occasion does mall music captivating? Many times the music is just blaring and quite annoying.

Not in this store. Actually I was in a large department store that you would consider old-school, a holdover from the classic era, if you will. Though it is in the mall, this particular store has a quiet and serene environment. The music is calming and not loud. Most of the time it is provided by a grand piano in the center of the store, near the escalators. And they employ a live pianist to play the piano.

So when I heard the certain song being played, I was drawn to the place where the piano was, to see the musician who was providing the music. Though I was not familiar with the tune, somehow it stroke a nostalgic chord.

When I came down the escalators, I was surprised when I saw the pianist.

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He was a bit older than what I was expecting. He was perhaps in his late 70’s or even 80’s. His mobility was not very good anymore, as substantiated by the presence of a walker beside the piano. Yet the dexterity of his fingers were still impeccable. And the emotion in his playing was still very much palpable.

I was enthralled that I had to sit down on one of the sofas near the piano so I can watch him a little longer. He has no notes or music piece that he was reading. He was playing by memory with his eyes closed. Perhaps he has played this song so many times, that he’s performing it all by finger or muscle memory. Yet I can feel the deep sentiments on those fingers as it runs through the piano keys.

Maybe he was reminiscing the good ole days. Maybe he was reliving bygone happy moments. Or maybe he was lamenting a lost Valentine’s.

What was the song? I didn’t know, so I asked him after he finished playing.

He answered, “Once Upon A Time.”

Such an appropriate piece.

(*photo taken with an iPhone)

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“Once Upon a Time” is a song composed by Charles Strouse, with lyrics by Lee Adams, from the 1962 musical All American. It has been sung by Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Tony Bennett and Bob Dylan among others.

Here’s a version by Alex Bird (taken from YouTube):

 

For all the lovers out there, including those who loved and lost, and who loved once upon a time, may you have a memorable Valentine’s.

Lalamunang Butas

Bahagi ng pagiging isang masinop na duktor, ay ang pagkuha ng istorya, o aming tinatawag na history, mula sa pasyente. Dahil kalimitan, maaring ma-diagnose o malaman kung ano ang sakit sa pamamagitan lang ng history. Siyempre kailangan pa rin ng physical exam at mga ancillary testing, para makumpleto ang diagnosis. Pero napaka-importante ng history.

Kaya naman kasama sa aming training o pag-aaral bilang duktor, ay ang kung paano kumuha ng tamang history. Katulad nang kung masakit ang tiyan ng pasyente: aming itatanong kung kailan pa nagsimula, o anong oras ng araw lumilitaw ang sakit, anong klase ng sakit, anong maaring nagpapalubha o nagpapaginhawa sa sakit, kung saan mismo ang sakit, o kung ito ay gumagapang sa ibang bahagi ng katawan, kung kumain ba ng panis na pansit, at kung anu-ano pa.

Huwag ninyo sanang isipin na makulit lang ang inyong duktor dahil napakaraming tanong, na pati pagkain ninyo ng pansit ay inuusisa. Ang mga tanong na ito ay kailangan para malaman ang tamang diagnosis.

Oo nga’t mayroong mga pagkakataon na hindi kami makakuha ng tamang kuwento o history mula sa pasyente. Tulad ng mga pasyenteng tuliro o walang malay na dinala sa hospital. Marami kaming ganyang pasyente sa ICU. O kaya naman ay ibang wika o dialect ang kanilang salita, o kaya’y pipi ang pasyente, kaya’t kailangan pa namin ng interpreter.

Mayroon din namang mga pasyente na hindi makapagbigay ng tama o accurate na history, dahil lito sila, o talagang magulo lang silang kausap. Para silang laging lasing. Kaya naguguluhan tuloy pati ang duktor kung ano talaga ang nangyayari.

Saludo ako sa mga Pediatrician, na kayang malaman kung ano ang iniinda ng mga bata o sanggol nilang pasyente, kahit hindi pa ito nagsasalita. Siyempre nakakatulong din ang history na ibinibigay ng magulang ng mga bata.

Mas saludo ako sa mga Veterinarian, kung paano sila kumuha ng history. Siguro ay naiintindihan nila ang bawat kahol, meow, o huni ng kanilang pasyente. Buti na lang at hindi ako pinag-beterenaryo ng nanay ko, at baka kumakahol na rin ako ngayon.

Isang kuwento mula sa matagal na panahon nang nakalipas ang aking isasaysay sa inyo. Ito’y nangyari nang ako’y intern pa sa Pilipinas.  Isang araw ay sabik na sabik na nagkuwento sa amin ang isa naming co-intern, ng kanyang karanasan mula sa hospital ward.

Sabi niya, may pasyente raw siyang may butas sa lalamunan o tracheostomy. Siguro dahil sa cancer sa larynx, pero hindi niya ito sigurado.  Kaya’t kailangan pa rin niyang kunin ang history ng pasyente.

Kung hindi ninyo alam kung paano ang may tracheostomy, sila ay hindi makapagsalita ng maayos,  dahil lumalabas ang hangin sa kanilang tracheostomy at hindi dumadaan sa vocal cord. Minsan, yung mga may tracheostomy, ay wala na ring vocal cord, at tuluyan na silang hindi makapagsalita.

Gayun pa man, desidido pa rin ang aking co-intern na kunin ang history ng kanyang pasyente.

Intern: Kuya, ano po bang dahilan bakit ka pumunta sa ospital?

Pasyente: Heh, hasi hirahp ahoh humingah.

Intern: Ganoon ba? Eh bakit ka nagka-tracheostomy?

Pasyente: Heh hasi, hanito hiyan. Halahas haho hahihahiho. Hayah haghahooh haho hang hanser sa lahlahmunah.

Intern: Teka, teka kuya. Hindi po kita maintindihan.

Luminga-linga ang aking co-intern at nagbakasakali na may kasama o bantay ang kanyang pasyente. Inisip niya, baka makakatulong ito na magbigay ng kuwento.

Sapak naman at naroon sa may pintuan ang isang kabataang lalaki. Tinanong ng intern kung kilala ba niya o siya ba ang bantay ng pasyente.

Tumango naman ang lalaki. Natuwa ang intern.

Tinanong uli ng intern kung alam ng bantay ang kwento ng pasyente. Tumango ulit ang bantay. Lalong natuwa ang intern.

Intern: Ano ba ang nangyari sa kanya?

Bantay: Ngabi ngiya, malangas naw ngiya mangingangiyo, ngaya ngagngaroon ngiya ngang nganser nga lalamungan.

Toink!

Sa kabila nito, nakuha pa rin ng intern ang wastong history. Kinailangan lang ng konting tiyaga at pangunawa.

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(*Ang kuwentong ito ay tunay na pangyayari, at hindi ko po intensiyon na laitin ang may mga tracheostomy o cleft palate.)

 

Pahabol na tula:

Mga lalamunang butas,

At ngala-ngalang bukas,

Mga boses na gasgas,

Hirap silang bumigkas.

H’wag batuhin ng pintas,

Bagkus tratuhin ng patas,

‘Pagkat ‘di man sila matatas,

Isip nila’y matalas.

Life Can Be a Lonely Highway

A few weeks ago we embarked on an ambitious summer drive that took us from farmlands and prairies, to mountains and valleys, to deserted areas and busy metropolis, to rivers, waterfalls and ocean.

We started off from our home in Iowa and drove to Glacier National Park in Montana where we stayed for 3 days. Then we continued our trip to California where I attended 3 days of conference and my medical school’s grand reunion at Long Beach, but we passed by Yosemite National Park first, where we stayed for 2 days.

The sceneries that we passed have been so varied that it changed drastically: from barren lands of South Dakota to lush forests of Montana, from farm lands of Idaho to deserts of Nevada, from wilderness of Yosemite to concrete jungle of Metro Los Angeles.

It was the drive from Glacier National Park to Yosemite National Park that we passed through very lonesome country roads. Though I would take the lonely highways anytime than dealing with the heavy traffic of Los Angeles.

Passing through Nevada on our way to Yosemite, we passed Route 50, a transcontinental highway, which is also named as the “Loneliest Road in America.”

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Indeed it was a lonely road. You probably can set camp in the middle of the road and not be bothered by a passing car for hours. While we were driving through Route 50, I was afraid we will run out of gas and nobody will come to our rescue. Until we saw this….

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Right in the middle of nowhere, is a sort of an oasis. They have a bar, a restaurant, a small motel, and a gasoline station – all in one.

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Notice the sign posted in the motel? It said, “Route 50: The Loneliest Road in America.”

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They even have an old phone booth, which of course is now obsolete in this age of cellular phones.

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So we pulled up to this place and filled our gas tank. We also took the opportunity of taking a bathroom break. Though in reality, I wonder how many travelers in Route 50 when they felt the urge, just stopped and took a leak at the side of the road?

We also check out their small restaurant, and we found that they have plenty of supply of ice cream! Who knew?

Life they say is like a road trip. Sometimes the journey is exhilarating as we go through scenic byways. Sometimes it feels boring as we go through mundane yet major highways. Sometimes we feel we are not going anywhere as we are stuck in traffic. And sometimes we feel alone as we go through lonely roads. But there’s always surprises and unexpected turns.

In the last leg of our trip, after the medical conference and reunion, we also took time to visit our friends and family in California, including my wife’s mother who was staying in Los Angeles area.

Sadly to say,  my mother-in-law got sick and was hospitalized while we were there. Her condition quickly deteriorated and was even transferred to the ICU. So part of my vacation was visiting the ICU, not as an ICU physician but as a patient’s relative. I can’t seem to get away from the ICU.

Despite the medical efforts, my mother-in-law did not improved. She died shortly after a few days.

It was not the vacation we imagined. But at least we can comfort ourselves that we were there during her last moments and we’re able to say our goodbyes in person.

Our family is surely going through a lonely road right now. Yet, we can find solace that even in the loneliest road, there’s always an oasis, a refuge, or a sanctuary if you will, waiting for us where we can find rest.

Lastly, an important thought to remember, that even though it seems we are passing through a very lonely road, we are never alone.

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P.S. Nanay, thank you for the love and the memories. From you “favorite” son-in-law.

(*photos taken at Route 50, somewhere in Nevada)

 

 

 

Zen Moment

In our breakneck-pace, sink-or-swim busy schedule, we badly need some time to exhale and relax. We need to find our zen moment.

Different people have different ways to unwind and rejuvenate. There are some who would spend some time in a spa and be pampered. There are some who would go for a hike in the woods or climb a mountain. There are some who would watch a movie. There are some who will go to a mall. Zen shopping? While some would just sit and do nothing. And I mean nothing, as if staring blankly in space, like a frozen computer screen. I know, I do that sometimes.

Another favorite way of unwinding for me is my Sunday easy morning run of 2-3 miles where I just go on a slower pace than my usual, and commune with the wind, the lonely road, and nature. I would say that many of my creative thoughts come during this runs. I guess mild brain hypoxia can generate a stroke of genius.

Then there’s my wife. She will put on comfy clothes. She will go outside to be alone with the elements. She has her portable speaker playing her zen-type of music softly in the background. While she is on her hands and knees……….pulling weeds.

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(*photo taken with an iPhone)

Kagat-dila

Nakakalungkot ang mga bali-balita na nagliyab sa ating bansa noong nakaraang linggo at nakarating pa ito sa ibang bansa. May mga nasaktan, may mga nagalit, at may mga nanindigan. Nahati ang sentimyento ng ating bayan. Kulang na lang magbalibagan tayo ng sapatos sa ating pagbabangayan. Ah, eh, may nagsiliparan din palang Nike na sapatos.

Ano man ang inyong panig o pananaw, maraming nagsasabi na sana raw ay hindi na lang sinabi ang mga nasabi. Sa madaling salita – wah sabi. Dahil pagnasabi ang isang bagay, para itong wasabi ng sushi – masarap sa iba, maanghang sa iba. Kagat dila na lang sana raw.

Hindi ko hinahangad na malagay sa sapatos (hindi na Nike) ni Manny, ngunit kung sakali mang magkataon ay kakagatin ko na lang ang aking dila at aking sasabihin:

“Tat Thritian, tawal taman ‘tung tame-tex tarriage. Tinawa tang tatae tara ta lalati, tinawa tang lalati tara ta tatae.

Tati tara ta takin tito tang, tommon tense tang. Takakita ta ba tang tany tanimals na lalati ta lalati o tatae ta tatae? Mat mabuti ta ‘tung tayop.  Matunong tumilala, tung lalati o lalati, tatae, tatae.

Tayon tung lalaki ta lalaki, tatae ta tatae, mat matahol ta ta tayop tang tao.

To ‘di ba? Tayop tang… tindi talaga twedeng magtama tang lalati ta lalati, tero I’m not tondemning them. ‘Tung tarriage tang, ‘tung tommitting tin tagainst Tod.”

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(*altered quote from the full transcribed statement of Pacquiao)

P.S.: wala pong kinalaman sa pag-tatae ang artikulong ito; ang pagkakatulad ay hindi po sinasadya.

 

Running of the Bulldogs

I went to the annual Drake Relays last weekend and ran the 10K road race. I can say, I ran like a Bulldog*. Or more accurately, I panted like a Bulldog.

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The inaugural Drake Relays was held in 1910. So this was the 106th year of this event. It was a 5-day meet with competition in track and fields.

Over the years, hundreds of Olympic medalist have competed in the Drake Relays, like Bruce Jenner (yes, that’s him or now her?), Michael Johnson, Carl Lewis, and Jesse Owens to name a few.

By the way, if you don’t know, Bruce Jenner is a former track and field athlete, and won a gold medal in Decathlon in 1976 summer olympics. So he (or she) was already famous before the Kardashian’s fame and way before the sex change.

Bulldogs stadium or also known as the Blue Stadium

Drake Stadium, home of the Bulldogs

Back to the Drake Relays, due to good sponsorships, it is also one of the richest athletic event in the US. For example, the winner of the half marathon was awarded $70,000 prize money, while the winner of the 10K was given $40,000. But I would never get that. Maybe if they have a prize for the slowest?

Even though these events attract elite athletes, it was also open for wannabe athletes like me, especially the road races. After all, if anybody can get an athlete’s foot, then anybody can be an athlete, right?

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For the past five consecutive years I have participated in the Des Moines Marathon (I ran the half-marathon, 21K) which is held every fall. But this was my first time to join the Drake Relays. And also the first time to run the 10K.

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As I came a little early, I had time to take some pictures. Then when it was time to line up, I had to find my place in the starting line.

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Oh, that’s the elite runners group, with the 5-minute-per-mile pace. That’s not running, that’s flying. I don’t belong there!

I had to find my place at the back. Way, way at back of the line, with the more than 10-minute-per-mile pace.

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Then I found this line. Oh, that’s not it too. That’s the line for the portable toilet!

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Finally, it was time to start. The half-marathoners were given a head start, while we, 10K runners were released 30 minutes later.

There they go!

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The first half of the course was a piece of cake. No, I am not gloating. It was due to the fact that it was mostly downhill. And of course, I took photos while I ran, so I can blog about it.

Here’s a photo of the course going downhill with some of Des Moines skyline in the distance.

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Here’s one as we pass by a sculpture park.

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But like the reverse of the law of gravity, what goes down, will go up.  So on the final half of the course, it was mostly uphill. That’s what took my breath away. Especially the dreaded and infamous “Bulldog Hill.”

The Bulldog Hill may have chased my breath away, but never my will.

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We had plenty of cheerers along the way. We even had a marching band inspiring us to push forward on the steepest climb of the course.

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After the hills, finally the stadium was in sight. I gave my final push.

When we enter the Bulldog Stadium, there was a crowd of people to witness as we finish. It does not matter if you were the first finisher or among the last, they cheer you on just the same.

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I really like the feeling as I sprinted to the finish line in those lined tracks inside the stadium. For a time, I felt like a real runner. This maybe the closest feeling I can get to being an Olympian.

Maybe I can be famous too like a Kardashian? Naaah!

 

(*Bulldogs is the athletic team of Drake University)

(**all photos taken with an iPhone) 

Life’s Worries

A couple of weeks ago, I took care of a patient who was admitted in the hospital for shortness of breath. She has COPD (CDOP if you’re obsessive-compulsive), a disease due to smoking, and went into acute respiratory failure.

The patient was really struggling to breathe thus the Emergency Room doctor placed her on a non-invasive positive pressure ventilator (NIPPV), a device similar to CPAP used by people with sleep apnea, to provide assistance in her respiration. She was then transferred to our ICU.

On the first day that I rounded on her she was still on the NIPPV and unable to talk much, as it was almost impossible to talk with that mask on, for it’s like having a blower in your face. I would not be able to hear her clearly anyway even if she wants to speak. Though I examined her thoroughly, I limited my history-taking to questions she can answer by yes or no.

The next day she was much better and we have weaned her off the NIPPV. She was sitting in a chair, breathing much easier and looking comfortable.

I pulled up a chair and sat beside her and talked. She admits she has been diagnosed with COPD for years, and has even been on oxygen at home. But sadly to say she continues to smoke. Damn cigarettes! I guess old habit never die.

I told her that it was vital that she quit smoking. Yet in the back of my mind, she has done quite good despite of her bad habits, for she was 84 years old after all, and she still lives independently, all by herself.

Then when I asked her how can I help her quit smoking, she relayed to me that she smoke because she was stressed out.

What? She was eighty-four years old and still stressed out? She should be relaxing and enjoying life, or whatever is left of it, at this age.

That was when she told me that she has not gotten over the death of her husband, whom she was married for sixty-one years. He died three years ago. I suppose the heartbreak never heals when you lose somebody you love and lived with, for that long.

If we only peel off our prejudgment and peer behind the puff of cigarette smoke, we will learn that these people are hurting inside.

Then she said that she was also worried about somebody she knew longer than her husband. She was worried about her mother.

Her mother? What?!!!

Wait a minute, was my patient confused? Too much medications maybe? Was she having ICU delirium? Or does she have the beginning of dementia perhaps?

But as I talked to her more, I ascertained that she was very lucid and of clear mind. She was indeed worried and stressed out about her mother, who has been in and out of the hospital for the past several months.

Her mother was 103 years old!

I came out of the ICU room with a smile. I was ever so determined to help my patient get well. And maybe if I can get her to relax and convince her to quit smoking, she will live more than 103.

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view from the hospital’s corridor

(photo taken with an iPhone)

Shivering Tulips

Arctic blast is back in our area. After a few days of relatively warm days with some melting in our piles of snow, our temperature is again in single digits (Fahrenheit). The next few days does not look encouraging either. Afterall, we are still in the thick of winter.

As I was seeing patients in our clinic today, one of the constant small talk that I have with my patients is the cold weather. With most of my patients having significant pulmonary condition, this subfreezing temperature is such a struggle for them. My parting shot with them as they get out the door is “stay warm!”

The last patient I had this morning was someone who had been followed in our clinic for more than ten years. Ten years is more of a rarity to be followed by us, as most of them are with advanced lung disease and thus they do not last that long.

He is an old sweet man with a sunny disposition, but crippled with severe COPD, and had been oxygen-dependent for several years now. Damn cigarettes!

He is on maximum medications, inhalers and nebulizers we can place him on, but despite of that, he admits that minimal exertion, or even talking, makes him short of breath. Though he said that not talking much is probably good for him, as his wife who always accompanies him on his visits, laughed with his confession.

As we talked about the deep freeze, he stated that it was too cold outside that the “tulips were shivering.” I told him that it was not yet spring, and so it was not time for the tulips to get out anyway.

When I asked him how he was doing, he said that he was “ready to be planted.”

Was he still talking about the tulips? Or did he mean being “planted 6 feet under ground?”

I know he understands that we have not much to offer him, yet he always come to his appointments, even just to chat with me and my nursing staff. Sometimes I feel that a plain doctor visit gives some of our patients a chance to get off their mundane schedule and provide something to take their mind off their existential misery temporarily. And by merely showing up in our clinic, they let us know that they are still alive.

Don’t get me wrong, I am happy to see them. I know as well, that they are happy to be seen. Or perhaps they are happy just to be here.

Knowing that his condition will only get worse, our discussions wandered to what his advance directives might be. He said that if it comes to a point that he cannot breathe on his own, he does not want to be placed on a ventilator or a machine to keep him alive; and if his heart stops, he said that he does not want to be resuscitated. In other words, he just want to go gently and naturally into the night.

I even offered that I can refer him to Palliative Care Medicine or even Hospice, but he said that he was satisfied with my management and did not feel we need to do anything else at this time.

As I walked out of the exam room, I called out to him, “stay warm!”

He looked at me meaningfully, as if he expects something more.

Quickly realizing my comment, I said that I wanted him to “stay warm” from this arctic temperature. To “stay warm,” that is to keep his sweet and positive disposition. And to “stay warm,” that means staying alive and warm-blooded, and being above ground.

With that I added “I’ll see you in spring.”  I hope the tulips will not be shivering. Nor weeping.

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(*image from pinterest.com)

 

Home Sweet Home

Several weeks ago, when my son came home from a weekend autumn camping, as soon as he entered our door, he shouted: “Hoooooome, sweet home!”

Maybe he sorely missed his comfortable bed after sleeping for 2 nights in a tent and on a hard ground. Or maybe he was yearning for a warm shower, as he had not showered for 2 days, for the campsite where they went to did not have shower facility. Or maybe he got sick enough from using the porta potty, as again they did not have restrooms with running water. Or maybe he was longing for his mother’s delicious home cooking. Or maybe he just missed home.

But this was not an isolated occurrence. In fact, every time we come home, whether it was from a rugged camping, or from a luxurious outing, from a short excursion, or from a long road trip, or even from a dream vacation, like Disney World and Hawaii, he still calls “Hoooome, sweet home!” as soon as we enter our current home here in Iowa.

That makes me ponder, do my kids really regard our home as a “sweet home?”

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Recently, my wife have transposed our old video cassette tapes into DVD’s and we watched a few of the tapes we have. I enjoyed specifically the ones when my daughter and son were much younger, when we first moved in to this house. Our first summer. Our first Thanksgiving. Our first winter. Our first Christmas. Our first Christmas tree. And other special events.

But there are also the “not-so-special” events that may have not been videotaped, but captured in my memory nonetheless. My kids running in the yard. Raking the fallen leaves and then jumping into the pile of leaves. Watching the deer in the yard, eating our flowers. My wife chasing the deer away. Plowing and shoveling snow (though that’s not my favorite). My kids making snow forts and igloos. The hurried breakfast. The more relaxed dinner. The bedtime rituals with my children. My kids playing music. And the times we just plain playing goofy.

We have lived in this house for barely 10 years, yet I am already packing so much memories in this home, that will last a lifetime. I know I have cherished memories from our home in Sampaloc Manila where I spent more than 25 years of my life. But those memories are now being rivaled in this home where we currently live.

As I looked into every corner of this house, there’s a fond and loving memory attached to every nook of it. The porch. The stairways. The kitchen. The family room. The sun room. The basketball driveway. The yard. And even the guest bedroom, where my mother who have recently passed on, spent several months with us, every time she came for a visit.

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Yet in the end, I don’t think it is the house itself.  Rather it is the people that we surround ourselves and share these beautiful moments with, that is really more precious. And those people, we call our family.

As we approach another Thanksgiving season, just like the Pilgrims of old, who celebrated and gave thanks for their new country and their new home, I join them, and as a pilgrim myself, in thanking God for our home sweet home.

Last night, as we experienced an early snowfall this season, and after driving, or should I say slipping and sliding in the snow, and after a few tense moments of treacherous travel, we finally arrived home safe and sound. After pulling up in our driveway and entering our garage, my son once again exclaimed, “Hooooome sweet home!”

Right after he got out of the car and entered the house, he also complained, “Mom, it still smell like fish in here!”

It is home alright.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)