Some kind of clarity

So, hey. It’s been quite a while since I posted here. Since then, I’m happy to say I’ve mustered through a couple more tough modules in Year Level 5 (1st year) of med school. In fact, today was our last day of the Neurosciences module, arguably the hardest one this semester. It was one of the modules that many of us were dreading given the feedback and all the ‘good luck’s’ we were getting from the upperclassmen. On my part, though… well, sure, I was scared but for the most part, I was actually genuinely excited for this module, but I’ll talk more about that later on.

Anyway, so.. we’re currently down to the last module and we are a week and a half away from summer break.  I doubt you could really call it that, though, when the season’s almost over… and hank God for that! It has actually been quite a struggle to have to go out and go to school in this sweltering heat. Every time I step out of our building, I almost wish I were already stepping right into whatever kind of timey-wimey portal which will take me right inside our school. But the reality is that I have to walk a couple of blocks away just to hail a PUV that will take me not even directly in front of the school, but ACROSS it… so then, I would also have to go up and take the footbridge. I would end up feeling so exhausted and so filthy upon reaching school even when it hasn’t been more than an hour since I showered. I hate that I am whining about this when it actually isn’t as bad as I paint it out to be.. well, at least, on a normal day. When you have to do it on days when the temperature would rise up to 36C and beyond? Well, that’s another story.

But then again, I digress.

The point of this post isn’t for me to whine about the weather. I guess you could say it’s a bit of an advanced end-of -YL5 post?

So, the neurosciences? It’s the module I’ve been waiting for all year long. It’s mostly because I’ve gotten interested in the field when I had a class on Physiological Psychology  a couple years ago in college. I know it’s not entirely the same thing but the class was a rough introduction to the neurosciences and I vividly remember being so engrossed with the subject. It was one of the classes that I really, genuinely studied hard for to get an A. On weekends, my sister who was in her third-year of med school then, would even share with me her notes on Neuro… well, at least the ones that were the slightest bit related to what we were studying for PhysioPsych. Of course, their lessons were definitely harder and I probably barely even understood her notes but it was enough to get me excited to learn more about this field.

When I was starting out in med school (I know it’s only been 10 months but it feels like I’ve been here for a long time already!!!), even though I wasn’t really a hundred percent sure that this path is where I really ought to be, I knew for sure that I’d stick it out long enough to get to this module. In retrospect, though, I feel like one of the things that inevitably but subtly pushed me to go into med school despite my reservations was my genuine interest in this particular field of the neurosciences. I hate how ambitious it makes me sound given that it’s one of the toughest fields not only in med school but out in the “real” playing field, but eh that’s genuinely what I think.

But, don’t get me wrong. Despite this excitement, I was also scared. I was actually really scared. The last few months have been rough. In fact, a lot of us in our class were already so close to getting burnt out from the back-to-back tough modules that we’ve had especially that horrid two-week Renal module.The idea of having the neurosciences as one of the last modules before the much-awaited school break was actually quite frustrating to me because I was worried I wasn’t going to be in the best shape given all the other tough modules. I was worried I would feel too drained by the previous modules that I wouldn’t be able to give this module my best.

I guess all traces of any fear and apprehensions were washed away when, on the day that the Neurosciences module started, I found a copy of an excerpt from Oliver Sack’s  The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat on my desk. I knew right then and there that I would power through and give this module my best shot. You see, Oliver Sacks is a well-known neurologist. I came across his work because of the very same class in college which got me interested in this field. We were able to watch Awakenings, a film adaptation of his non-fiction novel detailing the perplexing case of his catatonic patients. Since then, I’ve been so interested in his life and his work.

So then, the first part of our module which was Neuroanatomy went on and I was glad to know that the classic Oliver Sacks story wasn’t the last story we’d have as a supplementary reading. Our lecturer, Doc Ron Baticulon, a pediatric neurosurgeon fresh out of his overseas fellowship, also had us read excerpts from Jean-Dominique Bauby’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly as well as Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air. And, if you truly know me, I live for this kind of approach to learning. See, one of my many apprehensions regarding medical school is that I would have to take so much time away from my other interests and passions. Literature is one of them. To know that our lecturer finds so many points of convergence for these otherwise vastly different fields is just simply amazing to me. Of course, I should mention that Doc Ron also teaches really well! Neuroanatomy, with all of the brain’s intricacies, seemed like such a daunting thing to face head-on, but he managed to make the subject so interesting and made the information easier for us to digest and absorb.

13076565_10154718256374409_3874507490310031008_n1
With Dr. Ron Baticulon, our Neuroanatomy lecturer

Suffice it is to say that throughout this module,  I was so energized to study which, in med school, seemed like such a rare thing to happen to me.  Never have I been so engrossed in a module before this one. Maybe, for Head and Neck? Although that was a pretty tough one, too, and the two-week marathon for that module really overwhelmed me. This one, though, I was really so into it that I was even surprised at how diligent I was at taking notes IN CLASS. The fact that I haven’t been able to fall asleep in any of the lectures (okay, save for one but that was just demo for the Physical Exam!) this module is a big feat on its own. I’m only saying this not to sing high praises to myself but because I find that I’m also very surprised that I was able to do these.

I mean, who knew that I was capable of pushing myself even beyond what I thought was /my limit/? Certainly, not me. For the longest time, I’ve been feeling so bad about myself because I don’t find myself excelling as much as I had hoped I would be. Sometimes the thought of just not being good enough can really get to you. Day and night, I would beat myself up and compare myself with my classmates even when I consciously try to remind myself not to. I would also end up comparing myself with other friends who are already out in the “real world” earning bucks for themselves while I continue to receive allowances from my parents, friends who are chasing their dreams and traveling far and wide on weekends while I am “stuck” with my huge pile of unread transcriptions desperately trying to cram all the information for Monday’s exam in my head. It’s nothing new, really. EVERY medical student will have their version of this story, but it doesn’t make it any less real. It doesn’t make it any less of a downer, I guess?

Before this turns into an overly dramatic entry, I guess what I’m trying to say is that I never though I had it in me to be able to work and give so much effort for this module. There were lots of times when it would have been a lot of easier for me to call it a night.. or to just go back to the old ways and wait for the weekend to cram before the exam, but the interest and (call me nerdy!) the sheer excitement I was feeling as I was studying the intricacies of the brain really helped me power through this module.

I think – no, I believe that the fact that our lecturers for this module were really great also greatly contributed to my performance. To see from the way they teach that they are truly passionate about their field was really so inspiring. Our module coordinator, Doc Dasig, probably one of the best neurologists in the country, would often include references to other non-medical fields during his lectures. His introductory lecture on brain physiology involved a case that dealt with the inner-workings of an artist’s brain. One time, he also made us listen to classical music as a #NeuronBreak! My favorite part, though, would have to be our integration activity wherein he interjected so many references and insights concerning psychology, sociology-anthropology, religion and even philosophy to our presentations on Behavioral Neurosciences! It was just SO refreshing for me to hear all these convergences of things I am interested in after months of continuously just being bombarded with too many technical medical science-y stuff.

13118985_10154751349989409_843112059864515927_nWith Dr. Darwin Dasig, our module coordinator and Neurophysiology lecturer

I should also mention that I really appreciated the way Doc Ron would share to us his timely words of wisdom. He actually maintains a blog (*) and in there, he’s written so much that some of his entries date even way back when he was still a medical student himself. Even now as a pediatric neurosurgeon, he continues to write. On some days, he would open or end his lectures by sharing maybe a full entry or even just a line or two from his past entry. He would share with us his realizations from when he was in the same position that we find ourselves in.One of the things he would always remind us about is to never settle for mediocrity. He puts this lesson on mediocrity into perspective by telling us that whatever we’re doing now, we’re not just doing it for ourselves. We’re doing it for these people we will be serving in the future – our patients. It would be a disservice not only to ourselves but to these people who will be relying on us in the future if we always just settle on what’s “good enough” instead of pushing ourselves to become the best version of ourselves. Often, when I’d catch myself wanting to succumb to the laziness that’s always creeping in, I would remind myself of this lesson on mediocrity and it was enough for me to be able to go on.

To be honest, now that we’re SO close to the end of first year, my mind is still plagued by all the what-ifs and could-have-beens of all the other paths that I envision myself in. I guess what changed is that there’s this hint of clarity. I’m honestly not sure if this interest in the neurosciences or even my experiences in volunteering for chronically ill pediatric patients will be enough to sustain me as I go through the wild adventure that is medical school. I used to think that by the time this school year ends, I would have made up my mind already about whether or not this is the place where I really ought to be (I know, I put too much pressure on myself re: figuring things out in an instant) but…. even with all these experiences that I’ve shared, the long haul and the many, maaany sacrifices that come with this field still feel a bit too heavy for me. I know of countless rebuttals to all these reservations but even then, they don’t make them any less real. I guess I still have a lot of introspection to make over the next few weeks, haha.

For now, I will rest easy with a heart full of gratitude for a module that reinvigorated my mind and for lecturers who made me realize that being passionate about and genuine interest in whatever it is that you do can REALLY do wonders.

—-

*It’s also partly why I decided to go back to writing on this thing. I’ve always thought about maintaining this blog and chronicling my first year in med school. I regret that I always found so many (lame) excuses not to write. Mostly, it’s because I  would start to write and then eventually spiral down into the inescapable pit of self-doubt. I would get so insecure about my writing style and how it isn’t one that would hook people right in, not realizing that the only opinion I should even take into account is min… because I’m writing this for myself and not for other people!!!  It would have been a nice way for me to remember the tough year that was first year in med school! I guess it’s better late than never????

Advertisements

365.

So much has been written about and for you, Sei. I reckon there will be a lot more in the coming days, weeks, months, even years! I know I’ve written quite a number but there’s still so much I want to say to and about you – this is one of those.

525,600 minutes.

365 days.

That’s how long it’s been since you’ve been gone at least in the physical sense, Sei.

I’m referencing Rent’s Seasons of Love because I was reminded quite recently of the times we used to sing this song for our yearly Christmas carol fundraiser and of that time we sang this to and for you during the memorial service in school. Man, we were such a sight to see – I can’t help but think that you were probably shaking your head and laughing at our failed attempts of keeping our tears at bay while trying to sing the notes.

Somehow, I can’t believe it’s been a year.

I still remember the exact moment I learned about the tragic news. I was in a lecture in a museum, right smack in front of the speaker when a good friend texted me to ask if I had “heard”. The moment she broke the news, I had to excuse myself from the lecture and wound up walking around the mall in dire search for an outlet because my phone so conveniently ran out of battery. I ended up in a coffee shop, shamelessly asked to be seated in an occupied table next to the outlet and started calling friends to confirm the news. Everyone was in shock and in a state of disbelief and especially, denial.

I still remember the physical and emotional ache that reverberated through my body as I approached our group of friends who were gathered in a circle crying together in the middle of the Red Brick Road.

Even now I still cannot find it in me to comprehend what happened to you and your family. But I guess I would have to echo this: sometimes it’s okay not to know and understand things. It’s okay to be in the dark when it comes to certain things. It’s okay. We’ll be okay.

Sei, you may not know it and I regret never having the chance to tell you this but you’ve taught me a lot about embracing the unknown. You still continue to teach me that. During Kythe Kamp 2, the last one we’d both experience, we had this final group activity where we were asked to anonymously write down our biggest fears. We gathered those little notes and we’d each take turns drawing a note, reading it out loud for the whole group to hear and then publicly giving advice, words of wisdom and what-not to whoever wrote that note. It was a rather big group then and I remember that you were one of the last few to pick a note. Coincidentally, you picked mine. I remember writing then that my biggest fear is never figuring out who I’m supposed to be or what I’m supposed to do. I remember how you stayed silent for quite a while after reading my note and how you said that you felt the same way before proceeding to say something along the lines of how the process of figuring things out will take time and how it’s better to just be patient with ourselves.

Today, the fear of never figuring myself out still lingers quite a lot in my mind. It’s something I have to battle with on the daily but it’s a fear that I’m slowly trying to get over. I’m slowly realizing how it is this exact fear that paralyzes me from ever realizing what potential I have in me, what dreams I have that I can chase after. I have you to thank for that, Sei. You may not have known it then but your words really stuck with me. Just the thought that someone was in the same boat was a very comforting one as this is the kind of fear that makes you feel isolated. I wish I was able to talk to you more about this. I wish I was able to share more of these apprehensions, regrets and what-not with you.

Today, I’m in med school – chasing after one of the multitude of dreams that I have for myself. I’m still not sure if this is it for me. I’m still not sure if this is the dream that I should be chasing. I’m still not sure if this is all worth giving up all those other visions I have for myself. But I’m going to take comfort in the fact that this is part of that process you reassured me about.

The day before you were gone, I remember walking up the stairs to Cervini Rec Room with you. I remember you sharing your excitement over an internship opportunity and how you proceeded to ask me how my med school apps were going. I remember telling you how I just got word of my interview slot and how you teasingly called me Doc and wished me luck. Right now, I can’t help but be sad over the fact that I should have been returning the favor to you around this time. You were so  excited about med school. You were so passionate about so many things. You were just so full of life. But as Joyce said, I refuse to say sayang – I’m realizing that you weren’t cheated of a chance to live life fully because you always did just that – you gave so much of yourself, you really put yourself out there. It may been a short journey for you but it was a pretty good one.

I miss you, Sei! 365 days of carrying you and our wonderful memories of you in our minds and in our hearts.

Please, please continue to guide us.

So we’re now two weeks into the new year. It hasn’t been that long but so much has happened and it’s making me giddy.

The first few days were spent resting at home after the holidays as well as savoring the last few moments I had with my family before I had to go back to Manila for another semester. I went back a bit earlier than usual, though, because my friends and I were going on a trip.

See, last year, my high school friends and I booked a trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Yes – the land of all those Angkor temples, some of which may be familiar because of films like Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones. It was a trip I was genuinely excited about because it was my first out-of-country trip with a large group of high school friends (some of us did go to Seoul, South Korea two years ago but there were just four of us then – this time, we were a larger group of seven). Aside from that, though, I was very interested in the sights we were about to visit. Siem Reap and the Angkor temples reek of so much history and I was just so thrilled! The promise of seeing remnants of a once-great civilization and hearing many stories behind them awakened the history geek in me that had become, unfortunately, largely ignored as I was swimming through my first semester in medical school.

So, anyway, we spent three lovely days exploring Siem Reap, Cambodia. I’ll probably talk more about those three days in a later post but suffice it is to say that it was an enriching trip. I was invigorated by the stories I’ve heard about the people, the places and just about everything in Siem Reap. Though, to me, it’s been quite disconcerting to see that so many people are  still struggling in their country. Memories of the war are still evident – especially from the occasional landmine victims we’ve crossed paths with, and you can just see how people are fighting to thrive in a competitive market targeted to tourists. I have so many thoughts to share regarding this but I’ll probably gather them first and share them later on.

Right after getting back from Siem Reap, I went on to attend the Newton Fund Researchers’ Link Workshop which was organized by my university. It was a four-day workshop where researchers from both the Philippines and the UK gathered to pore over the most recent papers tackling the state of Universal Health Care in the country. It was my first foray into the field of public health. See, though, I’ve been part of an organization that caters to chronically-ill pediatric patients, I haven’t been able to do much or contribute even to the macro side of the issue of health in this country. I realized that I’m very interested in public health. I wanted to learn more about it and that’s why  I joined this workshop as a volunteer rapporteur – basically we were going to be observers and transcribers during the workshop sessions.

The first day was admittedly difficult. I was running on two hours of sleep because our flight got in very early in the morning. I was also having a hard time trying to catch up with the lingo of health systems and what-not because I, admittedly, hadn’t been able to do the recommended readings prior to the conference (my bad!), but, thankfully, things got better. It was so inspiring to hear respected lecturers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Oxford University and many other UK universities. It was also equally inspiring to see researchers and lecturers from my own university, Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health, as well as other universities and institutions here.  It was just great to hear and see them talk so passionately about their fields

Ultimately, though, what the workshop helped me realize is that the future of the health system in the Philippines is full of hope. Yes, there may be so many problems right now but I’ve seen and heard so many people who are willing to help change what we currently have. There are so many who are  willing to risk and hope for a better state of our health system – and that makes me want to dream with them. It’s going to be a long, long journey for me and for this whole country but I do genuinely believe it will be a worthwhile one. As to how I can concretely contribute to this, that’s for me to find out in the coming months.

So, that’s it. That’s how the first two weeks of the year have been for me.

In two days, I’m going back to med school for my second semester. I know it’s going to be a tough one but I do hope I’ll be able to swim through it.

This year, my only resolution is that I wouldn’t be too tough on myself and that includes, not pressuring myself to figure things out asap because really, has anyone even succeeded in speeding up that process? I sometimes wish I can but I’ve come to terms that I can’t and so…. Wish me luck?

Earlier this month, my family and I went on a cruise, touring the coast of Spain, bits of Italy, Portugal and even Morocco. My parents are such huge fans of cruise tours as they’ve been going on these kinds of tours for a long time and they have always wanted us to experience it for ourselves.

Even when I was much younger, I have always wanted to know what it was like to be part of a cruise tour. It’s probably more influenced by the fact that it has been featured in several children’s books and TV shows. I remember a book in a middle-grade series I loved called The Adventures of Mary-Kate and Ashley (the Trenchcoat Twins!) wherein the twins’ family went on a cruise. I don’t exactly remember the entire story but I do recall that the twins talked about joining this treasure hunt and all the other activities reserved for kids on board. I was also an avid viewer of the spin-off series,The Suite Life on Deck with Zack and Cody on Disney Channel. So, suffice it is to say that I was actually pretty excited for this tour but color me disappointed when I found I wasn’t really going to fulfill some of  the cruise ship scenarios I’ve painted in my mind mainly because, well, I’m 21 and I count as an adult and most adult activities cater to the… well, let’s just say, the adult adult.  Still, the entire ten-day cruise has been nothing short of amazing. In fact, I am very, very grateful for this trip.

Aside from the fact that we got to see many historic sites on shore days and when we went around cities in Spain before and after the cruise, my favorite thing about his trip is that I was able to – surprise, surprise -get out of a mean writing slump. You would think that because of all the traveling, I wouldn’t have any time to sit down to jot down something, or anything at all! On the contrary, the bounty of free time on days and nights when we were on sail (and when I didn’t have much energy to join in on the activities) and the sporadic access to wifi both allowed me to flourish a bit in the writing aspect.

It’s funny, really, how I even found it in me to write at all during this trip. It’s invigorating, though, to know that I can still do it. That I can still write. I’m not, in any way, a great writer and that’s not just me downplaying my skills. At best, I consider myself an okay writer. Writing, you see, has always been my biggest frustration. I used to want so bad to become a writer growing up. But then, whenever I write, I always seem to have this voice in my head telling me that I’m never going to be able to write anything moderately okay. In fact, even as I write this post or any blog post for that matter (the amount of drafts I have for this blog isn’t even funny), that voice lingers. But, I’d like to believe that I take it easy these days. I don’t push myself too hard, but it doesn’t mean I don’t challenge myself. It just means that I don’t pressure myself into writing a really eloquent piece cause I know I’m not some writer aficionado.Words don’t come to me as easily as they do for others. But I guess I’m just really, really, really, grateful that I’m still here, that I’m still trying.

So, really, after that trip? I am just so grateful- not only for the fact that my parents were able to let us see some of the most breathtaking cities, but also for the fact that the trip allowed to find that small voice in me that urges me to never stop writing and to block out the bigger voice that’s been telling me that I can’t.

In a couple of weeks, I’m taking another trip – this time, alone. I can only hope that it will further encourage that voice in me. But, really, what I’m ultimately hoping for is for that voice to never ever be drowned out again even when I’m home and in my comfort zone.

Hello!

This is part where I tell the Internet that this is the nth blog that I have floating around the interwebs. I’ve had blogs in numerous platforms: Xanga, Livejournal, Friendster, Angelfire, Geocities, Tumblr, Blogspot, etc etc. I could go on and list down a number of excuses as to why I was never able to maintain any of them but it will all boil down to one thing: laziness (and also because a number of these platforms don’t exist anymore…?). I could also say that I was too busy living that I did not have the time to go online that much but I would be lying because I practically spend my days on the Internet.So, I’m just going straight to the point here: This is a new blog. I will basically write anything and everything that I want to write about. This includes: my opinion on things that people probably don’t even care about , my occasional mediocre poems and prose, things that currently preoccupy my time or interesting things that somehow happen to my otherwise mundane life….well, basically things that are too long to be tweeted.

I can’t and won’t promise that this blog will be any different in that I will be able to maintain them but I will try. I am definitely going to make a conscious effort of updating this when I have the time to do so. This is because one thing that I regret is that I was never able to maintain my blog from when I was in college. I talk about it as if college was a long time ago but, really, I just finished college like a week ago. Our commencement ceremony is not even until two weeks from today. Yup, I’m finally graduating!  So much has happened in the last five years and I wish I could have immortalized some of those memorable moments in words, but, ah, it’s too late to dwell on things I do not have control over now.

So, there. Basically, I’m a soon-to-be college graduate and I’m at a point of an important transition in my life. As they say, I’m off to see and face the “real world” out there. It’s scary. It’s freaking scary. It’s a lot to take in for an indecisive twenty-one-year-old like me. I know I have not totally been out of college for long, but it already feels as though I am under immense pressure. In three weeks, I have to decide if I am, after all, going to enroll in a medical school. I know they say you should not go into something as arduous as medical school if you are not 100% into it, but still, there are others who would say that the only way to find out if you are really into medicine is to go into it and decide then and there if you like it or not. There’s no shame in quitting, they say. To be honest, though, I’m not quite sure which side I believe in more. I know for sure that I still want to fulfill my childhood dream. It’s not that I don’t want to become a doctor. I do want to become one, but I also want to accomplish a number of other things – things which I have to set aside at least for a while if I decide to pursue medicine. I want to travel and see the world. I want to experience what it’s like to do a postgraduate course abroad. I want to dabble into the fields of child psychology, forensic psychology and what-not. I want to see what it is like to work in a publishing company – only because you know, If I cannot publish my own book, I at least want to be able to see how books get published and help in the process.I want to accomplish all these thigns and more and wanting all of these only confuses me. So, see, it’s not that I don’t know what I want – it’s that I want to do and become a lot of things and I just don’t know which of those I want more.

For the past three, four nights since I found out I got into my medical school of choice (because yes, I still prepared for it.. well, sort of), I have not had enough sleep. It’s probably good training, haha. Kidding aside, though, my mind’s been preoccupied with all the possible scenarios of where I will be five or six months from now. My mind does an incredibly great job of jumping from one decision to another. One minute, I’m all for it – I’m going to medschool, I’m going to be a doctor, I’m going to tell my parents soon enough I want to follow their track  – and then the next minute, I would be like – Screw it. I’m just going to do an internship abroad for like a bigshot publishing company, or you know, try to score the impossible scholarship for Stanford or wherever and get a postgraduate degree in Psychology ….. or maybe I could just go back to step one and go to medical school where at least I know I have a slight chance at succeeding….  the cycle goes on. To be honest, it all boils down to the fact that I feel that if I choose one thing, I would miss out on the things I could experience in all the other tracks. It is not that I am not aware of the fact that we always have to give up many things in exchange of the path that we pursue but the problem with me is that I just cannot deal with all these what-ifs in my mind. I cannot just shrug them off easily as others possibly could. They bog me down.

I am reminded of Jack Kerouac’s words from The Subterranean:

What’s in store for me in the direction that I don’t take?” 

It’s a quote which I have found to be relevant about a year ago and I still find it very relevant to my situation now.

So anyway, there you go. That’s the me that you’re going to have to put up with if you decide to read more of my future posts.

Until then.