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.

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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.

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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 (photo below).

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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)

Barn and Silo

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(*photo taken with an iPhone during my morning run)

Story behind the photo:

Few months after we moved to Iowa in 2004, we were scouting for a permanent place to live in. We found a vacant lot for sale, whose front view is the above photo. We fell in love with the place and the view, a typical Iowa landscape of farm, barn and silo. However at that time, we were not ready to buy, and somebody else bought the property and built a house there. We were crushed.

I could have been waking up to this view every day! But it was not meant to be.

More than a year later, we found a house less than a mile away from this lot, with such an impressive view as well (maybe even better), which now I wake up to. To this I am very grateful.

Moreover, I can still enjoy the view in the above photo, when I go on my morning run.

New Year, Old Receipts, and Memories

It was New Year’s Day. I woke up early even though I stayed up late the previous night and spent it with the company of friends, and did not sleep until past midnight to welcome the arrival of 2017.

What’s up with me? Even how late I stayed up the night before, I still wake up early the next morning. I think it is how I’m wired or just how I was trained – to wake up before the sun goes up. Though that morning, it was past 6 already, yet it was still dark. It was a Sunday too. No work, and no place I needed to go.

But since I couldn’t sleep anymore, I got out of bed, and searched for something to do. Besides, it is a new year, so better start it right. Plus in the Chinese calendar, this year is the year of the rooster. So we really should be getting up early like the rooster, right? Maybe I should have started crowing cock-a-doodle-doo or tik-ti-la-ok (that’s what Filipino rooster sounds like) to wake up the whole neighborhood.

I thought of cleaning up and vacuuming the house, but my wife and kids were still asleep, so I looked for something to do that was more quiet and muted. I found myself in the office room, where the computer and the file box of bill statements were, and decided to do the bills.

What better way to start a new year, than paying debts and doing bills?

Even though I do my bills on-line, I still keep paper bills and receipts on file. As my storage box was already bursting with old bill statements and receipts, I knew I had to get rid of some of the old ones to make room for the new.

As I was looking through the files and files of old bills, I came across the receipt and paperwork of our very first family car here in America. It was a second-hand Honda with about 50,000 miles mileage. We bought that car after I finished my training and after landing a real job. That was 17 years ago and we were still living in Florida at that time.

Having only one car at that time, and with no good public transportation system where we live, my wife and my daughter, a toddler at that time, would go with me when I go to work in the morning. They would wait in the car at the parking lot while I do my hospital rounds. From the hospital we will drive to my clinic and drop me off there. Then my wife would take the car to go wherever they needed to go, and just pick me up later in the afternoon. That way they will not be housebound the whole day, plus my wife could also do some errands like grocery shopping.

When we moved to Iowa in the middle of a harsh winter, we were ill prepared to drive in the snow, sleet and ice. And one snowy morning I ended up driving, I mean slipping, into a ditch that the car needed to be extricated. That was when I decided to trade-in our old Honda, and got myself a car with an all-wheel drive that can frolic in the snow.

While sorting old receipts, I also dug out a hospital bill from Scottsdale Arizona, issued about a decade ago. I attended a medical conference in that city, and brought my whole family along.

While in Arizona, my son who was 3 at that time, started to breathe heavily. He then also started to wheeze, that I could hear even without a stethoscope. Being a trained lung specialist, I knew that there was something wrong. That was the first time we learned that he has asthma, and that he was having a bad asthma attack.

We brought him to the nearby hospital. Not long after, he was given a nebulizer treatment (asthma medicine given via mist) in the Emergency Room. While the nebulizer was being administered with a “cute” pediatric oxygen mask that was shaped like a dinosaur snout, my son was crying. I asked him if he was in pain or if the treatment was bothering him, but that was not it.

When I continued to query what was wrong, he finally said, “It’s purple!”  He was referring to the “cute” oxygen mask that he thought was for girls. That was also the first time we learned that he does not like purple, nor does he like Barney.

I also found from my file box, stacks of old receipts from the gas company, including our very first one when they initially filled the propane gas tank of our house here in Iowa. We have gas tanks (LPG cylinders) too, when I was still living in the Philippines, but the gas tank we have here in Iowa is bigger. Much, much bigger.

Since we live beyond the outskirts of town, there are no gas pipe connection from the city to our home. So we have a large (up to 1000 gallons) underground gas tank, which needed to be filled regularly. Propane gas heats our home during winter, and powers the boiler for hot water. Even our fireplace is propane powered. Where we live, people could endure summers without air-conditioning, but would not survive winters without heaters.

When I was growing up in Manila, I wondered how could Santa Claus dropped by in a house without a chimney? I could have not thought that one day, I would be living in a house with a fireplace and a chimney, even though I don’t believe in Santa anymore. I could have not thought that winters could be this bitterly cold as well.

Even though gas was important for us, I am sure though that it was not just propane gas that kept us warm. In our home, the embers of love is much more important than the furnace and the fireplace. We have spent 12 happy winters in this house, and counting.

I was so absorbed in my thoughts that I have not noticed that the sun was already way up in the horizon. Who would imagine that a file box of bills would be such a treasure trove of nostalgia and memories?

Despite the sentimentality associated with them, I still have to make room in the file box for the new ones. Just like facing a new year – out with the old and on with the new. So I took out the old and outdated receipts, and toss them through the paper shredder.

As for the memories, I am keeping them.

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Nothing To Do In Iowa

Summer here is on its last leg, and autumn is knocking on our doors. Yet we are still trying to squeeze out the fun of what’s left of this summer.

Like the summers before, we again had a few friends and relatives from out-of-state who visited and stayed with us here in Iowa. They came from New York, from Florida, and even from out of the country like Taiwan and the Philippines.

One friend who came from Florida, was told by her office mates when they learned that she was flying to Iowa, that there’s nothing to see and do in Iowa. Except if you’re a Presidential candidate and you’re campaigning.

True, Iowa is not a tourist destination, like California or Florida. There may not be much to see here. But for our friends, seeing us, maybe is reason enough for them to visit Iowa.

Yet we tried our best to show our visitors what is here to see. We toured them around the city of Des Moines, the covered bridges of Madison County, and the farm fields of Iowa. Some of them even had the chance to go to the annual Iowa State Fair.

They said that our state fair is truly part of Americana. For where else can you go around the fair grounds while chomping on a whole turkey leg or a pork chop on a stick? Or munch deep-fried Oreos or deep-fried Sneakers? Or see the biggest cow, or the biggest pumpkin? Or see the famed butter cow sculpture?

This summer, we also had the chance to visit other states, like Montana and California. We have a few relatives in California, including my mother-in-law, who sadly to say, got awfully sick and eventually passed away during our visit there. Thus our vacation had a sudden turn of sad events.

She was hospitalized in a small hospital in Hollywood. In fact, the hospital was a couple of blocks from Sunset Boulevard and all the touristy spots in Hollywood. But driving back and forth to the hospital and where we’re staying was not a pleasant trip, as we were most of the time stuck in terrible traffic in the Los Angeles area.

photo taken after we visited my mother-in-law at the hospital

My mother-in-law stayed in the ICU for a few days, and I had the chance to talk to her physician. I introduced myself as an ICU doctor as well, so we can have a direct talk about the nitty-gritty details involved, as well as management, and of course prognosis.

The ICU physician was nice to me. Though he was in a bit of disbelief that I am practicing in Iowa. Perhaps he, like many others, have the impression that there’s nothing but corn and cows in Iowa.

He even asked my kids what do they do for “fun” in Iowa. My kids just politely said “a lot” without giving much details. I’m sure the good doctor was expecting answers like going to Disney, or visiting a theme park (which we also have though not as famous), or going to the beach.

My kids could have answered, how about catching fireflies. Or riding ATV in the cornfields with our friends. Or riding bike in dirt trails. Or perhaps just watching the sunset, or counting the stars.

As he was leaving, my mother-in-law’s doctor told me that he felt “sorry” that I live in Iowa. I just smiled and did not answer. It was past eight in the evening, and I knew he was not even on-call that night for he told me so, and yet he was still making rounds and seeing patients.

Me in Iowa? If I’m not on-call, I’m done with work by five in the afternoon, and I’m doing something “fun” by that time. Or maybe I’m just home spending time with my family.

In reality, it was me, who felt sorry for him.

For somebody who have lived in Manila, New Jersey, New York City, California, and Florida, I know what I’m talking about. And that’s why I chose to live where I’m living now.

Yes, there’s nothing to do in Iowa.

me and the bike trail in the middle of cornfiels


 

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)

Flying Home

The other day on my way back from doing some errands, I saw a large flock of migratory birds in a very long V-formation. It was one of the longest perfect V-pattern I have seen for a while. Since I was driving through a less traveled dirt road, I was able to stop and snap a picture of it.

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It was an amazing sight to say the least, with their wonderful flight formation, and all 100 or so of them (yes, I counted them), maintaining their alignment.

Why do birds fly in the V-formation anyway? Studies have shown that they do this to catch the updraft wind created by the flapping of the wings of the one preceding them. This make their flight more aerodynamic and efficient. But what about the bird in the very front? It is doing all the hard work, right? Well, it was observed that they take turns on being the lead flyer. Interesting.

As I was watching them, I have noted that they were heading North. A little more Northwest to be exact, according to the compass on my iPhone. That means this cold winter is finally ending and spring is coming, as the migratory birds are coming back home from their migration down south.

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Another question that comes to mind is how do they navigate their way without using GPS? Research indicates that they employ many techniques like using the position of the sun or the stars, or rely on big landmarks like lakes or mountains. But the most fascinating part is that birds seem to have a built-in compass in their brain, like a magnet, that can sense the Earth’s magnetic field, so they know which way is North and which way is South. They do have GPS after all.

Yet the most intriguing part to me is why do these migratory birds fly back North to the place where they were born (or hatch) every spring? They could have stayed in the South where it is always warm and save them all the trouble of flying so many miles. Do you suppose they do this to earn frequent flyer miles? Every year they come back to the place where their parents raised them, a place where they spend the first summer of their lives. They do always come back home.

I don’t think only migratory birds are like that. I think many creatures including us, humans, long to go back home. There might be innumerable hassles in traveling back. There may be chronic ills pestering the land where we came from. Yet there is something magical to that place where we were born and raised. Something more than mere nostalgia. Something much deeper. And it does not matter how far we have wandered away. It does not matter how long we have been gone. The connection and pull of that place we have once called home is always there.

I was musing with all this flying home subject matter when I was interrupted by an announcement overhead. I adjusted my seatbelt and looked outside my window.

I am nearing home.

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(*photo taken with iPhone)

Daddy is Home

It was a long day.

In reality, it had been a series of long days, and long weeks, of a long month. You see, I have been the ICU attending physician for the past 4 weeks, and the stress of work and taking care of very sick patients was like a dragon breathing down my neck. It was wearing me down.

I came home feeling depleted and defeated.

Even though it was late, my wife and kids were just happy to see me home. My wife has even waited for me to eat dinner, though I knew she was tired and hungry too. It felt good to be home after such an arduous day.

Before we went to bed, we had a family prayer, just like every night. My son led the prayer, and I heard him say, “Thank you God, for bringing Daddy home.”

Suddenly, all the day’s cares melted away. I felt so blessed.

As I rest my head on the pillow, I thought of the other fathers in the world that were not able to come home. The overseas contract workers. The soldiers deployed somewhere away from their home. And the others for some reason or another that cannot come home tonight. Including our patients that were languishing in the ICU. I felt sad for them and their kids who cannot say the prayer of thanks that my son did.

I especially thought of the father I took care earlier today. He will not come home. Ever.

May he rest in peace. And I pray that his family find peace.

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waiting for daddy

(*photo from here)

The Wedding

The young couple looks gorgeous that day. He looks impressive in his impeccable Marine Corps Dress Blue uniform. While she looks beaming in her gorgeous flowing white dress with a beautiful bouquet of flowers in her hands.

The minister was ready. The most important guests were in attendance and ready. The place was basking in radiant lights and ready. It was time for a wedding.

Many would dream to have their wedding in a big historic cathedral. Others would prefer in a more Edenic scene, like an enchanting garden. While some would choose a more relaxed yet romantic place, like an exotic beach.

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photo I took in a beach at Ilocos Norte

But the wedding that I witnessed did not happen in any of the above special places. Instead it happened in one of our mundane Intensive Care Unit (ICU) room.

Yes, you read it right, a hospital ICU room.

At least the room has a big window with a view of an old nearby church. At least the room was warm and bright, as it was gloomy and cold outside in that wintry afternoon. Not to mention that it was a very expensive room to be in. A day’s stay in the ICU is far more costly than a night in Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York City.

The groom’s mother had been sick for a while. She had been in and out of the hospital for several months for a variety of medical problems. And now she got seriously ill and had been lingering and languishing in our ICU for about a month. She had been on mechanical ventilator and we were unable to get her weaned off of it.

The groom’s father had been sick as well. In fact, he was admitted also in the hospital and just got out a few days ago.

But the young couple wanted to commit to their vow to each other, whatever the circumstances may be. Perhaps they have been planning for their wedding for some time. The groom even came home from overseas where he was stationed. And I’m sure that the original plan was not to get married in a hospital. But you roll along with what life offers you. It must go on.

So in the presence of their parents and choice guests, in that cramped hospital room; there was no bright glare of church’s grand chandelier, but instead a glow of ICU floodlights; no wedding bells were ringing, instead intravenous pumps were alarming; no melodious birds were singing, instead the constant chirping of the ICU monitors; no sounds of ocean waves lapping on the sand, just the low hum of the ventilator: where the two lovers exchanged their sacred “I do’s.”

There is no such thing as a perfect place for a wedding. No such thing as a perfect day to get married. There is no perfect circumstances. Not even perfect couple. Just perfect love.

In the midst of sickness and suffering, when life hangs precariously in a dance between life and death, in a world of uncertainty and unclear tomorrow, love still conquers all. It always will.

May you all have a meaningful Valentine’s.

*****

(*This is the second ICU wedding I witnessed; read the other one here.)

One Sleepless Night

I woke up to the sound of crying. It was coming from my son’s bedroom. It was not a wailing cry but rather of a quiet whimpering. I am not a light sleeper, for I can sleep through thunder, storms and screaming sirens. But somehow I was awakened, perhaps it was the parent in me that heightened my sensation to this kind of sounds.

I called my son to come to our bedroom. When he came in and I asked him what was wrong, he answered matter-of-factly, “I cannot sleep.” It was about midnight.

It was just our third night after we came back from the Philippines. With the 14-hour time difference between Manila and Des Moines, it was understandable that our day and night biorhythm was way out-of-order. Though I confess, I had no problem falling asleep that night, as I already started working the next day we arrived, and with my ICU rotation, that made me very tired. In fact, I was even on-call the night before, so my body was so sleep deprived that no amount of jet-lag can keep me from sleeping.

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Goodbye Manila! (photo taken after taking off at NAIA)

I asked my son to hop into our bed and tried to console him. He is usually jolly most of the times and we know that he is unafraid of the dark. Perhaps it was being alone in the dark with nobody to talk to, while everybody else was sleeping that made him doleful. Or maybe it was the fact that for the past couple of weeks he was sleeping with lots of people (his cousins) in a room, and now all of a sudden he is by his lonesome in his bedroom and he is missing all of them. Or maybe it was just the exasperation of lying awake for more than 2 hours and cannot fall asleep.

My son then asked me what can he do to fall asleep. He asked me this not because he knows that I am a Board-certified sleep expert, but because I am his dad. I told him that he can read a book, but he was not interested in that. I then suggested that he can eat a banana for it has tryptophan that can induce the body to produce melatonin, a natural sleep-inducer, but he was not convinced with my science. (Of course I won’t offer him to take any medications for sleep.) That was when I told him to count sheep. He asked me where did I get that silly idea, and I told him that I learned it not from my medical books but rather from Sesame Street, when I was about his age.

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Ernie counting sheep (courtesy of Sesame Street)

At that point, he already stopped crying. I quietly accompanied him out of our bedroom and back to his room so as not to wake up his mom whom we left sleeping in our bed. I told him he can play with his Lego while I climbed up in my son’s bed and lay there just to keep him company. Maybe I can finally get back to sleep.

However, as I laid there in my son’s bedroom, it was my turn to be wide awake. My mind cannot stop wandering…..

I thought of the many times that I have read bedtime stories to this boy who is now contentedly playing on the floor, and the thousand of times I have tucked him to bed. I also recalled the instance that he called me one night in distress and would not go to sleep as there was a “big” (it was really an itsy-bitsy) spider on the wall near his bed. There were also a few opposite occasions in the past, that we brought him to an evening event but he fell asleep through the show and missed it all. In fact, it was just a little more than a week ago when we were in Manila, and our relatives wanted to show us the new dancing fountain in Rizal Park, but my son was too tired and fell asleep throughout the trip. I ended up taking a video of the fountain instead and showed it to him in the morning. Oh there were more wonderful memories……

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Luneta’s new dancing fountain (photo taken with iPhone)

After an hour of me lying awake in my son’s bedroom, my wife woke up and came in to the room and joined me in my son’s bed. Several minutes later, my son finally got tired and grab his sleeping bag from the closet and slept on the floor, while me and my wife laid in his bed. Not too long after he was in La La land.

I hope someday my son will remember this night, and appreciate what his old man did for him. I did not do anything really, except laid in his bed and kept him company in one long sleepless night.

Or maybe someday when I am in my golden years, and I feel alone in the darkness of our retirement home, that I will pick up the phone in the wee hours of the morning and call my son to return the favor, and tell him, “Son, I cannot sleep.”