Tuesday, October 30, 2007

In Society's Canvass

I tried uploading this but it must have been too big. A powerful 20 minute film that depicts poverty that largely remains hidden to those of us who do not seek to know what is truly going on around us. To those who don't speak Tagalog, a pity because the script is poetic.


Friday, October 26, 2007

Sprung Outta Prison

So soon after my darkest post, we learn that convicted plunderer Erap Estrada has been pardoned. Just as the leading Pharisees of the day could not cast the first stone which would have ultimately killed the adulteress, so did GMA rush to the defense of her political existence, her way of life. Think about this, if your spouse is cutting deals worth $70 million a pop, what would you do to perpetuate a system that will automatically provide you cover when you are brought to justice?

So while this is a sad day it is also an essential rite of suffering we Filipinos have to bear in our struggle for national purification. Pardon was never for Gloria to bestow. It could only come from the millions of Filipinos forced to flee their country in search of a fairer life. From the generation of idiots we have bred in educational darkness, disease and malnutrition. From the many who lost their lives pursuing truth, justice and liberty.

A bitter irony from all this is I personally don’t hold anything against Estrada. The fool was used by the same operatives who engineered his rise and fall and who now determine it is time to spring him from his privileged detention in order to sustain this disgustingly immoral and lethally corrupt dispensation. I have always been full of hope for our country but I am having a difficult time at the moment convincing myself that we will have redemption anytime soon.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Total Collapse

The Secretary of Health recently admitted that the Philippine medical system is in crisis and could face eventual collapse. He stated that a whopping 88 percent of health care professionals are now abroad. There is only one government doctor to attend to every 28,000 Filipinos.

The looming collapse is the direct product of years of neglect to the healthcare system. Did the good Secretary actually expect anything better whenever you allocated a measly 1% of the national budget towards healthcare? He should have fought harder long ago to end the criminal neglect shown to the health needs of the nation.

Now it is too late. I am convinced, with the startling revelations made today that the husband of GMA was set to gain $70 million over a broadband deal that this corrupt political order is coming to an end. And I am not referring to the presidency alone. Look how all these governors and congressmen immediately went to the aid of their crumbling way of life. Just as it is never within the interests of parasites to kill their hosts, the days of these vermin are numbered.

I hope that the change will happen peacefully but when we learn of the staggering amounts of dirty money involved, that possibility becomes remote. There is too much at stake for these people and their armed minions to give up without violent protestations.

In a crowded city, it is difficult to see dark clouds form in the distance. Try scanning the horizon from the vast plains of Oklahoma.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Message to Filipino Physicians

About a week ago, I was invited by the Philippine Medical Association in Oklahoma to become their guest speaker on the occasion of their 26th anniversary. I obliged them with the following message that I wrote while I was on a flight back home that they graciously printed in their souvenir program:

“I am on my way home again as I write this message to you, my fellow Filipino physicians in Oklahoma. We are all on a homebound journey and I will always be grateful for the 11 years that I have spent in Oklahoma because it enabled me and my wife to return with our children to our beloved Philippines.

We are all witnesses to the beautiful way of life that Oklahoma provides. There is security and prosperity. This is a wonderful place to raise children. Unfortunately, the absolute majority of our countrymen left behind can not even dream of the opportunities we enjoy here and which we sometimes take for granted. Those left behind are also so far behind.

We need to get together and try our best to help rescue our country. We are fortunate recipients of much learning and skills that did not come to us without much sacrifice. We all worked hard to get to where we all find ourselves today. However the cycle of what we call brain gain consisting of learning and earning will only be completed with the firm commitment of returning.

Returning does not have to mean the physical act of going back to the Philippines. Even better than going back is giving back which may be accomplished in so many ways.

If we apply our abundant talents and share our many blessings, we can permanently change our country. We all left the Philippines out of necessity. Now that we are stronger and better prepared, it becomes necessary for us to take our country back. Just because we needed to change our visas and citizenship so that we could stay and work in this remarkable land, the Philippines never ceased to become our country. We have only learned to love her more.

Congratulations to the officers and members of the Philippine Medical Association of Oklahoma. Let us stay united as we pursue our common goals of service and compassion to all.”

Now I am writing this post while yet on another flight home again. There were about 100 physicians in that gala and there were no exceptions, everyone was prosperous and successful . Quite a few were retired or semi-retired and many continued to give back to their country of birth through free clinics, donations of money and medications and hospital supplies that they would carefully collect in whatever hospitals they worked. I was very happy to note that we all felt that material success was not sufficient.

This is probably why I am eager to rejoin the fray. I know that there are many of us who are no longer willing to stand idly by while our country is battered by rapacious politicians who have totally lost their purpose to serve. This loss is not a conscious process. It is simply the result of lingering too long.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Meet the Amigos

I am going back to the Philippines in a couple of days and the Amigos got together for roast beef. Not shown is the out-of-this-world gravy and the side of carrots and onions plus baked potatoes.

We had quite a bit of Tanqueray and tonic for the evening because Jay was going to leave for OK City early the following morning and would be unable to join us for the rest of the days of celebration. From left, Ryan Matzek, aka Dr. Paul, Doctor of Good Times, Jay Nunley, Dr. Todd Johnson, Chiropractor and Captain Ed Maxwell. We always have a good time.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Dirty Politics As Usual

From Oklahoma, I found the account of Governor Father Ed Panlilio concerning the 500,000 pesos ($11,000) stuffed in a sack that was routinely handed to him after a meeting with GMA as a reminder of how utterly corrupt politics is in our country. Only one other politician verified this transaction while another traditional politician claimed it was “standard procedure” to be given assistance money for various community activities.

I hope the good priest keeps up the fight to expose these shenanigans that no longer repel most of us. We have become so jaded and so accustomed to this shameful system. Shameful because there are people who do not have the means to eat more than once a day and shameful because we seem to give more care to the palay seeds that farmers strew in the fields over the educational investments we need to be making so that the next generation will become more competitive.

David Brooks wrote “Politics, as you know, is a tainted profession. Professional politicians cannot serve their country if they do not win their races, and to do that they must grapple with a vast array of forces that try to remold and destroy who they are. No normal person can withstand the onslaught of egotism and come out unscathed. And so there are two kinds of politicians: those who become creatures of the process, and those who resist and retain the capacity to be appalled by what they must do.”

We need to support Father Panlilio. We need to thwart any attempt to unseat him in the ongoing recount of votes from last May. We need to fight for these increasingly rare politicians who fight for us all.

Good News

After heart disease cancer remains the second leading cause of death in the US. There was very good news that came out today that revealed that death rates from cancer have been dropping by an average of 2.1 percent a year recently, a near doubling of decreases that began in 1993 when they began decreasing by an average of 1.1 percent a year.

The biggest drop belongs to the number of colorectal cancer deaths which is still the number 2 killer after lung cancer. This is personally gratifying because I started screening aggressively for colon cancer in 1996. I have also been nagging my patients to quit smoking and for my female patients to get their mammograms.

There is still a lot of work left. Patients who get a screening colonoscopy remain the minority. The challenge is how to convince these patients that the procedure is painless, private and rapid.

This entry will be brief because I am going back to work.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Uncomplicated Life

America can't be beat when it comes to milk and ice cream and steaks. While we trained in Brooklyn back in those days when there were no limits to work hours and we would have to draw the blood from patients with full-blown AIDS ourselves and we'd get to go home after 48 straight hours, we'd pass by the corner grocery store and buy some rib eye which we would toss into a pyrex dish with soy sauce and lemon juice. As the meat soaked in the marinade, we'd put the rice cooker into action. After showering we'd sprinkle garlic on top of the steaks and then broil it for 3 minutes, just enough time to sear both sides. We lived on this diet for many years. Occasionally, we would have a salad and some fried eggs with our meal but the fundamental dish remained.

Now that I am alone once again, and I have to do my own laundry and iron my clothes and clean the house, after clinic, I would play a few holes of golf in our municipal course and return to my ultimate comfort food. Life is so uncomplicated here.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Salamat, Manny Pacquiao

Saturday night, we Filipinos in Guymon were complete. Medical doctors, registered nurses and their overqualified unemployed spouses, medical technologists, X-ray techs. After a repast of native dishes we gathered by the flat screen to watch and cheer Manny Pacquiao. We were totally united and throughout the fight, all our personal stories about our American journey were set aside because Pacquiao was representing us all. And he did a fine job.

It seems wherever we are, we keep together for these events. I remember being amazed at how Bacolod City ground to a halt while Pacquiao disposed of another opponent. Might be because we think of ourselves as a weak people and every demonstration to the contrary is cause for unity and celebration. Might likewise account for our sensitivity towards denigrating comments.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We Filipinos can be just as good and we can also be just as bad as everyone else. One reason why living in another country makes for a good educational experience is you get to feel the barriers that humans naturally create whenever strangers are in their midst. You get to realize that there are parties and places and societies that are off limits, at least initially. With familiarity some of these barriers might come down but there will be bound to be some permanent ones.

You become tougher, more resilient as an overseas Filipino. Slights and slurs that you encounter often enough lose their sting. And this happens when you begin to understand that you yourself are capable of this behavior when you’re on homeground, which may be a specific place or where there are many of you.

So for the respite, Salamat Manny Pacquiao.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Cadillac Ranch

Guymon, OK is 20 miles from the Texas border. The closest big airport is in Amarillo, TX 112 miles away. There is a quaint attraction appropriately called the Cadillac Ranch which consists of 10 Cadillac automobiles, representing various models of the car line, half-buried nose-first in the ground, at an angle corresponding to that of the Great Pyramids of Giza. From afar, you can see why the site has also been referred to as "Carhenge".
Millionaire Stanley Marsh commissioned 3 artists to produce this project in 1974. This country has so much money it can easily afford to allow artists to express their creative energies.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Who's Desperate?

My fellow Filipino physicians in the US are in an uproar over an episode of Desperate Housewives where Teri Hatcher's character (Susan) sees her male Caucasian gynecologist:

MD: Well, everything seems normal. But, you say you've been having irregular periods?
Susan: Yeah, you know, one month off, two months on. That happens, right?
MD: Have you ever experienced night sweats? .... (few other lines here)
MD: How about hot flashes?
Susan: OK, whoa. I'm gonna stop you right there. I'm way too young for that, please refer to your chart.
MD: Susan, I know for a lot of women the word menopause has negative connotations. They hear aging, brittle bones, loss of sexual desire...
Susan: Before you go any further, can I check those diplomas? I would just like to make sure that they're not from some med school in the Philippines...

Boom. Immediately calls were made to boycott the series, write letters to ABC executives, demand an apology, file a class action lawsuit….. I totally understand the outrage considering all the racial, academic and financial obstacles we all had to hurdle. But let’s examine this closer. Do I expect to lose a single patient in rural Oklahoma as a result of this comment? Are we Filipino doctors irreparably harmed? I don’t think we Doctors worked and studied very hard just to become excessively threatened by insensitive and mediocre scriptwriting. We should have a fair idea of how much we are truly worth.

I admit I used to be awed by Harvard and company. Not anymore. I now know it isn’t all in the school, no matter how plush their classrooms are and how much cutting-edge technology is available in the laboratories or even in faculty members brimming with degrees. A physician’s competence ultimately depends on one’s capacity to learn arising from a deep compassion to care for our patients.

So while I am not happy about the comment I will continue to be at the endoscopy unit at 6:45 am and see patients the whole day and get on with my practice and give the best patient care that I can. I don’t intend to be bothered by those who will allow DH to influence their choice of physicians.

Monday, October 1, 2007

See ya', Ben

So, the Elections Commissioner Benjamin Abalos just resigned amid allegations that he brokered a telecommunications deal in exchange for a substantial kickback. “Broker” meaning dutifully distributing criminal loot among government officials responsible for approving the project including consolation bribes to the losing parties. He was pretty familiar with the song and dance routine, having been in politics for a long time. He was so familiar he got cocky and went down for the count.

Not that we all didn’t know the top counter of votes was simply being rewarded for past disservices rendered. Perhaps in the ultimate order of things this crooked transaction was in partial payment for the zero votes I received in Maguindanao. Point is, we all knew, somewhat. Yet we were all eyes and ears during the senate hearings as we were regaled by some of the very politicians Abalos caused to represent you and me. And, let’s admit it, we all harbored some secret longing for an on the air conversion from one or more of these absolutely top of the line genuine products of our corrupt political system.

Abalos did not start as a bad guy. He was at the forefront of the Marcos opposition when the only requirement for membership was raw courage. Like most traditional politicians, he overstayed. And he even has his little dynasty to prove it. “Sic transit gloria“, a slave would whisper into the ear of the parading conqueror. We never learn.

One day soon we will fully learn about the excesses of this administration. Like all else, it is only a matter of time. Part of our human weakness lies with the fond hope that we will be that one, singular exception.