I spent a good amount of the day thinking, so much so that I had absolutely no progress with my writing, reading, or studying. I have absolutely 0% progress with that latter, since I’m still having an internal debate with myself. With certain opportunities opening its doors to me, I just had to take some time to explore my horizons.
How do you know if a certain thing is for you? I hate these moments of indecision so much. I’m so afraid of making mistakes, so afraid of choosing wrong, of getting my spirit broken and wounded yet again when it still hasn’t healed completely. As much as I don’t want to compare myself to my peers, I can’t help but do that, and be envious of the determination they possess, of the paths they’re exploring, of seeing the path they know is theirs. I’m envious of their pursuit of their dreams.
I used to have dreams. I think I still have them, but they’re currently all so blurry in my mind. I miss the days when I have such a clear vision in my head, something that’ll provide me with a drive to succeed and better myself. Right now, because of the gift of time, I’m inclined to think long and hard about what I want to achieve, and so far, I unfortunately still can’t give a 100%.
Some part of me is thinking about going back to school, but circumstances would require me to pursue a public health degree and I don’t know if I’m up for that, not because I’m not interested in it, but because I’ve never imagined myself in that kind of work. Thinking about it terrifies me.
One thing I’m really sure about, though, is that I want to spend time writing. God knows how desperately I want to complete my long overdue novels. Maybe I should take a complete year off and just write? Mom and Dad say I have to at least do something medical so as not to lose hold of my knowledge and skills. I’m amenable to doing hospital duties, but I think what I just want for myself is an OPD post, something to do in the day, so that after work, I can go home and comfortably write.
In fact, if I’m really going to be honest with myself, I’m having an extremely difficult time deciding because what I really want is a medical field that will allow me time to write. Yes, it’s such a big part of my life that I really don’t want to sacrifice writing for a hardcore specialty. I love the OR, and it’s my happy place, but a lot of things are making me hesitant about pursuing Surgery or OB-GYN primarily because of the toxicity that will never allow me time to write (let alone time to think about writing), as well as the physical and mental demands of both. The relatively lighter field of Ophtha was what attracted me the most to the field, and it still seems like what can give me the best balance of my two wants. But the field is dangerously competitive nowadays and because I’m so afraid of getting my heart broken again, I want to be 100% certain that I want it before putting myself out there again.
Sigh~ This is so hard. I just want to commit to something. I wonder when I’ll ever reach, or even go near, 100% certainty.
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)
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!
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.
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!
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!
“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.
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.
“Life is measured not by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”
– Author Unknown (Uncertain Origins)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Late post! This blog entry chronicles some of my favorite experiences from our Surgeon-on-Duty (SOD) rotation last August 12 – 25 2016 . It was a challenging yet fun two weeks that consisted of rough ER duties, seemingly endless OPD charting, and solo Minor OR stints.
The Emergency Room can be a pretty tough place to handle, what with the need for quick and systematic action in facing what may be the difference between life and death. This is especially true for the UP-Philippine General Hospital, where patients come in overwhelming numbers on a daily basis.
And when you happen to be among the Surgery interns on duty at the SOD, you have to be prepared for the rush. Wounds of all sorts of shapes and sizes. Abdominal pain of varied character, severity, location, and radiation. The different shades of jaundice. Vomit there, vomit everywhere. Bleeding love. And there never seems to be a shortage of mauling cases. All these and more, and before you know it, it’s already 7AM or 7PM – shift over!
Tale 1. What Really Matters
Two patients arrive at the SOD, both sustaining multiple injuries after a vehicular crash. Our four-man intern team quickly divides into two and takes action – fast-chart, insert IV access, extract blood, prepare imaging requests, do skin tests for tetanus shots and antibiotics, and clean wounds. History reveals that our patients, who I shall pertain to as Girl and Boy from this point on, are sweethearts who were on an afternoon drive, and a mistake on Boy’s part caused their unfortunate accident.
Girl’s most obvious injury is her forehead laceration and Sachi goes to work on suturing. With the injury not so deep and not so long, the repair is easily finished, the wound cleaned and dressed. Meanwhile, I grab a 1L bottle of plain LR, a macroset, and an IV cannula and proceeded to insert an access on Boy.
“Naku, Doktora. Tatahiin niyo na po ba ako?” Boy asks, clearly a bit nervous about getting stitched up, as I tie a tourniquet (actually a tourni-glove) around his left hand. I reassure him and say that I’d only be inserting an IV line for now.
Holding up his hand as I try to look for the ideal vein to puncture, Boy takes a deep breath. “Masakit po ba ‘yun?”
“May anesthesia naman po, sir. Pero siyempre, may kaunting sakit pa rin sa umpisa,“I reply. I get the IV cannula inserted with no problems and set up the line.
“Eh, yung kasama ko po? Kumusta siya?” Boy asks, peering outside the suturing area where his girlfriend was stationed.
“Ah, OK na siya. Natahi na ‘yung sugat niya.”
He sighs in relief. “Mabuti naman. Ang mahalaga kasi, siya…”
Amazing how love can make a person think so much of that special someone to the point of forgetting himself. Boy’s thoughts are so concentrated on how Girl is that he failed to recognize that he’s the one in a much problematic state. While Girl only sustained an easily repairable forehead laceration, Boy suffered what appeared to be an intense hit to the inguinal area, causing gross swelling and erythema of his scrotal area. One can imagine just how much that hurts, but what really matters most to him at that moment was how Girl was.
#TrueLoveAtTheER How sweet! Pa-CBG naman po ‘dyan!
Tale 2. While I Can
One of things I like the most about OPD clinic days is the fact that you get to sit down, talk and examine patients at a relaxed environment. In contrast to the super fast-paced and confusing ER environment, the OPD actually allows you to take time to build rapport, the first step in any history-taking and physical examination lecture I’ve ever attended since I started medical school.
My team is relatively toxic when it comes to OPD days. Our new patient numbers always approaches or even exceeds 50, meaning charting galore! On one particular day, everyone seemed to have urinary problems, requiring me to do the digital rectal examination more than a couple of times. Oh boy…
My patient encounter with a 80-year-old grandmother, who we shall call Lola in this story, was particularly memorable. She comes in unassisted, shuffling towards the seat in front of my desk, looking a bit winded from walking, but with a smile pasted on her face nonetheless. I greet her with an equally enthusiastic smile and proceeded with “Ano pong pinunta niyo rito sa PGH?”.
I still find it a little striking how patients can put so much trust in their doctors, especially ones they have just met, as to immediately reveal parts, if not their entire, life story. This is especially true when you actually succeed in building rapport in that short period of introduction. Lola immediately begins telling me about this mass she noticed on her left shoulder, a mass that started out small and that she ignored until it became big enough to catch her daughter’s attention. The conversation then strays away from her medical problem – the mass – and towards what I suspect is her more pressing problem, her family situation.
With times being as hard as they are right now, Lola is the one taking care of her grandchildren, even the one who brings them to school and cooks their baon. They were the real reason why it took her so long to consult about her shoulder mass. In fact, she wouldn’t be consulting at that moment, had it not been for her daughter’s insistence.
“Sabi niya sa akin, baka kung ano na ‘yan, ‘nay. Ipatingin mo na…” Lola narrated, her eyes a bit watery. “Lumalaki na. Hanggang kaya natin, ipatingin mo na at ipa-opera…” She dabs at her eyes before continuing. “Ang sa akin naman, OK lang kahit anong manyari sa akin. Matanda na ako eh. Pero para sa kanila, hanggang kaya ko, sige. Magpapatingin na lang ako…”
I did my best to reassure Lola, that we would do our best to help her. Physical examination points to a simple cyst and excision seems to be an easy option for her. She looked relieved to hear that it didn’t appear to be anything serious and thanked me for taking time to see her.
Our patients truly are our greatest teachers, more so than any textbook, trans, reviewer, or lecture. Life can be a very confusing journey, with its endless ups and downs, twists and turns. But as Lola said, for the people we love the most, we must do what we can while we can. No one knows what lies ahead, so we have to cherish the present.
The world of Medicine can be a bit overwhelming at times. Throughout the past six years, I’ve spent quite a number of hours in deep thought, repeatedly questioning the decisions I’ve made and fearing over the decisions I have yet to make.
My first duty as a Rehabilitation Medicine intern last Saturday bore witness to yet another one of my deep thinking episodes. If you’re not in the ER, weekend duties are generally a bit more ‘benign’ in UP-PGH. Even more so, if you’re in Rehab! With no pending jobs left for me at the ward, I decided to take time to walk around the place that has become my second home.
It was a bit overwhelming thinking about how far I’ve come. I’m already a medical intern, for crying out loud. My coat bears my name with two additional letters attached to it, and I am a year and a licensure exam away from making it all official and legal. It’s been quite the journey and honest to goodness, I can’t believe a month’s already come and gone as far as internship is concerned. It all feels so fast.
I still have days when I think about just abandoning the world of Medicine, in favor of a less stressful life. It’s true, after all, that Medicine is not for everyone. It takes a lot of sacrifice and patience, dealing with people at a very difficult point in their life, dealing with that gray line in between life and death. It takes a lot of heart. You’ll find that the simple act of going home becomes more of a privilege during non-duty days, and golden weekends become such a rarity that you have to properly manage your time to make the most of every moment.
But no matter how much doubt builds up within me, I always find myself going back to the start, to the reason behind all these sacrifices. Because in the end, it’s all going to be worth it. And these little bits of space in between, these little bits of quiet and deep thinking, gives me time to take it in, to take the entire journey in, with all its highs and lows, twists and turns. Every single moment, worth it.
Part 2: Love Hurts, Love Heals
Quite an interesting patient I had at the Rehab Med OPD the other day. R*, an elderly man in his late 60s, comes in with the chief complaint of low back pain, more so near the hip area, with pins-and-needles sensation and occasional numbness radiating down his right leg. History and physical examinations, including a positive straight-leg-raise test, points to lumbar radiculopathy, and by the looks of the MRI results he’s got, it looks like it’s due to spinal stenosis. He’s gone through several pain medications and initial physical therapy sessions, all to mere partial relief of his symptoms.
“Kahit anong gawin ko, masakit pa rin talaga, doktora…” With his persistent pain, R is doubtful of another round of physical therapy. After undergoing 2 sessions, he doesn’t think it’s doing much for the pain. I reassure him and try to explain that therapy doesn’t work instantaneously. It requires patience and diligence, and results will only manifest if you are continuously compliant with your program. It will take time.
“Kung magpa-opera na lang po kaya ako?” R asks, wondering if surgery will be a better option. I explain to the patient that with his work-up findings, surgery is an option, but he’ll have to follow-up with the Ortho Spine clinic to better understand his treatment choices. I then remind him that surgery, of course, has its risks.
R, however, doesn’t seem that bothered. “Ayos lang po sa akin ‘yun. Eh, kung mawawala ba ang sakit eh! Ang hirap-hirap na po kasi, doktora. Matindi na po ang sitwasyon ko sa bahay dahil sa sakit kong ‘to. Nag-aaway na po kami ng asawa ko.”
“Kaya hindi po ako naniniwala sa pagmamahal eh. Hindi talaga nagtatagal.”
Talk about #walangforever! I was really taken aback by my patient’s statement. Then again, I, of all people, understand what he means. I know just how much pain changes people and the people around that person in pain. It is during those hard moments, the moments when your real self gets buried underneath your sickness, that the support of your loved ones matter the most. Because their support is a treatment all on their own. Their support paves the way towards true recovery, towards returning to your self and, perhaps, even discovering a whole new you and a whole new them.
The heart takes some sort of a beating as you deal with all the stresses of sickness, especially if that sickness involves a certain degree of pain. The heart would benefit from a rehabilitation program of its own, probably focusing on lots of exercises on understanding and forgiveness, and just like any therapy, you’d need a lot of patience and diligence. Results will only manifest if you are continuously compliant with your program. And of course, it will take time.
In the meantime, we must appreciate and take comfort in our sources of support. They serve as our walkers, our wheelchairs, our handlebars, as we regain the ability to stand on our own again, completely recovered from the pains of disease.