Hospital, Cafeteria, and Sanctuary

I was in charge of the ICU that day and it was quite busy. Though it was not that up-to-my-eyeballs hectic for I still had time to go down to the hospital’s cafeteria for lunch. Many times I would grab meal to-go and head back to the ICU work station and inhale my food while doing some computer charting. That day I had the luxury of eating my lunch more leisurely in the cafeteria itself.

Our hospital’s cafeteria is by no means a fancy place to dine in. It is after all a cafeteria serving hospital food. Nothing against hospital food, but if I have time to spare, I will eat somewhere else. Our cafeteria though has a section that has glass wall and ceiling that gives you an atmosphere of being outside. Yes it is still winter and there’s snow on the ground, but the sun was shining that day, so I went there so I could soak up the sun for a change.

However if the hospital cafeteria is as inviting as the photo below, once I settled there they have to pry me like a barnacle from my seat for me to go back to work.

(photo taken in the Philippines at Manila Bay, a few years ago)

Besides the obvious of getting food to eat, there is another reason I stay a while in the cafeteria. That is, it gives me a chance to be away, even for a short time, from ICU work and from the constant hounding from the patients, residents, nurses, and other doctors. Though almost always, when I’m on a lunch break that is when I am called to the Emergency Department for a new admission.

But that day was different. I was enjoying my lunch alone and my phone was unusually silent. I guess the cafeteria gods were smiling at me. I consider these lunch escape my sanctuary – away from the chaos and the harsh reality of the ICU.

The hospital has a chapel too. But that is not the kind of sanctuary I am talking about here. I just needed a place to take a breather.

Then while I was savoring my food, but more so my silent interlude, a man approached me at my table. How dare him interrupt my break time? Who was he to disturb my lunch? Of course I did not react that way and instead I looked up and gave him a smile. It may be forced, but a smile nonetheless.

The man introduced himself and said that he recognized me from a previous ICU encounter. I learned that I took care of his mother in the ICU several months ago. After he gave me some details, I remembered her mother – she had cancer and became septic after receiving chemotherapy. She got very ill very fast and stayed in our ICU for several days. But she recovered.

The man then pointed to his mother, my previous ICU patient, who was sitting in a table a few paces away. They have an appointment with their oncologist at the Cancer Center and that’s why they were in the hospital.

How many patients have we taken cared of in the ICU who was as sick as she was, and have a chance to meet them later after their discharge and were doing relatively well? Sadly to say, that is a rarity. For many of them even if they get out of the ICU, they were never the same. And some don’t even get out at all, I mean not to the world of the living.

This man just stopped by to thank me. It was an interruption that I would appreciate after all.

Then when I was about to leave, a man that I met in the ICU earlier that day sat in a table near me. He was absorbed in his thoughts while eating by his lonesome. Like me he was also taking a break. Perhaps the cafeteria was his sanctuary too, an escape to the sobering truth in the ICU.

Though this man’s predicament was much different than mine. His daughter was our patient in the ICU, and she was not doing well. She had a tumor in her brain that was surgically removed, but even after more than a week post surgery, she remained on life support. Her life was hanging in the balance with uncertain future. Worse part is, she was only 20 years old.

It is very understandable for her family to be heartbroken. No wonder her father rarely leaves her bedside, except for a brief cafeteria break. As a father who has a daughter with similar age, I can only imagine the agony he’s going through.

I needed to go back to the ICU. We needed to help this young lady and her distraught father.

Electric Outlet Plugs and Precious Memories

I am taking a break from studying. I took two re-certification exams from American Board of Internal Medicine for different subspecialties this year. One in May and another this November. Next up is for another subspecialty, but it’s not until September next year. So I’ll chill out for now.

Because of the preparation I did for the boards, I have spent a lot of time reading and studying. I chose to review in my daughter’s room. Since my daughter is in college now and her room was empty, I took residence there and used her study table which is near the window. It was nice and quiet there plus it has a great view of the outside.

I also downloaded my favorite music for studying in Spotify and had it playing while I was reviewing. My go-to music when I’m studying is Jim Chappell’s. I discovered him back in the early 1990’s when I was preparing for my Philippine Medical Boards. His music is calming and perfect for quiet reflection. It puts me in a right mood too, I guess.

As I was studying in my daughter’s room, I was surrounded by her articles and effects – the stuff toys she had in one corner, the favorite books she read in the book case, the medals and trophies in the shelf, and other sort of things. Lots of memories tied to all of these items.

Then I noticed that some of the electric outlets in her room still has the plastic plug covers. We child-proofed our home and placed these outlet plugs when we moved into this house years ago. She was still a little girl at that time. Obviously we place those covers to protect her from being electrocuted in case she stuck her little fingers on those electric outlets.

But time has passed so quickly it seems that she has grown up and we have not noticed that she don’t need those outlet plug covers anymore. She probably left some outlets covered as she did not need them anyway. The wallpaper in her room may also require some updating as it was from the original owner of the house. But my daughter said she liked them, so we let it be.

I took out the plastic outlet plugs now for there were no use for them anymore. Besides I have to plug my laptop, my phone, and my portable speaker near her study table.

My daughter will be finishing college this year with a degree in Music. In fact, a few nights ago we attended her cello solo recital at the university. In a few months she’ll be performing in her final senior piano recital which will be a bigger event, since piano is her major.

It seems not too long ago that she was sticking her fingers in the peanut butter jar, playing dirt and picking dandelions in our yard. Today, those beloved beautiful fingers are electrifying musical instruments. We are glad we protected them from harm, including injury from electric outlets.

Below is a photo of my daughter during her recent cello recital. She was accompanied by her piano professor.

It is kind of funny that even the simplest of things like an outlet plug cover will evoke such precious memories. Or maybe it was the music that I was listening to that made me.

Alright, I’ll blame it all on the music.

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Here’s Jim Chappell’s song, “Precious Memories.” (video from Youtube)

Bye at the Window

It’s autumn here in our part of the world and the leaves are changing colors. We see them everyday as we peek through our windows. In fact, we can watch the time go by through our windows and witness not just the changing of the leaves.

When our son was much younger, he would always tell us when we leave to wave goodbye at the window. So as our car would pull out of our driveway, he would be watching at the window and waving goodbye. He would feel bad if we would not wave back at him. It was his some sort of reassurance that everything would be alright. He would do this especially with his mom that it became their tender ritual. So when my wife would leave him even for a very short errand he would say, “Bye at the window, Mom.”

Children seems to have a hard time dealing with being left behind. Remember the first time we let them sleep alone in their bedroom? They would do all kind of delaying tactics so that we would not have to leave them in their room for the night.

Like, “Can you check for spiders on my bed?” “There’s none left, the monster under your bed ate them all.”

Or, “Can I have another drink of water?” “That’s your 5th glass of water, you will pee on the bed.”

I don’t know about you, but our kids did something similar. However we had to be firm in our actions so they would develop that sense of independence.

Maybe you remember when you dropped your kids on their first day of school in kindergarten. Perhaps some of them clung tightly at your skirt or perhaps they wrapped around your leg and would not let go. We have not really experienced dropping our kids in kindergarten since we homeschooled them, but I just wonder what kind of fiasco they could have done.

Our kids are grown up now. Our daughter has been gone for a few years and is almost done with college, while our son is a junior in high school. He still home schools, but he now attends some Advanced Placement classes in a community college nearby. He also drives now, and a couple of months ago his driver’s license was upgraded that he can drive all by himself but still has a restriction that he cannot drive alone after midnight or before five o’clock in the morning.

Few weeks ago, my son humorously told my wife (*in a deeper voice too*), “Bye at the window, Mom.” But this time it was he who was leaving, and my wife was the one waving goodbye at the window.

My wife said that it really felt weird and different this time. She felt so nostalgic as my son was pulling out of our driveway and she waved goodbye at the window for the longest time until the car made a turn at the street corner and disappeared from her sight.

There is definitely a twinge of sadness on these rites of passage. Yet, they must come to pass.

I think we had it wrong all along. It is not our kids, but it is us parents who have a hard time letting go.

(*photo taken by my wife as my son drives away)

Old Man

I had another birthday. If you don’t know it yet, my son and I share the same birth date. But as he is turning into a young man, I am growing into an old man.

We did not have a big celebration though, and in fact during our birthday, we drove more than 100 miles to my daughter’s university to watch her perform during a competition of their school’s top music students. So we just had our birthday dinner at my daughter’s university’s cafeteria. But we still grab an ice cream treat from there.

Even though we did not have a party or a fancy celebration, the best part of my birthday is that we spent it together as a family. I know as our children gets older and they go to college or move out and have their own lives, gathering together can get more and more infrequent.

It’s getting warmer in our part of the world, so we can spend more time outdoors again. And last night, my son and I played some basketball in our driveway hoops, perhaps inspired by all these NCAA March Madness. I know the NCAA basketball championship is all set between Virginia and Texas Tech tomorrow.

We spent many summers playing in our driveway hoops. It is here that I taught my son how to dribble the ball, how to drive into the basket and do a lay-up, how to do jump shots and some other fundamentals. Maybe I taught him more than just basketball here, like how to whole-heartedly compete and yet staying gracious in win or defeat.

photo taken 9 years ago when my son was 7 years old

But this time it is different. My son is now taller, even taller than me maybe by half an inch, and he is way more muscular and agile.

When we played one-on-one, it did not take me long to realize that I cannot compete against him anymore. I was just no match to his quickness and strength. He kept on blowing by me when he drives to the basket, he jumped higher to get the rebounds, and I can’t even reach his pull-up jumpers.

I tried all the ‘old man’ tricks I know, which in our language is called ‘gulang,’ but it was still a no contest. I was clearly overmatched. And every time he blows by me or make a basket, he lovingly teased me, “Come on old man!”

In spite of that, I can say that I could still run, jump and play basketball. Or at least a semblance of playing basketball.

Last night was a ‘passing of the torch’ moment for me.

I humbly accepted defeat. Not necessarily from my son, but from father time.


Bracing for Snow

There’s no question that snow is beautiful. It blankets everything in white. But shoveling and clearing your driveway, and worse yet, driving on it is something else. It is at the least treacherous, especially during a major snowstorm with more than a few inches of snowfall.

Iowa State Capitol Building (photo courtesy of KCCI)

However if you live in a place that has significant snow accumulation in winter, like here in Iowa, you need to deal with it. Driving in snow is a skill that you need to develop through experience.

Last week, we had consecutive days of heavy snowfall. There was a lot of cancellation in our clinic appointments as patients decided not to come as they deemed the roads were not safe.

I went home early and sure enough as I was driving down the interstate, there were several cars that were abandoned as they had fallen in the ditch. There were several reports of collisions too. Oh the joy of slipping and sliding in winter driving.

When I arrived home, the snow was still falling. With about 4 or 5 inches on the ground already and no sign of letting up, I called my son down. I told him that we were going to drive in snow.

My son got his driver’s permit a few months ago. He cannot drive alone, but only when there’s an adult in the car. Yet he needs to gain experience to drive in snow. He needs to develop the skill. I thought, this was the perfect opportunity for him to do so.

I am far from being the most expert driver or the most skilled in driving in snow. But I have several years of experience in driving in this weather, and my best qualification to teach him is that I am his father. I know what is best for my kids. Plus our car is an all-wheel drive with high ground clearance, built to play in rough terrain.

First we drove around our neighborhood. I let him slam the brake when we were going downhill and let him feel the car sliding. Of course nobody was on the road except us, so we were never in danger. When my son gained some confidence, we went out in the highway to let him experience real driving in snow with cars tailing and passing us.

After almost an hour of driving, we went home.

Yesterday, I received a phone call from my daughter who was in college a couple of hours away. She said that she was supposed to go somewhere but snow was starting to fall. I sensed some alarm in her voice and she was not feeling confident in driving in snow. She was asking if she should go or not.

My daughter has been driving for a couple of years, but have not driven in snow by herself. If I could only go to where she was, I would, but she was far away. So I did what I think was best. I advised her to drive slowly and carefully. I told her that sooner or later she would have to drive in snow but she should be fine. Besides the snow was a couple of inches only.

Even though I sounded convincing when I talked to her, in my heart I had some fear. But I know I had to let her fly on her own. I know she needs to build her confidence. I know she needs the experience to be independent.

I was relieved when she texted later that she made it to her destination safely.

As parents, we don’t stop parenting even if our children are grown-up. Their challenges may be different now. It’s not about the big spider on the wall anymore, or about a difficult math equation, or a bully in the playground. But their challenges may be bigger. Would I pass this college course, or would I find a job, or would my salary be enough, or would I find a niche in this world?

I hope I have equipped and prepared my children in facing the snowstorms in life. And I don’t mean just driving in snow.

A Concert Grand

Thank you Steinway Concert Grand* for singing wonderfully tonight. Thank you for making Johann Sebastian Bach’s Prelude and Fugue live and breathe for us. For having Robert Schumann’s Papillion flutter and dance. And for letting Maurice Ravel’s Sonatine serenade us tonight.

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I know you have played in so many recitals and concerts before. I know you have performed with so many great professors and excellent students. I am even sure you made music with some world-renowned pianists in the past.

But tonight is different. It is special. Very special. At least for me.

Thank you Steinway Concert Grand for letting my little daughter play with you tonight. For letting her delicate little fingers run and tinker with your ivories and ebonies. Those beautiful little fingers, that only yesterday, were playing with dirt and plucking dandelions in our yard.

I know. She’s not as little anymore, than what I want to believe.

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(*A Concert Grand piano is the standard for Classical performance and recording. It measures about 9 feet long.)

(**Photos taken during a university’s junior solo recital.)

A Passenger

Would you like to be a driver or a passenger?

Many of us would probably choose to be the driver, for we want to be in control. However, there are certain journeys in life where being a passenger is more delightful.  And just enjoy the ride.

Eight years ago, I was a passenger to my son’s playful dream (see original post here).

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Today, I am really his passenger.

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Even though it can be uneasy, I will savor this passage.

Who knows what’s next on this journey, but I am looking forward to it.

(*photos taken by the passenger)

Empty Room

As parents, there are events in our child’s life that are happy moments, that we are proud of and we celebrate.

Events like their first spoken word, or their first step. Or maybe it is their first goal in the kids’ soccer league, or their first medal in the youth swim meet. Or maybe it is their first piano recital or perhaps their first role in their school play.

Or perhaps it is your child’s first visit to the principal’s office. What? Oh my mistake! We defintely are not proud of that, and don’t celebrate that event.

However, there are also events in our child’s life that are supposed to be milestone, but somehow we are sad that that day has come.

One of those events is when they enter college. Especially when the university they are going to is more than a hundred miles away, and that means they are leaving home.

So the day that we are preparing for, and also dreading for, but know that it is coming, has come.

Our little girl is off to college! Where did time go?

my daughter’s school bag evolution: from elementary, to high shcool, and college

As we sent her off to college the other day, I was having some difficulty bringing her stuff and things down the stairs to load in the car. It was not that her stuff was heavy, like her teddy bear. Or maybe a little bit, like her drawer. But it was more so that my heart was heavy. I can’t seem to let go.

We want her to stay home. Perhaps just to be with us for a little longer. But we also know that it is time. Time for her to pursue her chosen career. Time for her to follow her dreams. Time for her to go out there, and make her own mark in this world.

As I passed my daughter’s room this morning, something have drawn me to enter it. Perhaps I was hoping that she’s still there, sleeping in her bed. Perhaps I was wishing to find someone there that I would nudge out of bed, and tell her to go hop into the shower, for it is late. Perhaps I was just missing someone to greet good morning, and remind her that I love her.

We are definitely not washing our daughter’s bedsheet, pillow cases, and blanket. We will leave her bed as is, as she left it. Until she comes back home for a visit.

 

 

Flowers for My Daughter (Reloaded)

Six years ago, I had this post (see original post here):

Flowers for My Daughter

Today is my daughter’s 12th birthday. And this is her first birthday to be away from home and from us, as she is currently with my relatives in California for a short vacation. Besides greeting her over the phone, I also did send her flowers.

It just seems yesterday that my little girl was just playing in the dirt and picking wild flowers and dandelions in our yard. She will collect the dandelions and put them in a cup with water, and then she will give them to mom.

I think it is interesting that she finds beauty in the dandelions while I find them a nuisance weed that needs to be killed at all cost, even if I use enough herbicide to poison a whole town. That just prove that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

Now, my little girl is not little anymore as I want to believe. Where did time go?

I know not very long from now, boys will be giving her flowers for her birthday, for Valentine’s, and for no occasion at all. I just want to be the first one to do so. And when that day (that every father dreads) comes, when she will walk down the aisle with a bouquet of flowers in her hands, I hope she remembers who gave her, her first flowers.

If you do the math, then you’ll deduce how old my daughter is now. Time really flies. I still have a hard time believing this too.

In a few months she will be off to college and will be leaving home. There will be one empty room in our home. No one in that room that I would nudge out of bed if she won’t get up even after her two alarm clocks went off. No one to gently remind to hurry up if she’s taking her sweet time in the shower. No one to holler to to get out of her room and come down for dinner. No one in that room that I would say good night to. And no one from that room that would answer back “Good night Dad.” No one to……..

Sorry. Maybe I’m just over reacting. Or maybe I’m a hopeless sentimental fool. Is it full moon?

But even if she’s away and not home anymore, I still can send her flowers, right? Just like before, when she turned 12.

Today, I just did. Even if she’s not away.

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(*photo taken with an iPhone)

 

Over the Hill

A few months ago we got our son a new bike. He is growing so fast that he has outgrown his kiddie bike. He’s undergoing a growth spurt like he’s being stretch, and probably grew a couple of inches this past year. He’ll outgrow a shoe size after only a few months.

And what size is his bike now? It’s a full size bike. Same as mine.

Gone are the days of kid trikes, or training wheels, or youth-size bikes. It seems like it was just yesterday that I was teaching him how to ride, and he won’t let me let go of his bike for fear that he would fall. It also took a lot of convincing before he allowed us to take off the training wheels. Now he’s fearless.

Last weekend, my son and I went out for a bike ride. It was the perfect weather for a ride, not hot, nor too cold, just cool enough to break a sweat under the sun. We rode for about an hour over several miles, through paved roads and dirt roads, and up and down some hills.

We have hybrid bikes – a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike. Light and fast enough on paved roads, but sturdy enough to handle dirt and trail roads.

Before when we would go for a bike ride, I would have to slow down or even stop especially when we ride uphill. Or I will hear him call, “Dad, wait up!” His small legs just cannot pedal fast enough to keep up.

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But this time, it was quite different. On two occasions, as we rode up a steep hill, it was him who had to slow down or even stop. Why? To wait for his old man. I am eating his dust!

What happened? Certainly the lots have changed.

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I would like to think that it was his bike, which is newer, perhaps lighter, and with more gears than mine, that made the difference, that’s why I cannot keep up with him. But I know it’s more than that.

Or I can use the excuse that I have to stop to take pictures. Or perhaps I just want a slower ride. And maybe stop once in a while to smell the roses. Or sniff his dust?

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My son is certainly ascending. While I may be over the hill, though I refuse to admit it. And I’m not even talking about biking.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)