Blast from the Past

Change. That is the only constant thing in this ever-changing world.

Not too long ago, we cannot get by our daily lives without the typewriter, mimeograph machine, telephone booth (not just Superman), cassette tape recorder, floppy disc, and film negatives. Do you even know what they are?

When was the last time you placed a 35 mm roll of film in the film cartridge of your camera? Or when was the last time you held a real printed photograph instead of viewing it on a computer monitor or from a smart phone?

In the world of medical radiographic images, the same is true. In our practice, rarely do we see a real printed x-ray film nowadays. Instead, everything is now digital or electronic.

Gone are the days when we have to wait for several minutes for an x-ray technician to develop the film in a dark room. Then wait for it to dry. Then hand you the film. And then you have to find an x-ray view box to hang it so you can read it.

Today, we view radiographic images digitally through PACS (Picture Archiving and Communication System), which is a network of computers used by radiology department, that we can access through our desktop, laptop, tablet, or even our smart phone. And if a referred patient comes with an x-ray taken by a radiology department not in our network, he brings in his x-ray images in a CD that we can load and view.

However the other day, a new patient referred to us came in with a real copy of her chest x-ray film. A real film!

I have not held one of these for a while. I missed the feel of its smooth texture on my fingers. The crisp sound of the film as you pull it out of the envelope and wave it softly in the air. Its peculiar slight acidic scent (from the x-ray developer and fixer chemical solution). The unmistakable exotic taste of its…..ah, er……. no, I have not done that.

Who knew that a plain x-ray film will bring me such nostalgia?

As I hold the x-ray film in my hand, I looked around for a viewbox (negatoscope is the technical term), but can’t find one. I guess they don’t install them anymore. I was in one of our newly constructed multi-specialty satellite clinic, and they don’t have a negatoscope in the whole building. None. Zilch. Nada.

So how did I view the x-ray?

I held the film against the bright window and squint my eyes a little, just like the “old” days.

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Right after graduating from medical school, almost twenty-five years ago, I worked in a small (and I mean really small) rural hospital in Plaridel Bulacan, in the Philippines. There whenever I ordered an x-ray, I even helped with shooting and developing it. That’s why I cannot forget the aroma of the freshly developed x-ray film. And while the film was still wet, I would hold it against the light, squint my eyes, and read it.

That was just like yesterday. Yet so much have changed.

As I looked at the film of my current patient, I also peered through the window and looked outside at the present world I’m in, while I relived and reminisced the past through the window of my mind.

(*photo taken with an i-Phone; and in case you’re asking, the chest x-ray was normal)

Birthday Prayer

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” — Reinhold Niebuhr

In my room of our home in Manila, was a poster with a picture of the sun shining through tree branches, and with the above quotation written on it. Even though I don’t have that poster anymore, the message seems to have forever imprinted in my mind.

With another birthday looming on the horizon, it’s that time again for me for an inventory.

No, I’m not doing an inventory of all the birthday gifts I received over the years, nor all of the properties I have. Inventory of my properties will be much easier, since I really don’t have much I can call my own – the banks, credit and lending companies owns most of them. I’m doing an inventory of who, what and where I am, at this point in my life.

As the above quotation said, there are things we cannot change and can change. So I have to accept my receding and thinning hairline. Wearing a hairpiece, is never an option for me (though the wig that Washington used and was common during those days, the one with side curls, looks interesting). And I should do something for my bulging and flabby belly. That means I need to keep running and do more crunches.

I read not too long ago that the average life span in the US is now pegged at 78 years old. This is higher than what it was several years ago, and people are living longer. I know I am already a few years past the halfway point of this average life span. There is no denying that I am in my middle age.

The problem is that, between my father and my two grandfathers (father’s and mother’s side), nobody among them lived past middle age. I have to contend with that genes. I cannot choose or change my family and its genetic pool. However, I definitely can change my lifestyle into a healthy one to improve my longevity.

But there is more to life than health and durability, even though those are important. Our relationships, the way we deal with our neighbors, friends and family, I believe are more precious. Things that really matter — what we want to be remembered, when we are gone.

Yes, I know I cannot change the world. I cannot change other people. Definitely I cannot change my enemies, but I can change my attitude towards them, and make them friends. I cannot even change my wife, but I can accept her as she is. Nor can I change my kids, but at least I can guide them. The only person I can change is me.

Boat in a Storm (by John Lund)

(image from here)

I am thankful for this blessed journey. I am thankful for where I have been, where I am now, and where this voyage will take me. As I continue to navigate in this sea of life, I know I cannot change the storms, the winds, and the waves. But I can change and adjust my sail.

There is one more thing I can do: trust the One who controls the winds and the waves, that He will guide me through.