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)

 

Soaked from the Rain

During my recent short stint (only 7 days) in the Philippines, I have experienced once again the heavy rain showers of Manila. There were no typhoons, just run-of-the-mill soaking monsoon rains of the tropics.

In one instance while I was there, the heavy rains have caused flooding in Metro Manila that traffic crawled to a halt. I even heard in the evening news that my alma mater, University of Santo Tomas, was forced to close the school due to high floods in España. This brought a flood of memories as well, of my wading days in “water world” of Manila.

Our family have also experienced another type of rain. Rain that just not soak us wet but can bring us down to our knees. Yet these rains if we survive them, can make us strong.

I went home because my mother was not doing well. At one point she was even knocking on heaven’s doors.

I spent most of my stay in the Philippines inside the hospital, University of the East Ramon Magsaysay (UERM), where my mother was admitted. In fact, I slept a couple of nights in the hospital not as a doctor-on-call, but as a “bantay” or watcher of a patient. My mother must have appreciated that she have me as her bantay, not because I am a doctor, and an ICU specialist at that, but more so, that I was there as her son.

The system in the Philippines is kind of different that all patients have a family member, as a watcher, to attend to the patient’s need while they are in the hospital. In the US, rarely any patient have a watcher. They have a call light to summon the nurse if they need something. That’s it. No wonder, patients feel all alone.

One day while I was the watcher in the hospital, I went out to SM Santa Mesa mall, which was a couple of blocks away from UERM, to get lunch, as I was getting tired of the food from the hospital cafeteria. I have nothing against hospital food though.

Then it rained. Heavy downpour.

I got stranded at a waiting shed near SM during the rainfall. Of course I did not bring an umbrella. I think an umbrela will be useless in that heavy downpour anyway.

I was waiting for the rain to lighten up. But as I looked up in the sky it was getting even darker, and I may be waiting there for a long, long time. I knew I needed to get back to the hospital.

So I decided to run in the rain in full abandon.

I got wet. Though not really drenched. But to me the rain was refreshing as it cooled me off and washed away some of the afternoon heat.  It also helped clear my mind and realize what my real priorities in life were. Not getting wet was not one of them. Besides, why are we afraid to get soaked from the rain anyway?

We may prefer eternal blue skies and beautiful summer days. We don’t like the rain to spoil our fun. We don’t like the rain to wet our beautiful outfit. We don’t like the rain to ruin our perfect plans.

Yet, rain and clouds are part of our lives. I don’t mean just the weather.

I am back in Iowa now. And we are also getting unseasonable lots of rain here. We have plenty of rain that the grass here are still so green even if it’s almost end of summer. Usually by this time of year here, the grass has started to turn brown. But I’m not complaining.

This morning, I finally came out to run after fighting jet-lag for several days. I was trying to put back on track my training for the half marathon which is not too long from now, since my training was temporarily derailed by my emergent and unscheduled trip to the Philippines.

As I came out, the road was wet from the heavy rain last night. I have noticed thousands of earthworms scattered in the paved road. Why earthworms go out after the rain is not really clear. Some experts say the rain drive them out of their burrows so they will not drown, while other experts refute this, as earthworms don’t drown, and they can live totally submerged in water for few days.

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earthworms out after the rain

In any case, these earthworms who are now on the road, will die and will get baked in the heat of the sun, unless they get back to the soil in time. Are they afraid to get soaked from the rain too? But trying to run away from getting soaked put them more in harm’s way.

While I was running, the dark rain clouds gathered around above me again, taunting to pour down its contents.

I’m not an earthworm. And I’m not afraid of the rain anymore.

Let it pour.

*******

(*photo taken in our neighborhood, with an iPhone)

 

 

 

 

Alma Mater

After finishing high school, I entered an old historic university whose campus was located in Manila. There I spent the next seven formative years of my youth – three years in College of Science (Biology-Accelerated) and four years in College of Medicine and Surgery.

It was more than twenty years ago since I left the university’s portals, and I have not visited it again, until now…..

As we entered the main gate in Espana Street, the familiar Arch of the Centuries greeted me. I was back in University of Santo Tomas.

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arch of the centuries

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arch of the centuries in its original location when the school was still in Intramuros

University of Santo Tomas is the oldest existing university in Asia. It was founded in 1611. In 2011, it celebrated its 400th year anniversary. Many of the beautification updates that I found were perhaps results from that celebration.

As I passed through the roads and pathways that were brightly lit with beautiful lights for the holiday, I mused on the hundred of times I walked through these passageways in the past in my quest for illumination.

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The monument of Bishop Miguel de Benavides stands in front of the main building. His pioneering desire to establish an educational institution paved the way to the founding of this university. This statue was originally unveiled in 1891, when the school was still in its original location in Intramuros.

I remember many times in my school days that I passed and communed with this statue with doubt and discouragement of where my future lies, and he always directed me “up.”

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statue of Miguel de Benavides, with his right hand pointing towards heaven

The Main Building, which functions as the university’s administrative center and houses the Faculty of Pharmacy and the College of Science, is arguably the most imposing structure in the campus. It was built in the 1920’s and first classes were held in this building in 1927.

Because of the big cross on the center tower of the building and with statues perched on its rooftop, it is often mistaken as the university church by people visiting the campus.

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The Main Building with its holiday lights

During the height of World War II, when the Japanese Imperial Army occupied Manila, UST was converted to an internment camp for a couple of years. The university was finally liberated in 1945.

Who knows how many soldiers died in this hallowed building during the war? No wonder there were many stories that goes around about unusual occurrences as well as experiences by students that they felt they were being watched. Or maybe they were being watched to discourage them from cheating during exams.

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old photo of Main Building

Part of my precious memories were at the University Hospital, where my eyes were opened to the wonderful world of Medicine, but was also enlightened to the harrowing truth of sickness and suffering.

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University Hospital

On that clear December night, with all the festive lights and glitters, it was a solemn moment for me to return to the place where I received the light.

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(*old photos of UST taken from internet)

A Divisoria Suit and a Recto Resumé (Couture Edition)

(The following is a haute couture edition of an article I posted a month ago. Published in Manila Standard Today, on May 12, 2011)

January 1994. New Jersey, USA. In one of the hospital affiliates of Columbia University.

I was sitting nervously in a brightly lit, plush, spacious waiting room, with a group of people. I was fighting off my jet-lag, as only a few days ago, I was still plying the streets of Manila, busy applying for my visa, and preparing the needed documents and paper work for my trip.

As I sat, I was still reeling from my initial disappointment of being denied a visitor’s visa by the US Embassy at Roxas Boulevard in Manila. The consul said I don’t have enough invitations from different US hospitals and medical institutions – I only had five separate invitations for interview at hand. How can I pursue my dream of training in the US, if I am even denied of coming for my scheduled interview? Two days later I received three more interview invitations and I went back to the US Embassy. Finally I was granted a visa, and so here I was.

I was wearing a suit, the first ever suit I owned. It was midnight blue in color, made of wool cloth that I bought in Divisoria. It was a double-breasted style suit which was sewn by Mang Willy, a local tailor in Balik-Balik, near my home. I chose double-breasted because I thought it looked more stylish, although I had no idea that it was a little out of fashion already at that particular time. At least my tie was not one foot wide – something from the 70’s era.

Under my suit, I was wearing a white long-sleeved shirt (“trubenize” as my mother would call it), that I bought at SM in Carriedo, the original department store of its kind, before all the big SM malls sprouted like mushrooms all over the Philippines. I was always been more comfortable shopping in the Quiapo area, the “Old Downtown” where the real deals were.

My shoes were “stateside,” I bought it at Cartimar in Pasay. I wanted sturdy shoes that could withstand the cold, and that I could use to walk on snow. But who knows, it could have been made from Marikina and was just exported to the US and then made its way back to the Philippines. I did not realize that my “snow-proof” shoes did not really go with my suit. But what the heck, it served its purpose, for it was snowing that day.

In my lap (not laptop, just lap!), rested a Manila envelope that had in it my curriculum vitae (CV). I even had my CV’s printed by “jet-printer” on fine thick paper at one of the printing shops in Recto, the copyright capital of Manila. Also inside the envelop was a copy of my diploma from University of Santo Tomas, College of Medicine and Surgery. Yes, it was a copy of a real and authentic diploma, and not a dubious certificate that you can get along Recto.

It was the day of my interview. I was applying for a position for a postgraduate training in Internal Medicine. In the same room were other applicants. A few were graduates of other foreign countries like me. But mostly were local graduates from medical schools here in the US. All of us were dressed formally, as if we were attending a funeral or like we were pallbearers. And we looked somber too – maybe that was just the tension in the room.

Looking around the room, I felt uncomfortable in my seat. I felt I was out of my league, not on just how I dressed, but where I came from – a halfway around the world. In my mind I thought, would my Recto-printed resumé have the chance to compete and survive?

*******

January 2011. Des Moines. In one of the hospital affiliates of University of Iowa.

I was sitting at ease in a softly lit, technologically modern, big auditorium. A senior Internal Medicine resident whom I mentored, was presenting a case for the Grand Rounds. In the auditorium are other doctors – attending physicians of different subspecialties like me, medical residents, and some medical students.

I was in my usual everyday work clothes of khaki pants and white long-sleeved shirt, no tie, under my white lab coat. A group of young men and women in one corner of the hall caught my eye. They were nicely and formally dressed, in their dark suits and ties. I figured that they were applicants for the Residency Training Program of this hospital where I work now. That day was their interview day.

It surely brought back memories of my own interview day. I was glad that they looked beyond the suit, the shoes, and the resumé paper, and gave the boy from Sampaloc, Manila the opportunity to prove himself.

Divisoria Suit and Recto Resumé

January 1994. New Jersey, USA. In one of the hospital affiliates of Columbia University.

I was sitting nervously in a brightly lit, plush, spacious waiting room, with a group of people. I was fighting off my jet-lag, as only a few days ago, I was still plying the streets of Manila, busy applying for my visa, and preparing the needed documents and paper works for this trip.

I was wearing a suit, the first ever suit I owned. It was midnight blue in color, made of wool cloth that I bought in Divisoria. It was a double-breasted style suit which was sewn by Mang Willie, a local tailor in Balik-Balik, near my home. I chose double-breasted because I thought it looks more stylish, though I have no idea it was a little out of fashion already at that time. At least my tie is not a foot-wide of the 70’s era.

My shoes were “state-side”. I bought it at Cartimar in Pasay, as I wanted it to be “US-style”. Plus I wanted sturdy shoes that can withstand the cold, and that I can use to walk in snow. But who knows, it could have been made from Marikina and was just exported to the US and then made its way back to the Philippines. I did not realize that my “snow-proof” shoes does not really go with my suit. But what the heck, it served its purpose, for it was snowing that day.

In my lap (not laptop, just lap!), rests a Manila envelope that has in it my curriculum vitae (CV). I even had my CV’s printed by “jet-printer” on nice thick paper at one of the printing shops in Recto, the copyright capital of Manila. Also inside the envelop is a copy of my diploma from University of Santo Tomas, College of Medicine and Surgery. Yes, it was a copy of a real and authentic diploma, and not a dubious certificate that you can avail in Recto.

It was the day of my interview. I was applying for a position for a post-graduate training in Internal Medicine. In the same room were other applicants. A few were graduates of other foreign countries like me. But mostly were graduates from medical schools here in the US. All of us were dressed formally, as if we were attending a funeral or like we were pallbearers. And we look somber too. Or maybe that was just the tension in the room.

Looking around the room, I felt uncomfortable in my seat. I felt I was out of my league, not on just how I dressed but where I came from – a halfway around the world. In my mind I thought, will my Recto-printed resumé have the chance to compete and survive?

*******

January 2011. Des Moines. In one of the hospital affiliates of University of Iowa.

I was sitting at ease in a softly lit, technologically modern, big auditorium. A senior Internal Medicine Resident whom I mentored, was presenting a case for the Grand Rounds. In the auditorium are other doctors – attending physicians of different subspecialties like me, medical residents, and some medical students.

I was in my usual everyday work clothes of khaki pants and white shirt, no tie, under my lab coat. A group of young men and women in one corner of the hall caught my eye. They were nicely and formally dressed, in their dark suits and ties. I figured that they were applicants for the Residency Training Program of this hospital where I work now. That day was their interview day.

It surely brought back memories of my own interview day. I am glad that they looked beyond the suit, the shoes, and the resumé paper, and gave the boy from Sampaloc, Manila the opportunity to prove himself.

 

(*A long version of this article was published in Manila Standard Today)