Of Hawks and Turkeys

Last Saturday was gray, damp and cold. It was windy too with strong wind gusts all day. It was a dreary day. I hope Thanksgiving would be a better day as it may be hard to be in a thankful spirit when you’re freezing, fighting fierce winds and just trying to hold on to your hat.

As we were going out, I noticed a large bird hovering high above a field. It could be an eagle as we have eagles in Iowa, though rare. But I believe it was a hawk, as they are so many here in our area. Hawks and strong gusts of wind are what we have in abundance here in Iowa, so no wonder our two big State Universities’ sport teams are called Hawkeyes and Cyclones.

I know hawks or even eagles may not be the right bird to talk about during this occasion. We should be discussing turkeys, right? By the way, wild turkeys abound in our area as well. You can spot them just hanging out in the empty corn fields. Perhaps we can skip the grocery and just capture one of them and make it our dinner for the Thanksgiving.

Enough of the turkey, and back to the flying hawk that I saw. Maybe flying was not the right term, for it was barely flapping its wings. It had its wings open, and like a big kite, it was effortlessly gliding in the sky. It did not seem to mind the strong gusts of wind, and may even be thankful for it. For the stronger the wind, the higher it soared.

Sometimes the strong winds in our lives, those gusts that we think will shred our plans, and those storms that can blast our dreams away, may just be helping us soar to higher heights.

Last week, the lady in the gym’s reception desk, the one who greets me cheerily every time I come in, gave me a book. The book was entitled “Praise God for Tattered Dreams.”

I have observed this lady as always upbeat and has a sunny disposition in life, day in and day out. I am impressed on how she remembers all the names of the gym goers, as she greets everyone by name. And I mean everyone.

Few months ago this lady, after greeting me for years since I have been coming to this particular gym, learned that I am an ICU doctor. She then told me that she was a patient many years ago, in the hospital where I work, and even stayed in the ICU. But that was a couple of years before I came to Iowa.

Since then whenever she sees me, she would always try to convince me to write a journal about my experiences as an ICU physician. She said that it may be interesting to share those stories, and I may even make some money from it.

Last week, after coaxing me to write a journal every time we meet, I finally told her, that I was indeed already writing a journal. Well, sort of. I told her about ‘this’ blog. I rarely tell people I know, that I blog. Why? So I could write about them!

After learning that I write, she went to the back, retrieved a book from a drawer and handed it to me. She told me that she wrote and published this book, and it’s about her trying experience. She added that I can borrow and read it, but if I spill coffee on it, then I have to buy it.

She narrated in the book that she was a vibrant mother with two young boys, and with a promising career, when out of the blue, she suffered a near-fatal stroke. It was a large bleed in the head. She was only 33 years old at that time.

She was close to death when she was brought to the hospital. The doctors, including the neurosurgeon, gave her only 10% chance to live.

But she lived!

She was comatose for several days and spent 3 weeks in the ICU, and a total of 3 long months in the hospital. This does not include several more months of rehabilitation after being discharged from the hospital.

She described that half of her body was paralyzed and was unable to speak for a while. In that dark moment of her life, she found God and discovered a new purpose in life. When she felt that her dreams have ended, God showed her that she was only beginning to live a more meaningful life, for which she was very thankful for.

Now she is speaking and walking with almost unnoticeable residual of her stroke. She is happily working in the gym and encouraging people to be healthy and happy. She definitely has a story to tell. From tattered dreams to an inspirational life.

As we gather around our dinner table this Thanksgiving, with our roasted holiday bird, (the turkey, not the hawk), let’s thank God for everything. Including our trials and disappointments. For storms and strong winds can make us soar higher.

Happy Thanksgiving!

IMG_5638(*photo taken with an iPhone)

 

Turkey Run

Here in the US, there are two occasions in a year, that people are strongly compelled to exercise. During these times there is a considerable spike in gym attendance. This is based at least in my observation and purely my opinion only.

The first one is during early January, when everybody is jumping on the band wagon for the New Year’s resolution to exercise, lose weight, and join the gym. However by the end of January, some if not most of them, have already fallen off the wagon.

The second occasion is right after Thanksgiving, when many are feeling guilty they over ate during the holiday. According to one study, an average American will gobble 3000 calories during Thanksgiving dinner. But with all the snacking throughout the day, it can easily amount to 4500 calories in that day alone.

Some will reason that they can burn all those calories when they go shopping on Black Friday. However, unless you go jumping rope while shopping or you’re hauling or carrying a piano, the amount of calories burned is not even close.

One exercise physiologist estimated that in order for a 160-pound person to burn 3000 calories, he has to walk 30 miles. Or if you want to burn them faster, you can run. For 4 hours!

So this weekend, I avoided the gym altogether since I know it will jam-packed. This morning, I decided to run outside instead.

The problem is during this season, in this part of the world, it is already pretty cold. In fact, we already had snow and freezing rain this past week. Today is no different, the temperature was subfreezing.

Good thing is that I have invested on nifty cold-weather running apparel that I can be warm and toasty even if the temperature is below freezing. So I layered up, summon the spirit of the Black Ninja runner  (see previous post), and ran.

I was a little chilly when I started but by the second mile, I was already feeling warm that I took off the hood from my head. By the third mile, I already unzipped my outer layer. I ended my run after 4 miles, and I was all sweaty and hot that I even took off my jacket, at least temporarily, as I was walking to cool down.

I checked on my smart phone, and the temperature was a nippy 29º F (-2º C).

I believe my run will partly burn off all the turkey I ate. Though I still have to burn all the kare-kare* and krema de fruta*, which were what I really feasted on during the Thanksgiving dinner.

Now I’m feeling hungry. Where’s the left over kare-kare?

(*traditional Filipino dishes)

Burning the Turkey

Despite of what the title might suggest, this article is not about cooking. Let’s make it clear – I don’t do the cooking. I leave that to my wife. For if I do, that’s exactly what I will do: “burn” the turkey.

This morning, I went to the gym and found that it was jam-packed. All the treadmills and exercise machines were occupied. Even the open floor for stretching was full of people. What’s happening? Since I am a regular to this gym, I knew this was not an ordinary phenomenon.

Then I realized, it was the first day after the Thanksgiving weekend. That was it! People perhaps felt guilty of all the feasting they did and stuffing themselves with food (so it was not just the turkey that was stuffed!) during the holiday and now they are trying to “burn the turkey.”

I read in one article that according to the University of Michigan Health System, an average American devours 3000 calories during the Thanksgiving meal or dinner. Screaming turkeys! That much for one dinner? And since most of us also do a lot of snacking throughout the day, it will amount to about 4500 calories consumed for the whole Thanksgiving day. That is more than twice the recommended caloric allowance for a day. And considering that some people gobble ( gobble? yes, pun intended) that much calories whether it is Thanksgiving or not, no wonder we have an obesity epidemic.

But you may argue that you could have burned all those calories perhaps when you did your Black Friday shopping. Yes, you might have walked, ran, pushed, pulled, shoved, lift, and even jumped to get the best deals on the biggest day of shopping. That will certainly burn some of the calories you chomped, but it is not enough. Not even close.

An exercise physiologist from the American Council of Exercise stated that in order to burn the 3000 calories, an average 160-pound person need to walk 30 miles. Holy turkey smokes! That’s more than the distance of a full marathon! Well, if you want to burn much faster, you can run, right? Then you need to run at a moderate pace for 4 hours. And if swimming is your thing, you need to swim for 5 hours to burn that 3000 calories you packed from the Thanksgiving dinner alone.

After the holiday, we perhaps still have a lot of leftovers that we are trying to consume, even if it is in excess of what we really need. I know it is very hard to have good food go to waste, especially in some cultures. Coming from the Philippines, where food can be scarce for some families, it is inculcated in us by our elders, that it is almost like a heinous crime to throw away food. But you know what, in some instances, it may be better to have the excess food to be in the garbage, than the “garbage” to be a part of your belly fat, where it will stay there for a long, long time.

Now that you are enlightened, put down the turkey and start walking. The whole 30 miles of it.

(*image from here)

Thankful Pilgrim or Dreadful Turkey

For the past several weeks now, I have been dreading the coming Thanksgiving Holiday and its weekend. It’s not that I am hosting a big and extravagant Thanksgiving dinner. It’s not that I am having difficult and crabby guests for the holiday. And it’s not that I am fearful of how much my wife will splurge on shopping on Black Friday. Nor am I panicking that I have to do the early Friday morning shopping myself and fight the huge crowd of rowdy shoppers. No, it’s not all those at all.

This year I got the short straw of the draw and I will be working on Thanksgiving holiday and the whole weekend.  That means I am starting my call on Wednesday night, the whole Thanksgiving Day (Thursday), up to Black Friday, and continuing to the weekend (Saturday and Sunday). Yes, that’s more than 100 continuous hours of being on-call. This is the reason I don’t feel like a grateful Pilgrim. I feel more like the turkey that will be slaughtered for the Thanksgiving dinner!

As the holiday comes nearer, the more foul (or fowl- like a turkey!) my mood turns and the less thankful I feel. Until this morning….

In our clinic today, I met this “unfortunate” patient. He just buried his wife a couple of months ago, after she had a long battle with cancer. Now, he in turn was also diagnosed, a few days ago, with an unresectable cancer, that already spread. He was scheduled to start chemotherapy and radiation therapy right after the Thanksgiving holiday. And he is barely in his fifties. But in spite of all of his troubles, he managed to keep a positive outlook. He told me that he will celebrate this Thanksgiving with his daughters, for there are still “things to be thankful for.”

That man put me to shame. I really have nothing to complain about. And I really have a lot to be thankful for.

I am thankful that I will be working this holiday and the weekend, for that means I have a job. Considering that about 10% of Americans are currently unemployed (I have no idea of how many people are jobless in the world, probably millions), that is something to be grateful for.

I am thankful that I will be taking care of the sick patients in the hospital, and not the one who is sick that needed to be taken care of. Considering how ill our patients are, especially those in the ICU, I should really be filled with gratitude.

I am thankful that even though I may not dine with my family for the Thanksgiving dinner, at least I have a family that I can dine with, and be with, the rest of the days of the year. Considering that some people have no family to be with, I should be more appreciative of what I have.

Most of all, I should be thankful to my Creator that he created me as a human, so that I can experience how to laugh (and sometimes cry), how to love (and be loved), and how to live. Considering that I could have been a turkey. Really.

Thanksgiving, I believe, should not be limited to the observance of just the specific day itself. Thanksgiving is supposed to be the attitude of our life, and it should be our way of living. Nor should thanksgiving be limited to the specific circumstances in life that we are in. For as my wonderful patient have reminded me, there are always “things to be thankful for.”

As we celebrate this Thanksgiving, whether you are working or off this holiday, whether you are with your family or not, whether you are home or have no home, may we experience the right spirit of this season. Happy Thanksgiving!

I wonder if they will be serving turkey in the hospital cafeteria?

(*image from here)

Pinoy Pilgrims and Thanksgiving

(The following article was published in Manila Standard Today on November 11, 2010, in their Diaspora section.)

One tradition of the American culture that is new to me is the celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday.  The Philippines has no equivalent holiday like this one.

I am not saying that Filipinos are less thankful people. In fact we have several sort-of holidays, called fiestas thanking different patron saints. Each city, town, barrio, barangay and even individual street have their own fiesta. Moreover, we as a people find many reasons to celebrate by feasting and drinking. Just like people in my neighborhood where I grew up: all they need as a reason to celebrate was that it was night, and they would gather in our street corner and have their endless rounds of beer and pulutan. I am just thankful that they did not have karaoke. That will be pure torture.

The holiday of Thanksgiving here in the United States dates back to the 1600’s from the early English settlers called the Pilgrims. After surviving the treacherous journey across the Atlantic when they left their motherland England, aboard the ship Mayflower, then surviving the harsh winter in their new land, and then finally after a successful fall harvest, that they held a thanksgiving festival. Though it became a yearly tradition of the new colonies, it was not until 1863 that Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday to be held every November.

Thanksgiving celebration by the Pilgrims

Over the years the tradition of Thanksgiving have evolved to how it is celebrated now. First, it is also colloquially  known as the Turkey Day as the traditional main course of the Thanksgiving dinner is turkey. During this season everybody will be giving thanks except for the more than 45 million turkeys that will be “sacrificed” for Americans to celebrate this day. Definitely not a good day if you are a turkey. For me though, even after several years of being here in the US, I still don’t care much for the turkey and would prefer galunggong over it.

Then there are  the Thanksgiving parades. The most popular is the Macy’s Parade in New York City, with all the colorful floats, performers and music bands, and beautiful gigantic balloons. We lived in NYC for a few years but did not have a chance to see it live. Perhaps we’re just afraid of the bone chilling cold to stand outside for a long time, so we just watched it on TV in the comfort of our heated apartment. Now that we moved out of NYC, I still watch the parade on TV. If more and more Filipino migrants will be celebrating this holiday, maybe someday I will see an Ati-Atihan band (wearing parkas?) in the Thanksgiving parade.

The other big thing in this holiday tradition is the nationally televised football games during this day. Every level of football, from high school, to college to NFL games, are played during this day. Though “football” in the rest of the world means soccer, in the US, football is the American football.  I am not a fan of football,  and it took me some time to understand the game, in fact, I still don’t fully understand it. It sure has more complicated rules than tumbang preso. I though find it amusing when the players push, shove, hit and pile over each other.

Thanksgiving Postcard circa 1900 showing turkey and football

The most important thing, I think, for this holiday is the family reunion and gathering. Family members that are scattered from all over the US will travel back to their home, regardless of how many miles away they are, to gather around the table as a family for the Thanksgiving dinner. This is one of the most busiest time for travel whether by roads, trains, or air. The family reunion part gives me a twinge of longing, for as a transplant, I have no “real” home and family here in the US that I can go to, to celebrate this holiday.

During our years in the US, we celebrated Thanksgiving with other Filipino friends who just like us have no real family here. So we fellow Filipinos have become our new adopted and extended family. We will celebrate it the Pinoy way, with kare-kare, tinolang manok, and relyenong bangus as main dishes rather than turkey. Maybe we just don’t know how to cook the turkey. Then we will have leche flan, buko salad, ube and other Pinoy desserts rather than pumpkin pies. Our food is more like a barrio fiesta rather than the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but perhaps our spirit of thanksgiving is closer to the first pilgrims’. We as a group, have also left our motherland, aboard not by the Mayflower ship, but rather by Boeing 747 fleet. We survived a harsh transition into this new country and now giving thanks for our blessings.

Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner

More recently, when we moved to the Midwest, we have been celebrating Thanksgiving with a certain family and it is becoming our new tradition. The head of this family is an American and he is married to a Filipina. They are very good cooks. The American husband introduced us to the real traditional American Thanksgiving cuisine. He prepared roasted turkey, cranberry sauce, bread stuffings, green bean casserole, mashed potato, yams, pomegranate gelatin and pumpkin pies. Now I can say that I have had a real American Thanksgiving dinner. Of course we still have the pansit, fried tilapia, and buko pandan.

As I sat in the Thanksgiving dinner table, I just can’t help but think to myself, here I am, in my new adopted tradition, my new adopted cuisine, my new adopted extended family, and in a new adopted country. But I am still the same Pinoy, with the same thankful heart.

I join all the Filipino pilgrims in the world as well as all my countrymen back home in giving thanks. Happy Thanksgiving!