While fixing our charts in preparation for a busy charity clinic day I told my hell-owship batchmate Alanis Cornucopia that I wish I can menstruate. In the past few days I’ve been getting crankier than usual, and the tiniest micro-aggravation would make me feel like—there’s just no English equivalent for this term—“pinagsakluban ng langit at lupa”. For instance, while reconstituting the chemotherapy drug cisplatin of Patient S.L. I discovered that I did not have a single piece of gauge 19 needle, and this led to minutes of melodramatic loathing and self-flagellation. I would like to believe that I am a well-composed and calm person by default, but there was just something off in the past few days that I could not put my finger on—maybe an occult brain tumor, or syzygy. While running across nurse stations in search of a needle I saw my senior fellow Bubbles looking a bit rattled. I’m sure she’s anxious over something very small and negligible as well, I thought, I’m sure she’s micro-aggravating too, I’m sure she’s also–dare I say it–turning a mole hill into a mountain. I approached her to allow us to wallow together and find comfort in each other’s shallow worries.
“I was reconstituting the patient’s vial of gemcitabine,” Bubbles said, her right eyelid twitching. “And while the syringe was still inside the vial I accidentally released the vial and the pressure threw it across the room and it shattered against the wall. I’m now trying to figure out where to find an extra gemcitabine vial worth P15,000!”
Back to wanting to have regla. I told Alanis Cornucopia that I needed something to attribute the strange mood swings to, other than just being a bad, ill-tempered person. She confessed that she was, in fact, menstruating that very moment, to which she ascribed her sudden urge to purchase expensive gadgets.This, of course, is rooted in the ancient belief that some women turn into an emotional wrecking ball during their monthly period. I used to accuse female classmates of exploiting this as an excuse for all-around nastiness, but friends including Mrs. T would swear by it. When we were in internship I saw Mrs. T at the Emergency Room weeping. Maybe one of her patients died, I thought. Or she received bad news on the phone. When I asked her what the hell was up with the faucet of tears, all she could say was, “I have mens! I can’t stop crying!!!”
The patients slowly started to flock in the clinic. I haven’t had breakfast and I was happy to discover my half-consumed Boy Bawang safely ensconced in my table drawer for just such an emergency. I grabbed a handful and stuffed them in my mouth. Sadly there was no breakfast sponsor that morning—not even an errant pack of pandesal on the dining table. I now regret having missed those wonderful opportunities for free breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the hospital mess hall back when we were interns. We would complain then that we could no longer tolerate eating mystery meat in brown sauce, we could no longer eat silver fish in some sabaw, that party spaghetti is not breakfast food, but now, I will eat silver fish mixed in brown sauce admixed in sabaw! With vinegar! For breakfast!
In the cubicle across mine my batchmate Corinne was re-doing her patient’s PCSO application papers. The patient, Mr. A.L., already had 3 copies of the document, but he lost them. Corinne handed him the documents with a big smile. Said patient then gave her a pack of Red Ribbon Mamon. Before I knew it Corinne’s table was filling up with goodies from patients such as brownies, lanzones, and Mc Donald’s pancakes. I walked to the other end of the room to enroll my patient in a clinical trial being handled by my batchmate Eric, and to my astonishment his table has practically been transformed into a mini-panederia. There was a whole log of mocha roll, a box of assorted Dunkin’ Donuts, variants of Tipas Hopia, and the cherry on top—a box of 12-piece sosyal Mary Grace cheese rolls! I was already on my seventh patient for the day and I haven’t even received so much as a tasty bread with Lady’s Choice sandwich spread and Plus King Size from the yosi stalls along Faura! I would like to think that I was also nice to my patients, that the lola’s in particular still found me adorable, that my recent bout of male pre-menstrual syndrome was not affecting my patient management, but my sad empty table seemed to disagree.
“Or how about maybe they just didn’t have money for anything other than bus fare and their expensive chemotherapy drugs, how about that?” Smoketh in her infinite wisdom would later tell me.
Back in med school and residency, when we still had money to eat in restaurants, I would rebuke Smoketh for leaving tips for the waiters. There’s already a service charge, I would tell her.
“But whenever we are in the clinics,” she would argue, “the patients don’t have to give you a giant bangus or llanera of leche flan after the consult, but you feel ecstatic whenever they do.” I started giving tips from then on, keeping in mind some of the fantastic “professional fees” I have received through my years of training—all the fruits, all the live animals, all the home-made ulam. The more memorable ones include: a miniature house made of chocolate, bottles of imported perfume testers, a bottle with rolled sheets of paper that had Biblical sayings on them, and my favorite—a half-empty box of Cowhead milk, for how it represented the patient’s gratitude despite her abject poverty.
For now, though, a piece of pan de regla would be very much appreciated.
Finally, the eighth patient, Mrs. F.L. arrived with a brown paper bag that seemed to contain something heavy, something edible. I inserted her IV, gave the anti-emetic pre-medications, pushed the doxorubicin, hooked the cyclophosphamide, all the while wondering what that brown paper bag resting on the chemotherapy bed could be. Differentials: a sandwich, donut, hopia, sponge cake? Or a jar of delicious Good Shepherd’s ube, even—I mean her son is a 2nd year college student in UP Baguio. While still hooked to the chemo Mrs. F.L. finally told me that the paper bag was for me. I reached for it, thanked her, and salivated. I turned around, ready to eat it, and resolved that I would eat first before calling the next patient.
I opened the paper bag and looked inside.