Sunday, May 15, 2005

Life in the Barrio

When I was interviewed for admission to medical school, I gave one of those generic answers to the most generic question for every wannabe physician, “Why do you want to become a doctor?” “To serve humanity” was my immediate reply. I wasn’t able to give this much thought though as my brain got bombarded with highfaluting medical facts during the 1st 3 years of med life. The extent of my service to humanity was then limited to occasional participation in medical and surgical missions. I helped but could not fully grasp the lives my patients led.

When Community Medicine I and II came, I had the opportunity to witness the lives of the people from the slums of Leveriza. The experience gradually opened my eyes to the world beyond my comfort zone. I started to count my blessings and reaffirm my generic answer.

Along with 28 other then-neophytes, I tasted the Sapang Palay life for a month. I was apprehensive but excited to leave my sheltered existence and explore unfamiliar territory. Sapang Palay sounded so rural, alien and dangerous. My mind conjured images of farm animals, nipa huts, de buhos toilet bowls, drinking water that had to be fetched from deep wells, long stretches of dusty roads and NPAs lurking in the forest. I learned that Sapang Palay has a typical barrio look and feel to it. I instantly felt comfortable.

Sharing a room with 23 other girls was the biggest challenge I had to face everyday. I had to line up for a decent shower and the usual bathroom ritual. Summer’s sweltering heat paid no heed so I had to do this several times a day. Homesickness was another problem I had to contend with. I made the most of my weekly Araw ng Dalaw. I also conquered my fears and did things for the first time (which was actually fun): fry tapa despite the oil splashes, scrub toilet bowls, play Pusoy Dos, visit the market to purchase 4 bags of uling and perform Pap smear.

I got exposed to cases, both common and rare. Illnesses were no longer confined to pages of scientific data and pictures on books. I saw, heard, smelled and touched them. I learned. Since I was living a life in Sapang Palay almost similar to theirs, my approach to patients became more individualized. Establishing rapport was crucial as some were hesitant to talk and needed some prodding. It felt good to have patients open up to you about problems that truly concern them. Sometimes even, these problems involve the entire family. I became a “family physician” who healed, supported and educated families regarding health and livelihood. I taught malnourished kids to color. I taught mothers to implement the natural family planning method and prepare affordable and nutritious meals.

In Sapang Palay, I was able to explore my strengths and weakness as a person and future health care provider. This will aid me in the care of my patients. As I start getting re-accustomed to my life in the city, I still fondly recall my days as a “barrio doctor.” Someday, I might go back.

“Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Back in the City

My stay in Sapang Palay ended yesterday. I'm back in Manila, gradually getting re-accustomed to the polluted air, house-filled streets, incessant honking of impatient drivers, Christian's pestering and Mama's nagging. I missed the TV, the internet (I haven't blogged in weeks!) and my brother's meals. Binged as soon as I got home. Over the weekend, I think I've successfully regained the pounds I lost for the past month. Since I've neglected this blog for a long time, I'll highlight my recent blog-worthy experiences.
Went to Manaoag and Baguio 2 weekends ago. Enjoyed Barrio Fiesta's food there. I savored every bite of their Baguio lumpia roll and crispy pata. Gulped down 2 glasses of their sago't gulaman. Outside the resto, had my picture taken with the life-sized replica of FVR. Went to Mine's View Park (hope I spelled this out correctly) and had my picture taken with Douglas, the adorable St. Bernard who's quite popular there. Trekked to Burnham Park and checked out their ukay-ukay.
Had coffee with Rej last night. I miss our coffee nights. Hope to hook up with her soon. Might watch Sandara's flick with her. She's a huge fan of the Korean chick.
My rotation in the Department of Radiology starts tomorrow. The schedule is pretty light. 7-5 daily. I'll be on duty once a week.