It’s quarter to 6 p.m. and as I watch the sky turn from fiery orange to dark blue, a strong sense of nostalgia hit me — for things that once were but will never be; for things being the way they are but will never be the same again. I suppose a more fitting word describes this wave of emotions; ‘nostalgia’ is the closest I could find.
I remember how, when I basked in my so-called funemployment year, I would exercise late in the afternoon outside our house. After a day composed of jumping from one app or website to another, from one episode or movie to the next, I would prepare to go out with friends. Deadlines were nonexistent. It’s the life I slightly miss today, especially when stress levels are through the roof; at that time, I missed the structured, to-do-list-characterized life I currently live.
As I sat in complete solitude and silence in the living room, I am reminded of how this day is but another square in the calendar, another checkmark in the years I will have lived. My mind was free from running to-study lists. I immersed in the feeling of being small – no, not literally; I’m aware that holds true – in a world full of billions of people with own concerns and aspirations. An odd sense of comfort enveloped me when I realized that amid differences, we are alike in struggles on being resilient, trying to be better every time, coping with blows to our self-confidence.
It was overwhelming. No matter how gargantuan a challenge may appear to be overcome, it is but another pitstop along a long, winding road. It does not define the entire journey. It was humbling. All pieces, both bright and dark, fit perfectly and have a designated place in a giant jigsaw puzzle. A puzzle filled only with bright pieces would be too glaring and unpleasant to the eyes.
Perhaps I had been too caught up with emotionally draining events and mentally demanding tasks that I missed to pause for awhile and see things from a fresh perspective. As in photojournalism, the angle from which one takes a photo matters. Maybe I construed worst-case scenarios from events that are outside my locus of control. One mistake does not define me and if other people’s perception of me are tainted by it, I cannot do anything about it so I let it be. What can I say? If it has no solution, then it’s not a problem.
Today, I have been reminded that all things are passing. Cherish light, stress-relieving moments, usually characterized by tummy-aching laughter with family and friends, but could also disguise itself as a peaceful walk in school at 3 p.m. by yourself with a Coldplay playlist as companion. Never lose hope in trying times. It’s a way of gleaning lessons you would not have learned otherwise. It molds you to be a better version of yourself. A reason to be grateful need not be grand or life-changing. It could be in the form of finding a This Is Us playlist and falling asleep to it after hours of learning the gross anatomy of the neck.
This moment is fleeting. Life is short. Taking time to notice it is never time wasted.
Thoughts after the practical exam that exceed Twitter’s character limit and are far from structured but serve as a form of catharsis:
I am utterly disappointed with myself. Although I’ve spent a lot of time and effort learning the human body’s intricacies; prioritized studying over leisure time and bonding with friends, I doubt my scores will reflect such. I say ‘will’ because although our third bimonthly grades have yet to be released, I have already set my expectations so low. Others could classify it as pessimism yet I am being realistic.
Friends have commented that I emit a cheerful, humorous vibe but the internal conflict is inexplainable and unsettling. Perhaps I’m not the only one who have experienced an intense episode of self-doubt but our definition of a ‘low score’ could differ significantly. For me, it could be in the line of 5 or 6; for others, it could be in the line of 7. Who knows? This is the reason I avoid saying “basta ayaw lang sa last page” among classmates because, in the first bimonthly, I know the feeling of seeing my ID number on such dreaded page and feeling like the measure of failure. When I find a test or a topic relatively manageable, I avoid commenting I find it difficult just because many of my classmates say so. False humility is an undesirable trait.
Since high school, I have firmly believed that grades do not define a person. It is still true to some extent but it could be difficult to believe when those digits determine my next step. Sustaining optimism is made challenging by seeing a score that pales in comparison to the expected results of one’s perceived efforts. Med school has put a dent on my self-esteem one too many times.
Last year, when I was the epitome of laidback and carefree, I wished to have structured days again — with to-do lists to make and accomplish, then a sense of fulfillment that encourages me to tackle the next task. Well, I got more than I wished for.
The challenge comes not so much with being “smart” — because we all are in different ways — but with mustering enough resiliency, determination, and discipline to learn from mistakes and apply such to improve in the next exam. The “stress” during my undergrad years are miniscule when compared to the current degree of stress in many forms: physical, emotional, and mental. I still have high hopes I’ll repeat this line several years from now but “undergrad years” replaced with “first year med.”
Earlier, I was locked outside our house during a heavy downpour. While I was in the cab, I saw the window spattered incessantly with raindrops then I saw a white rope tied around our gate — that means my Lola went to church and, most likely, my brother isn’t at home. My umbrella is nowhere to be found. I began imagining how I would wait for an hour or so in darkness with my dogs, while finding a spot spared from the occasional raindrops leaking from the roof. I did wait for several minutes. Turns out, my brother is at home.
Although it pays to be cautious, maybe some things are worse in my head than these actually are.
Today, Fr Rudy passed away. I remember him a kind person full of wisdom and wit when I interviewed him for an article for The Crusader Pub.
Rudy Fernandez: books, caterpillars, and Culion
By Louren B. Aranas
Seventy years ago, he was a sickly and inquisitive boy whose childhood in an island ignited his love for nature and lepers. Today, he resides in the city and helps enrich the spiritual lives of people through the Holy Mass and confession.
‘Atmosphere of service’
Rodolfo V. Fernandez, SJ, or Rudy, as he is fondly called, was born in September 15, 1929 to a 19-year-old woman and an employed nurse.
Growing up in Culion, Palawan—a leper colony—Fr. Rudy said he lived in an atmosphere of service. “All these things that we are talking about now, [such as] service for the marginalized in our fancy terms were already done in those years… Everyone was a man for others in Culion.”
He describes going to the island as a big sacrifice in itself: recreation, movies, radio, and television were non-existent, newspapers were a week late upon delivery, and a trip to and from Manila took a week.
Nobody wanted to be with the lepers as their condition was thought to be contagious, hence some people, like his father, were required to work there. “Things [got] together,” Rudy says of his father ending up as a nurse when he originally wanted to become a sailor. “If my father didn’t misspend his tuition, he wouldn’t have become a nurse. He wouldn’t have been assigned to Culion [and] he wouldn’t have met my mother. I wouldn’t have been born.”
His childhood also included looking up to priests who originated from faraway countries—all of whom engaged in missionary work in the island. (As a boy, he once reflected, “What made them do this?”) While they were a huge influence in his choice to enter priesthood, they didn’t directly persuade him to do so. “I’m more of an introspective type. In a sense, nobody preaches to me. I observe.”
Meanwhile, his decision to become a Jesuit didn’t immediately receive approval, as the priests thought he should be better off helping his family after his mother was widowed at 32 and him being the eldest of six. “Maybe it’s a thing that attracted me more,” he quips, “You know, you’re a teenager [and are more attracted to things people prohibit you to do]. I don’t think it was a psychological tactic [to convince me].”
He entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1946, was ordained as a priest in 1962 in Taiwan, and took his final vows in 1964 in Japan.
As a boy, he suffered from asthma and pneumonia; he couldn’t play outdoors as much as other children did. With a frail body, his mother became overprotective over the young Rudy. “Konting pawis lang, pupunasan na,” he shares. The hours spent at home developed his immense love for books, all of which his father gave him as Christmas and birthday gifts. He recalls, “Until he (his father) died when he was 39, and I was 13, his last gift to me was a book. One of the greatest gifts that he gave to me was his love for books.”
From Stevenson’s Treasure Island which he first read as a five-year-old boy, he often reads about history, philosophy, and psychology. “I correlate with my experiences. I don’t just read, I reflect.” People, he observes, mistake him doing nothing as he loves spending time quietly.
His recent homily in a wedding also had a tinge of science: “We’re made up of invisible things: atoms, nucleus, protons, etc. What struck me is, the particles that attract each other need a certain space. If they’re too far from each other, they won’t attract. If they’re too close, they will repel. [In the context of relationships], we all need space…”
A five- to seven-minute homily, usually entails a two-hour preparation with him reflecting under a tree. Without knowing it, he says, perhaps his parents prepared him for contemplation.
Working with ‘caterpillars’
Rudy was also a basketball coach to middle school boys and a chaplain in Ateneo de Manila High School and XUHS, hence, his work involved mostly the youth. For a good part of his 45 years as a Jesuit missionary, he also taught high school in Kobe and Tokyo, Japan.
In relation to his work, Fr. Rudy shares a memory of stomping on a caterpillar when he was around seven and thinking that his father would praise him for the display of bravery.
“He told me, ‘You didn’t kill a caterpillar, you killed a butterfly. Would you kill a beautiful and frail butterfly? No.’ I think that’s why I worked with adolescents and teenagers. These little angels in grade school, they become ugly like caterpillars in high school. It’s only a stage, I tell the parents. Show them that you love them even when they’re ugly. That’s the only way they’ll become beautiful.”
* * *
As life took him to various destinations through the years, his view on human introspection never wavered off.
“We’re always in a hurry, we live in a fast food culture. Our culture now is instant gratification—the faster the better,” Fr. Rudy emphasized on the need to reflect in contemporary times, “If you want to think and ruminate, you need a little space and time.”
At immensely stressful times — compared to my undergrad years, the stress of which, I realize, is a big joke by now — I feel the need to continually ask and remind myself of the reason I am here.
When I was still an aspiring med student, I told myself I was afraid of becoming a student who studied only to pass exams. Because, really, what’s the point? What happens after passing all written, oral, and practical tests? Although passing exams is a prerequisite to proceed to the next level, it would be absurd to have it as the only motivation for intentionally spending my time — that could have been spent on binge-watching TV series and joining festivities — and squeezing all my mental energy to learning biochemistry, physiology, histology, anatomy, etc. At the end of the day, I find it essential to ask, “What is the reason I do the things I do?”
Then I remember my college freshman self. I recall how I loved learning general biology although it was a “minor” subject in development communication. I woke up at the wee hours to learn the general concept of respiration, the parts of major organs, and the like. I was amused at how, in every human being, such complex, intricate systems are at work synchronously that enable them to function in daily life. There is more to a person than what meets the eye. Literally.
I remember how, while we’re waiting in the SC grounds for our 7:30 p.m. Math01 class, Phoebe and I talked of how we envision ourselves after graduation. She told me I would become a good doctor, probably because both my parents are, but such casual lines are sources of encouragment today.
I remember when, after performing poorly at a weekly exam, I was eating ice cream at a convenience store and I met one of my favorite teachers, Ma’am Trel. She saw me in my uniform for the first time. Needless to say, my feelings were the polar opposite of her reaction: giddy and excited. She told me my uniform was a symbol of where I will end up. And that I must claim it to be true.
I remember how becoming a doctor was my default reply to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” although the answer has shifted one too many times. I remember heaps of post I wrote on this blog, the recurring theme of which is being certain and why-driven of solidifying this plan.
I’ve been asked whether I would continue studying medicine. Without hesitation, I say yes. In my standards, my grades are abysmal but quitting at the slighest hint of setback means I may like only the idea of being a doctor yet deny the realities it entails to become one. As Uncle Earl said in an email:
It’s true: my resiliency and determination have been tested like never before and I know I’m only in the start line. At times, my sentimental self is triggered and I find myself crying in my study table. But I realize crying would be counterproductive because it gives me a headache that makes concentrating a Herculean task.
As an attempt to see things from a bigger perspective, the stress as a 1st year student will most likely be minuscule when I become an intern facing less of books and more of patients of different backgrounds; when I review for board exams; when I become a licensed doctor to whom patients entrust their lives.
I remind myself that the meticulousness and complexities of the topics that await to be learned are not here only to let me pass exams — these are the basic knowledge I need to be a competent, conscientious doctor people need.
Yesterday, I met with my cousin mostly because of the whole-day power interruption — the humidity was too much to bear that my face was shimmering but not splendid — and partly because the five-day pseudo-break calls for catchups with people I seldom hang out with. (Thanks, med school.)
Anyway, she told me of an anecdote that, I’m pretty certain, will stick with me for as long as my memory is reliable.
She rode a taxi going to the hospital where she works as a nurse. Taking cues from her uniform, the driver talked about a time he fell ill and had to be admitted to the hospital. He talked about how hospital bills and medicine were too costly, especially given his meager income. Needless to say, he shares the same story with millions of Filipinos whose daily income is insufficient even for daily needs. Then, he expressed gratefulness along these lines, “Buotan kaayo ang doctor. Wala na lang ko gipa-bayad [professional fee] kay dili man gyud nako kaya maka-bayad. Dako kaayo akong pasalamat sa iya.”
He’ll never forget that doctor, he said. Intrigued, my cousin asked, “Kinsa diay na nga doctor?”
“Doctor Aranas,” the taxi driver replied.
Apparently, the doctor he was talking about is my father. (The driver probably needed a minor surgical procedure.)
People often assume my parents forced me into studying medicine. I don’t take such assumption as an offense because, looking from a common perspective, it’s expected. They’re both doctors and I, a development communication graduate, suddenly decided to enter this labyrinth called med school. This, my friends, is a typical reaction:
But I disagree. My parents themselves, in the words of my mother, “discouraged” me before enrolment. More of a daily reality check. Our conversations included them telling me I would need to overhaul my lifestyle and habits; my resiliency and determination would be put to test; and that med school is not “glamorous” as most people make it to be. I have been studying only for four months but I can attest to the truth of their “words of precaution.”
I willingly signed up for this not only because it’s the only field I see myself committing to until the age of retirement but, most important — I have seen how my parents use their profession in helping make other people’s lives more bearable, return these to normal, or in giving the slightest hint of relief and reassurance.
He is not an unbelievably wealthy surgeon who spends 90% of his time at work but my father definitely has the traits of a doctor I want to become — earning enough through honest means and handling patients, regardless of economic status, the way a human deserves to be treated and not as a mere piece of disease with a hefty paycheck attached.
A 19-year old boy became quadriplegic — paralyzed from the neck down — after a vehicular accident. He stopped schooling not only because of insufficient resources but also to work as the family’s breadwinner. Now, the family has to completely adjust to take care of him on a daily basis.
A woman in her 20’s has permanent neurologic deficits after falling from a moving vehicle. She has a child and she has to return to living with her father as the deficits make her unable to be fully independent in everyday life. Her sister has to move back in the city for her, too.
Whenever our teacher cites particular patients’ stories as an example in our FCM (Family and Community Medicine) class, I get goosebumps. Not only because the story itself is compelling enough to draw sympathy. Or it emphasizes the importance of dealing with patients as a human being – not as a mere piece of disease.
But because that patient could have been me. I could have been quadreplegic; I could have been dealing with neurologic deficits — or both — after falling from a moving vehicle last New Year’s Eve. My family could have had a different routine that includes feeding me, bathing me; finding ways to make daily life the new kind of normal.
A lot of could have’s, indeed. Out of a weird, sometimes morbid, sense of humor, I’m able to formulate self-deprecating jokes out of the incident today. I suppose it’s funny now only because everything has returned to normal and effects that can impact everyday life are nonexistent. But the first few weeks of recovery were crucial and stressful for the family, so it was no laughing matter.
I did move on from the said accident already — if moving on means learning from experiences and choosing to move forward every day instead of being immobilized by the past — but it will always remind me of the other possibilities.
And it reminds me to never underestimate a person’s capability (of surviving), the limits of which could be farther than one has imagined.
As my mother told me, “Naka-survive man gani ka sa pagkalabay sa pickup. Maka-survive pud kaayo ka diha sa med [school].”