Why I Do It (and Why I Continue Doing It)

You never forget your first love. Even if you’ve already come into terms with the fact that you’re definitely not going to end up together, your first love still occupies a special part of your heart. I initially had qualms about facing my first love again and to make things even more difficult, we were to spend two whole months together. Dear Lord, how am I going to survive this? 

But here we are. It’s over. My OB-GYN internship rotation is officially over, and I’m exhausted. I feel so drained both physically and mentally, but every day of that seemingly endless pre-duty-post cycle was worth it. I learned a lot. I had fun. And most of all, I got to be a witness (as well as directly assisting) in the everyday miracle of bringing new life into this world.

Pre-Duty days were spent charting countless of new and follow-up patients at the OB-GYN General Service out-patient department. Normally, I liked seeing patients in this kinds of environment, since it’s relatively more benign and there was no pressure of urgency, but there were days when the OPD still went a bit out of hand. Intense. One particular day had us charting way past 5pm in the afternoon. I didn’t get the chance to eat a proper lunch! Still, our days at the OPD gave me the chance to learn from the rich pool of patient cases in UP-PGH. I know the basics of pre-natal check-up like the back of my hand, and can confidently do internal examination and the Pap smear test. What a far cry from my old self, who basically panicked at the thought of having to do IE. (Read about my memorable LU IV OB-GYN experience here: Crepes, Cramps, and Contractions)

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Service B-est! :) Endless charting at the OPD is nothing when you’re with awesome co-interns and residents! || Photo from Biel Faundo

Duty days were, of course, where the action was. It was real roller coaster ride going through 4-5 straight OBAS (OB Admitting Section a.k.a. OB emergency room) and LRDR (Labor Room – Delivery Room) duties. All those unbelievably toxic duties! In the OBAS, we practically defined fast charting. And every time our resident would yell out “Admission!” caused a rapid call to action to ‘admit’, which entailed inserting an IV line, drawing blood, making the patient’s identity “flag”, and of course, the insistent reminder to fill up that patient info slip (the perpetual Kaalaman form). I was unfortunate to have two Labs Master duties, both on High Risk Fridays. This meant that I had no other task during the duty day, except to run up and down to and from the Department of Laboratories to submit specimens and retrieve and take note of results. And when there is a suspected pre-eclampsia patient, stat Alb meant stat Alb, and make sure the labs know it!

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The benign color spectrum at the LRDR :) Thank you, thank you to our stellar clerks and our awesome residents for everything! And of course, thank you to all the mommies who allowed us to be a part of an important milestone in their lives. || Photo from Gienah Evangelista

 

On the other hand, LRDR duties were spent on labor watch. Whew. All that toco-monitoring! All that TIC (Temporary-In-Charge) work, what with all the LR backlogs I had the weird tendency to get decked Young Primigravids (ie. 18-year-olds and below who were pregnant for the very first time), so you can only imagine how my patience was repeatedly tested by these obviously-too-young-for-this types. They generally had a low pain threshold, so they didn’t take labor too well. I had to repeatedly counsel them about the responsibility they were to face as new mothers, and that they had to stop thinking only about themselves from that point on. Another life was going to be at the mercy of their hands, come the birth of their child.

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I love Pay duties. I love witnessing the “ideal” side of things. But most of all, I love Complete Bed Rest duties. Yaaay~ || Photo from Gienah Evangelista

 

I definitely wouldn’t miss the 24-hour monitoring duties at the OB ward, not to mention the grabe-naman-tama-na-po list of To-Do’s that required me to line, line, extract, and line some more. The end of OB-GYN also marks the potential end of my OR career, should I choose not to go into a cutting specialty in the future, so there’s that to think about. And yay, no more 7AM Summary Rounds! No more I-don’t-know-anything Gyne Onco and Tropho Rounds!

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“Nasaan na ang pasiyente? Higa na sa kama! Tanggal ng pambaba!” 

All-in-all, I’d say that I had a pretty fruitful OB-GYN Internship rotation. I had a blast helping all the new mommies. There were definitely days when I would repeatedly question why I continue to do this doctor thing. God knows how extremely difficult duties can get. And though you are granted a day of rest what with the true post-duty status, it can never be enough, ’cause before you know it, you have to go on duty yet again. It never ends! It was definitely a bloody business, but I learned that as long as you push hard enough and don’t give up, good outcomes can definitely be expected. It was all definitely worth it, considering everything you’ve gained at the end. #BabyOut

Hinga ng malalim, pigil, and push! Only 70-something more days left of Internship! Let’s do this!

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Community Medicine Week 5: Familiar Paths

“Home isn’t a place. It’s a person.”
– Stephanie Perkins

Tita Nini, the midwife of Barangay Luksuhin Ibaba, and I were walking towards the tricycle terminal, together with one of our Barangay Health Workers, Nanay Aida, after another long Wednesday clinic day. Wednesday was our busiest clinic day, the day when most of the patients came to consult, especially the pregnant women who were to be seen by the midwife for their prenatal check-up. That said, it was quite understandable why the three of us were eager to go home and rest a bit.

We were halfway towards the Luksuhin Public Market when Tita Nini remembered she had to check something out at one of the local parlors. Parlor-parlor din ‘pag may time! Nanay Aida offered to come with her. I smiled and said that I’ll go ahead of them.
“Sigurado ka ba, dok?” asked Tita Nini, looking a bit reluctant to let me go off alone. “Kaya mo ba mag-isa?”
“Ay, oo naman po, Tita Nini! Kayang-kaya!” I laughed, reassuringly. My two companions heartily laughed along while waving good-bye and walking towards the direction of the local parlor.

As I proceeded towards the tricycle terminal on my own, I thought about the ease at which I reiterated that I was fine on my own. I also realized that it was true, that I could easily head back to Barangay Sulsugin by myself, that I no longer feared getting lost, that I knew my way back to my foster home, that a lot about Luksuhin Ibaba has become familiar.

Five weeks can never be enough to fully understand a place and a way of living, but in this very short time, I’ve grown to be fond of these paths. It is a far out cry from my first week, during which I felt like a lost wanderer most of the time. I remember being so wary of having to commute everyday just to reach my assigned barangay. I remember being so afraid of getting lost, of ending up who knows where with no idea how to get back home. But now, the paths have become familiar. The place has really grown on me.

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The barangay health workers of Luksuhin Ibaba, Dr. PJ Francisco (Family and Community Medicine resident), and I after our vital signs OSCE || It’s been a great five weeks. Thank you for making me feel right at home! :)

But more than the place, what I’ve really grown fond of are the people. Also among my fears upon starting out was feeling a bit lonely amidst all the new people. Though I’ve never been much of a shy person, there is still always that worry that there’ll be difficulty getting along with people. But everyone here has been more than welcoming. The new-found friends in my health team as well as within the other people of the community will surely never be forgotten. I’ve learned a lot from them about the simplicity of life, the dedication to work, and the importance of family. Because of them, despite being a mere visitor, I felt that I found something of a home here in Luksuhin Ibaba and in Sulsugin.

As my community medicine rotation is slowly coming to an end, I hope I was able to contribute something, no matter how little, for the betterment of the people of Luksuhin Ibaba.

Community Medicine Week 4: Recognized

” There is undoubtedly a lot of pressure that comes with recognition, which can be a good thing and a bad thing all at the same time.”

– Prabal Gurung

I had just finished another clinic duty and was walking towards the tricycle terminal found just behind the public market. I was in the middle of one of my usual daydreams when I was suddenly pulled back into reality by an eager “Hello po, doktora!”. Looking up, I saw that it was one of the tricycle drivers. He was already pulling away from the terminal, a passenger on board his vehicle, but when he saw me, he took time to greet me and even call out at his fellow drivers, informing them that I needed a ride. The man I assumed to be a foreman of sorts directed me to an empty tricycle and immediately informed the driver where I was going home to. I didn’t have to say anything. They already knew.

It felt strange to be recognized. I honestly couldn’t remember how I got acquainted with the tricycle driver, if he consulted at the barangay health station (BHS), at the rural health unit (RHU), or maybe even visited our foster home in Sulsugin as an acquaintance or relative of our foster mom. There was nothing about my appearance that may have tipped him of my identity. I wasn’t in scrubs, wasn’t wearing an ID, nor carrying any of my medical tools. The tricycle driver simply knew that I was their doctor.

Going into this rotation, I knew that it was going to be a challenge being the sole doctor at the barangay health station. With Luksuhin Ibaba being the largest and most populated barangay in Alfonso, I had the additional challenge of having slightly more patients than my co-interns. That said, maybe it was inevitable that people would start actively seeking out this sole doctor. For some of them, you’re the only doctor they’ll ever get to see.

It really is such a different world here in the community, compared to what I know in UP-PGH. Back in the hospital, my patience would repeatedly get tested after being called “Nurse! Nurse!”, “Ate! Ate”, or worse “Ineng! Ineng!” by patients and their watchers. All these, even after all these years and after finally earning the right to wear my Intern’s coat. I’d all but grown tired of correcting them about my confusing position as ‘almost a doctor’. But here in the community, even without the coat, people recognize me as their doctor. And though this initially brought me delight, thinking that, at last, I’ve sort of arrived! I actually talk knowledgeably and act skillfully enough to be seen as a physician!, the recognition now brings a little bit of panic in me. For I once again realize that to be called and recognized as a doctor is more than just a title, it is really such a big responsibility. Being a doctor makes people put their utmost trust in you. There will be moments when you’ll literally have lives on your hands.

“…to be called and recognized as a doctor is more than just a title, it is really such a big responsibility.”

Two more weeks remain of my stay as the intern-in-charge of Barangay Luksuhin Ibaba, and I’m planning to make the most of every moment. I’ll do my best to prove worthy of my patients’ trust and their everyday greetings of “Hello, doktora!”.

Community Medicine Week 3: In Good Company

“People are always good company when they are doing what they really enjoy.” 

– Samuel Butler

A big part of Barangay Luksuhin Ibaba is found along the major highway of Alfonso, the long road that stretches from its welcome arc and passes through several barangays before arriving at the town proper. However, a part of Luksuhin Ibaba’s Purok 3, the largest and most populated of the three, is a bit more secluded. Nasa looban, as the locals would say. It is a part that can only be reached after passing through several small passageways, zigzagging this way and that. That said, the residents of this part of the barangay find it a bit difficult to reach the barangay health station (BHS), which is located along the highway. It is quite the walk towards the Sulsugin-Luksuhin road, where they will be able to ride a tricycleon the way to the BHS.

And so, the barangay health team [that is, the barangay health workers (BHWs) and I] decided to hold a satellite clinic day last Thursday, February 2, 2017, at this part of Purok 3, so as to reach out to those unable to go to the BHS. Nanay Linda, one of our BHWs, generously offered the use of her house as the host of this satellite clinic. We converted the dining area into a clinic of some sorts, bringing along even the height chart from the BHS.


The most memorable patient encounter I had at our Purok 3 satellite clinic would have to be Lola L.M., who I wouldn’t have thought was already 94-years-old. Still strong for her age, she had a smile on her face as she entered Nanay Linda’s dining room, albeit with some difficulty due to her aching legs. Lola  L.M. was a known hypertensive, but she admitted having difficulty complying with her medications. Through the efforts of our BHW, she would have her BP monitored, sharing that the highest reading reached up to 200/100 mmHg. Lola L.M. had a bit of difficulty hearing as well, so she had one of her neighbors, Nanay A.C. (also the one who accompanied her there at the satellite clinic), help her understand my questions as I continued history-taking. I tried to probe as to reasons why she was poorly compliant to her medications. It was then that Lola L.M. began to tear up as she related how she was already living alone, how all her children already had their own families and had moved out of Alfonso, how she couldn’t commute, much less walk to the main road, all the way to the BHS.

 I couldn’t imagine how a 94-year-old lady, even if she was as strong as Lola L.M. was,  could live alone. It was truly saddening. I thought perhaps that beyond her uncontrolled hypertension, beyond her muscle pains, what Lola L.M. was really suffering from was loneliness. Thank God for neighbors and friends like Nanay A.C., who take time to help her with whatever she may need. At the end of the day, I was really happy to have been able to come see Lola L.M. and the other patients who found it difficult to reach the BHS. 
In the true spirit of Filipino hospitality, Nanay Linda, assisted by the other BHWs, prepared a feast of sorts, food that wasn’t just limited for us, the health team, but offered to every patient who came to consult at the clinic. My tummy had a hard time keeping up with all the food they prepared, but of course, I gamely tried all the dishes.


The sudden downpour of rain that came in the afternoon, a few minutes after I saw the last patient, paved the way for lively chatter among our barangay health team. This, of course, could not be complete without more food – we had coffee/hot choco + pan de sal during the long conversation. It was stimulating to be among such people, whose friendship and bond were apparent for all to see. They talked about their work. They talked about recent events happening within the barangay and beyond. They talked about their families. They talked about their past interns. They shared all sorts of stories that I happily listened to. I could tell that despite it being a volunteer job,  despite there being some problems along the way, these women, when it comes right down to it, enjoyed what they were doing. After the sky cleared up a bit, I went home that day with my stomach full and my heart happy to have spent a day in good company.

Community Medicine Week 2: Breathless

“Life is measured not by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”  

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When a patient comes to you, complaining of difficulty of breathing, a long list of differentials come to mind, ranging from the apparent pulmonary etiology to the more complicated renal pathology. But in the case of A.D., 23/F, it is highly probable that her shortness of breath is caused by an exacerbation of her bronchial asthma, most likely exercise-induced. It is probably her own fault, knowing that her lungs can’t handle prolonged walks, much less keep up with her healthy, non-asthmatic friends when it comes to physical activity, yet still attempting to assert herself. Ayan tuloy, hingal na hingal…  To think I’d have an uncontrolled asthma week here in the community. Sigh…

It is ironic that an aspiring doctor such as myself would have several co-morbidities, yet it is proof that physicians, no matter how much they are sometimes revered as mortals attempting to combat death, one disease entity as a time, are still quite human when it comes right down to it. A beloved Family Medicine consultant once told me that I should look at my illnesses as a sort of blessing in that they help me empathize more with my patients. I know first hand what pain is, and not just physical pain, and I know first hand how difficult and extremely debilitating it can all get. I know what it’s like to feel so hopeless, when you feel so, so weak that it’s hard to even feed yourself. I know what it’s like to gasp for air, to literally be breathless. 

when the doctor becomes the patient…. || 23-year-old female presents with shortness of breath and slight chest tightness; Tx: Salbutamol 2mg/tab q6 for now || Never take breathing for granted. Some of us find it so difficult to do.

So, even more so now that I’m in a way running my own clinic at the Luksuhin Ibaba Barangay Health Station (BHS), I make it a point to listen to my patients’ stories, to believe in pain scores, to take note of all complaints. If it is something they deemed important enough to warrant a consult, then by all means, let me do my best to address all concerns. I’ve heard all sorts of complaints during my clinic duties at the BHS. There was a young mother who brought her 2-month-old baby for ‘loss of appetite’ when in fact, the baby was well and healthy, just a little bloated and  needed a little burping. I simply taught the mother about feeding cues and to not force feed her baby. I also had a variety of ‘headache’ complaints, the history-taking of which was almost enough to induce a headache of my own. Di ko po alam, doc. Basta po masakit! goes on, while another insists, Ay, 10 out of 10 po talaga, doc! Ganun kasakit! Still, pain is subjective. 

My determination to hold clinic today despite my breathlessness seems to bear little as I only saw three patients today. But maybe, for the three of them, my efforts were a big deal. They were able to see a doctor (well, almost a doctor) today. They were able to get free medicines today. They were able to be advised today. And as always, I am comforted by their grateful smiles. 

I remain constantly appreciative of the little moments, those quiet patient times when you can just converse freely with patients. A welcome change from hospital life (UP-PGH life, in particular) where everything seems to be in fast forward and just the mere thought of taking your time is seemingly punishable by demerit. It is these quiet moments that frequently go unnoticed, frequently taken for granted. We are sometimes so overcome with excitement, with adventure, with twists and turns, that we fail to appreciate the quiet times. 

But they are, in fact, what we live for. They are the very moments that make every breath we make worth making.

Community Medicine Week 1: Wandering and Wondering

“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

Beginnings and endings are equally difficult to experience, but for different reasons. In the case of this week, beginning our community integration proved challenging because everything was new and different. Adjusting needed to be done as we prepared for living with our foster families, and working at our respective barangay health stations. We were to meet and converse with a lot of people, and truthfully, there was really no way of preparing oneself. That we will feel lost is an understatement. No amount of orientations or endorsements would be able to give you the exact picture of what you were to face. You only ever learn by experience, by opening yourself to discovery.

The Alfonso Municipal Hall, which doubles as the Rural Health Unit

This past week, I began my duties as the medical intern of Barangay Luksuhin Ibaba. One notable difference I had with my fellow interns was that I was the only one who didn’t reside within my assigned barangay. This made me consider two things – First, what the residents of Barangay Luksuhin Ibaba may think : could the fact that I wasn’t living in their barangay create some sort of gap?; will this make them more distant, less willing to deal with me? Or am I just overthinking things? I don’t know if it has ever been done that the Luksuhin intern be assigned a foster home in Luksuhin per se, but I wonder if it will make some sort of difference.

Second, how can I, a partially directionally-challenged person, survive daily commutes without getting myself lost? I dislike communting by myself as I tend to get off at all the wrong places. I really fear not knowing how to get home, so imagine the internal panicking that happened when I found out I was to commute daily to my assigned barangay. Still, I let myself be open to this challenge and learned the routes and fares from Sulsugin to Luksuhin (and vice versa), as well as from Alfonso Proper to Luksuhin (and vice versa). Not a lost wanderer anymore!

Ready for clinic duty at the Barangay Luksuhin Health Station!

Still, as one of my favorite authors, J.R.R. Tolkien, wrote in his famous poem, not all wanderers are lost. I certainly felt like a wanderer this first week at Alfonso, going about day-by-day without a clear direction in mind, simply aiming to get to know the ropes of things. And, so as not to get lost, I gladly opened myself up to the challenge of integration, of slowly getting to know and engaging within the community.

I had my first interaction with the Barangay Health Workers (BHW) of Luksuhin Ibaba last Wednesday. The previous interns said that Wednesday Barnagay Health Station (BHS) clinics were busy, and boy, was it really busy! I barely had the time to converse with the BHWs, aside from our short chitchat over lunch, what with the number of patients that came for consultation. I saw more than 20 patients on my first day! Wednesday’s rush got me browsing through my clinical notes, much that I was a bit more prepared for Thursday’s clinic. Truthfully, I was a bit hesitant about holding clinic duties on my own, without the familiar guidance of a resident or consultant to guide me, especially in my diagnosis and management. To make things a bit worse for my nerves, the people here have such great respect for doctors. How they smile as they greet you, Good morning doktora! How they hang on to your words as you attempt to explain their illness and treatment plan. Oh the pressure. But, I think I did alright. I certainly found talking with the patients enjoyable. One notable patient, an elderly man with hypertension, even made an effort to come back a few hours after I saw him for a consult, just to give me a small token of his appreciation – a pen. His simple effort made in complete gratitude did not fail to made me smile.

I had another interesting patient encounter during my duty at the Rural Health Unit (RHU) earlier today. It was a morning filled with consults of coughs, colds, and fevers, when come the afternoon, an 8-year-old boy came with a laceration on his forehead, brought about by a rough round of play time at school. Thank God it spared his eyelids! But the wounds was deep enough to require suturing. So suture, I did! To think that I’d still need my surgery skills during my community medicine rotation! At first, I was wondering how I was to go about it, what with the need for instruments and all, but it was good to know that the RHU was equipped with the basic suturing supplies!

After this first week of wandering and wondering, I plan to continue getting to know Barangay Luksuhin Ibaba and its people. I look forward to hearing their stories. As the new place slowly turns into a different form of home, and the stranger slowly becomes a familiar face, this wanderer will soon find direction amidst all the challenges she will face.

Live While We’re Young

I’m a little behind on my writing, aren’t I? Okaay. Maybe not just a little. Ugh. As much as I’d like to blame the whole ‘I-can’t-access-Wordpress-what-on-earth-is-wrong-with-my-Internet?!’ situation, that’s not really the real problem here. Once again, I found myself caught in between my two worlds. I spent any free time I had, resting while I could, spending time with my loved ones, and indulging in good books, movies, and dramas. I am such a lazy writer, gah. 

Thus, here is my effort to get back on the road of the written word. I have at least two blog entries I have to write to catch-up (will work on those soon!), but before I backtrack, I’d better get these thoughts written down before I get too lazy again… #internshipissoooooootiringyetfun #howtomaketimeforwritingpo

As we were ending our Ophthalmology rotation (much to my absolute regret, see more in a future blog post), I was suddenly struck with an unexplicable sense of impending doom. It was weird. At the back of my head, I wondered if something bad was going to happen, or if it was a symptom of some sorts (Med Tidbit: feeling a sense of impending doom could actually point to a variety of diseases, including  anxiety attacks, depression, myocardial infarction, and even aortic dissection). Thinking back, it was probably just because we were starting our Pedia rotation the next day after. Something about dealing with such a toxic rotation, and the fact that I’ve never been really good with kids, must have had me in jitters. And the only bad thing that happened that day was that I forgot my umbrella and got wet from the starting drizzles. 

And now, all of a sudden, I find myself halfway through Pedia. It wasn’t bad at all. In fact, there are several moments when it was actually fun.

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Weeks 1-2 of Pedia Internship consisted on unlimited charting at the OPD Sick Child Clinic and the numerous Subspecialty Clinics, and at night, ER back-up duties. Our three-woman duty team did great! Jobs tend to get a lot easier when you’re working with awesome people. But, since it’s the PGH PER we’re talking about, it is inevitable that things get a little rough every once in a while…
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And we end up pretty tired from it all. But of course, being the benign team that we are, we do get short nap times. :)) PER Triage hits! #kinderjoypamore #presentingKatyFairy || Photo credit (c) JB Besa — stolen shot! 
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Always a treat to go on post duty binge eating with these two! :)) Much to the regret of my stomach and wallet though… Haha! The post duty sleep that soon follows this is quite something as well, and the eventual realization that things have once again come full circle and you have to repeat the whole Pre-Duty-Post cycle once again. Haaaay Buhay Medisina! || Photo credit (c) Myza Espallardo

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Weeks 3-4 sent me back to the Pedia Wards and this time around, I got to spend time with the Hema Onco patients. One of the challenges of being a Hema Onco (HO) Intern was that you went on duty alone and you were semi-in-charge of all 15 HO patients admitted for the tour of your duty. Mini-JWAPOD-ship every duty!

Still, the greatest challenge for the HO intern was probably training your heart to deal with the hardships of caring for children with cancer. It honestly broke my heart, seeing all these children, some as young as 11 months old to adolescents at the bringe of adulthood, dealing with such a complicated thing such as cancer.

One time, when I was in the middle of monitoring duties, 18-year-old L.O. (not her real name) caught me off-guard with such a difficult question. As she held her arm out so I could take her blood pressure and pulse rate, wearing such a sad expression on her face, she asked me, “Dok, kailan po ba gagaling ‘tong leukemia?“. I honestly struggled with an appropriate answer, completely unsure of how I should go about it. I went with a general reply, saying that patients, being different from one another, also responded to treatment regimens differently. She only had to do what she ought, be compliant with her medications and to take care of her self, so we could hope for her best shot at recovery.

It was a sad reality, what these children have to deal with. Instead of spending time playing, having fun, learning, making friends, discovering the world and what it had to offer, they were stuck in a hospital, getting their blood examined daily, dealing with medications and diagnostics here and there. They were forced to struggle with the war of life versus death, when they haven’t really gotten their fair shot at life yet. Meanwhile, their families, especially the parents, were facing their own battles. It is unimaginable how a father or a mother could bear seeing their child suffer. Dealing with mortalities at the Pedia ward was difficult, to say the least, both for the loved ones left behind and for healthcare workers like us.

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A beacon of light within such a sad reality… It was a common sight at our HO Ward, having do-gooders come to share food, gifts, and time with our patients. :) These characters from Star Wars came not only once to cheer up patients and to wish them a speedy recovery! || Photo credit (c) Teedee Estrada

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And just like that, we’re in Week 5-6 of Pedia internship! Time to spend time with the newborns at the catchers’ area/NICU. First duty down, and it went pretty well! Here’s looking forward to more fun and learning! Can’t believe I actually worried about this rotation in the first place… Hehe!

Twinning! :) My first catch of  Pedia Internship is this live baby boy! Cutie! Photo taken and posted with mommy's permission
Twinning! :) My first catch of Pedia Internship is this live baby boy! Cutie! Photo taken and posted with mommy’s permission || Photo credit (c) Myza Espallardo