The morbid business of recovery

I feel like an empty house. No, not empty; looted. Ravaged by thieves, with tables upended; curtains ripped. Misspelled graffiti on the walls.

blood extractionFour tubes of my blood stayed on my bed as the medical technician tinkered with his kit. Blood extraction wasn’t hard; inserting a peripheral line was – my veins had collapsed after I vomited bile several times and went on to have watery stools 20 times a day.

A week ago, I was finally sent home by my doctors after ten days in the hospital – ten days that would become some of the longest in my life. After working on a tentative diagnosis, my doctors finally saw me fit to go home and heal there.

But recovery is slow. Peaceful, if you ignore the occasional text messages reminding you of the work you’ve left behind, but slow. And painful.

 

Permission to heal

It seems I have regressed to a former self, one that prefers to curl up in a corner. I devour books with an emotional hunger that cannot be sated. (You have any good ones? Send them over; I’m seriously famished.) Words swim in my mind, hoping to find themselves on paper, willing me to find the energy to jot them down. My fingers still tremble as I give in, still weak from a sickness that drained me of vital fluids and salts (and more), but that scrappy little thing in my chest continues to beat steadily, driving me forward, telling me I have much to do before my flame is extinguished from this beautiful, temporary world.

I’m healing, but it will take a long time before I become the me that the world and I have become familiar with. My sickness has taken away a big chunk of me, leaving in its wake a gaping emptiness that, like any vacuum, craves to be filled. Ergo, the books. Why exactly these books are what I need, I can probably blame on my inherent introversion.

I have retreated into my own mind – not too far to be out of touch, but far enough to be mulling things over with a morbid sobriety bereft of any laughter. My usual acerbic sense of humor tickles the edges of my mind, but it’s not welcome yet.

I feel like a house that needs more than just new furniture. I need a major overhaul: new walls, new windows, new paint job. My foundation stands firm, but so much of me has been taken away that what remains is a promising DIY project at best.

At worst, it’s a potential haunted house. Then again, I’m a Stephen King fan, so why worry?

The wheels in my mind creak as they struggle to turn in their rusted axles, not having found enough momentum to move in their usual rhythm. And their usual rhythm is at breakneck speed. Everything is agonizingly slow and hazy, like a chilly December night with expected heavy fog.

My mind suffers the most, and it knows this.

At least I’m writing again. And I share this with you, painstakingly, with heavy eyelids that tell me I’ll be snoring in my sleep from the effort it took to write this, because I know I’m healing and I want to show you the ugly, private things that happen to me and to my mind during my convalescence. I do not want to be positive if it means I have to be fake.

More importantly, I want to show you how after illness steals from you like looters helping themselves to the best your cushy home has to offer, you always, always have the option to “renovate”.

I’m not yet back, but I will be. This scrappy, steady, beating thing in my chest tells me this with certainty.


Death or (tobacco) taxes?

They say nothing is certain but death and taxes. But what if I told you we can choose between the two?

Health Warrior

Yesterday, hundreds of Facebook users, myself included, added the “I’m a Health Warrior” frame to their profile photos. Medical society officers, government officials, health organization leaders, and even a former Department of Health (DOH) secretary joined the fight.

Health WarriorsJust a few fellow Health Warriors: Former DOH Secretary Paulyn Ubial, University of the Philippines Executive VP Ted Herbosa, and PhilHealth Director Tony Leachon.

While I and my fellow Health Warriors fight for health in general, some of us are preparing for a major social media event on November 3, which we hinted at in our captions. On that day, we will be choosing between death and taxes.

A war is brewing, folks, and we will have to take our pick.

tobacco senators(Photo from Bawas Bisyo on Facebook)

Unfortunately, even when armed with a choice, not everyone will pick life-saving taxes over death. When a certain tax is so obviously good, we should ask ourselves why some people refuse to support it. And when those people happen to be public servants who swore to protect the public, it begs the question, will you still vote for them in 2019? (Like you, I want to find out who these politicians are, which is why I’m following Bawas Bisyo on Facebook.)


My open letter to New San Jose Builders about healthy energy

Dear New San Jose Builders,

Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar is beautiful, breathtaking… and rather disappointing.

I laud you for what you have achieved: the ancestral homes in your heritage resort have been sourced from all over the Philippines, and later reconstructed and restored, making your property the only one in the country to become part of Historic Hotels Worldwide. Your company has made quite an effort to showcase history and preserve culture.

This is exactly why I find it a contradiction that your company has not done the barest minimum to conserve energy.

Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar

Conserving architecture without conserving energy is an ideological dichotomy.


5 Kitchen secrets I learned from 2nd Avenue

Yes, I can cook. I mean, frying bacon is cooking, right? Alright, you got me, I’m a dud in the kitchen!

I do, however, love to eat. Nom.

bloggers cooking classWait, is that really me? And  am I actually learning to cook food with fellow bloggers?!?

So when 2nd Avenue asked me to come to 25 Mushrooms Kitchen (which I knew as this fancy-shmancy venue for cooking classes from a previous event I attended) for some much-needed cooking lessons with other members of traditional and new media, I immediately said yes!

 

Cooking at home: the healthier option

In just a couple of hours, I learned to cook California rolls, tempura, Japanese fried rice, and Teriyaki chicken. I also found out why ebi (shrimp) tempura stays straight (instead of curling up the way shrimp normally does when it’s cooked). And did you know that you can make shrimps look an inch or two longer?

But I’m getting ahead of myself, so I’ll let the photos tell a more complete story.

25 Mushrooms 2nd Avenue

25 Mushrooms Kitchen cooking class  Japanese fried rice

25 Mushrooms Kitchen

2nd Avenue cooking class

That’s fellow blogger Marj beside me, in case you were wondering.

My mom is a great cook and my brother is an actual chef, but I know very little when it comes to cooking! I know that cooking at home – instead of ordering out all the time – can help me make better, healthier decisions about food, so it’s a good thing that I can now make sushi rice. (In case you were wondering, it’s one of the things that sets good maki apart from the bland-tasting ones you buy for cheap.)

 

5 things I learned that day

While some of the things I learned that day are hard to explain in a blog post, here are five things I can easily share with you.

 

1. There’s a trick to keep ebi tempura straight

bento boxLook at that ebi tempura. So straight, so yummy!

No, they don’t use special prawns that miraculously stay straight after frying. You actually have to make multiple cuts on the underside of the shrimp so that even when the flesh is exposed to heat, it stays perfectly flat!

 

2. Perfectly-seasoned sushi rice is the secret to good maki

California rollsHave you ever wondered why some maki taste meh? The secret is in the rice.

Whenever I ate at a Japanese restaurant for the first time, I would order maki so that I could tell how good the food would be. Bland-tasting rolls were a red flag: The rest of the food was usually just as bad as the basic maki.

However, I never knew why good maki tasted the way it did. It was only after the cooking lessons that I found out why: The rice used in maki should be doused with a special mixture of vinegar, sugar, and salt!

Many stalls selling maki in bulk trays usually skip that step, which explains the lack of flavor.

 

3. The secret to crispy tempura is ice

ebi tempura

Dipping the shrimp in cold batter ensures maximum crisp post-frying. The temperature difference between the cold batter and the hot oil causes the tempura to become really crispy after it cooks, very much like how obsidian is brittle because it cools quicker than other volcanic rocks. (Erm, I know, nerd alert!)

Make sure you have some ice cubes in your bowl of batter while you dip your prawns. That’s a trade secret you can use with other recipes, don’t you think?

 

4. Pretty maki requires really sharp knives

California maki

I tried to replicate the maki at home. It tasted the same – yummy! – but it didn’t look as pretty during our cooking class.

The reason? I didn’t have sharp knives!

Before you make maki at home, make sure you have a sharp knife. While there are those made specifically to cut sushi, they can be rather costly. A sharp, ordinary kitchen knife will do, unless you don’t mind the splurge.

 

5. Knife Fight and Hell’s Kitchen are coming to local television

2nd Avenue and 25 MushroomsDo you have 2nd Avenue via cable?

You can now binge-watch Knife Fight and Hell’s Kitchen all I want!

In case you haven’t seen Knife Fight: Different chefs fight for the top spot using surprise ingredients that they must include in their recipes.

And I bet you already know Hell’s Kitchen! If you don’t, may I ask which rock you’ve been living under? For the uninitiated in all things Chef Ramsay, Hell’s Kitchen is another cooking contest where different chefs battle it out to  be the best one in the kitchen. Ramsay makes things interesting with his explosive temper and cussing. If hell had a kitchen, it would probably look like the one in this show!

Catch both shows on 2nd Avenue, available on both free and cable TV! Oh, and check out 25 Mushrooms Kitchen – they have really good cooking classes, in case you want to eat your way towards better health.


When you don't want to be a doctor anymore

You’ve probably met the type. Still a doctor in training, he might have said something like, “My mom would love to have a doctor in the family,” or, “My dad, a respected surgeon, wants me to follow in his footsteps.” Either way, you could hear what wasn’t spoken: He wasn’t really into medicine.

reluctant doctor

Or maybe he’s you.

Maybe you’re that med student who doesn’t have a clue about his life. Yes, you can ace each test because – let’s face it – you’re smart. You’ve got the brains, sure, but you just don’t have the heart, and you’re simply going through the motions, hoping against hope that you will one day learn to love the one thing you don’t – just because you’re good at it, just because everyone else says it’s your destiny.

Maybe you enrolled in medical school because you really wanted to heal the sick… except that for some strange reason, you no longer want to.

You will find it hard to say what’s in your heart. Admitting what you truly feel – out loud, with conviction, like a truth that can no longer be ignored once it has been pointed out – feels like a sin.

I don’t actually want to be a doctor. Ugh, no, for some reason, you can’t say it.

“You should be thankful that you have the resources to study medicine. Think of everyone else who would have been glad to be in your shoes! Your parents worked hard to get you here – don’t ruin it.” Yep, they’ll think it, and they’ll even say it.

Oddly enough, it seems that you are the only person who doesn’t know what to do with your life. Your aunt, neighbor, teacher, and mother’s bestie’s cousin’s doctor-buddy all seem to know you’re meant to finish medicine.

Hold on. Maybe you know what to do with your life. Or maybe you don’t, but you know what you don’t want to do. But you’re already a med student/ intern/ resident/ consultant. You’re here, smack in the middle of a situation you can’t seem to get out of without earning a few disapproving stares, and everything you feel can be summarized by one word: stuck.

 

Stuck in medicine

Sounds all too familiar? Then read this, and read it well. This might be the first (and the last) time you will for some time, and after a week, a month – nah, after you’ve actually graduated and earned your diploma – it might be too late.

Although in all honesty, it will never be too late. But I digress.

I want you to pay attention because this is your life we are talking about. This is not some computer game: If you lose, you won’t have two more lives to make things right.

One life. That’s all you’ve got.

You may eventually decide to pursue medicine and become happy with your decision, regardless of what your parents didn’t tell you about medicine. You may drop it altogether, do something else, and be one of the rare happy people who can honestly tell the world that they have listened to their true calling. Either way, there will be undeniable truths you need to realize now before you take the next step, before you lose the strength to do what you know you should…

…Before you decide to ignore that annoying little voice inside you that made you want to read this article in the first place.

FACT:
Your life, your expectations

It’s your life. Your life. There are no two ways about this.

Nobody can live our lives except us. As for me, I don’t really expect to live it based on people’s expectations. How about you?

If you have to take up medicine and finish it, do it because it’s your choice, not because the choice was made for you.

You get one shot at this. Two, if you’re lucky. Make the years count because there’s no telling when it’s time to clock out.

 

FACT:
You have a calling

Yes, you do. It’s been bothering you, in fact. It’s telling you to listen, whispering in your ear, playing in your mind like that annoying song that has become your day’s official earworm.

It’s telling you to change your mind, to do what you know you’re meant to do.

Or maybe you haven’t heard it yet. Maybe that voice inside you is silent for a reason. Maybe it’s not time for you to be called.

But then again, maybe it’s always been there but you have learned to tune it out. You have gone deaf from the applause your family and friends have given you about your decision to become a doctor. You have convinced yourself that the voice is nothing but an auditory hallucination that will soon come to pass.

Hopefully, that voice will keep bothering you whether or not you decide to have a hearing problem or a self-diagnosed psychiatric disorder. Maybe the next time it starts whispering again, you will finally have enough peace of mind to listen.

 

FACT:
Not everybody will have the luxury to heed their calling

Maybe you have a family to feed and you can’t be a starving artist. Maybe you don’t have the resources to pursue your truest, purest dream.

Not everybody can afford to heed their calling. Doing so is a luxury, one of the highest order. But if you do have the resources, you are a fool not to give it your best shot.

 

FACT:
Nobody can figure it all out except you

I receive dozens of emails each week, mostly from students who are unsure about what to do next. Should they take up medicine? Is medicine going to solve their financial woes?

Is it medicine worth it?

“I am the best student in my batch,” one student was bold enough to admit. “I feel I have what it takes to be a doctor.”

What was plain in his email, however, was that he lacked the one thing he needed to survive unscathed in his preferred profession: heart.

He just wasn’t into it. His email was not meant to convince me that he would make a good doctor.

He wrote it to convince himself.

Oh, if only life came with a handbook! Oh, if only I had the answers to all his questions! But I don’t. I can say something that may inspire or guide him, but nobody can figure out what he and the many young doctors-to-be out there truly want except them.

Same goes for you.

Go ahead, send me a message. Tell me why you’re confused. Tell me how I can be of help. After all, I know how it feels – been there, done that, and I lived to tell. But I will also tell you that I can’t make up your mind for you.

You will be the one to make the call. You will be the one to choose – left or right? – once you get to the inevitable fork in the road.

 

FACT:
You will make mistakes and that’s okay

Maybe the decision you will make isn’t the best one after all. Maybe you’ll falter, perhaps even fail a bit.

Maybe you’ll fail a lot.

That’s okay. Life goes on. Failure can work for you. Hey, maybe your failure is your calling’s doing. Maybe you are being pulled in the right direction by being pushed out of the wrong one.

Survive the fall and things may just make sense yet.

 

And in case you decide to finish what you started…

You didn’t want to take up medicine yet you did. You didn’t want to finish med school yet you did.

What now?

Keep your chin up. Maybe you don’t want to become the kind of doctor you usually see – that is, one who does rounds in the hospital or sees patients at the clinic. Maybe you can be another kind of doctor: researcher, hospital administrator, legislator who focuses on public health.

Maybe you don’t want to be a doctor at all and you want to pursue a course not related to medicine and health in any way. That’s okay. You can contribute to society in so many ways and that’s the beauty of life.

 

Besides, do we really want you as anyone’s doctor if your heart just isn’t in it?

 

So, relax. Regardless of where you are in life, even if you feel more stuck than ever, you actually aren’t. You have what it takes to make a move. Maybe you’re not ready yet, but once you are, you will realize you were never stuck.

You’ve always been free, whether you want to admit it or not.

That’s the gift, actually. Free will. Do you know that free will is the main prerequisite of love? Nobody can force you to love someone – you have to make the decision on your own. Yes, free will is that important. Don’t ignore the fact that you have it.

 

If you feel stuck, it’s because being stuck is the most comfortable position you can be in at the moment. Being stuck is the only option you want to take, because the other option is making your move (and you have convinced yourself that you’re not brave enough for that).

 

That’s okay. Become a doctor. Don’t become a doctor. Whatever you decide, that’s fine. You have the free will to get where you need to go.

Whatever decision you make, don’t feel guilty. Don’t feel guilty if you listened to yourself and quit medicine. Don’t feel guilty if you didn’t listen to yourself and you graduated from med school. Either way, you will learn lessons that will help you in the future.

Either way, you will find what you need to get unstuck.


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