Freshman

August 1984.

I was waiting inside an air-conditioned office of a very old edifice, the Main Building of the University of Santo Tomas (UST). Barely 2 months since the school had started of my freshman year, and I was already sitting inside the Dean’s office of the College of Science. Just like the notorious mandate, “to the Principal’s office,” this incident was not much different. I was there to drop a class in which I was not welcomed anymore.

Few days before that, I was in the Physical Education (PE) class of about 30 or so male students. It was Gymnastics I, which I really don’t have any interest, but needed to take, as it was part of my curriculum in the blocked section. The instructor was an older, yet still hulking man, whom I suppose was a gymnast in his heyday.

We really did not do a lot of gymnastics as I recall. It was more of running and walking around the grandstand, than rolling in the mat or tumbling on the gym floor. Definitely we did not ride on the pommel horse or hang on the high bar. It was in one of those running sessions around the grandstand that I got into trouble.

We were supposed to run around the UST grandstand for several rounds. Seven times around maybe, I don’t really remember. But as we were running, I felt the urge of nature call. Damn nature call! I have no choice but to answer.

So I slipped out of the ranks and went into the bathroom which was behind the grandstand. After I relieved myself, instead of running back and catching up with the class, I waited for the group to make one round and decided to join them when they come around to where I was. That was my costly mistake.

The instructor noted, that there were several students that broke out of the ranks and stop the group from running. So I was “caught” not in the group and have to run to the place where the teacher ordered the group to stop. The problem was it was not just me who was not in the group. There were five of us. The instructor thought it was a mutiny! Though to be honest, I don’t know any of the other boys, nor did we planned this together.

The teacher was really mad. He said that we were “cheating” and trying to take the easy way out by not completing the ordered number of runs around the grandstand. Instead of letting us run to make it up, he already decided that we were uninvited to join his class anymore. We were told to drop the class. No ifs, and no discussion.

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UST Grandstand

As I was walking away across the field from the grandstand, it started to rain. The song “Crying in the Rain,” a remake by Aha, which was a hit at that time, was blaring loudly in my mind. And like the song goes, I did my crying in the rain.

That’s what brought me in the Dean’s office. No, not the crying, but the “cheating.”

When the Dean of Science asked me what was the reason I was dropping the PE class, I told her the whole story. I understand the consequence that by dropping that class, even how trivial it may be, I would not be eligible to apply for the Accelerated Class in Biology which was what I was eyeing to be in. Dropping a class, would delay me a semester.

The Accelerated Class was an elite group of students taking the Batchelor of Science, Major in Biology, in 3 years instead of the regular 4 years. They do it with increased workload every semester combined with summer classes. This was a fast track to enter UST Medical School. Only the best students with academic distinction were invited to join that class. Now, that opportunity was slipping away from me.

The Dean then asked me point blankly if I really want to drop the class. I honestly told her that I don’t want to, but I really have no other choice. The PE instructor kind of told me it’s either I drop the class while I can, or fail.

The Dean listened to my story intently. She barely knew me, since I was a first year student and the first semester was only 2 months in session. But I think she saw something in me: a 16-year-old lanky kid who needed a second chance.

The Dean then made a phone call to the PE Department. After a few minutes of what sounds like negotiating, she told me with a smile that I don’t have to drop the PE class. But I needed to attend the Gymnastic class regularly and to be in my best behavior. She never have to tell me twice, that was all I needed.

*******

January 2016.

I am back in the UST campus. I decided to drop by at the Main Building, where the College of Science is. I am actually attending a seminar at the Medicine building as part of our 25th year graduation anniversary from UST College of Medicine and Surgery. But I wanted to visit the College of Science as well, and perhaps see the Dean. Though I found out that the one I knew, have long retired.

I was just hoping to let her know that the kid that once sat in her office, who eventually joined the Accelerated Class, and made it to the Dean’s list, has come back to pay homage and give thanks for the second chance he was given.

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UST Main building today

*******

P.S. Maybe I should wander to the PE department too and let them know, that the kid who was unable to complete his run around the grandstand before, is still running. Yes, running half-marathons, even after 32 years since freshman.

(*photos taken during my last homecoming)

 

The Christmas Homecoming

He arrived with much fanfare. Clad in a brightly orange suit, with two escorts on each side. He made a jingling sound with every small step he made. People turned around and looked as he walked and passed through the hospital corridors, for it was an unusual sight to see.  But he did not mind their glaring stares. He came for a special purpose, and that’s what matters. He came to see his father.

His father laid in our ICU. He suffered an acute and severe bleed to his head. The bleeding was so extensive that he required a neurosurgical procedure to evacuate the large collection of blood inside his skull, and placed a shunt in his brain to relieve the high pressure, in an effort to save his life.

However despite of all the intervention, his condition did not improve. In fact, it even got worse. After the surgery, he had more bleeding and swelling to his brain. And no further surgery could fix or decompress the pressure that was squashing his brain. There were no “miracle” medicines that can be infused on him that would make him better. No further medical intervention left that could be done to save him. His condition was unsurvivable. Sooner or later, all the life-sustaining machines  hooked on him would be deemed worthless as he would be pronounced brain-dead.

Due to the grim development of events, the patient’s family were all in agreement to discontinue all life support. Though they had one request before that happens. They pleaded for the patient’s son to come before he dies. A son who had not seen his father for a long time.

In the past 10 years that I have been an ICU physician, I have signed for diverse medical and non-medical requests – a disability form for a patient who was critically ill, a leave of absence for a relative who’s loved one was in our ICU, a letter to the military requesting for a deployed soldier overseas to be permitted to come home to be with his mother in her last days, or a letter to the US consulate for a patient’s mother in a foreign country requesting for a visa to see her son, who was in near-death.

This time I signed a request for a detainee to be released briefly from prison, to visit his dying father.

And so he came.

The brightly colored clothes was not because it was the holiday season, but it was the standard issued jumpsuit from the prison. The jingling sounds as he walked, was not from trinkets or bells to announce some holiday cheer, but rather from the chink of the chains that binds his ankles. He brought no gifts as he came empty-handed, except for the handcuffs. There were guards that flanked him as he made his way through, and people watched and stared, but it was not a parade.

He was led into the ICU room where his father laid. Her mother who was at the bedside, cryingly welcomed him with open arms. It was an embrace of acceptance to their “wayward” son. Like a homecoming of a prodigal son, if you will. Yes, it was a sort of homecoming alright. A very sad homecoming indeed.

As the son stood silently beside the bed of his comatose and dying father, the tears began to flow from him. Prison, I supposed, did not harden him enough to be devoid of all emotions. If only his father can see his tears, but it was too late. Whatever demons he had in the past, and I don’t care to know, he was still human after all. Just like you and me.

Was the tears for his father, who he knew he failed, and who he would never see again? Or was the tears for himself, as he had caused his family such heartache and disgrace? Was it tears of painful loss and farewell? Or was it tears of remorse and repentance? Or maybe it was a combination of all of those reasons. Whatever it was, he alone knows.

There will be no singing of Christmas carols, I guess, in his dark and lonely cell tonight.

Ang Pagbabalik (Bittersweet Homecoming)

Nuong isang buwan ay umuwi ako at ang aking pamilya para mag-pasko sa Pilipinas. Ipinagpalit ko ang aking “White Christmas” sa “Warm Christmas” (just like the ones I use to know). Matapos ang labing limang taon ng pagce-celebrate ng pasko sa ibang bansa, ay matamis na muling maranasan ang pasko sa sariling bayan.

Natikman ko uli ang bagong lutong puto bumbong at bibingka, sabay higop sa mainit na salabat. Muli kong napagmasdan ang mga kumukutikutitap na parol na nakasabit sa mga bintana ng mga bahay. Masarap uling makantahan ng “sa may bahay ang aming bati, merry christmas na maluwalhati” at “tenkyu, tenkyu, ang babarat ninyo, tenkyu”.

At siyempre muli kong nakita ang mga ngiti at naramdaman ang mga yakap ng aking nanay, ate, mga tita, tito, pinsan, kumare, kumpare, kapitbahay at kaibigan. Nagmano naman ang sangkatutak na pamangkin, inaanak at mga apo (apo sa pamangkin; hindi pa ako ganun katanda). At kahit nabutas ang aking bulsa, ay naging masaya naman na muli kong makasama ang mga mahal sa buhay na matagal ko nang hindi nakita.

Nadagagan pa ang kasiyahan ng aking pag-uwi dahil ginanap ilan araw bago mag-pasko ang aming ika-dalawampu’t limang anibersaryo ng highschool gaduation. Mula sa iba’t ibang sulok ng lupa (5 galing sa ibang bansa) ay muli kaming nagsama-samang magkaka-klase sa isang mahiwagang gabi ng reunion. Pagkatapos ng mahabang panahon, ay muli kong nakita si patay, si kuto, si kambing, si bubuli, (sa reunion ba ako pumunta o sa freak show?) at iba pang dati kong mga kasangga at kasama sa hirap at ligaya ng highschool life.

Matamis muling sariwain ang mga ala-ala ng nakaraan.

Ngunit may malungkot na bahagi rin ang aking pag-uwi. Habang ako ay nasa Pilipinas, ay naospital ang aking ina. Dalawang gabi rin siyang naglagi sa ospital (isang gabi rin akong natulog sa ospital upang magbantay, daig pa ang mamahaling hotel sa gastos).

Rectal cancer ang naging hatol sa aking nanay.

Maraming mga tanong ang naiwang nakabitin, kasama na rito ang walang kasiguraduhang bukas. Kaya’t nang ako’y magpaalam na upang magbalik sa Amerika ay hindi ako mabitiwan na aking nanay. Tanong niya “Anak, magkikita pa ba tayo ng ako’y buhay?” Mahirap lunukin. Parang tinik sa lalamunan na hindi maalis. Sino nga ba ang may alam ng kasagutan sa tanong ng aking ina.

Matapos kong muling maranasan ang sandaling kasiyahan ng pag-babalik bayan, at aking muling lisanin ang aking mga kamag-anak at ang maysakit kong ina, hindi maiaalis na muli kong tanungin ang aking sarili kung tama nga ba ang aking pasyang manirahan sa ibang bansa.

Panahon lang ang makapagsasabi.