Doctor Dad

A blog of a dad of 4 boys, who happens to be a doctor in the Third World.

Rewards

An elderly aunt came to the clinic today. She had wanted an opinion on her stomach troubles, but could not ask in front of other family members during our get-togethers. Therefore, on Monday morning, as the clinic opened, she was there.

After the short pleasantries, we got down to the clinical evaluation. It turned out that her symptoms were minor, and worrying about their occurrences kept her up at night. We spoke at length about how each of her symptoms came about. When we finished our conversation and completed the jigsaw puzzle of her medical condition, understanding dawned on her face. She was at peace.

“Thank you,” she said. “Knowing what ails me made me feel better.”

I got ready to see the next patient.

I heard a commotion outside. My aunt came back in the room.

“Your secretary would not charge me for the visit,” she said. “This is no way to run a business. It is the first day of the week, the first day of the month, and I am your first customer. In business, the first money to come in is lucky money. You should not turn away good luck!” she explained.

Tita,” I fondly told her, “what I do is not a business.”

I know what you’re about to say — that we should be running our clinics like businesses. There are business books that teach you the principles of business and their application to health care. There are several of these books on my shelf right now, and I gaze at them, seeing through the eyes of a clinician, trying to separate the grain from the chaff, applying what is consistent with my personal beliefs and ethics, and disregarding the rest (Lucky money? Superstition. Um, not here, not me.)

It is tiring work, this reading and sorting. It seems we doctors must never stop learning.

Sometimes, though, I long for the purity of the profession of medicine. Her coming here, the dialogue, and the beginning of her healing… isn’t that reward itself?

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For My Boys

You leave your receipt at the window. After a sufficient number had accumulated, the girl at the window grabs the box and begins searching for your passport. After a pile of about 20-30 passports have been found, she calls out the names. We were instructed to line up and sign off when we had received our passports. This is the chaos that greeted me when I had to renew my passport.

I was the fifth in line. There were about twenty more people in line behind me. She called a name and I saw an old lady stand up and head for the window. As she hobbled forward, I thought, yes, she can go to the window right away. 

Then to my horror, I saw that the boys in front would not let her cut the line. One even rudely pointed a thumb to the back of the line. Everyone’s had a bad, long day. Nobody gains any favors. Not even our senior citizens.

She turned around and began her hobble to the end of the line. When she was about to pass, I reached out, guided her shoulder to a space in front of me, and smiled.  

“I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you,” she began.

“It’s ok,” I replied.

The relief and gratefulness on her face was like a ray of sunshine in that hot, uncomfortable place.

If my children should read this post in the future, please remember that your father expects you to be the ONE who would give way or go out of their way to help another. I want you to be that one who could change a hot, uncomfortable place into one filled with gratefulness. I want people to know you, and exclaim, “Oh! That boy who was always kind and generous?”

Sharing

Our children receive a very small allowance for school. It is not for them to buy what they want, because the rate they’re getting means the money would only be enough to buy one McDonald’s happy meal at the end of one week. We wanted to expose them to money early, to encourage responsible saving and judicious purchases.

During one of our walks in a newly opened mall, we chanced upon an ice cream store. We were walking with our household help.

“Ice cream looks nice today,” I exclaimed, because it was hot and humid.

“Does anyone like ice cream?” my seven year-old asked.

“Who has money to treat everybody?” I asked.

“I have one hundred pesos!” he replied. A hundred pesos is equivalent to about USD 2.00 and change. It is also the equivalent of two weeks of his savings.

An ice cream cone cost a little under USD 1. Buying ice cream for three persons would cost nearly USD 3.00, an amount that was more than his allowance.

I saw his mind do the calculations. His money was not enough, but if he got one ice cream cone without the chocolate shell, the money would fit. He gave one chocolate cone to his father, another to our help. Then he kept the plain vanilla cone for himself.

I felt a tugging in my heart.

“Thank you for sharing,” I began. “Do you have anything left over?”

“No, dad,” he replied, “that’s all I have.”

“We’ve always talked about sharing as a virtue,” I started. “But there’s one thing I haven’t told you yet. It’s the secret of sharing — the more you give, the more you get back.”

I gave my son double his money back.

He looked on, stunned. “Is it true, daddy?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied. “Always share your blessings, and you will be blessed.”

We passed by a bookstore on the way home. It was the beginning of classes. There was a sign on the store that said you can purchase a notebook pack with a pencil and eraser to give to disadvantaged children. USD 0.50 per pack. He grabbed two packs, paid for it with his own money, and was smiling and walking with a spring in his step on the way home.

Our Little Angel

He went to our bed, face down, crying soft tears. My eldest boy had just come from Tae Kwon Do classes.

“Did anything happen, dear?” my wife asked.

“None,” he replied, burying his head in the pillows.  “Did you get hurt or anything?”

“No,” he replied again.

“Are you sad for mommy?” my wife asked further.

“Yes,” he cried, and began such a heart-rending wail.

We had just gotten home from the hospital. We came from the delivery room to get mommy checked. A week ago, we found out we were pregnant. A few days later, she began to bleed.

My eldest boy was so happy when we broke the news of a new sibling. He shared the news with everyone he knew. He knew we wanted a girl. He would be the big Kuya, caring for this newest member of our family, the best way he knew how. We were 5 weeks into the pregnancy when the bad news came.

“We lost the baby,” we told him, speaking gently and reassuringly. We lost our little Angelina.

A flash of surprise, then denial, then defiance crossed his face. “It must be a mistake,” he said. “We must do the ultrasound again!”

We spent a few anxious hours in the delivery room, waiting for the test results. I can read an ultrasound, a perk of my job. I could not believe my eyes when the image I saw was not something I wanted to see. I wanted to hear it from the doctor’s mouth. “I cannot see the gestational sac anymore,” she explained. “There’s a bit of fluid that looks like blood. I’m sorry.”

And our world crumbled.

A member of the nursing staff from my unit approached, mumbling her apology over how the improper scheduling of procedures led to some patient dissatisfaction this morning. I looked at her, numbed. I ignored her, looked away, because I had bigger problems today.

“Yes, we did the ultrasound again today,” we said. “She’s not there anymore.”

We held him for close to an hour, as he cried his heart out, until his grief settled down. We cried ourselves too, sharing in his sadness. We cried because the hurt was too raw, too sudden. We cried because we now felt incomplete and inadequate. We cried because we felt guilty, of maybe doing or not doing something that led to her demise. We cried because maybe we had not prayed enough. We cried because it was unfair to be given such a wonderful gift… only to be taken away too soon. We cried because we miss her, who was yet to be born, whom we have begun to love.

In the meantime, my third boy entered the room.

“Why is Kuya crying?” he asked.

We told him that Kuya was sad because our baby was gone.

“I’m not sad,” he said. “I know our baby is an angel in heaven now.”

My second son said, “Daddy wait, how do you know that this baby was a girl?”

“We don’t,” I said, “but we’ve always wanted a girl.”

“Then maybe,” he began, “we should also use a boy’s name, just in case. Can we call him Angelo?”

And our two younger boys smiled and went on their way. In a while, Kuya joined them.

Little by little, we are trying to move on. It’s a work in progress. It gets hard sometimes. You may see me walking around the hospital, withdrawn and pensive. Don’t ask about the puffy eyes, though, unless you’re prepared to listen.

Better than Tantrums

My son asked if he can go home with his grandparents. We were at the checkout line of the supermarket. His grandparents had finished shopping, and were getting ready to leave.

“Of course,” I replied, “We’ll just pick you up later.”

“I want to bring my candy,” he said, as he picked up his candy from the cart to place on the cashier’s counter.

The cashier lady was dealing with a lot of the big stuff. She was gathering the non-food items first, and would get to the smaller food stuff later.

“Hmmm,” my son began to wonder out loud, “I guess she can’t see the little things very well.”

He picked up his candy and placed it on top of the big rolls of tissue paper. He looked at her expectantly.

I saw a redness begin to creep up the lady’s face, as I tried mightily to suppress a giggle. She immediately reached for his candy to ring up and hand over to him.

“Thanks!” he said, as he turned and kissed us goodbye, and raced towards his waiting grandparents.

Kids will always be rushing to join any new adventure. My son could have stomped and fumed as he waited for his candy. But he knows he does not get what he wants when he throws a fit. So he thinks up these hilarious situations. I think these precious moments are better than tantrums.

I flashed the cashier lady an “I’m sorry but isn’t it funny” smile. And our day became that much lighter.

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