Fake It Until You Make It

Fake it until you make it used to be my mantra. It’s what I used to tell myself when giving up wasn’t an option. I did not become a doctor because I am smart. Mental strength plays only a partial role in the journey every doctor needs to go through. It’s the will to survive that provides the greatest thrust of all. How much do you want it? How many times can you fake strength until it becomes real?

The pull of grief is unmistakably strong. It swallows a person all at once, not little by little. I’ve been into that dark hole many times over. I managed to crawl out each time not because I am unconquerable, but because I refuse to be cheated out of the game too easily. Pride makes it easier to choose which way to go. I chose to stay. I chose to walk my path like I am not lost. I chose to smile like nothing is hurting. I chose to present myself as if nothing is broken, like I am all together even if chunks of who I used to be have broken off like pieces of an old chugging train long forgotten. I chose to live as if I have not yet died.

Courage is the ability to keep an eye on the runway amidst the inevitability of a crash. It is untarnished hope, and the undaunted will to keep on going, even if it meant taking optimism too far; even if you are leaning on a mirage of strength, until what was once a mere illusion becomes real.


A Flight Story

A colleague, my senior in Internal Medicine and a mentor, was on board a boeing plane enroute to the US a few months ago and shared with me his flight experience that significantly diminished his fear of flying. Yes, this mighty doctor feared the plane like it was some unknown disease he could not identify and manage. It’s actually the fear of putting your life in somebody else’s hands, just like what most of his patients probably feel when they lay sedated on his table praying for his good judgement call and decisiveness. He is a well respected pulmonologist, one of the best I should say. A veteran military doctor, who have seen the worst of what people can do to each other.

It all started as an ordinary flight. The usual airport and immigration procedures. He carried just one luggage and he had it deposited early on. He had with him a duffel bag that was pretty much empty, he said, aside from the anti anxiety meds he had refilled the day before, to help him tackle the arduous task of staying sane amidst a 16 hours air travel he clearly and absolutely feared. He would have chosen ground transportation, if it was possible, even if it takes him days to reach his destination. He simply needed to be on that convention. His reputation and his future with the prominent cardiopulmonary team he belonged to, depended on his ability to bring home breakthrough medical knowledge and expertise they can use to help gravely ill patients. He can’t see any way out of flying, and he will never admit to his peers ( well, except with me) how terrified he is to leave the solid, stable earth.

20 minutes before his scheduled boarding, he already took half a dose of Diazepam. He is flying alone so he is careful not to be too aggressive with his own sedation. He wanted to be calm, but not too calm as to be unresponsive to possible dangers he might encounter while on flight. He is a paranoid flier. He tries to spot anyone acting suspiciously. He tries to hear everything and anything that seem out of the ordinary. An over thinker on its grandest state 😁. The decision to be just partially sedated in flight gave another passenger a second chance to life.

3 hours in flight, he closed the medical journal he was trying to read, albeit unsuccessfully, to focus on what the PA system was saying. They were asking if there is a doctor on board. “ At least they are not asking if there is anyone on board who can fly a plane”, was his first thought, and then it dawned on him, there is a medical emergency 39 thousand feet above the ground and a doctor is needed. He is a doctor ( a very terrified one at that moment). His seatbelt is still securely fastened in spite of the other passengers walking to and from their seats to the lavatory or stretching their feet. The lavatory, another place he is terrified of using on the plane because he feared that one of the buttons ( used to flush the toilet obviously) will eject him to kingdom come. He reluctantly unbuckled his seatbelt and stood unsteadily to approach the nearest cabin crew. He was in business class. The passenger who is in trouble was in the economy cabin. “ Hi. I’m a doctor. What’s going on?”, he asked.

“ Oh Hi Doctor. We think it’s a heart attack, but we can’t be sure”, the cabin crew said.

“ Tell me it’s not the pilot”, the doctor said.<

“ No. It’s one of the passenger. Please follow me”, and he was led away from the cockpit, to his utter relief 😁.

Upon seeing the old man, he immediately shifted gear, from a terrified passenger to a seasoned and and well trained doctor. He asked the crew to place the patient on the floor of the plane were he made a fast assessment and began CPR.. He was amazed that the plane was sufficiently stocked with emergency drugs and equipments ( more so than the airport, ours particularly). The only thing missing is a doctor who knows how to use all those things.

He intubated the patient with the help of a nurse, who is also on board the flight, with the very efficient cabin crew by their side. He and his unlikely team managed to stabilize the patient enough to keep him alive until the pilot made an emergency landing to the nearest airport, where a medical team is waiting.

Back to the plane, he slipped into a calm slumber, without needing the half dose of diazepam to help him get through his remaining flight time. He finally realized that life is just like his particular flight. A very self reliant person who is used to calling the shots hated depending on someone else’s’ expertise and decisiveness for his life. But most of our life is actually like being in flight, be it being the captain or the passenger. Most of how our stories go will depend on our symmetrical turn with the movement of the wind. Go against the wind too much and you disrupt the entire highway of air; Go too fast and you break your fin; Go too slow and you stall; Know too much and you bypass the directions of ground control; Know too little and the plane ends up flying itself. It draws a fine line that makes a difference between life and death.

There is also the factor of circumstances. Where everything and anything you do become inconsequential when life and fate itself dictates the outcome of one’s story. Regardless of the final status of our “flights” in life, be it an unremarkable landing, a braced impact, or a collision, what matters really is the flight itself. The courage to show up when final boarding call announces your name, amidst fear and uncertainties, is what makes every flight story worth sharing.

Preparing For Hong Kong 2017

I haven’t written much in awhile… been busy trying to sort schedule so we could give the kids their educational trip come mid-year school break. It’s going to be Hong Kong this time, my daughter’s 2nd and my 8-year-old son’s very first, and yes he is super excited 😊

Deciding to go to Hong Kong instead of Cebu came after learning that the cost is almost the same. It’s kinda sad really, to travel to other places and not your own. The kids have never visited Cebu, and it would have been a timely visit since they are both studying Philippine history on different levels. But the rate is outrageous. Others would of course say that we should have booked a flight and accommodation months earlier, that would be a privilege I do not have at the moment since work had become hectic. As for the time being, travels are going to be on short notice for us. ☺

Anyway, we’ll be in Hong Kong for 5 days. I tried to plan an itinerary to maximize but not over load our stay since we will be travelling with kids who find walking horrible 😁. Like always, we plan to travel light. Just one baggage for everyone, and a non bulky hand- carry each, plus the laptop and the Nikon bag we always bring. I’ve re installed the MTR and Klook app which I find very helpful when we travel. I buy everything in Klook since I find it difficult to ask around when language is a barrier. I also installed google translate which we find very convenient when eating in simple restos with no english translations.

I divided our activities into just 3 main ones actually. This gives us time to rest. I hated travelling and going crazy zigzagging to different places all day. Even riding the MTR demands endurance walking between stations. Anyway, the main activities should be: Hong Kong City to include Kowloon, New Territories to include Lantau, and Disneyland. No Macau since we don’t think the kids will appreciate casinos. We will also skip Ocean Adventure Park because we’ve been there few years back and we’ve seen better.

The problem with Hong Kong are the long queuing. Hopefully, the Klook line would be fast moving. A loaded Octopus card is also very convenient, bypassing half the length of the lines in transportation. It can also be used for the Star Ferry Rides, which I plan the kids to experience, the tram, and purchasing food.

We always purchase local sim when we go abroad. Internet data is very important when you are a tourist, and we can not always rely on free wifi. The hotel we booked in will be providing a mobile phone with unlimited 4G data, so that’s a pleasant surprise ☺.

Unlike most trips to Hong Kong during earlier years, this will be the 2nd time where we will not be anywhere near Tsim Sha Tsui, Nathan Road or Causeway Bay. These used to be our favorite areas where we book our stay in Hong Kong because of its proximity to everything that’s going on 😊. It’s smack at the center of the buzzling city life. Not this time though. We will be at Tsuen Wan, nearer the airport and Disneyland. We plan to allot a day in the city still, but most of our time will be spent discovering the cultural side of Hong Kong. – the quieter, saner, and most interesting face of this quaint and fast evolving city.

Being A Mom

I thought, with all the roles I’ve played so far, saving lives and limbs, teaching doctors and doctors-to-be, the carrier of bad and good news, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a mutant in rebel’s clothing, being a Mom would be a walk in the park. I was dead wrong. Motherhood is a whole new universe with its own unique culture and language. I am both awestruck and overwhelmed.

When I gave birth to my two kids, a boy and a girl,now 8-years-old and 12-years-old respectively, I thought I have conquered the most challenging part of being a Mom. That is of course beside the fact that I barely slept when they were infants; that I panic when they are sick, nevermind if it’s just cholic and I have been an acute care physician for years; that I can not make myself leave the house for even a few minutes because I fear not being there when they need me; that I rush home after 5 rings and the nanny hadn’t yet pick up. Since the birth of my children, I ceased to own myself, and it’s alright.

Now, I have reached another milestone. The challenge is to keep up with my kids in spite of the generation gap. I learned to play Minecraft and Roblox. I tried to listen ( and like) One Direction and Big Time Rush. I try to learn their language, which amazingly is like learning Martian. I made myself see what is not obvious because they have reached the age when telling Mom that it hurts is unacceptable. I learned to really listen when they talk, and listen even more when they are silent.

I remember a time when my then 9-year-old daughter phoned me while I was busy in the clinic, frantically asking me to help her find her “nipple” because it’s gone missing. I had to excuse myself and tried my best to calm her down with a promise to help her find it as soon as I get home 😁.

I discipline by teaching, not by punishing. I do not believe that children should be physically hurt for them to learn. They are intelligent beings and they are as capable as anyone (if not better) to learn by mentoring. I stopped supervising my daughter’s study time when she reached 4th grade. I started giving her more freedom to explore study techniques that worked best for her, but I make sure I am always available to aid her in tasks she finds difficult to do alone. It meant so much to her that I trusted her more than her brother when it comes to school works. It gives her a sense of autonomy. It’s a badge she wears everyday with pride. Freedom equates to responsibilities, I often remind her, something every child should understand and take to heart.

Being a Mom meant banning all inappropriate movies and channels from our home. It’s childproofing web pages; books and magazines; it’s watching Emoji The Movie instead of IT. It’s going out with friends less and staying at home more. Vacations are often an educational trip, not just leisurely stays. We visit places that would stimulate our children’s minds and reinforce their love for learning, not only for test score’s sake.

I still have lots of popsicle sticks, learning blocks and play money to teach my son division. I have devised ways to teach him topics he finds difficult by quizzing him every now and then using fb messenger or viber when I’m at work. I leave reviewers I labored on the night before so he can study systematically even when I’m away. He still needs someone to guide him when he studies. He gets overwhelmed easily. Boys develop later than girls, a bit less organized, and are easily distracted by their surroundings. As his mom, I need to constantly remind myself that he is not his sister. Boys and girls are two very different beings, therefore, approach should also differ. Teaching my son demands more creativity from me. He needs to see to understand, he needs to touch, and do. He is experience based. I remember him playing a new game and I noticed he kept failing to get to the next level. It turned out he does not know how the game works. I told him, “why not learn the game first before you play it so you won’t get frustrated?”, He simply said, “I am trying to learn it now”. Boys learn best through experience.

I have lots of things to share about my being a Mom, but for now, I’ll just say that there is no self help book that would detail how to be good at it. It is a lifelong journey and every step is a learning experience. It is definitely the hardest and most delicate role I have played in my entire existence. It is also the most rewarding 🙂.

Old Friend

Old Friend

When we were in grade school, you were the artist and I was the thinker. You make my aprons and my pajamas for work ed and I make your book reports and math equations. You salvage my art works and I catch the volleyball for you when you are too afraid to get hit. I listen and you talk and talk until the bell signals the end of lunch and we walk back to class. With you, I don’t have to say anything. You fill the silence with your endless chatter. That suited me just fine. I’ve always found talking too tiresome. With you, I did not feel the need to say anything. You did the talking. I did the listening ( and sometimes, the punching).

In high school, you got your period first. Mine did not come until a few years later. It was so funny watching you walk with those bulky pads between your legs. You never were lady like, and having your periods did not make you anymore so. Puberty however also made your mood confusing. Your arts became as intense as your feelings. The change made us clash every now and then, but we always make up. There is something about your early puberty that kept you from being who you used to be. You were growing so fast and leaving me behind. That was kinda sad.

We did not get into the same university in college. Your NCEE score did not reach average. I got 99. Maybe because there is no work ed or practical matters included in the test. You had to select a course and a school that does not give weight to that. I started my university life and I was overwhelmed by how big a world I’d be in without you in it. You started your college degree and became your very own version of “the renegade”.

We were eagles taking off with a wing missing. Several years later, it was not surprising to find each other all broken and conquered. Life isn’t like high school, where the bullies only play pranks on you. Life is meaner, nastier. And we faced it alone.

You got married before I did, and had a son. But it was not a happy ever after kind of thing like you thought it would be. The fate of your marriage left you angry, and broken. You attacked life just as you thought it attacked you. You were self destructive, vindictive, and out to cause pain – because you were so wounded you did not know any other way to deal with it. The world had no time to listen. You were left alone in your own misery, while the world continued to live.

I got married after med school. Had two kids. It’s no fairy tale either. Mine was a roller coaster life. I tried my best to hang on but I got thrown every which way. It had always been a bumpy ride – this life. But we get used to it. We learn. We adapt. Eventually, it’s no longer all that bad. I learned to put everything in writing, like how we used to do when we were kids. That way, I put the ambiguous into a perspective I can understand. When I do that, it ceases to be overwhelming.

I know you started painting again. That’s good. The burden of living sometimes make us forget who we really are. We played roles for far too long we’ve forgotten how to live with only our bare skin. You are your paintings. Those vibrant shades that used to represent your excitement is still there deep within your heart, within your soul, untouched by scars and by broken idealism.

The Wish

I wish I could sleep. The real sleep without needing to swallow all those pills. I wish I could dream real dreams, without the terror of relieving the horrors. I wish I could recreate a world where I no longer have to pretend to smile, while being drenched in my own tears; to belong without the need to play roles, to hide behind characters that is not me.

I wish I am not so tired to crawl in between the crevices of your perfect life; and to get away from the torture that haunts my own. I wish I am not too defeated to stagger into the crackling blaze of your hearth, to touch the fire, while I watch my frozen soul defrost and ignite; to be consumed and be nothing. I’d rather be nothing…than to be so cold…

I wish I could be whole enough, to be able to walk the day, without falling apart; like old paint peeling off me, exposing the scars I’ve tried so very hard to hide. I wish I’m whole enough to dance in your music and to sing your song. But I am all wrong. My parts are all misfitted, like a ragdoll haphazardly sewn back together. I hold my heart into the palm of my dirty right hand, while the other drag along a deflated dying soul. An unwelcomed blackness, in your perfect universe.

I wish I could hear your laughter, but I’ve grown deft. I wish I could make you see me, but there is nothing of me left.

Do You Remember?

It’s been years since I last saw your eyes. Since I last saw the shadows haunting your soul. I can only imagine the sorrows you carry. The demons crowding your head. You once wished you were dead.

But time makes a difference doesn’t it? It may not clear away all the cobwebs, but it sure allowed some flickers of light. It’s still dim but it beats the blackness you once existed in. Time can’t heal all wounds, at least not the kind of wounds we have, but it made you get used to the pain. You learned to dance in the rain.

It’s been years since I watched you sleep. Your nightmares masked by your peaceful face. The throes of terror tamed by sedated slumber. We were both each other’s monsters. Do you remember?

Did the years erase the history of pain in your heart? Was a path created in place of the needle tracks that marked your way? I remember the ugly shadows underneath your eyes. A reminder that ghosts need not be dead.

I stared into your sad eyes, and you peered into the emptiness of mine. We were two souls lost somewhere in between the crumpled pages of a forbidden yesterday. Two monsters, once lovers, now fearing each other.

Do you remember?