Special Occasion Candles

Sitting atop of an armoire in our living room is a set of decorative candles that were given to us as a gift, when we moved to Florida. That was about 15 years ago.

When we moved to Iowa, we brought it with us, and these candles remained purely ornamental, as I don’t recall lighting them for the past 10 years or so that we’ve been here in our home in Iowa.

Last night, we drove home in a torrential downpour of rain. It was raining so hard that the road visibility was reduced to a few meters, making the travel perilous. When we arrived home and got into our driveway, the automatic garage door would not open. After several attempts and failing to open the garage with the remote key, I finally went out of the car in the pouring rain, and got in the garage through a backdoor using a traditional key.

That was when I discovered why the garage door would not open. The electricity was out.

Power outage here in our area, or in all the US for that matter, is rare. Unlike during my younger days when I was still in Manila, where black-outs were as common as having dried fish for supper.

I’m not sure what caused the power outage. Maybe it was the heavy rains. Maybe a lightning hit one of the transformers. Maybe the strong wind knock off the power lines. Maybe a deranged cow wandered in the power station. Or maybe the Martians hijacked the power plant. Who knows?

But one thing for sure, there’s a lot of things you can’t do when the power is out. Can’t browse the internet in the computer. Can’t watch TV. We can’t even get in into our house!

As we enter our house, we fumbled to get flashlights. It was a good thing my son has a collection of small flashlights and so we have plenty to go around. He even put on a headlamp, as he excitedly move around like a miner in a cave.

It was dark, so we lit up some candles. We have a couple of aromatic candles that we use whenever we cook fish or other “stinky” Pinoy food to neutralize the smell (see previous post here). Yet the house was still dark, so I proceeded to light the decorative candles in our living room as well.

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That’s when my wife told me that they were “special occasion” candles only.

Well, the power was out. It was dark. To me, that was a “special occasion.”IMG_5900

(*photos taken with an iPhone) 

Peace Be Still

A few days ago, while I was in my clinic seeing patients, I received a phone call. It was another doctor who wanted to discuss with me the results of a patient’s laboratory exam.

It is not unusual to have another doctor call me to discuss about a mutual patient. Except this one was not about a mutual patient. On the other line was the Hematologist-Oncologist (Hem-Onc) doctor. The patient he was calling me about, is my wife.

It started with a regular annual doctor’s visit. After having routine test, my wife’s Primary Care physician was alarmed by the results of the complete blood count (CBC). This prompted a referral to the blood and cancer (Heme-Onc) specialist.

After the evaluation by the Hem-Onc doctor and having the exam repeated, that’s when the specialist called me. He said that he was concerned about the elevated count of a blood component, and for some “funky-looking” cells. He recommended a confirmatory test, a bone marrow biopsy.

Bone marrow biopsy is not a very dreadful procedure but its not a walk in the park either. It can be done as an outpatient, usually under “conscious sedation” (meaning, light sleep). It entails drilling a long large bore needle into the hip bone down to the marrow, and aspirating and scraping a “sample” contents inside the bone.

The problem of being a doctor, is that you know “too much.” Too much than needed. So in my mind, I already ran down on the possible differential diagnosis. I started to play the different scenarios, their treatments and outcomes. And even though I know that it can be nothing or something benign, I couldn’t shake off the idea that it can be a myeloproliferative disorder. In layman’s term, leukemia.

My spouse’s family history was not reassuring either. Her father died of cancer in his 60’s. She has two brothers that died prematurely, one was barely 50, and the other one in his 40’s. Then her sister who was a little older than her, was diagnosed with cancer in her 40’s.

I tried to be nonchalant and positive about it when I spoke with my wife, but I think she can sense that it can be something serious. For the succeeding days prior to the scheduled biopsy, both of us were feeling the uneasiness, as if there’s angry storm clouds hanging over our heads ready to discharge their fury.

The fear of the unknown is one of man’s greatest fears. It terrifies us. It consumes us. It kills us even before we die.

Two nights before the biopsy, we both cannot sleep. My wife asked me point blankly, “Am I going to die?”

I don’t know how to answer that question. Or perhaps I don’t want to answer that question.

She told me that she’s really afraid. So in the middle of the night she asked that we kneel down in prayer.

As we prayed, I asked God to be with us as we go through this storm.

Suddenly I was drawn to the story of Jesus and his disciples when they were caught in a great storm* while crossing the Sea of Galilee. I saw myself struggling with the oars and the sail with the disciples. We were trying our best to keep the boat afloat……

The winds are howling. The billows are rolling. The thunders are cracking. The storm is raging. And I am terrified and trembling.

But where is Jesus?

He is asleep! How can he sleep, when we are about to be swallowed by the storm and the sea?

“Master, do You not care that we are perishing?” I cried.

When Jesus arose, he looked at me lovingly, yet he asked me why do I have so little faith.

Then he spoke: “Peace, be still.”

I looked around me. The winds are howling. The billows are rolling. The thunders are cracking. And the storm is even more raging.

But I am still.

image from here

(image from here)

(*Mark 4: 37- 40)

Stronger than Haiyan

There are no words to fitly describe the utter devastation of what happened to some areas of the Philippines due to the super typhoon Haiyan (local name: Yolanda).

My people are suffering, struggling to survive, and dying. And we appreciate all the foreign countries who have provided assistance in our time of need.

But we (both local and international Filipino netizens), can also help our country get back on its feet.

We are down, but not out. The Philippines is a resilient nation. Haiyan is strong, but the Filipino spirit is stronger. We are Philippine strong!
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(*flag over damaged Tacloban airport; original photo courtesy of Yahoo news)

Against the Wind

Our weather had been crazy lately. One day it was spring, with cool, crisp temperature in the 50’s F. Then came summer, hot and in the 80’s F. Then back to winter with cold winds at 30’s F with lots of snow in the forecast. And all of that in a stretch of few days. That’s Iowa weather for you.

When there’s wild swings in the temperature with warm and cold air colliding, this causes unstable condition, and sudden thunder storms, or hailstorms, or even tornadoes can erupt. In fact, few days ago, some parts of Iowa had storms with ping-pong-size hail. Good thing no tornadoes have developed, yet (emphasis on the yet).

Yesterday, I went out for a morning run. It was really windy, with steady winds of about 30-35 miles per hour, with occasional gusts nearing 40 miles per hour. That was not considered a storm still. It was just a normal Iowa windy day. (A strong tropical storm has sustained winds of 39-73 miles/hour; 74 miles/hour or more, then it is considered a hurricane; while tornadoes can reach a wind speed of more than 300 miles/hour.)

While I was running inside our housing community, I did not feel the gusting winds right away, as the trees and houses blocked some of it. However when I went out to the lonely dirt road that was part of my running route, I experienced then the full effects of the wind force. The dirt road was in the vast open, with miles and miles of empty (still early for planting) corn fields, with nothing to block the gales.

It was bad enough that I was running against the wind, but the worst part was that the strong gust was causing dust clouds. I thought of turning back, but that will be a longer way to go, so I decided to move on.

It was not easy running against the wind, I can tell you that. That 1-mile stretch of dirt road that I usually cover in 10 minutes, took me forever to run. At least that’s how long it felt. But I made it through.

In life, sometimes we feel that we are running against the wind. There will be opposition that will slow us down. They will blow dust in our face. And sometimes adversaries may even completely stop us in our tracks.

We cannot choose the direction of the wind. We can only choose the direction where we want to go. And that means, sometimes we need to run against the wind.

Our Leaning Tree

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is a famous structure in Italy for its unintended tilt to one side. It had been leaning for more than 800 years. The cause of the lean was determined to the fact that it was erected in a weak and unstable soil. It was leaning more than 5 degrees before the multimillion dollar restoration and stabilization in the past decade that reduced its lean to less than 4 degrees. Experts claimed that it will be stable for at least another 300 years.

In front of our house is a leaning tree. It has a tilt of about 60 degrees. I am not sure how long it has been leaning. As far as I know, when we moved in to our house seven years ago, it was already been like this. (Good thing is our house is not leaning.) I am not sure also what caused the tree to lean. I could only speculate.

There could be many causes of why a tree would lean. One is a weak root structure causing inadequate anchor. Another is if it is competing with another tree nearby causing it to lean away from the more dominant tree and towards the open sunlight. One more reason is if it was exposed to a natural disaster like a very strong wind or storm in the past that almost uprooted it or pushed it to lean.

After considering the possibilities, I would like to believe that the last reason I mentioned was the cause of why our tree leaned. Maybe years ago, in our tree’s early life, it was subjected to a tornado-like wind gust that almost shoved it down. But it kept its grip to life. It defied the force that almost brought it down. And somehow, it has this innate strength that continues to defy the pull of gravity now. Moreover, it continued to grow and flourish.

my son trying to set our tree upright, or so he thought

I really don’t mind that it is leaning. I have no intention to correct its tilt. There is no reason to. In fact, I like it. It is a constant reminder to us that this tree has weathered a great storm, and its tilt is a testament to its tenacity and resilience.

Are we also weathered and worn-out by the storms? Do we also cling with such steadfastness even if we are almost down to our knees? Borrowing a quote from the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche (which is also the inspiration of Kelly Clarkson’s popular song): “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”

How many more years will our tree display its lean for all the world to see? Only time will tell.